Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jasper in September

I went downhill skiing in Jasper this past weekend, taking full advantage of the Jasper-in-January discounts. While driving up Marmot Basin Road en route to the ski hill, I kept thinking to myself, man, I’ve got to ride my bike up this mountain someday! The road up to Marmot is a stunning and steep ascent of a full-on mountain road, one of those climbs that just keeps going up and up. Think mountain goats and yetis.  Yet I, somehow, had never cycled up it. I’ve ridden my road bike in the Jasper area, and, in fact, cycled right past the turn off a few times. How is it that I’ve never thought to cycle up to the chalet?

So imagine my surprise when later that day I stopped for coffee on the way back through town and saw this headline in The Jasper Local: “Tour of Alberta creates mountain stage in Jasper.” Seems I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about riding a bike up to Marmot. In the article, Tour Executive Director Duane Vienneau explains that the September 5 stage of the Tour will begin in the Jasper town site and end at the top of Marmot Basin Road.  He wouldn’t reveal any more about the specifics of the route at this point, but that hardly matters to Tour organizers and fans who can finally say that the Tour of Alberta has a true mountain stage. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Frozen Balls

I’ve been thinking about frozen balls lately, both the City of Edmonton’s and my own. I frequently pass this sculpture, officially known as Talus Dome (talus being a geological term for a pile of gravel that sometimes forms naturally at the base of a cliff)  situated beside the southeast on-ramp to the Quesnell Bridge, a busy stretch of the Whitemud Freeway leading to west Edmonton.

Some Edmontonians, however, unofficially refer to it as a pile of gigantic silver rabbit turds. The mound of nearly 1000 big, hand-crafted stainless steel balls is a controversial subject for some locals. The sculpture cost $600 000 of public funds, and naysayers point to it as a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. Others, like me, kind of like it. It’s shiny, striking, dazzling in certain lights, a sort of man-made attempt at cool, natural beauty.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tomorrow, We Ride . . .

I love the photo on the cover of this book: two men—the Bobet brothers, Louison and Jean, riding side by side, so close together that they’re touching, in that way that only veterans of the peleton can do, despite having the whole road to themselves. The image captures the bond between these very different brothers. In some ways, they lived in different realms—Louison was the acknowledged champion, Jean the bespectacled intellectual—but throughout their eventually divergent lives, they shared a passion for riding bicycles together, one that lasted far beyond their professional cycling careers.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chickakoo Review

I’m pleased to report that Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area, 40 minutes west of Edmonton, is not only winter fat bike friendly but also winter fat bike fun.

Finding trails to ride fat bikes on in winter can be tricky around here. Sure, the river valley is the go-to place to ride fat, and the valley does offer a fair bit of variety, but sometimes a fella just needs to get out of town. Some of the most obvious places for winter trail rides around here are cross-country skiing facilities like Cooking Lake-Blackfoot and the Strathcona Wilderness Centre. The packed and groomed ski trails at these facilities are ideal for fat biking. There’s just one problem: the skiers.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa Cycles

Santa Claus, at least in his modern-commercialized form, is almost exactly as old as the bicycle. Some would argue that our image of Santa as jolly-fat-man-in-a-red-suit was invented by American illustrator Thomas Nast, who, in 1863, created illustrations for Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit by St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). These illustrations in Harpers magazine helped establish the image of a rotund, bearded, mischievous St. Nick.

Meanwhile, the earliest version of the pedal-driven bicycle, the velocipede or “Boneshaker,” was invented just a few years later in France and/or America and/or Britain, depending on which origin story you believe. By the end of the 1860s, velocipede fever had gripped Paris, New York, and London.

In a sense, Santa Claus and the bicycle grew up together in the late nineteenth century. Both captured the imagination of the late Victorian Age. And although the jolly fat man is generally associated with another form of travel altogether, he was, in those final decades of the nineteenth century, depicted aplenty on cycles of various kinds. It may seem an odd combination but it’s not, really. Santa Claus doesn’t look so different from the kinds of men so often depicted astride cycles in the 1880s and 90s, with their beards, pipes, bugles, and quasi-military costumes.

So, as a small yuletide gift to our readers this festive season, here’s a selection of some of our favorite old-school Santa rides. Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

Friday, December 12, 2014


I’m a regular reader of Tom Babin’s cycling blog, Pedal. Babin’s day job is Features Editor at The Calgary Herald, but Pedal gives him a chance to write about his passion for cycling, especially bike commuting, bicycle infrastructure and culture in Cowtown (er, I mean, The Heart of the New West), and winter cycling. Babin’s posts on Pedal are always engaging and accessible, a provocative blend of the personal and the topical. 

Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling is a longer-form exploration of several ideas Babin initially explored in short bursts on Pedal. It’s the only book I know of about winter cycling specifically, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is bike-curious about winter. It’s a breezy read, and a mostly compelling combination of personal narrative, light research on the history and geography of winter cycling, and an argument for embracing both winter cycling and just winter, in general.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tasting Notes: Gu Salted Caramel Gel

For a flavor that I don’t even recall being an actual flavor until about 15 years ago, salted caramel has come a long way in recent times. It’s popping up everywhere—Haagen-Dazs, Starbucks, Nature Valley Granola Bars, Wal-Mart chocolate toffees, that gelato bar I went to in Ottawa last summer—and consumers can’t seem to get enough.

The combination of sweet and salty is an ancient one, but as this 2008 New York Times piece explains, its recent fame can be traced back to France, where salted caramel, like Jerry Lewis, was popular in the 1970s. Foodies in New York and San Francisco gradually caught on, and by the 1990s, salted caramel started showing up in everything from macarons to milkshakes. Next thing you know, Obama proclaimed a thing for salted caramel dark chocolates, and the once obscure combo was bound for the mainstream. 

Friday, November 21, 2014


My last day in Portland, a few weeks back, I woke up early and went for a walk in the pre-dawn dark. After grabbing an Americano at Crema, I began meandering back to my guest-house, when the skies opened, and I found myself under a full-on down-pour.

It had been drizzling pretty much the whole time I was in Portland, but I quickly learned that true Portlandians just ignore drizzle. (In fact, I stopped using my umbrella the first day when I sheepishly realized no one else used one. I was made to feel like a wuss holding that thing over my head.) But that was a mere mist; this was real rain.  Looking for shelter, I ducked into the nearest place with lights on, which happened to be Universal Cycle. It was 6:45 am. And the place was open for business.