Thursday, May 14, 2015

Porcelain Sprocket

What is it with all the toilets?

Riding my bike, I see all manner of trash and treasure along the roadsides, especially at this time of year, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed something really strange: an alarming number of discarded toilets in the ditch.

The one above I spied beside a remote country road south of Edmonton. At first, when I rode by it, I mistook the toilet for a rogue snow drift, which had miraculously resisted the spring melt. But it was too white for spring snow, so I stopped, got off my bike, and took a closer look. The crapper had broken into several chunks, and the parts were scattered in a kind of porecelain splash pattern. On closer inspection, I concluded that this main bowl section may well have been sitting in the ditch for a while, possibly a few years.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

High Desert Postcard

Palm Springs, California—the town that Sonny Bono built—looks to be a fine place for desert road cycling, not that I’ve done much of that in my four days here. This holiday has been about hiking, and the place to do that in these parts is Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour’s drive north of the Coachella Valley, in what the locals call “high desert.”

And high, it truly is, in more ways than one. It’s uphill all the way from Palm Springs, and the temperature up at Joshua is generally between 12-15 degrees cooler. But the vibe up at Joshua Tree is totally chill too. The little town by the park’s main entrance feels like a different planet from Palm Springs. It’s a combination of tourist traps, artist studios, hippy retro shops, espresso joints run by long-bearded hipsters, and an assortment of sun-baked Burning Man-types.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shoulders and Toes: Specialized Defrosters

These boots have changed my life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but, honestly, I can’t think of another piece of cycling gear that has so profoundly improved my cycling experience. I wore them last autumn and now this spring, and on every single ride I look down at my Defrosters and think, Damn! I love these boots! how did I ever live without them?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Round the World on a Wheel

When intrepid English bicycle-traveller John Foster Fraser, in the middle of his trans-world bicycle trip in 1896, met with the governor of a province in Persia in 1896, the sultan asked him why Britons were always rushing off to seek out hardship and danger abroad. “There’s no pleasure in it,” offered the puzzled sultan. Fraser replied, simply, “There’s adventure”—as if this were all he needed to say. The sultan shrugged and dismissed Fraser and company as madmen.

Reading Fraser’s classic book about those “adventures,” Round the World on a Wheel (1899), I was struck by how both men were right. So much of Fraser’s journey was full of hardship and danger. It’s tough to comprehend how difficult such a journey would have been: navigating atrocious roads (and sometimes no roads), coping with mechanical breakdowns in remote places, encountering hostile natives (getting pelted with stones becomes such a commonplace event in Asia that Fraser mentions it the way one might mention a rain shower, an unavoidable natural phenomena that will, eventually, pass),  bad food (or no food for days at a time), illness, filthy lodgings, blizzards, wolves and bears and mobs. They travelled with revolvers—and needed them more than once. There were, of course, some moments of pleasure in the trip, but those aren’t what people remember.

Hardship was the cost of “adventure” and Fraser was more than willing to pay the price. It was well worth it, for Fraser and, indirectly, for us.  His book, the last in the original age of around-the-world and trans-continental cycle-travel narratives of the nineteenth century (by rider/writers such as Thomas Stevens, Frank Lenz, Sachtleben and Allen, George B.   Thayer, Hugh Callan) is a highly entertaining account, chalk full of remarkable adventures.   After all these years, it’s still one of the best cycle-travel books out there.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Orphan Glove

People love to complain about dog shit in the spring time. As the glacial drifts recede from sidewalks and streets, and the detritus of the past five months slowly emerges, once-frozen dog turds shed their icy cocoons and come back to a mushy, pungent second life.

But spring cyclists don’t care about such things. When they look down, they notice other seasonal phenomena, namely the spectacularly shitty state of roads at this time of year, all gravelly, sandy, potholed, and litter strewn. It can make for a grim scene, all that flotsam along the shoulders. For me, though, a sure sign of spring is the ubiquitous orphan glove on the side of the road.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bicycletiquette: Natural Breaks

Dear Bicycletiquette,

What is the proper protocol for peeing mid-ride? Is it okay to pee on the side of the road? Just how discreet should a cyclist be?

Pee Protocoler

Dear PP,

That depends on what kind of cyclist you are. Exactly how and where a cyclist pees reveals much.

In the 1950s, when the great Fausto Coppi was the padrone of the peloton, he had a pet peeve about the indelicacy of his fellow cyclists whizzing on the side of the road. It drove him bananas. European pro riders in those days felt like they owned the roads and, therefore, were entitled to mark their territory freely, letting ‘er fly while standing over their bike frames on the edge of the roadway. The surprisingly prudish Coppi saw such behavior as gauche, juvenile, really, and beneath the dignity of respectable professionals. He insisted that his team, at least, be more discreet, dismounting and seeking out some leafy privacy before heeding the call of nature.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter Gravel

A few weeks back, Val, Penn, and I fled the city on a Sunday morning and took to the gravel of the Glory Hills west of Edmonton.  We rolled our fat steeds along frozen back roads under a brilliant, cold sky. We encountered five cars and three deer in our 30 km. It was a glorious ride, indeed.

Now, we all know that gravel-road cycling is on the verge of becoming a thing—all the big manufacturers are putting out gravel bikes and gravel events are popping up like dust devils across the Midwest and elsewhere. The benefits of gravel riding have been extolled by me and others for some time—namely the lack of car traffic and the almost endless route possibilities. But winter gravel? Could it be a sub-thing of that gravel thing?

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Night Bridge

I’ve only got one rule for a night ride these days: it’s got to include a crossing of the night bridge.

That’s what I’ve taken to calling Edmonton’s High Level bridge since July 1, 2014, when 60000 LED lights fired up and the 100-year-old bridge was transformed into a spectacle of color. The Light the Bridge project was the result of a creative fund-raising campaign that saw no public money spent on the lights—citizens and businesses “bought” bulbs (though the city now pays for the electricity to keep them running.) The project led to a healthy discussion of the benefits of large-scale aesthetic projects like this—whether fancying up civic infrastructure, essentially transforming a utilitarian structure into a work of art, is a worthwhile undertaking.