Tuesday, March 18, 2008

First ride of spring!

Do not be fooled by the snow in the picture. Its a mere staging game by Old Man Winter to deceive you into thinking its not bike season yet. Do not be fooled by the balaclava. Its merely a fashion accessory, and not at all needed to keep my head and neck warm from the wicked wind and below freezing temperatures. Because it is spring! The air has changed, it has that spring smell about it. It could be that eau de neighbourhood cat pee soaked into my porch that I smell whenever I leave the house now.

Its been five long months since I've been on a ride over 50 km, and I had been itching to take my Devinci out, but paranoid of prime salty season. Sunday was the first randonneur ride of the year, and I was really excited about going on longer rides again. Saturday I decided to take Devinci out to test its roadworthiness. After going on a short 32k meander about Leslie Spit and the portlands (where I was dismayed to see the progress on the ugly new power plant that could have easily been avoided through much cheaper conservation measures) and some neighbourhood wandering, I concluded the bike was ready, but the engine, not so sure. I got myself pretty winded trying to play the chase other cyclists game, one was on a mountain bike that I could not catch, and I huffed my way up the Greenwood hill trying to keep up with a cyclist I was chatting with.

I was skeptical of doing the randonneur ride with a forecast high of -2C. Definitely not as nice as my Saturday meander in 5 degree sunshine. Sure I'll ride all winter long to work no matter what the temperature (the only days that stopped me were very slippery roads). I can be indoors in about 20 minutes sipping warm tea before the frostbite sets in to my thumbs going numb. (which happens at -15C not -2C anyway) And downtown is one big wind block. But this ride was in the country. Despite the feeling of seasonal out of shape-ness it felt so great to be spinning away on the nice bike. I had energy. I'm thinking ah I'll just ride out to the start of the ride (about 30-35km of suburban mess)

That idea went quickly by the wayside when I noticed there would be strong headwinds going uphill of course to the start, and I would have to leave before sunrise. I mailed the randonneur list asking if I could get a ride with someone leaving from downtown. A faint hope of course, as I assumed how many people are crazy enough to want to ride when its still freezing cold out?

The night before, time to make sure everything is ready. Of course being the first ride of the year there's always the question of finding gear put in unknown locations at the end of last season. I didn't even want to look at the Camelbak which I no doubt forgot to clean of Gator-goo. I located one spare tube (oddly covered in said Gator-goo), but no pump. With a group ride if I flatted someone would have a pump, but I still wasn't sure if I was riding some of the way to the start, or if I would be stranded on my own because I wasn't up for the ride.

I have three portable pumps. I locate pump 1 - Topeak Road Morph, the ideal pump because you can use it like a floor pump so its much easier to pump to high pressure. I test it and it lets all the air out of my tire. I puzzle over the head (pump head switches from Presta to Schrader always seem to spatially confuse me) and eventually conclude a part is missing (the little rubber bit). I repump the tire with the floor pump and locate pump 2 - stuffed in my pannier for commuting but long since neglected as I've been not needing it (knock on wood). Its missing a bit, but I dig in my pannier and find it, and test it out only to have the bits pop off onto the valve (apparently its missing the ring that holds everything in place). Well I do own a frame pump, where the @#$%^& is it? After walking around my house in a frenzied state several times I calm down and think the only place it could possibly be I haven't looked is (lift armchair) under the armchair. Aha. Success. Or so I think. In my effort to make sure this pump was actually working I manage to rip the valve stem on the tube, and I've flatted my tire.

I can't tell you how many times I've flatted a tire while pumping them up the night before a ride, so I have to change it when I'm dead tired and wanting to sleep. Of course now the fact of having a pump has been somewhat negated by the fact I won't have a spare tube. With weak grip strength and a tight tire I struggle and struggle to get the tire both off and then after back onto the rim. Sigh.

I head to sleep still unsure about this cold weather riding idea. Oh well I'll leave it to fate. If I don't wake up in time I won't go. My alarm goes off and I'm wide awake. Hmm maybe I shouldn't go if I can't find a patch kit. Oh look I find it right away in the chaos. I had gotten a reply about a ride, but it was from halfway there, not downtown. Further still then I felt like pedalling, so the plan was to ride to Yonge Street and try to hop on the blue night bus. Cursed subway that doesn't open til 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Setting off in the dark, its brisk, but I figure it will feel much nicer after sunrise. Again with the fate, I figure if I can't take my bike on the bus I'll just turn around and head home.

As luck would have it as soon as I hit Yonge Street I can see a bus coming. As it pulls into the stop I see its too crowded to feel like not a schmuck for taking a bike on board. But oh what's that on the front of the bus? Yay its TTC's Rack It and Rocket!. I have no idea what I'm doing but I pull the rack down, and put my bike on top. Then try to figure out how the arm works. I pull it up and manage to catch it in the spokes of my wheel and the driver has to get off to help me out. Apparently pull it outwards first before up and over the wheel. Seems easy when you have done it once.

As the bus fills up to sardine-packed level I can no longer see the seat of my bike out the front window and that makes me nervous that this is not going to somehow go falling off the bus. But I was lucky the bus had the Racks because I would not been able to have gotten on it otherwise. Yonge is not on the route list, but it seems the TTC is adding the racks to all buses as they get new ones. Disembarking is a snap after I let the driver know I'm taking my bike off (so he doesn't drive over me!)

Once off the bus and away from the windbreak of downtown I feel the wind whipping through my mesh shoes. Booties are on my plan to buy list (for downpours!) but I don't have any yet. Plastic bags to the rescue!

A small but hearty group of 4 of us set out from Maple to head to Schomberg. I've never been to Schomberg before but it sounds quaint.

me, John, Tristan, invisible photographer Ken

We head north, directly into the wind. Its tough slogging but in good news I'm quickly warmed up! Which is good because I couldn't operate the drop bar brakes very easily with the thick lobster claws I use on my straight bar commuter, and took them off. I have vague memories of the hill coming up on Jane street as the one that made my head explode last year. See I had tried this very same ride last year, in warmer but still chilly conditions, and gotten a massive headache after the first climb that had me turned back.

But luckily with stronger legs this year the first hill didn't seem so bad, and then I went blazing up the second. Okay perhaps blazing wasn't the wisest idea as my energy petered out before the top, but hey still there was no walking on this first ride of spring. I had worries when I saw the huge descent into Schomberg (aha its in the marsh!) but the trip back up it was slow but doable.

The crosswinds over open fields heading west were worse almost to deal with than direct headwind (hmm could be noone to draft that way), and there was quite a bit of leaning involved to stay upright. I was feeling reasonably battered by the time we got to our lunch stop so I was concerned about making it back.

Here's a photo of us in Schomberg:

Oh but when we finally turned south again it was so glorious! There were uphills but the tailwind provided a lovely almost motor-like boost to make it up them. The sun was shining, the snow-laden scenery was gorgeous, and it was fun fun fun.

Total ride was 70k, and 80k for the day with getting to/from transit. (note to self: sitting in sweaty clothes on subway then going out again is cold cold cold) Looking forward to longer rides and the rest of the season. I think I'll be on my bike pretty much every spare moment of sunshine.

Thanks to Ken J for organizing the ride, advertising the ride as good biking weather, and taking all of these photos. You can see his complete set here.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Score another one for Old Man Winter.

I must have jinxed this winter by deciding who needs studded bike tires in downtown Toronto, we never get that much snow. This past weekend's big blizzard was just one more snowstorm on top of what seems like a neverending series. Over the years I've gotten less stubborn, and know when its best just to leave the bike at home and take transit instead. Of course days when its too bad out to bike are rarely pleasant transit days, with jampacked vehicles and delays-a-plenty. So I have this association with don't take transit unless you really feel you'll go sliding on your ass if you don't.

Tuesday night, a snowstorm started and about an hour into the downfall I had the most fun ride of the season. Just the joy of making tracks in fresh snow and the big flakes falling. Wednesday after some contemplation and visual inspection of the main roadways after an overnight heavy snowfall still continuing, I opted for transit. It was good because it gave me the excuse to walk the 6 km home after work (after most of the sidewalks were cleared), and I really enjoy long walks but rarely go for them with the bicycle so convenient.

Friday the forecast is for a big storm, but the morning looks so nice out I can't resist riding anyway. I generally ignore the forecast and worry about only the current direction of travel (I have left the bike in the garage at work before) By the time I leave work the snow is blowing but the accumulation isn't too bad yet - so I am confident I will not fall on my ass.

I pick the more arterial of my two normal route choices - Adelaide, a four lane one way street, over Queen - more bike friendly but a narrow zone to ride in between parked cars and streetcar tracks. I figure on Adelaide I can have my own lane. I'm taking the rightmost lane - hardly driveable by cars due to ice chunks from previous snowfalls. I am visible with two taillights and reflective vest. But yet drivers persist in trying to pass by only inches - straddling the two lanes. Did I mention they are all driving at bike speed to begin because of the conditions? (which is odd I don't find I have to slow down at all)

Its probably the "oh its a crazy person" factor so people are less respectful then they would be during better weather. Along the same lines a pedestrian at a light asks "Hi, how are you?" in that kind of voice where is sounds like he's trying to assess if I'm a sane human being or not. I'm like Great! How are you? And he mentions about riding safe.

Saturday I'm volunteering at the bike show. We've had snowfall all night and there's supposed to be a whole lot more during the show. It seems wrong somehow to not bike to the bike show... but yet once again after visual inspection of the main road, I decide its not worth it and the wickedly gusting wind just confirms my choice. From the transit I see only two cyclists - which is very unusual for downtown Toronto. One is rocking the bike back and forth a lot from side to side on a skinny-tired fixie (much better for cutting through the snow than my wide tires). The other is on a road that the plow just came up five minutes before (a luxury that would not be possible most of my route). The transit trip seems like a real pain compared to riding though, and when a fellow randonneur asks if I would like a drive home the answer is that would be great, thanks!

Today though I was itching to get back on the bike again. Sunshine helped immensely and it appeared that a single lane of most main roads were clear. I head out to a social event, monitoring the rearview mirror carefully so I could take the clear space while not enraging the bulls in the cages. On Bloor Street its just frustrating to be in that single lane of traffic, as it creeps along so slowly - but there's definitely no room to filter with the snow eating up extra space.

But I guess only one direction was the sunny side of the street. Coming back is significantly more challenging so I'm trying to tread carefully over packed snow and pick the barest lines while avoiding all the massive potholes that have appeared over this past winter. To my amazement I see dump trucks actually clearing the bike lanes on the Bloor viaduct (it seemed to take several weeks for them to do the same after previous storms). I'm also pretty much freezing my ass off as I dressed assuming near zero temps (being lulled into confusion by the lovely sunshine) when it was really -10C. (time to pedal harder!)

On Queen Street I'm cursing the locals that have plowed out parking lots into snow mountains in the middle of the road. I check for traffic and change lanes across the streetcar tracks to get by the mountains. A bit further along, in the rearview mirror I see a car approaching far too quickly and far too close. Its making me very nervous. I see a gap in the snow mountains but there's loose/stray packed snow there too. I cross the tracks too abruptly back towards the curb, hit the packed snow, and whoosh. I would never have crossed at that point if I hadn't felt threatened. The big key to not falling in winter crap on the road is to not ride in the crap on the road and use the bare space even if it inconveniences some motorists - most seem to respect that, and I always facilitate passing when its safe for me to do so.

I knew it had been far too long since I had been reminded that asphalt hurts. Actually I didn't impact the asphalt as much as my bike impacted my shin. And the asshole tailgating driver? He does appear to pull over up some distance ahead, but as soon as he sees me get up off the ground he takes off without so much as opening the door to ask if I'm alright.

Score another one for Old Man winter and one big shiny bruised bump for me. Forgive me if I keep asking but I would like an order of spring please!

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