Category Archives: The Cycle Seen

Thoughts on cycling from my own perspective and experiences. These can come daily, weekly, monthly or a few times per year.

Another cyclist killed; A plea to all motorists

Another cyclist killed on the road yesterday. It was in Northern Ireland, but the location doesn’t matter, except that it struck close to home for me. The following is a Facebook post from my dad who was at the scene, with some thoughts of my own below. Please give it a read:

“I can’t sleep for reliving the carnage I witnessed yesterday resulting in the death of my friend Gavin and injury to others. I had been in their company for 50 miles but went up the hill out of Ards a little slower than them. I saw them ahead of me riding as a tight 4 as they rounded the curve out of sight and I rode into an unbelievable scene. How could that driver not have seen them from far back as I had?RIP Gavin. I hope Gareth recovers fully from his bad injuries and Keith and Rachy get over their trauma. This was so unnecessary, we are so vulnerable out there.”

Can I appeal to anyone who reads this and drives a motor vehicle to please, please, look out for cyclists and give them the room they need. And remind others too. These aren’t just ‘bloody cyclists’ getting in the way, they are human beings. You don’t have to like them, but please respect them. They are more than an object. Is it worth that extra 15 seconds it takes to get home, because a cyclist is on ‘your’ road, to make it worth trying push past them? Remember, it is other cars that hold you up more than cyclists. I know not all cyclists are angels, but there will only ever be one winner if there’s a collision. I often feel vulnerable out on the roads doing the sport I love. I can think of no other sport that comes with such uncontrollable external risks.

I get that the justice system is set up as such that cyclists remain low on the totem pole of value when it comes to their deaths. Punishments are pathetic. There is little to no culpability for hitting a cyclist. Near misses or minor incidents are rarely followed up; serious incidents result in little more than a slap on the wrist for the offender. That has to change, because until it does, the disrespect shown by some motorists will never cease. I know most of you are good drivers, and do care, but spread the word because with the number of cars on the road, it only takes 5% of motorists to be dangerous, distracted or inconsiderate of anything outside their safe little steel bubbles, for it to become lethal for a cyclist.

All I can hope is that everyone becomes a little more aware of cyclists. That they get the space they need (1.5 metres) to feel safe, and not overtaken while there is oncoming traffic. That people put down their phones, keep their hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and never drink and drive.

Thank you.

My new incentive for cycling in autumn

The beginning of autumn is beautiful. The leaves turn brown and when the sun shines through them they glint a golden colour as they hang onto the trees. But then they fall and everything looks and dead. The trees are bare and empty and when the wind blows through them the cold hits you hard and reminds you of winter. Autumn is pretty, but late fall is pretty sad. Nothing left to do but pick up the dead leaves from the ground and prepare for snow next.

Cycling through autumn though can be wonderful. The temperature drops with the leaves but so do the demands on your fitness and training and form. Riding slower and taking in the beautiful colours around you becomes easier at the back end of the cycling season. Until it gets too cold at all and you’re spending too much time on a turbo. In a trace like state, starting at the wall in front of you. Going nowhere.

Continue reading My new incentive for cycling in autumn

525km of bike routes for Toronto is a huge step forward

As someone who has cycled on the streets of Toronto before, though granted not in the downtown core, it was great to see this article in the Toronto Star this morning:

A 10-year plan to invest in the build of ‘525km of new bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails and other routes that, if built, would create the kind of connected network Toronto’s bike advocates have long pushed for’, including infrastructure on eight of Toronto’s busiest streets.

I for one would welcome that, as should anyone with a forward thinking attitude towards the city, and not just those who ride their bikes at present.

Of course, some people will object and while the one Councillor quoted in the article, Stephen Holyday, is far a dissenting voice, his quote did express what I think is a view among many:

“I hold a very high test for any time there’s an attempt to take out a live lane of traffic. We live in a very congested city as it is,” said Holyday, who sits on the public works committee.

“Often you are inconveniencing the majority for the desires of the minority, if the ridership is low.”

The thing I’d say to that is that the city is very congested in its downtown core because too many people are driving and that ridership is low because too many people don’t feel safe in riding. If you build these cycle networks you may encourage more people to leave their car and home and ride on Toronto’s streets.

It can only be a good thing.

That and improving the surface of many roads. One of my prevailing memories of riding on suburban Toronto streets before moving to a suburb of the Greater Toronto Area was how horrific some of the roads were, not just for cars, but potholes. It was like a slalom race just navigating some of those streets, though that is perhaps a topic for another day for those on the city council; this current subject in itself is a nice step forward.

You only need look at how a city like Amsterdam flows and how the bike plays a huge roll in the daily commute. Granted the bicycle has been built into that specific European cities psyche for generations, unlike Toronto, so I’d certainly say that this is very much a cultural thing and about slowly changing attitudes. But as the executive director of Cycle Toronto, Jared Kolb said in the article: “I think the rhetoric has moved beyond that ‘war on the car’ mantra, and has moved into imagining and realizing that cycling is a crucial way to get Toronto moving.”

Attitudes are slowly shifting and with it will come a cultural shift.

Build these bike lanes and paths now and not only will you get a return on your investment by a reduction on emissions, traffic congestion, time spent commuting, obesity and other health risks, you’ll have a future generation that respects cyclists and who see bicycles as a viable, equal and safe method of transport in a cities core. And this I hope is the first step towards all of that.

A beautiful ride ruined

I hadn’t done a good long ride all summer. In fact, all I have really done is the commute home from work, 53km or so depending which roads I take, with a bag on my back. It’s alright, it’s still nice to get out, but sometimes it’s nice to get up on a weekend morning when it’s nice and warm out and go for a nice long ride. On the Saturday of the last weekend of August; the Labour Day weekend, I got that chance.

The wife took the kids up to the lake the day before leaving me behind to cycle up the next morning. The weather was to be ideal, 22-25 degrees with a little humidity on top of that and a wind that would ensure a side/tail-wind for most of the way. It was a hilly enough route for the early going but I was in no hurry. I’ve only raced once this cycling season and won’t be racing again until 2015 so I had no desires on high speed for maximum fitness gain. This was to be a ride that got to the very sole of why we cycle: For the pleasure of it; to watch the world roll slowly past with the wind from your motion keeping you cool on a hot summers day.

I set out an hour later than planned, a common trait when I don’t have a hard schedule to stick to and when my original plan was unrealistically early. And within the first kilometre I was on the first hill.

The road rolls across North Oshawa and east out of Durham region, no long climbs but the short-steep little things that after a while start to take it out of your legs, or can do if you don’t pace yourself. I’ve been guilty of that before, but not today.

Up and down I went, some longer than others, some steeper than others until after 21km I had already climbed 1,000 feet. The good news was that according to the profile of the route I had plotted out on the computer the day before, and from knowledge of driving in that general direction, the worst of the hills were now behind me. Anything else would be a bump on the road and I could settle into riding along and enjoying the view.

I stopped twice on the ride. Once in a little town called Millbrook after 48km in this quaint little cycling themed coffee shop called the Pastry Peddler. I sat outside on the loan table and chair because inside the loan table and chair was already occupied. They had old bikes from the 1970s or 80s hanging on the wall and tributes to various Canadian cyclists to have ridden the Tour de France. Old photographs and bits and pieces made it the most cycling coffee shop I’d yet visited in the area.

Further up the road I stopped in Lakefield for lunch and then pressed on for the final 50km.

I was gliding down a very quiet country road, the wind on the back of my right shoulder and thinking how this might be the most enjoyable ride I had done in several years and how good it was to keep the kilometres per hour graphic off the front page of my Garmin so as not to worry about what speed I was maintaining when I heard a loud bang from close by.

A sniper? Or a blowout? I needn’t have feared.

I climbed off and set to fixing it. Frustrating but not a big issue. A big issue would be two spare tubes that didn’t fit right and a second blow out. Which duly came. Several cyclists past by asking if I needed help but I never once had the nerve to ask them for one of their own tubes, sure I could sort out my own problem until which times I realised I couldn’t and no more cyclists came past.

The problem was the valve. The two tubes I had bought had short valves that with my slightly deeper rims that normal, didn’t go very far through. The result was that the tire couldn’t fit under the rim at the point of the valve when the tube was inside. When I inflated it, even a little, you could see the tire bulge as the tube tried to force its way out. With little to lose and a spare tube on me, I tried to squeeze it in as best I could and screwed on the Co2 canister it inflated the tire to a rock solid state. Immediately I could see the problem: The tube was half out of the tire and the tire itself bulging. I only touched the Co2 canister to release it when an explosion of air burst around me as the tube ripped apart.

Down to my final tube I set about putting it in only to discover the same issue. I was screwed.

I was able to inflate the the tire to about 50%…enough to ride on to the next main road but not to my destination…not if I wanted to get there before sun-up the next day! Left with no choice, I angrily slammed the wheel into the ground, cursing my luck and did the only thing left: Called for help.

Riding slowly up to the main road to wait for my rescue ride to arrive I told myself I was done with cycling, at least for this year. If I couldn’t get this most pleasurable of rides done then perhaps that was a sign. It was my third blow out of the year — the other two occasions shredded the tire and required a call for help — and on another occasion I got caught up in a thunder shower demanding my retreat to a coffee shop for several hours. I love a coffee shop during a bike ride, but not like that!

I had gotten 105km into this ride, still one of my longest rides of the year and yet felt like I’d come so short. I had planned for 145km and had been enjoying the ride so much that upon completing it I almost felt like I’d be able to turn right around and ride home again. And now I was stuck with a ‘mere’ 105km.

Later that evening over a few cold beers I came to the conclusion that 105km was still a decent ride albeit unfulfilled and that I’d have more chances again to do the in full…and further. That I’d have to lump it and take what I could from the ride…those first 105km that were some of the best I’ve enjoyed on a bike for a lot of years.

Ride details:

The lost summer

My cycling year has been little to write home about, hence why I haven’t written about it all year. With the birth of our second child on the day I was meant to enter my first race of the year, plans changed. And that was OK. There’s few things in life I’m happy to take a year away from racing for but that’s one. Ever happy to skip an evening ride for the sake of a trip to the park. It’s the beauty of the recreational cyclist, the weekend warrior (or after work warrior as I’ve become), you’re not paid for it and you’re not going to be riding the Tour so you can ride when you want and play when you want (eat what you want too!).

In June I did the 24 Hour Summer Solstice MTB race for a second straight year. A superb weekend of riding on a superb track and this time I had decent quality lights to properly enjoy the night time riding, though doing back-to-back laps at 2 a.m. was a bit of a grind. Still, I’ll go back to it again. But that was the only time I’ve raced the bike in anger this year after doing 30 plus races over the past couple of years. Again, OK by me.

Riding on the road for purposes of fitness and pleasure has dipped too, reduced mostly to riding home from work on a stretch of road that’s probably a little busy to ride on during rush hour and which leaves you waiting for another car to sweep past you far to close resulting in hand waiving and cursing and wishing you had a helmet cam from which you could get their license plate to pass onto the authorities only for nothing to come of it anyway.

Weekend rides have been few and far between this year. I’ve been gladly too busy at parks, water parks, zoo’s, or simply avoiding the bad weather. That said, nobody minds skipping a ride for the good things, but when it’s because of the weather it’s frustrating. After the most miserable winter in recent memory for those living in Southern Ontario and certainly the worst in the years I’ve been here, everyone who rides a bike had to be looking forward to the summer months, but frequent rainy days and many threats of thunder storms has reduced the summer to one of disappointment from a weather perspective…only from a weather perspective, I must emphasize.

On one ride home from work last month the weather forecast told me there was a ‘thunder storm warning’ in the area, but I rode on anyway, determined to get ahead of it before it was due to hit. And yet there I was on the road, surrounded by dark clouds and when I seen a flash of lighting in the direction I was headed with the wind having turned from the tail to the head I changed plans and changed direction and headed for the bus. Before I could reach it the skies opened and down came the lighting, I ducked into a Starbucks for some shelter, but 90 minutes, two tea’s and two lemon raspberry loafs later I was still watching lighting crash from the sky, and on one occasion, onto the roof of the building I was in. I don’t cycle in that.

When it did ease I got myself across the street and into a pub before it eased completely. I made my move to ride the 2km to the bus but halfway there another dark cloud loomed and more thunder came down. At one point I tried for a short-cut but ran into a bog of mud on the edge of a building site which was a lot thicker than it looked and it threw me over the bars. I landed on my feet, somehow, but looked as though I’d spent the day mountain biking rather than riding on the road and by this stage I had changed back into my regular clothes. I eventually flagged down the bus from the cover of a building and thankfully he stopped despite me looking homeless. I got on board, avoiding a bolt of lightning, and got home. The kind of day that summed up the years riding…a lost one with too much dodgy weather.

All is not totally lost though. I won’t race again this year but we’re only in the dying days of August and at long last the weather appears to be picking up in a more consistent basis. The dog days of summer may become the best days of cycling. A good month of September riding would be good and if I can carry some fitness into the winter, into my basement and onto the turbo then that would be a bonus.

This weekend I have some big miles planed so here is hoping this week of summer weather holds up. It’s worth getting some miles in now when time allows because soon enough there will be snow on the driveway to shovel and the longing for a warm day and dry roads with which to go for a gentle ride will be haunting my thoughts as the forecast calls for another week of snow.

Notes from the Winter training bunker: It’s snow going away, you know

At the start of January I made a winter training plan on my computer. Something to try and carry out down in the basement of my house — the winter training bunker — on the turbo. The plan probably looked a little over ambitious, but the idea was that if I could at least do the lions share of it, it would still be a good winters training and something to carry onto the road once the winter moved on.

Now, it is safe to say that I didn’t stick with the plan entirely. When you’re a rank amateur, in it for the fun of it, the real world often throws up things that keep you from going on the turbo 5-6 days per week, and so the plan often had to chop and change so that I still got the best of the workouts in, if not as often as I had planned.

Still, I came out of January with 284km in the legs and out of February (only 28 days, remember!!) with another 197km to add to it. I felt good even if I wasn’t losing the weight I had hoped to lose quite as fast. That takes more discipline on the dieting side of things, but it’s something that will come in time. As far as I was concerned I was feeling fitter in my legs and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to go out on the road come spring and struggled to cover 15k because I’d say on my backside doing nothing but eat a little less over the winter.

March has seen the training scaled right back for various reasons and so the plan as it stood coming into the month has simply been rerouted to start up again in the middle of the month. With 481km done in total for the first two months I hoped I might yet go through the 1,000km barrier by the end of March, in time to hit the road. That may not happen, but thanks to mother nature, I might yet hit the big one thousand.

The snow has not relented here in Southern Ontario. Having our harshest winter in most peoples living memory, it has snowed and it has snowed a lot. The temperatures have been arctic and I sometimes feel as though I’ve burned more calories shoveling snow than I have spinning on my turbo (11,877, to be exact). As a result it seems clear I’ll be on the turbo for a little longer than expected/hoped. I’d still prefer to fall short of the 1,000km if it means getting outside for a ride, but I’ll look for the positives in the latest foot of snow we received yesterday and the -27oC (with the wind chill) that I woke up to this morning.

I’ll get the training plan back on course, work some more on them sprint and climbing intervals and try to make some headway on weight loss until this snow finally does clear and the temperatures move into the positives for a decent ride in the fresh spring air.

Notes from the Winter training bunker: Snow means winter means anintroduction to the training bunker

The first snowfall serves as a nasty reminder. Not that winter is here, that I need to get the snow tires on the car, or that the winter coat will take pride of place in the closet for the foreseeable future, but that winter training is now, finally, upon me.

I’ve spent the past three months being pathetically lazy, falling into that trap, or should I say catching that bug known as bone-idleness. Following my final mountain bike race of the year which marked possibly the fittest I had been in some years after a solid couple of months worth of riding, I went out just once in September after moving to our new house. Various things got in the way and the time moved fast as it always does now, but mostly it was just that bone-idle bug.

A few weeks ago I got myself a turbo trainer. Actually it was a Christmas present, one that I demanded be opened before Christmas so I could maximize its use before the spring arrived. So it would do a great disservice to those that got it for me if I continued to sit around doing nothing. And I must say, I’ve made a good go of doing just that in the two weeks since buying it, setting it up and getting the bike ready to go. I like to blame it on being ill for a few days, on spending time getting the Christmas tree up, the outside lights done, but the fact is that a major side effect of the bone-idleness disease is the wish to come home after a long day at work and plonk yourself onto the couch for the remainder of the evening — or at least for as much as a twenty month old daughter will allow. And, for honesty sake, not even being busy with a child is a complete excuse (though it is on quite a few days, if I’m totally fair to myself), because there’s still time to do something after she has fallen asleep rather than opening a beer, eating some junk food and watching another hockey game on the tele.

The turbo might as well be wrapped up under the tree as things stand.

That has to change. If I carry this into another month I’ll find myself on Christmas morning, before I know it, munching my Turkey and telling myself that come January I’ll get to training. I did that last year and swore (as I did the year before that, to be fair) that next year I’d ride until the first snow fall and then after a week or two off, retreat to our unfinished basement to maintain and build on my fitness. Now, I’m saying that next year, I swear to do just that.

But, three months of little to nothing aside, I’ve still got some good time to build back a layer of fitness from what has become, once again, ground zero. So tonight, as the temperature hovers somewhere around ten below zero meaning no chance of a ride on the roads – those days are long gone and advantage of them was not taken when the chance was there these past months — I’ll descent the twelve or so steps below ground — into my training bunker as it is now to be known – and sling my leg over the saddle (if indeed I remember how to) and start the dreaded winter training program.