Winter died hard in Southern Ontario this year, and with it died my early-season ambitions for cycling. The 2018 season is looking more like one of leisure cycling, than performance. Not that the expectations upon myself were too high to begin with.
Winter died hard in Southern Ontario this year, and with it died my early-season ambitions for cycling. The 2018 season is looking more like one of leisure cycling, than performance. Not that the expectations upon myself were too high to begin with.
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.
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.
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.
And there goes the summer. The leaves outside are gradually beginning to change and there has been a very noticeable drop in the temperature in recent weeks. The mornings are much cooler and when I’m waking up it’s dark, and when I’m getting home I’m eking out those final few hours of daylight before dusk sets in. It’s been a busy old summer on many fronts — not least a summer holiday and moving to a new house — and the cycling season has just got swept up in it all.
The last time I wrote on here it was a review of the Tour de France way back on July 26th. A long time ago it sometimes seems though in another way I’ll tell people that this summer has flown in. Way back then the summer days were still long, the leaves green and the temperatures soaring. I was riding home from work when I could and looking towards the late season mountain bike races upon returning from a trip back to Northern Ireland.
The road riding back in Northern Ireland was three great rides on beautiful, hedge lined, quiet, narrow, rolling country roads with my old club, North Down CC. Given I tend to do a lot of my riding home from work and, as such, by myself, it was nice to get out with a group for a change. It was the first time I rode with a group since my last trip back the previous December. It was also nice to get onto quiet roads with some short-sharp little hills.
I also got out once on the Mountain Bike. That was with my cousin Ross who had raved about Kilbroney Park near Rosstrevor in South Down and finally got me on a free morning to go down with him for a look. The place is a huge forest park on the edge of the Mourne Mountains, it was recently converted into a top class mountain bike park with an endless variety of trails for both cross-country riders and downhill riders a-like that includes bike rental as well as a vehicular lift service to the top for those not wanting to punish themselves with the savage climb that begins right out of the car park. The climbing is intense, but so too is the single track down hill stuff and the route we took lasted for 25.5 kilometres in one huge loop that rose high up above Carlingford Lough before swooping down through a varied collection of single track from rocky runs on the side of the mountains to tree covered trails, back to where we began.
The interesting challenge for me wasn’t so much the stiff climb at the start or the technical aspect in itself, but rather the bike I had to ride it with. Having failed to bring my good Mountain Bike over on the trip with me, I decided I’d be just as well using my old Mountain Bike from my younger days. My 1998 Sunn Revolt GP. An antique to be sure, and a well built bike to be certain, but one that has been long since left behind by the modern day Mountain bike with their 100mm plus travel (130mm in my case) and — in most recreational mountain bikers cases — their full suspension.
To ride the loop we did at Kilbroney comes with the need to ride full suspension. Hard tail just won’t cut it if you want to ride somewhat in comfort. And if you do decide to go hard at the back, be sure that your front suspension gifts you that 100mm of travel, at least. My old MTB had a retro travel give of about 30mm. A bone shaker, or as Ross so aptly put it upon climbing off a go on it and back onto his own modern take of a Mountain Bike: “Like climbing out of a Mini and into a Rolls Royce.”
I didn’t suspect it being an issue and felt it’s narrow frame, compact size, and lack of glamorous equipment, would make that light steel frame easy to ride on a very hilly course. And if truth be told, on the climb it was pretty nimble, but once things got technical it became a fight and it didn’t help that in rebuilding it the breaks had been assembled as they ought to have been when it was built originally in mainland Europe, with the rear brake on the right and the front break on the left. I continually had to remind myself not to squeeze hard the left hand assuming it to be the rear break because I’d soon be thrown over the bars. I never quite came off, but I came close several times when I failed to remember.
The narrow handlebars which were all the rage back in the late 90’s proved a challenge to get used to by comparison to the wider bars on my bike back in Canada. “It’s like riding a low profile bike,” quipped Ross when he took his turn. A turn that allowed me onto the Rolls Royce and off up the trail in comfort.
But if you’re looking for a bike to remind you how far Mountain Biking technology has come, as well as to improve your technical skills and strengthen your wrists, then a run out on the Sunn is just the medicine for you. Back in 1998 that bike was one of the best available and it served me pretty well, and it still will on trips home when I’d rather do some mountain biking than none at all. The thing would convert brilliantly into a cross bike and it’s something I might consider down the line, but that day when I took it out and rode so tentatively on anything technical or downhill, I was reminded how good I must have been on a mountain bike when I raced that bike and, at times, raced it well. Either that or we were all much slower back then?
Back in Canada I got back to riding home from work and with the extra little fitness I had gained on my trip back to NI, I went and done five days of riding on the road and three mountain bike races in the space of ten days.
My Tuesday night series had been badly neglected by myself this summer for many reasons, but with two rounds left I decided to get back to it and enjoy two more races. On both goes I felt much stronger than I had when I last raced on a Tuesday night sometime back in late May or early June.
I then entered one of the Ontario Cup rounds at Highlands Nordic — the location of my first MTB race in Ontario back in September 2011 — and rode my best race of the year. I felt strong and I paced it in a way that I rarely do, that allowed me to feel as good on the final lap as I had on the first two. One check of my Strava times through various segments showed a consistency between each of the three laps. I didn’t win, not even close, but I came away delighted and feeling fitter and stronger than I had been in years.
Something worth building on I told myself.
Then however things got busy again. We had the big move to our new home and everything that comes with it and I’ve barely thrown my leg over the saddle since. Indeed, since the move I’ve only got on my mountain bike to take my daughter to the park in the chariot behind. That was until a few days ago when I found a single track trail right at the end of my street. But I only lasted about 3 km before darkness came in fast and forced me back. It was like riding that night shift at the Summer Solstice 24-hour race way back in June when my handle bar light failed me. Now that’s something that seems a long time ago.
The fading light was a reminder of the fading cycling season and the knowledge that it would be soon time to stop and get back on a turbo trainer. Too busy to ride these past few weeks, I’ll be longing for such opportunity in a few months from now. I hope to get another ride in later this week and then do a little something on the weekend when I go out to explore the roads around where I now live … on the edge of the country, I must add, with pleasure. And that’s a story for another day.
I was planning on signing up for the annual 50 kilometre Tour de King, point-to-point Mountain Bike race this Sunday, but with the lack of riding I have done, I’m not sure I’d have the legs and likely wouldn’t get the enjoyment from it that I had the previous two years. That fitness that was becoming so evident to myself in mid-August, has surely all but evaporated now.
The weather was fantastic this weekend … into the high 20’s for large parts of it and the best part … it was a long weekend. Thank you Queen Victoria. As a result we headed out of town and up to the lake for a few days and naturally I lugged along the bike. I had good intentions of getting out three days in a row and putting in a combined 150 miles, but like all good plans it didn’t quite work out. But not to worry, I did get two good days riding in.
Saturday was especially nice, riding into the small town of Lakefield for a cup of tea and an egg sandwich on the patio of one of my favorite cafe’s to cycle to — mostly because of it’s shaded patio. I didn’t quite take the rides as leisurely and was pushing myself to maintain a decent average speed. The minimum target was 19 mph and if I could get it up over 20, I’d be delighted. There was little to no wind to speak of and so while I missed out on a good tailwind to really boost up the speed, I managed to avoid suffering into a stiff breeze. In all I done 47 miles and kept it at an average of 19.7 mph finishing at a relatives cottage for a few beers and some good stake. The post-ride meal and liquid of amateur cycling champions.
Sunday I didn’t get out as early as I would have liked and feeling quite lethargic I cut short a longer ride and went for one without a cafe stop. It was roads I’d been on before but a circuit I hadn’t done before, but if truth be told, given the temperature and the rising humidity (it would thunder quite heavily later that night) I’m glad I didn’t go a lot further. Riding in these temperatures takes a little getting used to and I’m not quite used to it in mid-late May. But it was 31 miles more than I almost talked myself into doing before giving myself a slap, throwing on the gear and getting going before my body could reject the idea further. I also kept it up over 19 mph — 19.1 to be exact — and felt good for it.
Shortly after it was time to pack up and head back to city life once more for another week in the office. Still, it was nice going back knowing that the whole summer and more rides like these lie ahead in the months to come.
This time last year my wife was off on Maternity leave with our new born baby and as such I had full access to our car to get myself to and from work. As a result all cycling was done either when I got home or, more often than not, on the weekends because I was too tired and too into playing with the baby to go back out again for a ride. The upshot of that, according to my statistics on Garmin Connect, was that I did a total of eight rides last April (actually, between March 22 and April 23 to be exact) covering a total of 153 miles (or 246 kilometers in Canadian).
This year I’m back on the bus and with March still bringing snow I decided that from the beginning of April I would start to bring the bike with me on the bus to work (no showers in work to justify cycling in) and take a good ride home. 20 to 30 miles per day was the aim where possible and I never told myself that rain would not be an excuse.
And so that proved to be. On one of the first days riding home from work and with the temperatures a little over freezing, I got soaked to the bone and arrived home with my feet numb. Such rides once complete and once warm and dry are good for the moral, however.
Unfortunately my weekends were pretty busy to the point that I didn’t get much riding in then, but when I did I did as much as I could with the target being to get about 300 miles in before the first mountain bike race on April 28.
I had done plenty of riding in the gym in the first few months of the year but had desperately hoped the weather might turn enough in March to allow me to get out. When it didn’t — and often it wasn’t great in April as Spring refused to arrive — I got too disheartened to continue going to the gym. As such, by the time I finally got going in April for what I referred to as ‘Spring Training’ I had a lot to do just to make sure I didn’t show up at that first race and finish the first lap with my lungs screaming on the ragged edge of exhaustion.
In the end I got out nine times between March 29 and April 23 — all on the road. I did a total of 278 miles (448 km) at a solid average speed of 18.2 mph (29.3 km/h). Most of that was riding home from work with an 8-10 lbs bag on my back. I varied my route a little but for the most part stuck to the same route that tried to avoid traffic as much as possible — impossible to do entirely when riding through Mississauga during rush hour.
As the rides went on my ability to ride faster when I needed to grew and my average heart rate would drop. At first my heart rate was staggeringly high for those training rides home but by the end of the month it was much more respectable … comparatively speaking, that is.
Compared to last year I’ve done much more riding than I did before my first race of the year and so we’ll see how I go. It’s just great to be back out cycling again and after a few cold rides the weather began to turn and before long I was riding in shorts, riding in fingerless gloves, and arriving home sweating with an empty water bottle.
This is what we suffer a long, cold winter for here in Canada and now the good weather and good riding is just around the corner.
9 Spring Training Rides (All road)
26 days (Mar 29 – Apr 23)
15h 15m 42s
30 mi per ride
18.2 mph avg
792 avg ft per ride
1,482 C per ride
8 Spring Training Rides (4 road, 4 mtb)
33 days (Mar 22 – Apr 23)
10h 52m 04s
19.0 mi per ride
14.0 mph avg
924 avg ft per ride
1,321 C per ride
4 Spring Training Rides (All road)
26 days (Mar 22 – Apr 23)
5h 49m 28s
25.94 mi per ride
17.8 mph avg
930 avg ft per ride
1,715 C per ride