Sunday, 29 March 2015

Falling for Spring Series.

The Spring Series is almost over now, though it seems just yesterday it had only first begun. I joined the multitude of Fast Freds racing in Langley and Aldergrove throughout the month of March as often as possible, though if every race didn't require the devotion of a whole day's time, I would have raced two days per weekend instead of one. But between the travel to and from, the registration, and the race itself, you can count on being away from home for the better part of a day. Big, big big kudos to the race organisers and volunteers, who put enormous time and energy into making these days possible.

Spring Series is made up of what might best be described as super sized criteriums. "What is a criterium?" you might ask. Global Cycling Network sums it up nicely:

GCN says that a criterium is typically a couple of kilometers long and can be held in the middle of a city. Spring series is a closed circuit course, too, though most of them are seven to nine kilometers long. I love the Gastown Grand Prix for all of the reasons they describe, the speed, the technicality, and the excitement of seeing the riders pass you by over and over again. Wouldn't it be sweet to compete in BC Superweek?

This is a video of a 20 year old Lance Armstrong, who was racing for Subaru Montgomery at the time. He won the 1991 Grand Prix, but it was a surprise win. He wasn't even a contender mentioned amongst the favourites before the race began, and the color commentators certainly didn't focus on his performance throughout the race, except for when he was pulling up front. How quickly that would change.  And the little bit at about forty four minutes explaining why cyclists shave their legs is good for a chuckle, too. "It looks and feels good!" Heh heh. And that's what matters, right?

Tell you what really feels good: winning a race, that's what. In the first race of the Series, I was the thrid placed woman, though it was a little hilly a course for my liking. I led out the peloton, and ended up pulling hard for a few kilometers until we got to a steep section, where I was promptly dropped. I rode on my lonesome for a bit, until a couple of my team-mates came from behind (dunno exactly how that happened) and we worked together for the next several laps. 

Teamwork is everything, y'know. We eventually caught up with a couple of other riders and became a chase group to be reconed with. I finished third amongst the women on that day, though I regretted not soft pedalling for the first few km, until someone else took a pull, and thus saving my legs for that hill. The second race I signed up for was more to my liking, as it had gentler hills to contend with. I made almost the same rookie mistake that time round. I was trying to be a good team-mate, and again spent too much time pulling on the front. The person I was working with is a guy who is faster than I, and while he was able to pull for half of the race and still have the legs left to sprint, I regretted putting so much energy into the wind at the end of the race, when a few people passed me in the final 100 meters, including a woman on my team who raced a lot smarter than I did, and sprinted for the first place finish. (That's her in the photo up there... good girl.) So I finished second in my second race.

I missed the next weekend, but raced the Thunderbird course on the Saturday following that. It was definitely a wet start to the day.

I had an allergic reaction to something that sprayed up at me from the road at some point during our warm up. My legs were red, and the skin swollen and itchy where it was wet from the road. I expect I rode through a patch of something spilled on the road, because despite being sprayed all over by the end of the race, the reaction didn't spread. But it became quite disconcerting, as my lungs felt very tight, and I was wheezing and fighting for a lung full of air when I was riding at my upper end. (When I got home and took a shower, I was surprised to find hives all over my torso.) Anyway, the wheezing meant I had to back off, and so again I was dropped from the lead group. I did still finish first among the girls, though, and was shocked and amazed at how good it felt to carry that lovely orange jersey home! I do sort of understand why people like Lance up there have been inspired to do whatever it takes, especially keeping in mind the magnitude of the prizes and prestige associated with the pro races. But that's a whole nother topic of conversation, isn't it?

Still. As I have only just begun racing, I need two wins or five top five finishes in one season in order to move up from a Cat 4 rider to a Cat 3, which is where I would have to be in  order to register for the most interesting races. Not that I am anywhere near at the place in my training where I could actually do well in those super cool events, but one step at a time is the only way to achieve anything worthwhile, right? I headed into the next race with a little tiny bit of hope and  a fair whack of determination. It was a course just made for me, without any hills worth mentioning, but it just wasn't meant to be. It was the most frustrating racing experience I have ever known, with an absolute lack of cooperation. Most of us girls were working well together, and one or two of the guys, too, but the rest of the guys were just off the wall. They would come up from behind, but then instead of taking a pull they would try to nose into the paceline at the second or third positon. We would try again and again to set up a rotating paceline, but again and again, it would be a guy's turn and he would take off way out front and just sit out there, leaving the person in the front of the paceline hanging out to dry. Bizarre. Still. We were getting through it when the guy in front of me (one of my teammates who was actually playing fair) had a mechanical issue with his shifter. He slowed a little and swerved suddenly and that was it for me.

Next thing I knew I was covered in a blanket and saying hello to the paramedics. They were surprised that I really wasn't interested in taking a ride in the white van with the flashing lights, and they were careful to warn me that the sudden swelling in my backside might well be an indication of a fracture, but I figured that if it was really bad, I could always go to a hospital closer to home. And my teammate, who felt pretty bad about the crash, offered to take me to the hospital of my choice, but at that point I just wanted to go home. I have had enough radiation for one year, and as much of a pain in the ass as this is, at least I am moving.

another one bites the dust
I was fully conscious as my head whiplashed into the pavement, and I heard my helmet crack even as it absorbed the impact which protected my already well addled brain. But it wasn't my brain which suffered this time round, nor my shoulder, which is swollen, bruised and bleeding. They say that your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, and I am here to testify that when you bruise it, you certainly know it. This is a good week for a standing desk.

Early moments... before the bruise's true colours came shining through.
A few people have asked why I continue to race, and certainly the question did cross my mind. It's true, that pretty much everything happens at speed, making mistakes costly. But I saw something today that gave me a little hope. 

See that? Lucas Paolini won the Gent Wevelgem after TWO crashes. He's a little bruised up, but he's still racing. He's even winning. It's addictive, this sport, because it isn't all about strength, nor speed. There's racecraft involved, and something to be learned with every mistake. Ha! You'd think I'd know it all by now! Never mind, it was just a big-ass bruise, and another good story for facebook.

PS - Actually, Cosmos does an excellent job of explaining how the race was won right here. Er, and just to be graphically accurate, here's the bruise a couple of days on:

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Warming up to race season... snow time for cold!

Hello from the Lower Mainland, where spring is well past sprung. The hallmarks of the season are all around, and ever so easily found.

Deep Cove
What about you? Are you watching the snow melt into blackened, polluted, dog poo infested piles of sludge somewhere east of the Rockies? Sorry bout yer luck. Here in Lotus Land, every mutt master carries a little blue bag to pick up after their defecating dogs. Not because of concern for their fellow citizens, but because the fine for ignoring the bylaw is rather hefty. But thawing doggy doo aside, it could be worse. You could be in Nova Scotia, where people are just digging out from under a decade's worth of snow which landed on them this week. No sign of springtime in sight.

Photo of Halifax's second blizzard in three days courtesy of the CBC
On the west coast, we've been practicing spring for you, and celerating the growing seasons for weeks now, whilst the rest of the continent catches up. Yup. You've gotta love this town. It's not just the sunshine and longer days, either. Spring is here in the green grass, the budding trees, the buzzing bees, and the blooming flowers - NOT the frozen and inert bulbs buried under the ginormous mounds of snow blanketing the opposite seaboard.

Heh heh. Yep. The cherry trees are out in all their glory, and it's actually warm under that growing-stronger-by-the-day sunshine.

But the most obvious sign that spring has arrived is the sheer volume of Freds you'll find spinning their way along the city streets everywhere you go.

And no-where is Fred more apparent and abundant than at the Spring Series racing events. Holy carp there are a lot of us!

First start of the season.
Last autumn, when I was looking for a club to join, I chose Escape Velocity for a number of reasons. Not only does the club host the Spring Series races, and the Tuesday Night World Championship criteriums in the summer, a service no other organisation in the Lower Mainland even comes close to matching, but - and in my mind this is significant - it is the club responsible for youth development in the sport in our part of the world. Escape Velocity is the home of DEVO, Vancouver's only jr racing team, and thus the future of our sport. EV has a great track record of seeing members off to bigger and better things. And of course I chose this club because Sluggo, the poet of the peloton.

The Spring Series are held in Aldergrove and Langley, so although the races are well within commuting distance of Vancouver, the roads are quieter than in the city itself, and the spectators furrier.

Got yer Goat!

Nothing boosts the spirits like having a good cheerleading squad on hand - what could be better at helping a girl moooooove it along?

The Human Salt Lick.
Actually, I can think of ONE thing. Two, in fact. Fast wheels make the world go round, and this past weekend, a dear, sweet kind, lovely and generous friend has given me use of the rear wheel to match the front which I used for the Team Time Trial on the first of January. Pretty, deep dish crabon things mooooooove you along, for sure!

My legs might not be a whole lot faster just yet, but that bike sure is... :) What a difference from last year!  Never mind the new paddle shifters post crash, the new drive train after all of the winter riding wear and tear, and the new brakes to protect whichever wheels I am using. The cranks are carbon, the seat post is titanium, the pedals are Ti Mag, and the wheels are carbon. It's like a body which regenerates every cell over a seven year period. My bike is almost completely revitalized, except for that everlasting, sweet Ti frame. Now all I need is a few weeks of concerted power intervals to tune the top end of those massive base miles built over that short and sweet Vancouver winter, and look out, world! 

And maybe the whole world will actually need to be on guard, too. See the sunshine coming through that doorway up there? That's an old-timey false-front of a western town movie set down on the shore by the northern end of the Ironworkers Memorial bridge. It has nothing whatsoever to do with road racing in Vancouver, but it IS symbolic of my hopes and aspirations for the upcoming year. You'll never guess what that involves!

  Wild Blue Media TV is planning to do a show featuring racing across the world in its various forms across divergent cultures, and I really hope they choose me to be a racing contestant in it. If I do end up participating, we will go to a different location every month for 13 months, and we will participate in the race that's most popular there. So... we will go to the Yak Track to race the great furry beasts in Mongolia, we'll race dogsleds on the Arctic Circle, and mopeds (?!) in Africa.  Keep your fingers crossed for me, mkay?

Prolo makes you stronger too.
After all, these legs could totally rock a yak race, power intervals or no... :D

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Home is where the heart is.

Know what I love about riding bikes? I love that you can just stop anywhere... ok, almost anywhere, and soak it all in. Here we are, soaking in the beautiful American landmark, Mt Baker, as seen from the Arthur Laing bridge. (Never mind the exhaust we were soaking in at the same time... :-| )

In a car, you can't stop on the bridge deck to check out the planes, trains and automobiles (and distant mountains!) the way you can on two wheels.

On a bike you can stop to take photos of other bridges from mid span, and you can take pictures of bridges from beaches, too.
The Lion's gate from Dundarave in West Vancouver.
They frown on people driving their cars onto the seawall to take photos. See how those trees are already starting to come to life? Some of the many varieties of ornamental cherries are already in bloom, having had the requisite 10 C (that's 50 American) and sunshine for a while now.

Lifted from BikeSnobNYC
Poor snobberdooders was out riding in the snow last weekend, though kudos to him for not letting the weather shut him down. But whilst he was navigating the cold white carpet, we were enjoying a carpet of colourful crocuses crocuci flowers.

The sunshine and early springtime is lovely for us cyclists, but it sucks to be a skier this year. Our mountains and their ski hills are barren of snow. 

Each of Vancouver's three local ski hills is closed for business at the very time of year when they are supposed to be in full swing. It's a far cry from your typical February in Vancouver, that's for sure.

It's an even worse season than we had for the 2010 Winter Olympics, when they were trucking snow in from the interior and dropping it on the slopes with helicopters. You've gotta love it. Ha! Yeah, forget Canada. From now on, they're going to have to hold the Winter Olympics in places like Texas, North Carolina, Alabama and Arkensas. Y'know, places where they get actual snow.

I love living on the Pacific for its pacifying effect on the weather systems. Works for me...

Know what else works for me? A city that loves bikes. You've gotta love a place that goes out of its way to get you to tweet #lovebikeyvr! After my last post, somebody had this to say:

It would be wonderful to get rid of the car and bike/walk everywhere. BUUTT... not all of us live in such an urban environment. My home town has been devoured by sprawl to the point that you HAVE to have a car or else ride as much as 3 times the distance just to arive at your destination. Public transport is an afterthought. Cycling here is something reserved for the DUI cases, extreme low income cases, and the eccentric fred types. Maybe thats why our hit and run count is so high. The last time i chased down a car that nearly flattened me, i confronted the driver and was told "yeah well, you never go back for cats and dogs". (Yes i replied that thats the reason i only #@!%'ed his mother once.) You can see the mentality thats created by this environment. Please, be thankful for your city and its virtues. It could be much MUCH worse.

The city of many virtues.

And you KNOW I couldn't leave it alone. I had just read about Surrey, known as "car city," what with its expanding bike lane infrastructure, and their plan to convince more people to ride their bikes. I took a deep breath, put my hand on my hip, got in touch with my inner know-it-all, and replied in earnest, and at length...

You'll find a better photo of this rack here.
Sixty years ago most of your suburban American neighbours felt righteous in actively discriminating against their African-american neighbours, too. Just because they all agree, doesn't mean they're right. 

Of course I am grateful for living in this particular urban center, but it's a chicken and egg sort of thing, isn't it? After all, we wouldn't have a bike friendly city without people who insisted on riding before we had bike lanes. In other words, I am exactly the kind of person who has made this city the bike friendly place that it is. But I have lived and ridden year round in a lot of other places. A. Lot. I started riding full time in Edmonton, Alberta, a city on the same latitude as Moscow, whose primary income is derived from the oil patch - worse, the tarsands. That was decades ago, and even though they have bike lanes now, it is still a place where car is king. I have lived in the suburbs, too, I was in White Rock, BC, before I came here to Vancouver, and before that, I lived in Surrey in the UK. And yes, of course I have encountered people like that asshole who wouldn't stop if he hit someone's beloved pet. I have also lived and cycled almost everywhere I went on island and in rural locations alike, places like Saltspring Island, and North Beach on Haida Gwaii. It isn't always simple, but it is do-able. 

And the thing is, nothing is going to change until normal people like you show the way. My friends in Vancouver's suburb of White Rock were astounded that I should choose to cycle when I could drive, but over time, they noticed the benefits of my lifestyle, and now a few of them ride, too.

In the wise words of the Lorax, "Nothing's going to get better - it's not! - until someone like you cares a whole awful lot."

But the moment someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things do get better, guaranteed, and on the spot. It starts inside, but the goodness grows. Your choices will affect the people around you. Sooner or later, people will see that not only is it possible to make healthy choices, but that it acutally feels good.

Till you find yourself living in a town that loves people who love bikes, because cyclists are accepted as normal, healthy, and sane. (Heh heh. Not that I am often accused of that!) We are still a little way from unconditional acceptance here in Vancouver, what with all of the drivers who hate us, but we're a far cry from the mean streets and fast traffic we cyclists suffered ten years ago, too. It's a work in progress, but at least it's working. 

So here's to progress. Be the change that makes all the difference in your little corner of the world. You'll feel good about yourself as you do it, and you'll be happy with the results (specially the bottom line!) when all is said and done. Change is coming, slowly but surely. Take heart.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Some things about Valentines day are heart to beat.

Gidday! Greetings and salutations from an impulseive lescyclist in circulation in Vancouver. Here we are, finally over the mid-winter hump, having celebrated Imbolic and survived St Valentine's infamous day of love.

How did you celebrate? Not Imbolic. If you noticed it, you probably nodded farewell to the darkest nights of winter and hello to the first blush of light, and if you were on top of it, you started your seeds in the windowsill. How did you celebrate love? Did you go out with your favourite person, maybe for dinner or a drink?

Did you notice how perfectly lovely restaruants turned into expensive, high end establishments, knowing full well that people are going to go out for the evening,

Special heartless Valentine's day drink prices.
and then capitalising on romance by nearly doubling their typical prices for the evening?? Unbelievable. Restaurateurs must absolutely love Valentine's day.

Note the six and seven dollar drinks on the standard menu
Know what I love? I love my life. I love Valentines Day, and I love special wishes. One gorgeous soul wrote: "In the future, may all of your falling just be in love." Nice, right? Or how about this little gem

with the sentiment inside

 I love living in one of the most beautiful, rideable cities on Earth.

Yep, you've gotta love this town, and especially the fact that you can ride where ever you go, day in and day out, all rear round.

Check our that crisp, clean urban forest air... :)
And while the Fraser Valley sometimes gets air quality advisories because of too many cars on the roads in Vancouver, those of us in the city get to breathe beautiful sweet, Pacific air. You've gotta love that. Do you remember the study that proved that as little as two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust can trigger dangerous changes to human genes?  You don't have to be in Beijing, either. All it takes is a couple of hours by the port...

I absolutely love love love that Paris is banning diesel cars, and pedestrianising a great number of thoroughfares.  The Left Bank has been completely closed to traffic since early 2013, and last year the mayor of Paris introduced a policy which allows drivers to use their cars only on every other day, so that one day even numbered plates were allowed on the roads, and the next only odd. (OMG you've gotta love Paris!)

Paris smog via The Daily Mail
If you can make your way to work without your car on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, why do you need it to get there on Tuesday and Thursday? Why are people so brainwashed that they believe they can't possibly live their lives without their precious cars? It is such a recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things, the car-centric city, and yet people can't even imagine living in a world without them. I guess it's understandable, really ... after all I can't imagine life without my happy place.

You've gotta love Vancouver: it embraces cycling almost as passionately as do I. The city has installed heart shaped bike racks like that one in scenic locations all over town, in the hope that people will take photographs of themselves with the racks, and then share their pictures on social media with the hashtag #lovebikeyvr. 

And after all, everybody loves a great rack. Heyyyy... come to think of it - that looks like a wonderful little field trip! Hmmm. Yep. Coming soon to a bikecycling blog near you, a #hashtag calling to Vancouver cyclists: Hail and Heart-y... making tracks to the heart racks.

Between the sex clubs and the traffic bans, I am all for emulating the City of Love...

Then all of this heart thumping bike loving cycle blogging will not have been in vein.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The cycling scene has finally got legs.

This is it. We've arrived. 

We're here, and we're not going away. Cycling culture is beginning to make its mark on Vancouver's red hot hot hot real estate scene, so you know it's big. You can resent us, mock us, ridicule us or even hate us, but whatever you do, you'd better get used to us, cause we're here to stay. I would like to think that we cyclists were a grass roots movement which grew in numbers. I wish we had become bigger and stronger so that along the way the world recognised the value in our lifestyle, until finally we became the new normal, and we shaped the very nature of mainstream, but no. Instead, what once was an alternative subculture simply became a clever marketing trick, so that now for a mere $300,000 you, too, can have 25,000 hipster neighbours and a apartment the size of the double garage of yore. 

The Independent at Main
What used to be the parking space for the two cars any self-respecting family of four would have owned back in the day is now the square footage of your average abode. The Independent is marketed as a "Crafted Lifestyle," and sold as "Affordable Luxury." The truth is that parking spaces add zeros to the price tag of condominium living, and the gap between housing costs and salaries here in Vancouver is enormous and growing. A lovely friend of mine (clearly a tolerant, good humoured man) is a prominent architect here in town, and one evening we were discussing the costs of housing development. He said that the raw cost of building a parking space is $25-$40,000 for developers, so that by the time profit (who works for free??!), taxes and government levies are added in, housing your car adds $60,000 to the price tag of a condo here in Vancouver. Sixty grand!! You can buy a pretty nice little car for that much money.

The Car House
But it's inevitable, this shift. It is a reflection of the distribution of wealth in this crazy, mixed-up, modern world. According to Oxfam, this year marks a crucial tipping point. By the end of 2015 the richest 1% will have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. So it makes sense that here in Vancouver, developers have also created the smallest little tiny micro condos in the country to market to the average Joe. Again, they are marketed as Affordable Luxury, and again, they are the size of a garage of old.

The Burns Block
That is a photograph of the Burns Block, which is just down the road from where I work, in perhaps the most gentrified part of town. If it had been built a mile east of here, in Coal Harbour, you'd find bathrooms bigger than that. But take a good look, because what you see there is the face of the future. Unless, of course, we change our course.  So who is the 1%? I don't know about you, but whenever I hear that phrase, I always think about the 0.001%, those very, very few ultra rich people, when in fact if you're reading this, (and clearly you are!!) you might just be one of the 1% yourself. In truth, if you are calculating the global 1%, Americans ARE it , because on a global scale, all it takes to become one of the top 1% of earners is to earn $34,000 a year, whereas to be one of the 1% of Americans, you have to earn a lot more than that. In Canada, once you are approaching $200,000 a year you are a member of the 1% club.

(And if you are a member of that particular club, you wouldn't be riding the bus, so you would have missed the Toronto Transit Commission's big cock-up with the sign they recently erected... and you know that no matter what excuse they gave, the truth is that they took it down for a lack of balls all round. Heh heh.

So I hate to admit it, but I kindov like that Independent place. It's silly, really, because it's so obvious that it was built and marketed toward the young hipster demographic (IS there really such a thing as a hipster demographic?!!) because the developers want to make a profit, and not because of the health and environmental benefits of the cycling lifestyle. But it doesn't matter why it was built, only THAT it was built. A lot of the commuters you see out there on the bike routes these days are cycling because the cost of running a car in the city has become prohibitive. Last I checked, a monthly parking stall in the financial district here in downtown Vancouver was between three hundred and three hundred and fifty dollars. Never mind the price of the car, the insurance, the petrol and the cost to the environment. People who are riding to work every day feel better for it, and they benefit the rest of us with their decision, too, and that works for me. Oh, and also, it's good to ride because Legs. 

How can you argue with that?!