Edmonton Night Cyclists

I apologize to my small readership for my month-long absence from this blog. While there has been no shortage of cycling activities, the non-bikey part of my life (It’s true – I do have one!) has been occupying the greatest part of my attention for several months now. Still, I’ve still been gathering material for the blog all the while.

I have been working on a truly harrowing bit of investigative journalism, a descent into the murky world of Edmonton’s urban nighttime cyclists. These enigmatic riders can be sometimes be spotted cruising the darkened city streets on a startling variety of light-bedecked bicycles, possibly with a music booming, laser light show beaming trailer in tow. Let me provide a necessarily incomplete glimpse into this shadowy society.

Having had some slight contact with a group of nocturnal riders last summer, I began preparations for this investigation during the past winter. My first action was to purchase a set of Monkey Lights to install on my bike. Although moderately pricey, they seemed to be an effective way for me to blend in with the group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nishiki-san at night.

Next, I made discreet inquiries into ways of contacting the night riders to find out when the events might be happening. My efforts lead me to an obscure corner of the internet where some of these people gather. Having made contact I waited patiently for a ride to be announced. Near the end of May, I had my first opportunity.

The trip departed from a certain south-side community bike shop. With a myriad of lights flashing, we glided down  Whyte Ave, accompanied by music blasting from the trailer towed by one of the ride’s ringleaders. Passersby seemed bemused by our presence and many shouted or whistled calls of encouragement. It’s fun to make an electronic spectacle of yourself.

Over the course of the night we bombed through a parkade (slaloming among concrete columns), cruised down the unlit river valley trails, and loitered about on the Fort Edmonton pedestrian bridge. There was worrying moment of excitement when two riders collided, sending both to the asphalt. One rider flew through the air, rolled, and came to his feet like an acrobat. Happily, neither cyclist was injured, although one front wheel was badly tacoed.

I also joined another ride last weekend, but was unable to photograpically document it due to a camera failure. Urban exploring was the order of the night, and several incomplete bits of the new LRT line were investigated.

As the opportunity presents, I will continue to update this blog with the results of my continuing investigations into what one of my informants has referred to as “harmless badassery”.

Again, The Fabulaous Light Bike.

Again, The Fabulous Light Bike.

The Parkade Summit

The Parkade Summit

The Light Cyclist's latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

The Light Cyclist’s latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

I've concealed the identities of the riders.

I’ve concealed the identities of the riders.

The First Mountain Bike Commute of 2014

Finally, finally, FINALLY!

The Iron Horse is back in working order and ready to dive into the mighty fine Edmonton river valley trails. I had wanted to do a ride on Victoria day morning, but was forced to spend my few free hours at the Bikeworks North tuning the bike up. All is well now, and on the very next day I rode the Iron Horse on my daily commute.

I love that my city has such a great network of singletrack, so easily accessible. I’m particularly lucky that I can plot a route more or less directly to work on these trails. My trip in the morning was more on pavement than I planned because I was running late, but I took my time on the way home and spent as much time as possible rolling the big tires through the dirt. I hope to do this sort of commute at least once a week this summer, weather permitting.

I was mostly having too much fun to stop and take photos, but I did manage a token few.

Commuting at its best.

Commuting at its best.

Take your choice: abandoned stairs or tree roots.

Take your choice: abandoned stairs or tree roots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never tire of the prairie cloudscapes.

Changing Seasons

Back when I used to put the bike away for winter, I would always look forward to that first exciting ride of the spring. Now that I’m cycling year round I miss that feeling. However, there is a compensation in watching the slow turn of the seasons from the seat of my bicycle.

We’re currently passing through one of my favourite periods.  At this time of year the sun is just clearing the top of Mill Creek ravine as I pedal to work in the morning. This is quite nice, but even better is the fact the the trees are just starting to bud at the same time. The poplar trees are laden with downy, white, young seed pods that catch the the low morning sunlight and and shine with a pearly glow. The elm trees are still heavy with last years seeds that shine with warm amber light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In little more than a week the poplar pods will slowly change from white to a vibrant green, and together with the budding leaves will make the morning woods seem to be suffused with a jade mist. Get out there and enjoy it Edmontonians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This picture does not do it justice.

A Trip to Jasper

All-Absorbing-Real-Life-Concerns have kept me mostly away from the computer for the past few weeks, but never fear, the cycling kilometers have continued to slowly accumulate. Spring has more or less installed itself here in Edmonton. I’ve put the winter bike away, and I’ve been doing my best to start giving each of the bikes a bit of time on the road. The R20, the Kona Jake, the Moulden, the Norco fixie and Nishiki-san have all had their day in the sun.

My biggest cycling accomplishment so far this season was making it out to the mountains almost a month ago. My wife’s mother and her husband were taking our kids out for a bit of spring skiing in Jasper, and I tagged along with my bike. This turned out to be a pretty good way to start the non-winter riding season. Considering that it’s early in the season and the bike trails would probably still be snow covered, I chose the Jake to take with me as it’s my best all around bike – at home on pavement and gravel.

2008 Kona Jake

2008 Kona Jake

The trails were indeed mostly snow covered.

The trails were indeed mostly snow covered.

On the first day, I started off with a lazy spin around the town and then headed up towards Pyramid lake. The air was crisp but not cold and the sun was shining down from a ridiculously blue sky – a perfect spring cycling day. My immediate thought was that living in flat, flat Edmonton does not prepare a person for cycling uphill for 6km. Still, I managed to mostly avoid resorting to the granny gears and with only a moderate amount of wheezing I made it first up to Patricia lake and then Pyramid lake. The quiet, wooded mountain roads were a real treat, and the view was fantastic.

Patricia Lake - Pyramid Mountain

Patricia Lake – Pyramid Mountain: Patricia lake was the site of a WWII experiment to determine the feasibility of building giant island-like ice ships for use against U-Boats in the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, it was found to be impractical, but the history of Project Habakkuk is an interesting one.

While stopping to take a picture I found a Toonie, freshly melted out of the snow.

While stopping to take a picture I found a Toonie, freshly melted out of the snow.

During the trip there was no shortage of beautiful, quiet mountain roads. Automotive traffic was light and considerate towards cyclists, of which I was one of only a handful.

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

A shoulder almost as wide as a full lane.

I also headed down to the banks of the Athabasca river, to dip my hands in the bone-numbing glacial run-off.

Jasper Trip

Mandatory bridge photo.

Jasper Trip

The distinctive colour of the river, caused by glacial till, was particularly apparent from under the bridge.

The distinctive colour of the river, caused by glacial till, was particularly apparent from under the bridge.

Clear, cold and fast running river.

Clear, cold and fast running river.

There were a lot of Elk loitering about just outside of town. In fact, the amount of droppings littering the grass beside the sidewalks showed that the Elk were comfortable with wandering around the town at night. My 5 year old son was impressed with all the poop.

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

There were several reassuring signs to be seen as I cycled around the mountain roads.

Jasper Trip

Staying with my vehicle, the Kona Jake, would likely not have helped protect me from a bear.

Jasper Trip

On the chance that anyone reading this blog has an interest in lichens (and there were a lot of them), I offer the following photos:

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Jasper Trip

Without doubt, the highlight of the trip was my ride up to Maligne Canyon, a beautiful testament to the erosive power of even a small stream. I could have spent an entire day gazing at the smooth-flowing whorls of rock, and exposed slabs of strata but was under a time constraint to get back to the town for the drive back to Edmonton. If I’m back to Jasper again I will budget my time differently.

Jasper Trip

At this point, Maligne canyon is not particularly wide. . .

. . . but it's an impressive fifty-one meters deep.

. . . but it’s an impressive fifty-one meters deep - a narrow slot cut in the rock.

A view of the same bridge from farther down the trail.

A view of the same bridge from farther down the trail.

A different bridge. Here thew canyon is narrower but a mere 10 meters deep.

A different bridge. Here the canyon is narrower but a mere 10 meters deep.

For a sense of scale, please notice the walkers on the trail along the edge of the canyon.

Some walkers on the trail along the edge of the canyon giving a sense of scale.

I found this obviously well traveled route down to the floor of the canyon. If there were less people about I might have skulked down there, myself.

I found this obviously well traveled route down to the floor of the canyon. If there were less people about I might have skulked down there, myself.

After reluctantly leaving the canyon, I hopped back on the bike and raced down the long descent back towards town, an  exhilarating  plummet down a winding, wooded mountain road. The effort of travelling up was well repaid here. Once back in town, I met up with the others, loaded the bike on the vehicle and settled in for the drive home.

Getting into the mountains was a fantastic way to inaugurate my recreational riding season I’ll have to try to do this again but next time on the trails and with a mountain bike.

Jasper Trip

 

Mystery antique bike tool – can you guess its purpose?

Mystery Bike Tool

Mystery Bike Tool

Hanging out at our local community run bike shop, Bikeworks North, has given me many opportunities to glimpse the diversity of bicycle technology new and old. While it’s neat to occasionally see somebody wander in with a skookum carbon fiber bike (that cost more than I could sell my internal organs for on the black market), what I enjoy most is getting to see some of the odd avenues that bicycle manufacturers have wandered down in the past.

I freely admit that it doesn’t take much to impress me. As a 40-something year old whippersnapper who has really only been sucked into the cycling history vortex in the past couple of years, I have a lot to learn. The internet is, of course, a wealth of easily accessible information but you can’t beat the opportunity to actually to see something in person.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be in the shop when an older gentleman brought in the tool shown in the opening photo. This fellow is 85 years old and operated a bike shop decades ago. I didn’t catch when he shut down his business, but judging by the NOS parts he donated during an earlier visit, it was likely in the early 80′s. He commented that as a small shop he couldn’t compete with the volume discounts that the suppliers started offering to the big stores. It interesting to chat with him about the cycling shops that have come and gone in Edmonton long before I moved here.

On this day, he had brought in an old bike tool and he challenged the volunteers present to guess what it was used for. I was well out of my depth here. It was looked to be double-ratcheting, tightening something with both the up and downstrokes of the lever, which reminded me of a cider press I rented once. However, I couldn’t guess what would require that on a bicycle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is the other side of the tool.

He also brought in a child’s CCM bike dating from the late 40′s or early 50′s. This was nifty to look at all on its own. In the photos below, an observant reader might be able to spot a clue to the intended use of the tool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This use of the mystery tool dates back to the dawn of cycling and something of its sort was used with the iconic penny-farthings. I imagine it wasn’t much used by the 1940s but was still a requirement for working on children’s bicycles as well as for baby carriages. Still stumped? The next photos should clear things up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pneumatic tires have been around since the late 1800′s but before that solid rubber tires were used and were tightened onto the rim by means of an internal wire. The mystery tool was used to tighten the wire. While the cushioning effect of the air-filled tires made them immediately popular, the durable and puncture proof solid tires remained in use for some applications. Even today you can still buy modern varieties of airless tires. The photo above shows a tire that wasn’t properly fit to the wheel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The tire material was sold in coils and you would simply cut off the length you needed for a particular wheel.

My wife doesn’t share my bike interests, but is tolerant when I pester her to look at something I find interesting. When I showed her the photos of the tire machine, I was surprised when she said she had seen one before. Her grandfather was a cobbler in Saskatchewan who also repaired bike wheels and she remembered seeing a tool like this in his shop. She had also seen the coils of tire material there. When I mentioned that these sorts of tires had been used on baby carriages she said that there were carriages handing from the rafters of his shop.

I snooped around the internet for a bit, and while I didn’t find an example of this particular type of machine being used, I did find some examples of different machines being used for the same job. Here is a video of one in use.

I doubt I’ll ever have occasion to use a device like this but it was fascinating to learn about this old style of tire. Maybe I need to add a penny-farthing to my small fleet.

 

 

Finishing the Errandonnee: Booze, Books, Yoda and much more!

I’ve been busily going about my normal, everyday cycling life and whenever I remembered, I’ve documented my errands for the Errandonnee challenge:

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12′ish days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between March 7-19, 2014

Errand #2 – March 11th – Commuting – 10km

After the previous day’s splashing through puddles, an overnight temperature drop provided lots of icy surfaces on the morning commute. Some behemoth had crashed through the frozen LRT puddle, leaving a field of ice panes across the path.

There’s a steep hill that I pedal up every day to climb out of Mill Creek. During the spring thaw it’s a babbling brook during the day but after a frosty night it freezes into an ice slide. This hill is my personal benchmark for studded tire performance on ice. With my DIY sheet-metal screw tires I could never pedal up it. With Schwalbe Winter Marathon Tires, I can make it to the top as long as I am very careful about how I apply torque to the rear wheel – too much and it spins out. With my Nokkian Hakka WXC300 tires I can zip up the hill without even thinking about the ice, enjoying the Velcro-like grip of these aggressively studded tires. On this day, when I was almost to the top I saw another cyclist carefully heading down the hill, staying close to the side.

Errand #3 – March 11th – Wild Card – 10km

On the way home from work I detoured downtown to City Center Mall to buy a cell phone top-up for my daughter. This is only the second month with her first cell phone, so I’ve been reluctant to hook it up to any of my credit cards until I see how she handles it. On the way out of the downtown core I stopped for a pic by the LRT tunnel free-wall, a place where graffiti art is officially permitted by the city. It’s a constantly changing mural, and if there’s an image you like one day it might be painted over the next.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #4 – March 12th – Commuting – 20km

On the way to work in the morning I was treated to a wonderful sunrise that peaked just as I was crossing the pedestrian bridge. It’s a perfect place to stop for a peaceful few moments to enjoy the morning. I’ll miss this bridge when it’s replaced to make room for LRT expansion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #5 – March 12th – Grocery Store – 1.5km

This is about as boring as errands get. I will note that I am now a fan of bike baskets, with the Wald shown being good for bulky but light loads. The panniers are filled to the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #6 – March 14th – Personal Care – 6km

On the way home from work I headed downtown to deposit a few checks in the bank. When I was crossing the river I spotted my first two geese of the year. It’s a good sign that spring might actually be here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I'll bet I'm not.

I’ll bet I’m not.

Errand #7 – March 14th – Personal Care – 0.5km

After the bank I headed to the liquor store, deVines, to pick up something interesting for the weekend. If you don’t think that alcohol counts as personal care, then you just don’t know me. I bought a bottle of German Schenkerla Marzen Smoked beer. The malted barley for this beer is kilned over beechwood logs and sipping this dark beverage is like drinking a campfire. I mean that in a good way. I also picked up a bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling for my wife, who has recently started working out and dusting off the moves she learned when we were studying the martial art more than a decade ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #8 – March 14th – Non Grocery Store –  3.5km

Before heading home, I popped in to check out the new space for the Wee Book Inn, an Edmonton used book store chain with several locations. They have just recently downsized their downtown location by moved into this smaller space. There are still lots of books to peruse: I bought “The Sherlock Holmes Scapbook”. Published in 1986, this book has lots of interesting photos chronicling the use of Holmes in a variety of media , from ads for Crawford’s Cream Crackers to a great picture of William Gillette the first actor to portray Holmes on the stage back in 1901. There also also some cycling content, with a photo of Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife riding a velocipede. I’m to lazy to scan it, but you can see it here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #9 – March 15th – Bike Shop – 2km

I celebrated the Ides of March by getting up early and heading to Bikeworks North to clean some of the winter grime off my bike and to put my lighter duty studded tires on. These Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires are great for when there is mostly bare pavement with a few ice patches. It was odd to see my bike emerge from under the encrusting dirt for the first time in months.

Errand #10 – March 15th – Grocery Store

After I left Bikeworks I headed to the Downtown Farmer’s Market. During the cold months it’s hosted in City Hall, another example of Edmonton’s brief and peculiar fascination with pyramids. I got a heap of food as usual.

IIn my opinin, City Hall is not really enhanced by the addition of a Wacky, Waving, Inaflatable, Arm-Flailing, Tube Man

In my opinion, City Hall is not really enhanced by the addition of a Wacky, Waving, Inaflatable, Arm-Flailing, Tube Man

A pretty swanky location for the Farmer's Market.

A pretty swanky location for the Farmer’s Market.

Errand #11 – March 18th – Wild Card – 1.5km

Before work I had to zip out to 7-11 to pick up a pack of bus tickets for my daughter who had lost her bus pass right in the middle of the month – inconvenient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Errand #12 – March 19th – Dinner – 10 km

The categories for the Errandonnee were a bit problematic for me as three of them were for going out for meals or coffee, things I almost never do. On work days, I pack a lunch and bring a thermos of tea with me. Other meals are pretty much always at home with the family. However, I’ve been intending to try out the Burger Baron location near my home for more than a decade so I popped in on my way home from work. I’ve gone past it hundreds, if not thousands of times, without going in. Established in 1957, Burger Baron was the first drive-through chain in Western Canada and it was pretty popular until big American chains muscled in and the original franchise went into bankruptcy. The locations are now independently operated and have their own widely varying (and slightly…creative) menus. I’ve been to several in the city, but oddly, not the one a few blocks from my house. The locations are often a little shabby and run down, but I really enjoy their distinct personality, very different form the big chains. Where else can you get Donair Poutine with sides of Corn Fritters and Mushroom Soup?  I had a double mushroom burger, one of the Baron’s signature dishes that comes with a heap of mushrooms in a sort of gravy, fries (piping hot) and a chocolate milkshake. I haven’t had a shake in a long, long time and this one was so thick that I could feel my cranial sutures creaking under the vaccuum force of me trying to suck it through the straw. I was uncomfortably full by the time I was finished the meal.

In it's heyday, I imagine the drive-in was packed. Now everybody uses the drive-through.

In it’s heyday, I imagine the drive-in was packed. Now everybody uses the drive-through.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some interesting menu items: Tatertots Poutine & Deep Fried Mush. Although, It turns out that it’s actually Deep Fried Mushrooms I would not have been surprised at all if they were offering some sort of deep fried hash,

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

What is the Errandonnee, you ask? It’s a challenge organized by MG of the blog Chasing Mailboxes and can be summarized as follows:

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12′ish days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between March 7-19, 2014.

I’m a bit late getting started on this because I wasn’t feeling the love for running errands. I do lots of them anyway, but they’re often boring – not necessarily good blog material. But today, I decided that I’ll give it a try as long as I can find something at least moderately interesting about the errand.

Today’s errand was a trip to Earth’s General Store to pick up some household items. Entire bottles of shampoo have been going missing in our house lately, and though the children are the prime suspects I haven’t yet been able to prove anything. An elaborate sting operation may be required to get to the bottom of it. Maybe something like an exploding dye-pack.

Today’s errand coincided with my annual spring-thaw bike-splash photo session. The snow is melting fast giving lots of chances to splash through massive puddles while cycling. It’s good, clean (sort of) fun. On general principle I rode through the middle of most puddles for maximum effect. It turns out that none of the ponds were actually bottomless, nor was Nessie anywhere to be seen.

The first puddle to be forded - cutting through the alley on the way to EGS.

The first puddle to be forded – cutting through the alley on the way to EGS.

Heading into Mill Creek ravine.

Heading into Mill Creek ravine.

Bike Splash!

Bike Splash!

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

Soggy Spring Errandonnee

My old nemesis - the LRT trail puddle. This one looked a bit nasty so I rode along the edge.

My old nemesis – the LRT trail puddle. This one looked a bit nasty so I rode along the edge.