Cycling From Dusk ’till Dawn

What is the best night to attempt cycling through all the hours of the night.? On the shortest night of the year, of course. If one wanted to be really tough they could try it on the longest night – but it’s cold in December and I ain’t that ambitious.

Friday night, as one of the many Bike Month activities,  the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society organized a Midnight Mystery Ride. At Bikeworks South, more than a score of cyclists assembled  in a flashing,blinking, strobing pack of nocturnal, urban explorers. The plan was to was to cruise the streets into the wee hours of the night. My own personal goal    was to ride until sunrise – a sort of solstice cycling vigil. The weather was ideal for the expedition. A thunderstorm had rolled through earlier in the evening leaving behind rain-swept streets, cool air  and clearing skies.

Midnight Mystery RideMidnight Mystery RideMidnight Mystery Ride

We started our ride by travelling down Whyte Ave, Edmonton’s main strip of bars and nightlife. One of our fearless leaders was pedaling his fantastical light bike and towing a trailer equipped with a music blasting boom box providing a soundtrack for the ride. He’d  also hooked up a laser effects-box that beamed a light show on the road behind him. There’s no doubt that we were a head-turning, attention-grabbing spectacle and throughout the ride there were many shouts of encouragement from drivers and pedestrians. We traveled down through Mill Creek ravine, past the Muttart Conservatory where we paused for some photos, and onward to the pedestrian bridge where we stopped for more photos and some refreshments. You can see one of the group photos here. I took very few photos while actually riding as I was simply not up to the challenge of trying to capture unblurred night pictures while also controlling my bike in a largish group.

Most of my riding photos turned out like this.

Most of my riding photos turned out like this.

Midnight Mystrey RideMidnight Mystrey RideMidnight Mystrey Ride

Next we headed up the serpentine path through the Chinese garden in a sinuous glowing line. We cruised through downtown and up to the top of one of the parkades looking down over the city center.Swooping along under the low ceiling was a blast but I’m glad I wasn’t the one pedaling the heavily laden trailer through all this climbing. After the parkade we visited the “Tron” building and the Legislature grounds.

Midnight Mystrey Ride

Fun to ride up. Even more  fun to ride down. There is a picture of the descent here.

Fun to ride up. Even more fun to ride down. There is an excellent picture of the descent here.

The nearly full moon rising over downtown.

The nearly full moon rising over downtown.

As far as I know the Legislature grounds are open to the public all night. I don't think I've ever been there when it was completely deserted

As far as I know the Legislature grounds are open to the public all night. I don’t think I’ve ever been there when it was completely deserted

Dancing with sparklers.

Dancing with sparklers.

A number of people called it quits after the stop at the legislature grounds. A few more said goodnight  after we crossed south over the High Level Bridge, leaving just five of us to wend our way through the University grounds to a location where we could see the lightening sky, distant lightning flashes and a perplexing a meteorological phenomenon. After this we gradually headed to our respective homes.

Midnight Mystery Ride

Drenched with laser light.

Drenched with laser light.

Once I was on own, I headed back towards my own neighbourhood. I plotted a routed through the quiet old residential neighbourhoods before cutting up to speed down 118th Ave. Even at this late hour a few businesses were open, with music floating out and light spilling from doorways onto patrons gathered outside smoking. Scattered pedestrians wandered the Ave.

I pushed on towards my favourite local park to watch the sunrise. I am rarely out and about during these late hours and I savored the peaceful and unusually quiet sleeping city. The singing of wakening songbirds rang out in the absence of the normal human made cacophony. It’s been many years since I’ve stayed up all night; I’d been doubtful that at my age I still had it in me. However by sunrise, though my  mind was getting foggy, my body was still willing to ride more, leading me to an unsurprising conclusion: bicycles – an ideal stimulant.

Midnight Mystery Ride

Midnight Mystery Ride

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Caterpillars & Poplar Fluff

Little green caterpillars and gentle flurries of poplar seeds are one the annual signs that tell me that summer is so very close to officially arriving. These two make their appearance near the end of spring and signal the end of brisk morning rides and pleasantly warm evenings.

The caterpillars are Larger Boxelder Leafrollers and they mostly feed on the leaves of Manitoba Maples. As there are no shortage of these trees in the river valley, Edmonton cyclists using the trails are accustomed to suddenly riding into swarms of the caterpillars . You will be zipping along when the light filtering through the foliage will illuminate a host  of little jade Leafrollers rappelling down from canopy above on invisible lines. Attempts to dodge them are futile; you are bound to accumulate a number of tiny hitchhikers.

Larger Boxelder Leafroller

Larger Boxelder Leafroller.

These hungry little critters can defoliate an entire tree. Luckily the weedy Manitoba Maple is such a rugged character that within a few weeks it can grow complete new set of leaves.

In addition to Manitoba Maples the river valley is well provided with poplar trees. Throughout late spring these trees will form seed pods that release steady flurries of white fluff. It gathers in drifts throughout the woods, sometimes nearly carpeting the entire forest floor. This year we have had so much rain that, although there has been lots of poplar fluff falling, it has not been able accumulate in the cloud-like, landscape-transforming blankets that I love. I tried to take some photos of the fluff flurries today but my camera or myself (or both) were not equal to the task. I did take a video, but at the time of writing I don’t have the energy to coax my ancient, hand-cranked computer into editing the file. Please just imagine a juxtaposition of giant snowflakes and vibrant greenery; you will have a good approximation. One of my great spring pleasures is cycling through the falling poplar seeds. Contrary to many people’s belief, the poplar fluff does not cause allergic reactions: the poplar seed season coincides with the grass pollen season, the real culprit of springtime sniffles.

Poplar fluff

Poplar Fluff

Seed Pod

A fallen seed pod. One of many.

Moments after taking this photo, my bike fell on top of my crouching self, drawing blood. I hope you appreciate my dedication...and carelessness.

Moments after my taking this photo, my bike fell on top of my crouching self, drawing blood. I hope you appreciate my dedication…and stupidity.

Bike of the Week: 2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0 (aka “The Ravine Bike”)

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

What I know about mountain biking you could fit in a child sized CamelBak and still have room to spare for a week’s worth of back country bikepacking supplies. That is to say, though as an unhelmeted child I would ride my banana bike down the 45 degree slope of our local gravel pit ; and while as a teen I road my Supercycle 12-speed around the rocky, cliff-side paths of my coastal Newfoundland home; and as a young adult I pedaled my rigid framed MTB through my Dad’s rough and ready wood cutting tracks – I have very little knowledge of contemporary mountain bikes and the specialized technology developed for this type of riding. Still, I didn’t let that stop me from rehabilitating the Iron Horse bike I salvaged more than a year ago.

I refer to this bike as my Ravine Bike not because I ride it in the ravines (although I do) but because that’s where I found it: in Kennedale Ravine. I discovered the Sachem when I was volunteering at a ravine clean-up . It had been abandoned for some time and I had to tear it free of the vegetation that grown around it. It had been stripped of the wheels, front derailleur and shifter, and front brake lever and caliper. In the past I’ve found the remains of stolen bikes before and they have always been low-end pieces of junk. This one however seemed to show some promise.

Here I am carrying the bike home from the ravine,enjoying the irony of transporting a 2007 mountain bike with a 3-speed forty-two years its senior.

Here I am carrying the bike home from the ravine,enjoying the irony of transporting a 2007 mountain bike with a 3-speed forty-two years its senior.

When I got home I checked to see if it had been reported stolen. It had not. Or if it had been, enough time had passed that the record was no longer on file. At first I considered stripping it for parts as there were some decent components left on it. However, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to get it back in working order, and a decent mountain bike was one thing I didn’t yet have in my little fleet.

I did a little internet sleuthing and found that the Sachem 3.0 had been Iron Horse’s entry level all-mountain bike (something between a cross-country  and a down hill bike) and likely retailed for more than a $1000. Not a high-end bike, but not a department store piece of junk, either. You can see the original parts spec here and read a BikeRadar review here.    It seemed like as good a bike as my very mediocre skills warranted. The frame is quite stout and looked like it could take a lot of abuse, more than I’d likely ever dish out.

The first step in rebuilding it was acquiring the parts needed, not being the sort of components that I already had in my little stockpile. As I usually have a number of bike projects in the works, I didn’t rush this one. Over the course of the summer and early fall I kept an eye out  for components and accumulated them. I found parts at Bikeworks, on Kijjijj, and at the MEC gear swap. The only part that I had to buy new was the seatpost.

The wheels were the toughest to find as I am cheap and decent disc brake wheels don’t often show up at Bikeworks North, where I get most of my parts. I picked up the rear wheel (Mavic on Deore) from a Kijiji ad and the seller gave them to me for half his original asking price because he accidentally gave the wrong address and sent me on a half-hour wild goose chase looking for his house. For the front, I salvaged the Rhyno-lite rim from a     wheel with a dead hub, and the hub from another wheel with a tacoed rim. The dimensions worked out so nicely that I was able to do the trick where you tape the new rim to the old one and transfer the spokes one at a time. This is such an easy way to build a wheel that I was able to do it while sitting at home watching a movie with my family (The Adventures of Tintin).

Assembling the rest of the bike wasn’t difficult, although setting up the brakes caused some head scratching, as I’d never worked with disc brakes before. Happily, I eventually figured it all out and by late winter the bike was complete. I had the chance to ride it a few times before the snow finally retreated from our fair city (kicking and clinging on to the bitter end as it did this year) and though it was  fun to ride through the snow, I was looking forward to a proper trail riding test.

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2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

If you’ve read any of my bog posts in the past week, then you know that I’ve been really enjoying this bike. I’ve been discovering new trails in the river valley and have been riding some fairly technical singletrack with more confidence than I would normally have. Having a decent quality bike has really made difference to my riding experience. The geometry and handling are neutral enough that it seems to do everything adequately and forgive the flaws of a weak rider. I still want to upgrade a few components when I have the chance, and I have to fine-tune the shifting a little, but nevertheless I’ll be riding this one this summer.

2007 Iron Horse Sachem 3.0

Blissful river valley riding.