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.

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This picture does not do it justice.

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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

 

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.

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.

Folding Bike Sunday

I haven’t been spending much time reading or posting blogs here at WordPress for a week or so.There has been no shortage of bikey activities, though.

Yesterday, was the big Spring Bike and Bake Sale at both Bikeworks locations. I was at the North shop and we  pretty much sold all the tuned up bikes and several as-is ones. The repair stands were pretty much fully occupied throughout the day, as well. I brought my camera to take a few pictures of the event but I was kept so busy bouncing back and forth between patrons that I totally forgot to use it. I heard that it was crazily busy at the South shop where they had many more bikes ready for sale. Now we have to get busy building some more. With spring having finally arrived ( no, really,it has) I’m feeling pretty excited that the cycling activity is picking up here in the city. I’m looking forward to a busy season at the shop.

Today, with the arrival of warm weather in Edmonton, my wife got the MEC  Origami out for her first ride of the year. For this relaxed, neighbourhood trip, I decided it was appropriate to take my 3-speed Raleigh 20. It was a pleasant, though cool, day for cruising around on our small-wheeled bikes.

MEC Origami

 

Raleigh 20

In accordance with rule #3 of the Society of 3-speeds, I rode my bike with immense enjoyment.

In accordance with rule #3 of the Society of 3-speeds, I rode my bike with immense enjoyment. 

Trial by Pothole

“And Lo! there shall be a wasteland of potholes. And the Judgement that they shall mete out to road users shall be stern and swift. Woe betide the driver or cyclist who’s vigilance  fails.”  The Book of Potholes

What lies beneath these placid depths ?

What lies beneath these placid depths ?

There is a nine block stretch of 97th street, extending north from 63 Ave that has achieved a truly sublime density of potholes. It has become so awful that you can only admire it.This Promenade of Potholes has been forming for a few years now but over the winter it really blossomed into its current impressive state.  Back in  2011 I wrote about the dubious condition of this stretch of road. It was noteworthy because it was a newly designated bike route with signs and sharrows. Little did I know that the passing of nearly two years (with the accompanying two winter freeze thaw cycles) would result in a nearly post-apocalyptic road surface.

I’m not the type to gripe endlessly about potholes. Road repair is ongoing and I understand that this area will be attended to by city crews this year. Good. In the meantime, I cycle cautiously through the area and take special care when the pools of meltwater hide the potholes lurking below. Drivers who know the this road are equally cautious. Most of them, that is.

Trial by Pothole

Last week on my way home I was negotiating the lane shown above. At the time the area was still mostly flooded with water from the rapidly melting snow. An SUV driver directly behind me followed for less than 10 seconds before losing patience. He floored the gas pedal, aggressively passed me and then cut sharply in front of me (possibly in an attempt to splash me). As there was no oncoming traffic he could have easily passed at a safe and moderate speed. After passing he gunned the engine and raced down the road.

Would you drive at top  speed down this road?

Would you drive at top speed down this road?

A few seconds later (as I was considering making a rude gesture) a rare and splendid thing happened: he was instantly punished for his reckless driving. While splashing through the puddles the driver suddenly lost control of his vehicle and veered wildly over into the oncoming lane. He very nearly went off the road and onto the grass on the far side. It seems that he hit one of the submerged giant potholes.

This is probably the best outcome I could have hoped for. There was nobody else around on road but if there had been but it could have been a serious accident. I optimistically hope that a lesson was learned by the driver. With luck, he hit the hole hard enough to do some damage to his car. In any case, the incident put a smile on my face for the rest the trip home. During a trial by pothole, judgement is swift.

It might have been this mother of all potholes that      was the hand of justice. It is wide and deep enough to be an entrance to Pellucidar.

It might have been this mother of all potholes that was the hand of justice. It is wide and deep enough to be an entrance to Pellucidar.

The Raleigh 20 & The Society of Three Speeds

When I used to stop cycling during the winter I’d always keenly anticipate the first ride in spring. Getting back on the bike after the winter hiatus was always exhilarating.  Now that I cycle year round I miss having that first ride. On the other hand, I now get to look forward to the first ride of the year when I don’t have to use the winter bike. For the past few years my bike of choice for that ride was the 2008 Kona Jake CX bike, a happy blend of road bike and mountain bike. It’s a good choice for spring riding: zippy and rugged.

This year I had something else in mind for the first spring ride. Today I took my 70’s Raleigh 20 3-speed for a little trip to Bikeworks North to make a few changes to the ol’ folding bike. 3 speed bikes have been on my mind lately as I had recently received an enrollment in The Society of Three Speeds. Shawn Granton, the society’s self-appointed president for life, mailed me a membership package containing a number of buttons and stickers featuring his always great art. Receiving this bundle of goodies in the mail was a nice surprise that cheered me up on what had been a sort of lousy day (thanks Shawn!)

R20 &b the Society of Three Speeds

The three rules of the 3-speed society are:

  1. I will endeavor to promote three speeds as a viable means of transportation.
  2. I will not denigrate three speed bicycles and will not allow others to disparage these humble bicycles.
  3. I will ride my three speed bicycle with pride and immense enjoyment. If I have not yet procured a three speed bicycle, I will do my best to obtain one posthaste.

I can confidently state that I will uphold the rules of the society. I have two 3-speed bikes and have ridden many kilometers on them, both commuting and for the pure enjoyment of the ride. Readers of this blog may recall not only the Raleigh 20 already mentioned above, but also the 1965 CCM Continental. Both bikes are equipped with the Sturmey-Archer internally geared hubs that seem to tick along reliably doing their job for decades.

I picked up the R20 last year and spent some time in the early summer getting it road worthy and set up to my satisfaction. You can see my blog post showing its original condition here. Through the later part of the summer and early fall I put at least 500 km on the bike a lot of fun doing so.

The R20 had a number of peculiarities to consider when setting it up.

The bottom bracket is of unusual dimensions and requires heroic measures if you wish to set it up to accept a modern square taper crankset. Although  I have access to the tools to do this job I decided leave it unchanged as the original crankset was in perfect condition and featured a nifty heron design on the chainring. Unfortunately, this means having to deal with the crank cotters whenever I want to service the bottom bracket. Completing that chore for the first time was tough as one of the cotters was well seized in place and pretty mangled by the time I removed it.

The R20 has an unusual headset, a sort of combination of a threaded and threadless headset. It also lacks top ball bearings and instead has a plastic bushing. I had read that this results in stiffer steering,perhaps a deliberate choice of the designers who may have wanted to dampen the quick steering associated with many folding bikes. When I first tried the bike I found the steering to be unpleasantly stiff. There is modification that you can do to replace the original headset with a 1″ threadless headset, resulting in better steering. Before going to this extreme I tried simply greasing the bushing and lower ball bearings and correctly setting the compression. Afterwards,I found the steering to be much easier: quick and responsive. For my purposes, no headset modification was required.

The one major change I made was to replace the steel rims with alloy rims. This is a good upgrade for old bikes, resulting in a lighter wheelset and better braking. I ordered the replacement rims from ebay and laced them onto the original hubs. I used Sun CR18 presta rims and drilled out the valve hole to accept schraeder tubes. After buying the bike and paying for the rims I was feeling a little cheap so I reused the old spokes. This is generally considered a bad practice but in this case the old galvanized spokes seem to be holding up just fine so far. They were a bit too long for the new rim,but a few minutes with a die-grinder shortened them adequately.

I also made a number of smaller changes to the bike.

The original saddle was horrible, so last year I replaced it with a salvaged foamy “comfort” saddle. This was OK, but today I swapped that one for a Brooks B66S that I picked up back in December via a Kijiji ad. Much classier and quite comfortable so far.

I also replaced the tires today. The original tires were beyond use and the only replacements I could find at Bikeworks at first were a set of grey wheelchair tires.These were in pretty doubtful shape themselves,with the wire bead showing through the cracking rubber at several points. I rode these tires for hundreds of kilometers last year and though they let me get the bike on the road, I was always aware that they could fail at any time. The tires I put on today are NOS tires that I discussed in this blog post. They are in excellent condition and I like he looks of the black tires on the bike more than the grey ones.

I added a rack to the bike. I used an old Pletscher rack that I had on hand. A small modification was necessary as the rack was made for a larger wheeled bike and so I had to shorten the stays. I cut them to the correct length and pressed new flats on them using the hydraulic press at work. Then I drilled new holes and was it was ready to install. Pletscher racks aren’t suitable for carrying a lot of weight but I have used this one on successfully on numerous grocery runs so far.

Pletshcer rack modification

All in all, the bike has shaped up nicely. The brakes still need some attention as the stopping power is less than great. I almost ordered some Tektro dual pivot long reach calipers but decided that I will first try a few more basic measures first like replacing the cable housing and cables. Eventually. In the meantime, I’ll still keep racking up the kilometers on this trusty ol’ 3-speed folder..

Raleigh 20

Happy Spring Riding!