Lead Legs


After sending the Ridley to the hospital with a couple of broken bits at the end of March, I stopped riding.  The weather’s schizophrenic behaviour, ice patches I’m suddenly unable to negotiate, snow, rain, snow, rain…I quit.  I’m not sure what happened but it started when I tested the abrasion resistance of the Pearl jacket (and it failed).

I have, much to my chagrin, fallen over more times than I would have expected.  Certainly more times than I’m happy with.  I went down hard in my first year trying to corner much faster than I had a right to and a pedal strike sent me skittering across the pavement. I’d already flipped it over in the grass snapping off the reflector – still not sure how I managed that one. Finished out the season by laying it down in the mud and breaking my wrist. Strangely, none of this bothered me beyond the ego check and the swelling…and the bruising. And the burning…definitely the burning.

Year two I racked up the miles but spent most of it upright.  I started the season by going down in the same mud that broke my wrist but escaped unharmed – 2nd time lucky. I fell over, literally, at a stop sign as I learned to use my clipless pedals. More ego check and a broken bell. Summer ended with me and the bike intact.  A good season.

Fall and the new Ridley arrive. Fall goes well, Ridley is a rocket and I’m a happy guy. Snow comes, studded tires go on and the falling begins again. Front tire slides out in deep snow and I summersault over the bars landing expertly in a roll.  Ego suggests I take the (winter) corner at speed and I find myself skittering across the ice-clad pavement in front of morning traffic. A large piece of ice breaks away from the pathway underneath and takes my front tire with it. Down we go again.

With the exception of a bent derailleur hanger and a dented ego, there is no damage. I  chalk it all up to learning – learning to ride in deep, churned snow (don’t), learning to corner at speed on studded tires (can’t), learning to go with the flow when the surface moves unexpectedly (gonna hurt). The snow melted, the ice came and all the fun went away.

Keith / 912R commented one afternoon at the apparent grip and my comfort on the ice. It was ignorance and luck, not grip and comfort. Mother nature soon gets the last laugh.  A crisp spring day, almost no snow but plenty to be worried about as the banks on one side or the other melt and drain onto the path where it freezes into shiny, slick sheets of ambush.  I anticipate it being there, I see it there confirming my anticipation and it still manages to fling me to the ground adding more scuff marks to the Ridley and abrading holes in my beloved Pearl jacket. This is the end of my patience, the end of rationalizing the pavement kiss.

I pick my days carefully – snow, melt, freeze? Not riding. Melt, freeze? Not riding. There is  not a lot of riding in March until I can’t justify it any longer.  I’d ridden the entire winter, put a couple of thousand kilometers on in the snow and here I am being stymied by a couple of patches of ice. Bah. I ride 9 kilometers before another slippery patch sends me down and puts the Ridley in the hospital.

It stays there for two weeks waiting for the right parts to show up. I bring it home and tuck it away uncleaned and ignored for a week before leaving town. It sits idle another week. I get fatter. I return. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I drive the car until…finally I can’t take the drive any more. I’m sick of the car, sick of the commute and can’t ignore the bike any longer.

I set out on marvelously snow-and-ice free paths after 2 months of not minimal riding. My legs are soft and disconnected from my brain. My lungs burn. The air feels thick, solid. There’s no speed to be had, no cruising at a respectable pace. Fighting for every kilometer, I barely managed posted path speeds. My heart is absolutely hammering out of my chest. I chase a distant tail light in futility, unable to keep any semblance of pace. 10 kilometers in my legs and my brain reconnect – aha! This is how we pedal. There’s still no speed. Legs burn, lungs burn, heart still pounds.

You idiot! I’m thinking.  Why didn’t you ride the Rescue bike? Why didn’t you ride the trainer? Why didn’t you do something? I stand to climb in places I ordinarily float up. The ride finishes. I’m trashed. Asthma squeezes my lungs.  Garmin says the heart averaged 170 bpm! I don’t examine average speed – I already know it’s slow.

170bpmThe return trip is much the same. Much panting. Much wheezing. Much heart-pounding. Much slowness. Much standing.

It’s good to be back in the saddle. Lead legs and all.


Or, March - how I hate thee.

Blizzards.  Massive dumps of snow.  Freezing temperatures.Ungodly winds.  Slogging it.  I retired the Rescue Bike at the end of September with the arrival of the Ridley X-Fire, promptly adding studs and lights so I could enjoy it through the winter.  I commuted consistently and enjoyed riding without an eye on speed or heart-rate (because it’s dark in the winter and I can’t read the Garmin).  I rode through everything nature had to offer and opted out only when the road conditions were impassable.  I had (almost) no limits.

Then March arrived.  Snowing, melting, freezing March.  From double-digit highs to double-digit lows almost back-to-back.  Chaotic, manic weather.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the paths weren’t built either on the side of, or at the bottom of snow-covered slopes.  Or if there wasn’t a big dump with many fresh, powdery inches that promptly melted, pooled and froze over.

I rode home on the 13th through puddles several inches deep and vowed that I would not ride the following day if the mercury dropped below freezing – and it did.  So I didn’t.  I stayed off the bike, annoyed at my earlier jacket-shredding fall and the unpredictable path conditions and used my time in the car to get big things, haul many things, go many places quickly.  Most of those things entailed getting parts, bits and tools for working on cars.  There’s a lesson there…

With no more errands to run and a week of glorious temperatures ahead of me, I hopped on the X-Fire this morning and headed out once more.  Stiff and sore from so much time off the bike and so much time laying under cars on the concrete floor, I was still glad to be back on two wheels.  The paths had shed some of their puddles and the going was easy aside from pedaling two weeks worth of cookie build-up.  Then it happened.

Nine kilometeres in, a short stretch of ice covering the path but a puddle I knew to be rather deep lurked underneath.  I approached tentatively and sure enough broke through the surface, getting bogged down.  Gingerly I slid the front wheel on to the grass and hobbled across.  Safe.  Pulled back on to the path, caught the last bit of shiny, polished and very slick ice and went down.  Hard.

Assuring a passing rider that I was fine, I picked myself up and noted that my brake lever had taken on an awkward angle inconsistent with it’s mounting point.  Because it was no longer attached to it’s mounting point.  Because there wasn’t one anymore.

Something's missing here...

Something’s missing here…

Great.  Wonderful.  That’s money.  Straighten the seat out, throw a leg over and discover the rear derailleur is pushed into the wheel’s spokes.  Awesome!  That’s just a bent hanger bracket though – we can deal with that with ease.  Unless of course I break it in half trying to pull the derailleur out of the wheel.  Not that I did that.  Yeah I did.

Ineffective derailleur mounting location.

Ineffective derailleur mounting location.

While a more enthusiastic individual could have brought out the chain breaker and turned it it into a single speed, I opted to test the X-Fire’s flat-bottomed top tube, designed for those sections of the cyclocross race where it’s more prudent to carry it on your shoulder than ride it.  A one kilometer walk in stiff-bottomed cycling shoes is a lot farther than it sounds, though Adam tells me it’s not nearly as far as the 15km he pushed his bike.  Adam also provided the rescue pick-up at the Max Bell centre, keenly parked next to the City TV cameras so I could do the walk of shame in front of them.

The complete lack of traction provided by the Nokian studded front tire surprised me though I suppose it shouldn’t have.   I wasn’t carrying much speed when it washed out and put holes in my jacket either.  I’m thinking these are much more of a snow-stud than an ice stud.  Or maybe a grass stud.  Whatever – they’re not for Calgary’s March ice conditions.  Or perhaps the 2500km on them have worn them out.

So the X-Fire is with the fine folks at Ridley’s Cycle waiting for it’s new parts, which is fine.  I’m annoyed with March.  I’m tired of falling off the bike and really tired of wrecking things in the process.  Maybe I’ll put the knobbies back on the Rescue Bike and dust it off.  Or maybe I’ll just wait for March to go away.

Another One Bites the Dust

Between hubris, erroneous faith in my equipment, Mother Nature’s snow / melt / freeze cycle and the City of Calgary’s insistence that the pathways be against a slope, I received a lesson in humility – again – this morning. Just south of 16th ave, the pathway detours to the west for a quick jog around a blind corner – on a hill. The bottom of this wee slope has become a pool of choppy, frozen ice (and water depending on the day), and the melting snow that feeds it created a beautifully polished sheet that coated the hill this morning. My much-vaunted Nokian IceSpeed studded tires were no match for Mother Nature’s exceptional ice-making skills and I kissed the pavement before I could get the front tire clear of the ice.

Unfortunately, my Pearl Izumi PRO winter shell took the brunt of the fall.
The chest pocket now has custom ventilation. No damage to me though – at least not there. My knee on the other hand…