Damn You Blue Fendered Kona!

So here we are – summer’s been and gone and fall is upon us.  I wrote a long and self-serving bit of whinge about why I rode so little this summer but it was so…well, pathetic I couldn’t bring myself to subject anyone else to it.  Suffice it to say, my cycling mojo took a holiday this summer.

Whatever – I’m back on the bike and finding my legs again.  I like riding again which I haven’t all season.  Hoo yeah, that first day back on the bike this month was a killer.  My heart felt like it might explode, feeble, uncoordinated legs and astonishingly little aerobic capacity.  Frankly it felt like hell.  I didn’t want to ride the next day so I slept through my alarm and drove in a panic, late for work.

Monday was better and when I got home a wheezy, sweating mess I was glad that I’d managed to ride two consecutive days and could find an excuse to drive tomorrow…wait…that’s Tuesday…if tomorrow is Tuesday, that means today is Monday thus I clearly haven’t ridden to work two days in a row.  Brain scrambled.  I dutifully put on my gear and rode today, and I fell in love with riding again.

Enthusiasm.  Inspiration.  That magic ingredient that makes life exciting.  Sometimes it’s triggered externally.  Today the gods of all things Cat-6 rewarded my pitiful summer with inspiration.  Someone to chase.

As I rode through Max Bell, I saw him in my peripheral, riding a parallel path along the ridge.  As we continued, convergence became inevitable and he dropped onto the path a few meters ahead of me.  Never one to let a good chase go unchallenged, I put my big-boy pants on and got to work.

We made good time over Deerfoot, shortcutting through the grass at the bottom and carrying a nice bit of speed with us.  He started mashing immediately, a suggestion of what was to unfold over the next 10 kilometers.  I stayed close, expecting him to peel off and head into downtown for no more reason than that’s what everyone seems to do at this point, but he pointed his wheel north.  This game was on for real.

The blue, fendered Kona set a steady pace just over 31km/h and I had to push hard to stay with him.  We rode past the Sparks center, through the bends and up to 8th where I couldn’t help but hope he’d peel off, but he didn’t.  He didn’t ease up either.  I was fairly confident I could pass him but equally certain I couldn’t do anything with it – I wouldn’t be able to pull away and would likely gas myself trying to get around him.  So I cheated.

While they may have re-paved the section of Nose Creek path between 8th and 16th ave, there’s still a well-worn path through the weeds where it used to be.  After watching him drop down from the ridge in Max Bell, I expected him to head off-road and when he didn’t, I went anyway.  It’s shorter, straighter and lacks the little hump you have to climb.  If I could maintain the pace, I could put some distance on him until at least the other side of 16th where, with any luck he’d peel off and leave me to expire in peace.

A shoulder-check half-way through Fox Hollow showed me half-right – I’d put some distance on, but I was flagging and he was still coming.  It didn’t take long for him to close the gap and ultimately pass me – fair enough.  I started to fall behind but managed to make up some ground on the little climb to the top of the course, and again on the drop down past the sub-station.  I wasn’t hanging back anymore, firmly and completely wheel-sucking - hiding in his draft and catching my breath.

Still he continued along my route, and still I followed, unwilling to concede complete defeat.  Past the 32nd connector (why don’t you turn off?!), under McKnight, onto the road and…man this guy just doesn’t stop and he’s still on my route!  Onto 4th / Edmonton Trail (why isn’t he going straight west?) and a bit of confused traffic gave me a chance to re-group and prepare.  Surely he’s not going to zip up the bus traps so this will end there and I can finally ease the pace a little.  As we rounded the final corner to the bottom of the traps, it was obvious this wasn’t over yet.  Then I saw my chance.

He stood up to climb a fraction too late and I attacked, cursing him as I went by.  “Damn, you just won’t turn off!” I said as I climbed past him.  He grinned.  I made the top of the traps ahead of him, but paid the price for it, unable to keep the lead or even latch on as he caught up and went by.  We exchanged a few pleasant words until he continued north and I hobbled my way home west.  Spent.  Exhausted.  Completely happy.

In 8900km of riding, that was one of the best commutes I’ve ever had, certainly the longest chase and the most entertaining one at that.  Damn you blue, fendered Kona for not letting up.  And thanks. Auf Wiedersehen!

Kona Chase

Ahhh 40

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be firmly ensconced in the fantastic Pillar and Post hotel in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. One miserably wet and windy evening, I fired up the television and quickly affirmed my choice to ditch TV services at home over a year ago. I’m amazed at the level of pure crap that qualifies as broadcast-worthy and the things masquerading as news.

I stumbled across an interview with Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame, talking about how turning 40 had been his kiss my ass point.  This is who I am.  With the exception of my small cadre of loved ones, I don’t care what you think of me.  I admire that philosophy but I’ve got some work to do before I get there.

I find myself twisting under the notion that arm’s-length acquaintances or strangers might look upon my cycling addiction as chasing the trend.  I didn’t know it was a trend when I threw a leg over the saddle Best Wife’s Kijiji bike at the behest of my eldest.   Had I known that cycling is the new golf, I’d have saved myself the time and simply beat it into the twisted shape of a frustrated 5 iron and thrown it into the rough, to be forgotten like any other fad.

When I look at my introduction to riding as an adult, I don’t recall a sudden desire to get on the cycling train, to put on Lycra (I refused) or strap a piece of foam to my head and go play Lance Armstrong.  If anything, Armstrong and the rest of the Tour de Chemistry put me off.  After begrudgingly taking #1 son out for a cycle around the block, on a bike I wanted no part of, what I really wanted to do was…go for a ride on my own.  It felt like a challenge, one I knew I could push, one that might provide some health benefits if I worked at it.  The idea was too much to resist and the reward too gratifying to ignore.

Away I went in my own little quest to challenge and best myself.  The Kijiji bike died after just 40km.  The immediate withdrawal resulted in the arrival of the Rescue Bike and an addiction firmly entrenched.  To date, no cycling magazines litter the house, no whiling away the hours on internet bike forums debating sock height or which build will give me the lightest setup, no hanging around the bike shops looking for approval.

I’d like to think that was genuine, self-directed activity, but I’m not sure I can.  Perhaps my original, self-motivated ideas are anything but. Are my ideas mine anymore?

Enough Already

Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own.
-James M. Barrie

I’m annoyed. But first, kudos where kudos are due and due they are!

After threatening for the past year to switch up his route and steal my Strava KOMs, Adam made good on his word and did just that Tuesday morning. Since its creation, I’d managed to hang on to the “King of the Mountain” on a 1 kilometre stretch of my daily commute with a record speed of 52.5km/h.  That’s history now.  Not just bumped but smashed into little bitty pieces.

2013 Forged

Sixty point four kilometers per hour.  60.4km/h!!  Are you kidding me?  A huge congratulations – I suspect that will stand for a long while before it’s topped.

Back to being annoyed. My Twitter feed has been full of what I can only categorize as anti-car rhetoric lately. With a rash of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities involving cars, trucks and most recently a cement truck, there’s plenty to be fired up about.

I like to think I ride a fair bit when I’m not afraid of falling down. I crossed off 2013’s first 1000 km on the route home yesterday (no fanfare, no shirts), I rode throughout the winter and I made it my (missed-by-that-much) goal to put more miles on the bike than the car. I’m pretty comfortable saying I’m an avid cyclist. 

This does not preclude my use of or appreciation for motorized transport however. While my car spends more time parked than driving, it’s still a valuable tool. Cars (some) are beautiful, powerful wonders of mechanical genius. If I were an oil baron, there’s no little doubt where my play money would go.  I am every inch a car guy.

Driving my car or the family hauler doesn’t make me evil, nor does riding my bike somehow bestow righteousness and blamelessness upon me. Riding a bike doesn’t infer that I run stop signs and red lights or cut off traffic, and sitting behind the steering wheel does not mean I’m trying to run you down.

Growing up, my dad used to rail about people who knew only their rights, but none of their obligations. I used to think he was missing it, but now I understand. Your rights come with inherent obligations and the more we ignore our obligations, the more our rights are challenged, eroded and re-shaped.

Take Montana for a moment. A few years ago, they did away with posted speed limits on their interstates (though the sign stated plainly a reasonable and prudent speed). I took the opportunity to experience that on my motorcycle. Did I mention that Montana is also a no-helmet law state? I know what you’re thinking – I wouldn’t be that stupid. Oh yes. Helmet-free and speed-limited only by fear (and a lack of aerodynamics) I rushed headlong down the black ribbon with only the occasional bug in the forehead. Others were not so lucky and enough fools did themselves harm exercising their right that the speed limits came back – eroding the rights of the rest. Rights without obligations.

As a pedestrian in Canada, you always have the right of way. In fact, while not well known, you have the right of way even while “jaywalking”. Makes sense – a motorized vehicle never has the right to hit you – the alternative is absurd. However…<sigh> you have the obligation to ensure that exercising your right of way is prudent at that moment. Walking up to a crosswalk, slapping the signal and stepping off the curb because it’s my right does not alter the laws of time, space, force, mass or acceleration. Your rights don’t trump physics. It is your right to activate the crosswalk lights without any need to take into account the required stopping distance of the traffic already on the road. It is your fault if you then step into the path of an oncoming vehicle that had no opportunity to stop. This isn’t Star Trek. Your rights do not include an energy shield to deflect an unwanted space/time coincident of vehicular force and mass with your own.

So there’s my Twitter feed with the cycling and driving equivalents of religious extremists, both shouting about the anti-social behaviour, idiocy and selfishness of the other. Enough already. Drivers – understand that I will not take a road position with the intent of slowing you down or irritating you, ever. If I’m in your way, it’s because my safety is at risk elsewhere in the lane. Seriously – do you really think I want to anger you into pushing me into the curb – me in my paper-thin Lycra that doesn’t even pretend to offer protection, you in a 5000 pound hunk of safety and security.  And what’s with your need to pass me at an intersection so you can then immediately turn right across my path? Surely the impending carnage is worth 3 seconds to avoid.

But you. Ahhh yes, I’m looking at you. The smug, self-righteous cyclist (and jogger and dog walker and so on). It’s your right to act just about any way you please, to dress in any fashion, colour and style that you will, to be ignorant of your surroundings and generally act like the self-appointed center of the universe. The one who suffers for your ignorance is you, not to mention the people you put at risk. You dart out into traffic because you’re staring at your iPhone instead of paying attention, texting while riding (Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?), jogging down an unlit mixed-use path in the dark in your trendy non-reflective all-black running gear, stepping into the intersection, damn-the-consequences-I’m gonna-teach-that-driver-a-lesson because it’s your right. The list of infractions is endless – both sides – and the argument is dominated with zealots trying to out-yell their opponent while the rest of us look around embarrassed while trying to get on with the job of enjoying life.

I’m not sure I’m comfortable ascribing to the title of car guy or avid cyclist come to think of it. I’m just a car lover that loves to ride his bicycle.

*Bring on the cycle tracks and increased bicycle infrastructure!