Tag Archives: cycling

Today’s Riding Lesson: Commit to the Cattle Grid


This morning I set out for ride through the New Forest which straddles the Hampshire and Dorset county line. I left Bournemouth just before 6AM and headed up towards Cranborne for some lovely climbs past Gaunts Common, Holt and our old cottage near Horton. After an brilliant descent into Cranborne, I spent the next 25KM climbing towards Fordingbridge and then up aptly named Godshill before another awesome descent into Cadnam, hitting 66kph before tucking in and hoping to stick the roundabout. It was on this descent that I learned a vital riding lesson:

Commit to the cattle grids!

When you approach six horizontal bars anchored into the pavement at 40 to 50 kph, the worst thing you could ever do is slam on the breaks or try and change directions. I have no idea if any cycling club would ever recommend this, but here is what I did: stood up with feet at 3 and 9 O’clock, hands on the hoods with arms bent and two fingers gently covering the brakes; with my knees bent I squeezed the saddle with my thighs and lined myself up to cross the grid panel head on and right in the middle. You want to stay away from the edge that get butted together, those look far too inviting for 23mm wheels. I hesitated between a bunny hop and just lightly lifting the pressure off the wheels. To be honest I was concentrating so hard on NOT letting any poo come out that I can’t remember which technique I actually used. The first grid scared me silly, especially since there was no warning that I was approaching it until it was far too late. By the time I had crossed my third grid, I was actually welcoming them. Now granted it was a very dry day and my tires and rock hard at 120psi, I’m not all sure this technique would work in the wet or in a curve (if you’re the guy zoning a cattle grid in a curve then f&$@ you). Also if you’re riding a MTB you are probably well versed in stupid road hazards, so your thoughts on this are welcome in the comments.


The Pack Mentality, Re-Learning to Ride Safely

In light of this weekend’s tragic accident during BC’s Ride to Conquer Cancer where a young cyclist aged 16 lost his lost after clipping another rider’s wheel and falling into oncoming traffic. I think it’s important that we all remember and in some cases learn some of the basic rules for riding in a pack.

We share the road with cars who despite our numbers, loud jerseys, reflectors and lights will always claim they did not see us. Therefore it’s always a good rule to assume that you ARE invisible to them and try to ride in a way that is akin to the way motorcyclist call defensive driving, anticipate the road and the others around you. If you don’t make eye contact with the driver, then assume they have no clue you are on the road.

I stumbled upon this piece from the MEC Ride don’t Hide blog and had to share it. Please click on through and the read the great tips from Jess Hainstock and Allan Prazsky.

“Fluidity and subtlety are key whenever you’re in a pack, because an element of risk comes with group riding. Etiquette within the pack is important for several reasons, most notably safety for you and those around you,” Allan responds, when I explained the code of conduct I’d observed on the group ride. “There is something called ‘the accordion effect,’ where the action of the front rider gets magnified as you travel to the back of the group. A sudden acceleration, deceleration, or swerve becomes exaggerated as it moves through the pack, ultimately leading to frustration, a crash, or worst case, a frustrated crash.”

As my buddy Alister mentioned this morning when he forwarded the CBC news clipping: Safe Riding People

via Ride Don’t Hide – The Pack Mentality | MEC Blog.

Century Uno: The RTCC Training Continues

SafariScreenSnapz006It’s Victoria Day Bank Holiday in The Great White North and after a weekend of staining the deck and pergola, I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to get out on the Red Rocket. What started off as a simple Ile Perrot loop turned into my first metric century of the year. The wind was pretty forgiving and the carbon fibre K-Factor made all of the West Island roads feel pretty decent. Although I will admit that Ile Bizzard and Ile Perrot roads are pretty bad.

It felt pretty good to finally get a real 100KM ride in under my belt this year, especially after last week’s pretty abysmal commuting schedule. For some reason May always seems to just kick my ass, last year the weather and travel schedule didn’t help and year it’s been high winds and illness.

The Ride to Conquer Cancer is just over a month a way and if things keep going at this pace, I should be fine. It’s never too late to make a donation, just use the link above.  And if you’re keen on joining me in my training rides, just send me a note. I always welcome the company.


Workouts: Get Lost in the Data

Whether you have been riding, running or skiing for a while, an essentially part of every workout these days is to make sure you spend most of the post-workout time reviewing/bragging about the workout itself. I have been using the Polar FT4 which has now been replaced with the FT7 that also includes a new EnergyPointer feature that visually indicates when you are in your fat-burning range or aerobic fitness range. It’s been a pretty robust watch, I’ve been wearing it for over 212 workout hours and the zone feature is pretty good at telling you when you have to pick up your pace a little more or slow it down so you don’t pop a gasket

Polar FT7 Men’s Heart Rate Monitor Watch (Black / Silver)

However if want to go a little more Pro and compare your heart rate to your speed, elevation, and power output, then Garmin Forerunner 410 is a pretty good deal right now at only $200 for either Amazon or Costco. (We’d prefer if you went with Amazon of course, link below). And it can sync right up to the Strava web site so you can go crazy studying you power output without spending thousands on a SRM. The nice thing about the Forerunner series over the Edge is that it’s an excellent unit for anyone who does more than just cycle. Being a skier I am really consider picking one up soon. Of course it is my Anniversary and 40th Birthday coming up. Hint Hint.

Garmin Forerunner 410 GPS-Enabled Sports Watch with Heart Rate Monitor

The French Fixie Conversion

Earlier this spring, I was over at my buddy Al’s house picking up some tools I need to finish  up a job at the house and he showed me a couple of old bikes he had hanging from the rafters of his shed. Both were road bikes equipped with some pretty casual looking handlebars, fenders and big old seats, but the one thing that really stuck out was the overall size of the frames and how light they both were. Especially this 1970’s era Peugeot Cadre Allegé, compared to my current mountain bike, this thing was about half the weight if not more. I asked him why he kept them both in the shed and he simply shrugged  his shoulders and asked if I wanted the bikes. Well I couldn’t pass up the chance to get my hands on such a classic bike, which let’s face it was about as old as me. He also gave a big box of parts that had been swapped out for the casual stuff you see in the picture above.

Once I got it back to my workbench, I knew immediately that there was no way this thing was ever going to be ridden in it’s current state and rebuilding it with today’s parts was going to be a very expensive and laborious task. However the frame, even if a little scuffed was in very good shape and like I said before incredibly light. From everything I have read so far, these earlier bikes were made from some pretty good quality steel which makes them very strong, very light and very forgiving on our Montreal roads and cycle paths. So after speaking my riding buddy John and Fab, a colleague at work, I decided to do the only logical thing and build myself a fixed gear bike.

The oldest and simplest type of bicycle is the “fixed-gear” bicycle. This is a single-speed bike without a freewheel: that is, whenever the bike is in motion, the pedals will go around. You cannot coast on a fixed-gear machine.

— from SheldonBrown.com

OK, I’ll admit that it does sound a little crazy to ride a bike a that you can never coast with. Yet these are the same kind of single speed fixed geared drive trains that they ride on tracks and velodromes, you get the most amount of control over the bike, your cadence sets the speed and the deceleration. Also since there are no derailers, extra sprockets and sometimes no rear brake, these bikes are very low maintenance and ideal for commuting and flat land rides. Anyway, if you want to know more about Fixed-Gear bikes you really need to take a look at Sheldon Brown’s site.

So once my mind was made up, I set about talking the bike apart and seeing what I could Peugeot Stem Badgere-use. The 27 inch front wheel was in pretty good shape, nice and straight, the rear wheel was a little warped but the cassette appeared to be fixed on. Both tires and tubes were completely worn out. In fact all of the cabling was also fragged. And the original white flex tubing has been seriously yellowed with time, Thankfully I was ripping all that stuff out. I had considered scrubbing down the frame and repainting it, but the decals and badges are so cool, I just couldn’t do it. In it’s current state, it might actually act as a theft deterrent too. This actually turned out to be a blessing as it was the only sure way to identify the bike as being French built and not a Canadian build. The “O” is what give it away, or so I’m told.

Unfortunately, the pedal arms and crankset were welded together and there was no way to  remove one the cranks. Also the bottom bracket had cotter pin type fittings so that meant I would be stuck with 40-year-old pedal arms forever. The chain was also useless since it was made for a derailer and would never fit on a single speed crankset. So in order to make this work I would need some new parts for this old foreign bike.

  • One Ole-Skool French Bottom Bracket
  • One 46 tooth Crankset with 170mm pedal arms
  • One 16 tooth Shimano fixed gear
  • One Lock Ring
  • One 27inch or 700c Flip-Flop wheel (More on flip flop wheels from SheldonBrown)
  • 2 New inner-tubes and high pressure road tires

So basically, the entire drive-train.

Piece of cake right? Well not really. In fact the 27 inch rear wheel would have been quite expensive to order from Harris Cyclery as the delivery and duty costs alone would have added far too much to the total cost of the order. So I decided to try to source everything locally in The Great White North. This meant settling for a 700C rear wheel which actually fits really well on the bike with only minimal brake adjustments. And, yes I am putting a rear brake on this bike, riding in Montreal is hilly and dangerous enough that TWO brakes are usually a good idea. After scouring the net for while and always ending up on BC sites for small shops that want you “come in with your frame”, I discovered a small shop downtown called Bikurious.  An unfortunate name considering where it’s located in Montreal but a truly fantastic shop with some of the most knowledgeable and honest staff I have met in a very long time. They are the ones that immediately recognized the Peugeot as being an earlier French built model and not a Canadian built version from later in the 70’s. They were also honest enough to let me know that if I did take on this fixie conversion, it would end up costing me more than if I had picked up an old Raleigh or CCM bike. But since was the tallest frame I could find, I decided to go ahead with it. They also suggested I get a AlexRim 700C wheel, rather than build my own or attempt to rebuild the 27 inch. The wheel is not only pretty cool but very solid and light with more than enough spokes to support my 6’4″ frame. I also picked up the bottom bracket and crank-set from there as well. They took the time to review my gear choice and after explaining my usual route and objective of 5000KM agreed that 46/16 crank/cog set would be fine. John had already given me the 16 (Shimano Dura-Ace of course), so all I needed was a lock ring and a 46 tooth crank-set with 170mm arms to fit on a “Old French” style bracket. The odd thing about the bottom bracket is that:
A) It’s about twice the price of a standard American bracket.
B) It has a double clockwise thread, so it’s very easy to mount it backwards. Which I did of course.

The drive train was actually pretty easy to assemble since there really isn’t anything complicated about fixed gear bike. Simply get the bottom bracket and crank-set on properly, install the rear wheel and then careful fit the chain making sure to align the cog and crank for minimal rubbing or torsion and then use a chain fitting tool or a quick release chain ring to secure the chain. Be very careful of your fingers when you do this, remember that if the wheel is turning, that chain is moving and that one gears will grind whatever gets in the way. Because the crank is a proper fixed gear crank and not one converted from a road bike, I also had to make to get a 1/8th chain. I picked up a heavy-duty chain similar to a BMX chain at the local shop to handle the extra pressure of my large frame and the grind of my long levers on Montee Peel. At this point the bike really started to look right, once that drive train is on all you need is some brakes to stop it before you can take it for a test ride. Some hard-core fixie riders will boast the merits of brake-less stopping and skidding but that’s just not for me.

I swapped out the original spring-loaded seat (seen up top) with a slightly more rigid leather Schwinn seat I had lying around (pictured above). The seat post was still too short, but having a 23.4mm down-tube meant it wasn’t an easy item to replace. That’s when I discovered that BMX chromolly seats are usually 22mm and extra long so with an extra shim I could potentially use with my road seat, beware that is has to be chromolly for extra rigidity and to endure the stress of a heavier rider. After a few weeks riding I also swapped out the 38cm handle bars as the original stock bars where rather narrow and I could feel my chest tightening after an hour of riding. I picked up some 44cm drop bars from MEC at a nice price of $24 and added some black cork grip tape and the suddenly I had a real commuter to haul my back side up and down the windy Lachine Canal every day for the next 4000KM

I started building the Peugeot Fixie in late June and managed to get in on the road for July which turned out to be a relatively dry month. The whole reason I built the bike was to make my time in the wind a little easier. However it turned out this bike is such a joy to ride, that I ended up taking it out for errands, extended rides home and even on longer weekends rides too, the tune pf 940KM.  I guess I’ve always loved the speed of road bikes as I did own two “sweet rides” as a younger man, but living in various rural areas over the years as well as cycling with the kids got me into mountain bikes. But let’s all be honest, there is nothing more fun than the sound of thin tires whizzing along a nicely paved road, but the real thrill is taking a fixed gear bike over a nice path and can be a real joy to ride. This might sound a little like Sheldon Brown, but I honestly think I have become a better rider from putting in my time on this Peugeot. My cadence is stronger and more consistent, my turns are better paced and my overall control of the bike just seems more intuitive and natural especially compared to trying to fumble with 28 gears before a stop light. And yes I still use my brakes even if they sounds like a screaming eagle, I’m not an idiot after all. The overall maintenance has been minimal, I’ve had to change one tire due to some bad road conditions and apart from keeping the chain lubed, I’ve only had to pull the rear wheel back once and only after a particularly fast descent on a 116KM weekend ride. Building it was a fun and taught me a lot more about bikes, but riding has been a real blast and has really taught me a lot about cycling.

The First 1000KM

Just over a week ago I hit my first 1000KM on my away to 5000KM by the end of October this year. Come to think of it, this might very well be my first thousand kilometers  I have  rode on my bike ever, at least intentionally. It could very well be that when I hit 1K mark a few summers when I was much younger. But for this sake of this post and to avoid a crazy amount of time on Google Maps, we’ll just have to say this is the first time in over ten years.

So how did it go?

Not too bad actually. I had a slower start than I would have wanted, some bad weather and a trip to L.A. slowed things down a bit in May. But June was spectacular and I managed to rack up 670 KM without too many incidents. The RidgeBack MTB I have been riding is over 17 years old and still has most of it’s original parts. For example the wheels are original and even though I have changed the tires, the aluminum had started to oxidize and even the spokes were getting a little corroded. On one ride home in May, I hit a pothole, heard a pop and wondered why the back-end started to wobble quite a bit. Turns out, 2 of the spokes had popped and another 6 where soon to go too. By the time I made it Fraser’s in Valois, the wheel looked like something out of a cartoon and when Harry the Techie grabbed the wheel, only the hub was still attached to the bike. Once the wheel was replaced, I magically found an extra 4KM/h do to the fact that brake was no longer rubbing the rim every quarter revolution. So apart from the braking effect and my inability to ever be in the right gear, the biggest drag to my improvement has literally been drag. Sitting up right on a mountain bike and riding against the prevailing wind for 25KM does very little improve your time.

Generally speaking the riding has been good, I have started commuting with John again and he’s proven to be a pretty good motivator. There is nothing worse than getting your ass kicked by a guy riding a 30-year-old bike he picked up for $10 and then proceeded to equip it with parts salvaged from the dead bikes found in the trash.  He’s been riding this fixed gear home-built special for a few years and it gave me the idea to try to rebuild an old Peugeot Cadre Allegé road bike that had been hanging from the rafters in my buddy Al’s shed for the last few years. It needed far too much work to get it working in its current  state or to rebuild with current parts. So a “Fixie Conversion” was the only logical thing to do. But I will leave the details for the next post.


The Road to 5K

This year I will be turning 40 and have been reviewing my list of accomplishments that I had set for myself when I was 11. And to tell you the truth, short of actually becoming Batman, I’ve done pretty well, don’t worry I’ll be posting more than enough on this throughout the year. However the one objective that was very important to me back then was to make sure that I was not going to be an overweight Fat Dad sitting behind a desk all day. You’d think that working in IT and running a site called 2FatDads, this would have been a forgone conclusion and that I should be a big slob eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew all day. I will admit that if I was still doing web development, that seriously scary mental image could have been a reality. But last year, I made a career change and decided to push my IT expertise elsewhere and try something new. This new job has really been a good challenge and has allowed me to really push my skill set and has opened a lot of options for me.

On a personal health level, the daily walking and train commuting helped me shed almost 30 pounds and get my acid reflux in check. Last fall, I took my cycling to a new level and commuted into work racking up 700KM in a few months. This not only helped me feel great but also improved my fitness level for skiing and the winter soccer season. This is what gave me an idea for this crazy 2012 project.

The Goal

The short line is that my 2012 goal is to cycle 5000KM before October 31. After speaking to a few friends and colleagues who also cycle into work, we al agreed that if were to cycle 3 days a week between March and November, I would easily attain the 5K mark.

The Plan

The actual execution plan is pretty simple and for one good reason: this is a goal that I MUST achieve. There really is no option here, so in order to make the goal attainable it has to be realistic. So for the next 6 months, I need to cycle in 3 days a week and average 150KM a week, my daily commute is 25KM one way or 50KM per day. Plus at least 5 weekend Tour de Waste Island Rides. With this average, even the rainy weeks would be covered by the dry ones, or those where a train commute is required.

The Ride

I have a few colleagues at work who ride on pretty intense road bike and then I have a friend, John who does the same commute as mine on a fixie he picked up for $10 in Griffontown.

The bike I’m riding is a hard tail RidgeBack mountain bike that I picked in the UK about 15 years ago. I replaced the MTB treads with 100PSi road slicks, STB half pedals, end bars for the handle bars with better grips and a new saddle with a center channel. The seat post was custom ordered to make up for my height and I added a rear rack for some panniers.

So it’s not exactly a stock hybrid or a touring bike, but it’s a pretty comfortable ride with tires that are wide enough for my size and weight (6’4″ and 215lbs) but hard enough that I maintain a pretty good speed on the flats. I’m currently averaging 2:35 per KM, but hope to get it down to 2:15 per KM. Which brings me to the tools I like to call motivators

The Tools

The gear I have added to the bike it what has really makes it easier the to ride upright while the tendency for many commuters it ride a bike with drop bars.

On the bike itself, I added the panniers rack because I don’t really like to cycle with a back pack, especially in the summer as I tend to get a little sweaty. And because it could end up becoming a 25KM walk home, I also carry and flat kit, replacement inner tube, a pump and a small tool kit. They live in the bottom of my panniers bag. The panniers themselves are all from MEC, one Serratus bag which is about 5 years old and 100% water proof, it’s just one big compartment and really easy to stuff a laptop, clothes, lunch and tool kit it and it’s great in the rain, MEC have their own version now. The other panniers I alternate are an MEC 19L brand tough nylon bag with a small top pocket for glasses, wallet, keys and the like. This would have to be my everyday bag, it’s large enough for my iPad, keyboard, dress shirt, undies, socks and lunch. I also have a Big Pod Bag, and Brenta courier bag (replaced with the Vélocio) that I could use if I really needed the extra room or where to travel sans-pannier, but since I am trying to keep stuff off of my back the Pod bag is usually stuffed inside one of the panniers and the Brenta is used for rainy day train commute.

I have long been a strong believer in the thinking that there is no bad weather just bad clothing. Now being a cross-country skier, this has made my Spring and late Fall riding easier since I my ski gear has doubled up as excellent cold weather riding gear. Merino wool tops have been awesome to me this spring and I will just cover that up with a standard MEC SuperMicroft cycling jacket. For long pants, I picked up a pair of specialised cycling pants with a woven wind shield layer, they breathe pretty well and I have yet to ever get cold legs. I also took some advice from few cyclist and got some Exustar SPD clippy shoes. Mine were $65 from MEC and the reviews all pointed to these being excellent commute shoes despite being designated MTB shoes. No matter what anyone else says, proper cycling shoes make a huge difference in the overall ride comfort and power displacement which is actually pretty important on a 25KM, hour-long commute.

For the warmer months, I have a pair of Louis Garneau cycle shorts that I’ve been wearing for almost 20 years now, they are in great shape but have the older style chamois. I just recently picked up a pair of new style chamois undershorts that I can where with pants or soccer style shorts and not freak out my work colleagues. I have also picked up a really standard MEC cycle shirt with three pockets. Being a mountain biker, this is the first real cycle shirt I have ever bought and I must admit, that is very well designed, hitting the wind every day I also understand the need for tighter fitting clothing. Not sure if I am a true convert, but I do like the fit and feel on those blustery days.

My cycle gloves are the cheapest pair of MEC Metro gloves I could find, apart from the last pair that got ripped apart because my grips were disintegrating, they have lasted me pretty well and the terry cloth on the back of the thumb has been excellent on windy and running nose days. On the really cold mornings, I will usually wear a basic pair of MEC cross-country ski gloves.

I also have Gyro helmet with a sun peak, easterly morning and westerly evening rides make glasses and sun peaks a must. I have a pair of older MEC Espresso sun glasses with various lens combos that I wear when I ski and for dedicated weekend rides, but since I can’t wear contact lenses for long-term computer use, I just cycle in with my prescription Ray-Bans.

Overall this is pretty standard gear for fair weather and light rain riding. As I stated before, if the weather gets that bad, I can take the train and even leave the bike at work. The objective it to get some exercise, not end up hating cycling come september.

The Motivators

The only way to keep a geek interested in a task or a goal like is peer pressure and the gadgets to monitor progress. Since peer pressure only gets you so far, the biggest motivators have been the new toys. For Christmas, my wife got me a Polar heart rate monitor/watch which has been really cool at helping figure out if I’m pushing my self too hard or not hard enough. The model I got is the FT4, which is pretty basic, it doesn’t even come with a way to download your stats, you have to do it all manual. This is fine with me, since I’m pretty tough on watches and wasn’t sure how serious I would get with this project this model was fine for me.

I also picked up an $18 Filzer bike computer from MEC to track speed, distance, time, and a whole bunch of other cool stats. The best part about the computer is that it will pause when the bike is stationary at stop signs for really accurate readings which is a much better way than my next gadget.

Of course, my iPhone is a huge part of my commute, I use it to listen to podcasts, take pics of the interesting things you see along the Lachine Canal and then of course for the RunKeeper app, which is half way between a stats apps and a social network where you can track your progress and keep up to date with your street team, who are basically buddies you can share stats and routes and who will check in you to make sure you reach that goal. The other cool thing about RunKeeper is the way it sends you supportive email and gives you badges and stars whenever you hit certain milestones for distance, speed, and overall progress. It’s was designed for runners, but it’s actually very good with cycling, cross-country skiing, hiking, rowing and even swimming. It’s free and it’s available for the iPhone, Android and even the BlackBerry (3rd party app), so you should just download it and try it out for yourself.

The Pay Off

So what do I get for doing all of this? Apart from a healthy ticker, super quads and calves, it’s basically all down to bragging rights and one more box to check of that list I made all those years ago. After cycling 700KM last fall, I had one of the best winters ever for indoor soccer and skiing. I managed to keep up on our annual ski trips and running around for 60 minutes wasn’t ever painful the next day. The other pay off is that the more I continue to do now while my kids are young, the easier it will be to keep up with them when they are teenagers. And with twin boys, you can just imagine how fiercely they are going to want to kick their dad’s fat butt.

After writing all this and seeing how often MEC showed up, I kind of wish they had affiliate links or would sponsor my Road to 5K.