Tuesday, September 15, 2009


the ride for karen is a century ride north of toronto that is put on each year as a fundraiser for camps for kids with cancer.

this is obviously a good cause.

traditionally, some of the members of my family participate in the NYC century put on by transportation alternatives, as an awareness-raiser for the cause of non-four-wheeled-transportation. this year, as time and money and a huge family ordeal schedule would have it, we opted for the ride for karen. thankfully, we did this early and managed to fundraise enough to make sure that the steep entry fee was waived in lieu of funds raised for the cause. long term plan. checklist. feels a little like teaching.

the day began finely enough with a hangover and some ibuprofen, then a drive to the middle of nowhere where parking is plentiful (except on century sunday) and the driveways are identical and many. we parked, registered, peed, and lined up at the start. modestly, we chose the slowest pace group, figuring we could always speed up, but would, more importantly, have a better chance of not getting dropped off the back. this was a fine decision. we rolled off, and my brother and i, having almost left with the wrong group, chased each other around like kids on bikes through the hideous suburb streets. we laughed and said stupid movie lines to each other, making fun of ourselves and having a blast. oh, and the ride had barely started so we had the energy to do this. bikes are fun, and we were giddy.

as soon as the marshall, lee (or maybe it's 'leigh'), showed up, all fun and games came to a screeching halt. we were told/ordered to ride in a two-by-two line, at the specified speed, in order 'for everyone to have a great day.' no getting out of formation. no chasing each other around like idiots. no tucking the hills to pick up any more than 25km/h of speed. no stopping other than at rest stops (there are two, at 50 and 100km). no whining. no having fun. enjoy the scenery. slow down. stop laughing...

a blast was certain to be had by all. my experiences of century riding are limited to those of the NYC century. no rules. few marshalls. fewer marshalls who knew the way. thousands of turns and lights and signs and intersections and cars and weirdos and helpful citizens. lots of fun. lots of laughter. lots of pain and suffering and deteriorated bum skin. lots of food. more volunteers. amazing rest stops. traffic. bike lanes. people and cars in the way. poorly marked routes. fun. fun. fun.

i made the mistake of trying to express my concern for this stick in the mud marshall, quietly, to the lady riding beside me. she was none too impressed. she insisted that despite her carbon bike and hours of hill repeats, the power-tripping marshall was her only hope of not getting dropped by irreverent assholes who just want to make their own rules and ride their own ride and 'have fun' or whatever. oops. this is the second time in a week i've made such a mistake. i should stop opening my mouth, particularly to complain about anything.

the ride was not going well. i had to pee. i hadn't yet sweat into my garments to the point where they become comfortable. i had to pee. i was in trouble with the lady. i wanted to rile against the marshall and all her rules. i felt like i was at school, in the principal's office, for something i didn't even do. i had to pee.

out of nowhere, the events of the day were changed immediately and definitively.

there was that stomach-sinking sound of a revolving tire, spewing its precious pneumatic contents into the air at the regular intervals of an easy 25km/h spin. hiss. hiss. hiss. hiss. hiss. i knew the sound, and looked up to see its victim. my brother. poor guy just got his bike tuned up yesterday (by yours truly), and was told that his tires were shit and old but might hold up for this ride. not 20km in, and he's blown the front one, a wear mark straight through the casing. 

i peed. 

after watering a nearby cornstalk, i assessed the situation, and was glad. we had lost the marshall and her rules and the group to which we had been so unassumingly assigned. i peed. and now we had an impromptu rest stop. this was going to be a great century. we started to get ready to rig some kind of solution, when we were told that the SAG wagon would still be coming by, and they would have tires. perfect. no mcguivre moves here boys, just a little SAG action and we'd be on our way. sure enough, a white van pulled up, slapped on an $80 tire, and left us to our own, repaired devices as it drove away to find the next rider in need. i love the SAG!

back on the rode, my brother, feeling bad that he had lost us the group and the 'pace' and the marshall and any time (this is not a race), took lead in the paceline and promptly dropped just about everyone. feeling responsible for the other relatives/riders i had invited to this thing, i fell back and did my best to pull them in a rag-tag paceline across some of the windiest and straightest and flattest road i've seen in a long time. this was the picture for the rest of the day. we met back up with all of our friends at the first rest stop, and at lunch, but were always dropped by higher-pace riders doing their thing. and i always hung back, feeling like i should 'help out' with the slower paceline.

ultimately, it was a great day and a great ride, but i learned some things, and i should write them down so that i don't forget.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


complaining is all too easy, common, and unproductive.

i am a natural complainer. pessimism makes sense to me, is a handy defense mechanism, and has never failed in predicting outcomes. self-fulfilling or otherwise, i have an 8-0 track record for being dumped versus dumping them. these are solid statistics.

however, when complaining is completely impossible, when to do so would be to make a complete ass of oneself on all levels, a new approach is necessary. of the myriad approaches possible, i took the prone position, flattened by the wonder of so much goodness, all at once, continuously, for days and nights on end.

we left the kids and flew to kelowna, with our bikes.

kelowna is a prime spot for recreation. everything everywhere is ready and waiting for humans to get out there and play hard. there's wine, there are orchards, there's an enormous and beautiful lake, there are mountains, endless roads with shoulders and/or no traffic, trails in the hills, local beer, two absolutely wicked bike shops, and ridiculously attractive people on every corner. even the guy collecting cans has a not-unattractive gleam in his eye.

the point of the trip was to enjoy ourselves like we were kids again, like we were on vacation, like we hadn't a care in the world. we took this point to heart, and gave'r from the get-go. upon arrival, our bikes were unboxed and assembled within an hour, and we were on the long road to paradise - lakeshore is a long road around the east side of the okanagan lake, and at the top of one of its many hills there is a goat farm that sells goat cheese and goat gellato, which, of course, we had to sample. we rode long and hard, relishing the view, the sunshine, the breeze, the terrain. rolling hills, small climbs, switchbacks, it was all there. i tried to do a bunch of 'epic' looking rapha-esque shots of us 'suffering' for 'the glory', but there's only so much suffering one can do when one is having the time of one's life. no, no complaining here. positively impossible.

i'm going to leave it at that. oh, and bikesnob's column in the bicycling magazine that we had bought for the trip was about how much of a hassle it is to travel with bikes, and that it's usually better to just leave them at home, but i have to say, he was completely and utterly wrong. the exorbitant surcharge for brining our bikes on the plane, and the hassle of all the airport shuttles and transfers was immediately erased within the first five minutes of tires on pavement. bring bikes; they make life better.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

fellow down.

today is one of mourning.

i'm sure it happens everywhere, every minute of every day, but this is so rare to so many of us, so comfortably insulated from mortality, that it is deafening when someone on two wheels is silenced forever. 

last night, a toronto politician and a toronto bike messenger had a collision, an altercation, and then a murder by vehicular assault wherein the cyclist was killed. it's one thing to have a collision, another to have an altercation, but to run a car, cyclist attached, onto the oncoming sidewalk and into stationary objects, then ultimately run him over is murder. assault with a deadly weapon resulting in manslaughter. cars are deadly weapons and you only have to be sixteen and semi-literate to wield one. guns are meant for the singular purpose of bringing about death. knives are more like cars, where they are available for a variety of uses, and, depending on the intent of the user, can cause severe harm. like my dad always said: the most dangerous part of a gun is the person holding it.

there are too many things to consider here, and i don't even know much of the details. besides, i bring too many bicycle-centric biases to be even somewhat 'objective' (a stance that i believe is entirely impossible in this world), and i don't even vote Liberal. however, i ride a bike, in traffic, in this city, on that street, at that intersection, and i have had plenty of my own close calls and near-misses and collisions and confrontations and altercations, and it gets me. right there. someone died doing what i do every day. they died right where i could have died. and someone killed them, on purpose.

i ride like no one can see me. i slip here, cross over there, figure that i'm invisible and the only thing i can trust a motorist to do is the wrong thing. yes, it's biased and disappointing and utterly untrue to my tendency to expect the best of people, but it keeps me alive. i used to pick fights. i used to ride too-close to cars and people. i used to flip people off, bang on their windows, yell in their faces, fantasize about taking their keys and throwing them into a trash can or the river or traffic. then, through time and bad experiences and worse experiences, i grew up, gained a little perspective, wore a whole lot more lights and reflective shit, and got on with the ride. i'm not saying everyone out there should ride like i do. it takes me too long to get places, because i try to stop for lights and stop signs and pedestrian crosswalks (not pedestrians if not in crosswalks though, give me a break already). couriers wouldn't make any money if they rode as slowly and almost-law-abidingly as i. however, if it's going to let some helmetless messenger live, or some meandering asian mango-shopper make it across spadina, or some overburdened mother of five make it from Holt Renfrew to Harry Rosen in one piece, i think it's time to give a little. give just a little room, a little space, make things a little smoother, and this might be a better place for it. i know we have to fight tooth and nail for every inch we take on the road. i know the battle gets far more lethal and frightening the further we venture out of the downtown core. i know that we are the ones who are out on the limb, risking life to get around the best way we can. but i think we are in a great position to lead by example, and give a little. 

it's the old age talking, but it seems to work. i hold my tongue and don't have anything regretful to answer for. i anticipate that no one will look for or see me until it's far too late, so i ride further ahead and behind all that heavy steel on wheels with too many blindspots and cell phones and ipods blaring. and i wear a fucking helmet. always. wind in my hair? tons. they're called 'vents', maybe you've heard of them. look like a freak? of course, and isn't that what your colorway and messenger motif are all about? hit by a car? yes. hit a person? yes. dead? no.

anyway, peace to you, mr. sheppard. this city is less without you.