Friday, January 17, 2014

February 16 – Vélo sous zéro: Winter fun and advocacy in one [updated]

[Update January 26: So a mere week after registration opened, all 500 spots have been taken already. Pretty awesome!]

For the first time, Vélo Québec and Environnement Jeunesse will organize what is kind of like the winter equivalent to the massively successful Montreal Bike Fest (primarily known for its Tour de l`Île and Tour de la Nuit): an organized bike ride through Montreal's streets in the middle of February. The aim of the ride is to both have fun on the bike, but also to underline the recent growth of the winter bike movement in Montreal and to advocate for changes to further support that growth.
Brush the snow off your bike and join Vélo sous zéro!
Montreal still lacks a comprehensive network of reliably cleared bike paths—the "White Network" formulated a couple years ago remains more ambition than reality—and consequently the number of winter cyclists remains relatively low at an estimated ten to 15 per cent of the summer numbers.

There has been progress, though: In Westmount, pressure from the local Walking and Cycling Association has led to improvements in clearing the de Maisonneuve bike path; in Outremont, a pilot project to clear the path along Cote Sainte-Catherine has just begun; and there is an active Vélo d'hiver movement on Facebook as well as in real-life.

Having a high profile bike ride in the middle of February will hopefully send a strong message that there is a lot of untapped potential for biking in winter in Montreal. After all, cities like Minneapolis and Madison in the US or Oulu in Finland have winters just a rough or even worse than Montreal and still manage to have a higher proportion of riders who stay on the bike year-round.

So come out and play in the snow! Registration is required but free. Vélo Québec is hoping for a turnout of 300 cyclists—but I say: let's aim higher and show that cycling in the winter is totally feasible!

The ride will start and end at the north end of Parc La Fontaine at the corner of Rachel and Chambord at 10 a.m.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Eastern Townships 2013: What worked, what didn't?

It's been four months now since we completed our tour, giving me enough distance to evaluate what worked and what didn't on the trip. This trip was our longest so far, both in terms of time and distance.

What worked

REI Half Dome Plus, keeping us dry and protected from skunks...
  • The route: Both the parts of the ride on the Route Verte and on regular highways was great. Yes, we were often cursing the Route Verte planners for the gratuitous hills, but it was nice to have a mostly car-free route through beautiful scenery. And once we left the Route Verte the highways were empty and the few cars we encountered polite. I can recall only one short stretch near an autoroute interchange where we felt uncomfortable.
  • Penny stove: My ultralight DIY penny stove performed well initially. Unfortunately, I lost my special penny early on. It's special because the alloy pennies are made from has changed over the years and to regulate the stoves air flow the penny has to be from a certain era. For the rest of the trip I ran the stove with a more recent, lighter penny and that resulted in a larger and less efficient flame. Note to self: bring spare special pennies.
  • Distance and speed: We started out with a rough plan and made adjustments along the way. As a result, we usually rode between 80 and 100 kilometers a day. This was neither easy-peasy nor overly brutal for either of us. Sometimes the lack of appropriate accommodations forced us to go further than we would've liked, but we compensated for that by taking it easy the day after. Me carrying most of our stuff helped equalize things between the two of us.
  • Gear: Except for the things mentioned below we seemed to be carrying the perfect amount of stuff. We used everything we brought at least once and we also weren't missing anything except for a can opener.

What mostly worked

Wolfgang, the Cross-Check, fully loaded
  • Sleeping bag: I brought my 900g summer sleeping bag instead of the heavier three-season one. I knew that this was a bit of a gamble, as I sleep very cold and at the end of August there's a good chance of chilly nights. On the first night, which also turned out to be the coldest, we left one door of the fly open, resulting in me getting pretty cold, despite wearing all the clothes I brought. So for future tours with the chance of temperatures below, say +5°C I should bring the warmer sleeping bag.
  • Our bikes: Both my Cross-Check and the Biketopus's Fuji performed almost flawlessly. No flat tires, no mechanical problems other than having to adjust the angle of the Fuji's shifters to make them easier to shift and adjusting the Cross-Check's rear derailer once. On the Cross-Check, however, I frequently had to deal with shimmy. During previous tours I was able to fix it by shifting the front-back weight balance or adjusting the headset, but this time that didn't help. Fortunately, the shimmy was of the tame kind: it started at relatively low speeds but then stayed constant, meaning that the bike never felt out of control. Interestingly, the rougher the road the less shimmy I encountered—probably the random vibrations from a rough road damp the oscillation pattern.
  • Gearing: If you've read the tour report you'll have noticed that steep hills were a recurring issue throughout much of the ride. I had kind of forgotten that I was running only a 1:1 gear as my lowest option and this was definitely borderline. I only had to dismount once but it would've been nice to have a cassette with a cog larger than a 26t... On the other end of the spectrum, I only used the large chain ring once! Because of my heavy load every little downhill lead to rapid acceleration, making it unnecessary to pedal. So having an ultra-compact double crank in combination with a wide-range cassette—maybe 46/30 with 12–34—would have been perfect.
  • Riding for seven days: This was our longest tour so far and we both like it. It takes a few days to get into the rhythm of touring and on a shorter tour by that point you're already almost done. Because of the sleeping problems mentioned below I must admit that by day six I was ready to be back home in my own bed, though. So seven days seems like a good length.
  • Warmshowers: In the end, we only stayed with one Warmshowers host—and had a great experience! In general had a good response rate this time. We felt a bit bad for canceling on two people relatively late, as we realized their homes would be either too far or too close to make for a day's ride.

What didn't work

  • Both of us didn't sleep all that well in general. I had problems getting comfortable on my Thermarest Prolite. It kept losing air over night at a slow rate and so by morning my back was lying on whatever was beneath our tent. Both the Biketopus and I also suffered from the quality of our pillows. The Biketopus had sewn nice little pillowcases which we then stuffed with spare clothes. This worked better than just stuffing the clothes right under our heads, as we had done on previous trips, but still it wasn't that great. For the next trip we're going to try some proper camping pillows.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ice bike outing

After suffering from a severe case of winter bike envy, I went ahead and bought a dedicated winter bike for myself, too. The bike is nothing special—a mid-range Norco MTB from 2001—but that we the idea: get a cheap used bike, have fun on it for a few months, and then sell it off again. The only modifications I made to the bike where a pair of Schwalbe Ice Spiker tires, swept back handlebars (thanks to Fitz & Follwell for hooking me up with these!) to deal with my inability to ride straight bars without pain, and a pair of pogies, which haven't arrived yet.

I went on a short maiden voyage a few days ago to see if everything worked alright, but today it was time for a proper outing. Montreal had a lot of snow this year and after a spell of bitter cold there was significant freezing rain, turning roads, sidewalks and trails into an icy mess—in other words: perfect conditions!

As the path on the Lachine Canal doesn't get cleared at all in winter and is too rough to ride on, I went to the shore of the St. Lawrence in Verdun. I was happy to see that the path had indeed been cleared and, better yet, cleared in a way that created a mix of compacted snow and ice. This was great fun to ride on!

The ice begins!
After a few kilometers, however, the surface suddenly turned into a skating rink. I guess they must have cleared the path at a different time or in a different way. Cautiously, I continued. The Ice Spikers did their job in keeping me upright but I felt that I didn't have much traction to spare. This wasn't as much fun and I decided to turn around after a kilometer. For the way back, I steered clear of the icy trail and rode straight across the park. The snow was still a foot deep but because of the freezing rain it had an icy surface strong enough to support me and the bike—at least most of the time...

Lots of ice on the St. Lawrence. I was tempted to go ride the ice but only saw one other person out ice-fishing
I had to go slowly because one could never tell when the tires would sink into the snow and bring me to an abrupt halt. But hey, very enjoyable!

Sweaty but happy—selfie back home

Monday, January 6, 2014

2012 Montreal–Toronto Express

I just realized that I never blogged about my Montreal–Toronto tour in spring 2012. Probably a little late now to recall all the details, but I did want to share some pictures from the ride. This was the toughest tour I've ever done. Being by myself, I pushed hard and suffered from strong headwinds for most of the ride. On the upside, this was a great way of preparing myself for the 2012 season!

Day 1: Montreal to Cornwall

Old locks on the Soulanges Canal

Power station which used to power the canal's locks

I tried using my Carradice saddle bag as a handlebar bag—didn't work that well

Final stretch of the bike path

Goodbye Route Verte, goodbye Quebec...

...welcome Waterfront Trail, welcome Ontario!

These useful map displays were a regular occurrence along the route

The first kilometers of the Waterfront Trail were on the rumble-stripped shoulder of Highway 2

Stretches where you could see the St. Lawrence alternated with those further inland

Big boat (apparently freright ships on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence are called boats, not ships)

130 kilometers done, still a few more to go to the first overnight stop

Bunch of benches in Cornwall

Bridge to the US

Canadian border crossing at the end of the bridge ramp

 Day 2: Cornwall to Gananoque

Early morning start into the fog

I didn't get to see the Moses-Saunders Power Dam, but it was obvious that it was nearby

Back on the shores of the St. Lawrence

I had the beautiful Long Sault Parkway all to myself

Blurry deer

Too early in the year to actually see turtles

Memorial to the Battle of Crysler's Farm in the War of 1812

Upper Canada Village

Ogdensburg–Prescott International Bridge

The enormous Prescott grain elevator

No shoulder and rather heavy traffic

Vessel going downriver

On the rather disappointing Thousand Islands Parkway—the bike path is in horrible condition and on the wrong side of the highway

Yep, I'd move in there

Island living of the not so spacious kind

Two days of headwind have taken their toll

Bonky me.

 Day 3: Gananoque to Trenton

Large solar farm under construction

Glenora Ferry to Prince Edward County

Rouch waters and a big factory

 Day 4: Trenton to Whitby

Should've taken that sign as a warning... the road was in truly horrible condition. Pictures can't do it justice.

But the scenery along the Trent-Severn Waterway was nice!

Rocky beach on Lake Ontario

This day had the best riding—quiet country road, just how I like them

Also the only day with any hills

Crossing the Windsor–Quebec City rail corridor

Riding through an eerily empty subdivision

A little bit of gravel

Approaching the Darlington nuclear power plant

Unfortunately, the entrance to the trail was open, but not the exit

Having a giant cement plant right next to the nuclear power station makes sense, I guess

Second section of the Darlington Nuclear trail

Despite the cold temperatures, bugs were out in force and hitched a ride

First glimpse of Downtown Toronto

 Day 4: Whitby to Toronto

Definitely more spring-like in Toronto than in Montreal 
Very nice section of the Waterfront Trail

Yeah, sure, let's place a single wind turbine right next to the Pickering nuclear power plant

Probably not "North America's Largest Wind Turbine" anymore

Beach with a view

Gotta love the scare quotes...

Oh yeah, spring!

Not so nice stretch of the trail

Scarborough Bluffs. I ended up down there by accident.

Beautiful beach in the city