Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A New Year's Eve Ride

New Year's Eve Fireworks
(photo by Cris, Creative Commons)

After spending all that money on a studded tire, there is no way that I am not going to use it! So today, the last day of 2008, I took Blackadder out of the basement (having carefully cleaned the drivetrain yesterday evening) and rode off to work. Sure the temperature was -16C (with the windchill making it -24C) but the roads were pretty good and it was sunny as well. I did not get much over 19 km/h since the cold began to bite then but it is still much faster than walking. In less than 20 minutes I triumphantly rolled into the office garage, apparently the only cyclist making it in today.

This was a memorable last ride for the year, bringing me up to 5,689 kms for the year, with some 40,000 m of climbing. While this is somewhat less than I managed in other places it is still good considering that it is hard to do much riding here before May. There were many memorable rides with a lot of great friends this year and I look forward to an even better 2009.

And I want to wish everyone who has followed my adventures here at Tindonkey, their family and friends a very Happy New Year!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Human-Powered Snowplow

This was one of the entries in the Specialized competition for new inventions using bicycle technology. Looks cool, but there is no way this is going to work here in Ottawa. The snow he is plowing in the video is at the kind of depth I don't even bother to shovel!

Winter Not Conquered Yet But Soup's On!

Pasta e fagioli soup
(photo by Moritz Guth, Creative Commons)

My idea of conquering the season was meant in jest but Ol’ Man Winter took me at my word and has pelted Ottawa with a range of very strange weathers over the last two weeks: startling cold days of -22C; massive snowfalls; high wind; and this weekend an abrupt thawing as temperatures jumped up to 10C or so and ruined my plans to try my new cross-country skis since everything has turned either to ice or to water. A bus strike in Ottawa means that I can park my car not far from the office and not get ticketed so I have put Blackadder in the basement for the moment but want to get more use out of that studded tire, so the season is not yet Officially Over.

Looking back over 2008, I have to say that I had another good cycling year. My training continues to go well and I have managed to stay motivated. I competed in more time trials (15 kms and 40 kms) this year than I ever have done before in total, I think, and even though I just missed my goal of 40 km/h average for 15 kms I am confident I will reach this mark early in the 2009 season. Given the length of winter here, that would probably be early June.

Out on the road, I had a great weekend riding in Roanoke, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains in May, and enjoyed the company of my good friends the Badger and Dr. Chef in June when we did the 350 km weekend tour that is the Rideau Lakes Tour. Of course the cycling highlight of the year had to be the fabulous Tour d’Enfer, where the Badger and Dr. Chef joined me and fourteen other hardy and entertaining souls cycling the great climbs of the Tour de France in the French Alps. A few weeks later I was back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this time in Cass, West Virginia, with the Badger and his friend Kim, the Duck and the Young Champion, riding the Cheat Mountain Challenge. The ride was crampingly challenging for me this year but at least the next day our recovery effort consisted of popping into Staunton for a great lunch at the Baja Bean Company before the long drive home. Other cycling highlights had to include getting the Marinoni back from the factory refinished to perfection and visiting the Pedaling History Museum before it closed.

I was also fortunate to have a number of cycling book reviews published at, and am looking forward to continuing on in the New Year. As part of the holiday round-up, contributors to Pez get to be highlighted and I am pleased that my comments, and a photo, are included. And Mr. Pez made my holiday that much happier as he supplied me with an amazing new Giro Ionos helmet and more beautiful Pezcycling clothing. He did not think my red helmet matched the Pez ensemble so now I have an elegantly understated white and silver high-tech lid that is far too beautiful to ever crash onto.

Work has been extremely busy for the last few weeks as we have had national elections in both Canada and the United States, the domestic auto industry has driven itself into a liquidity crisis and we have some demanding Official Travel that has to be arranged on short notice. The advantage of this is that I have not sat around at home eating too much but have put in some long hours at work while attempting to stick to my training program.

The Buffalo Trainer:
an early tool for the Tour de Basement of 1900, as seen at the Pedaling History Museum

With the nasty weather I am really much more motivated and have been doing well, with the Tour de Basement at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, weight training at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spinning classes on the weekends. I am working with my coach on my goals for next year but on my own I have increased the weight program considerably and will alternate the spinning with cross-country skiing once the weather allows it. I have signed up for a very reasonable beginners’ Nordic ski course with the City of Ottawa at the end of January for a long weekend, and two weeks later I will follow this up with a one day workshop for people too klutzy and/or fearful to go down hills or turn corners on skis.

Other plans in various stages of development are for a DIY Spring Training Camp in Virginia or North Carolina in April; a return to the Mountains of Misery in May (or perhaps the Wintergreen Ascent uphill time trial); participation in the 2009 Cirque du Cyclisme in Leesburg, Virginia (where I would like to show off the Marinoni), followed by riding the Great Appalachian Trail from Cumberland to Pittsburgh with my friends from the DC area; our own Giro dall’Inferno in late July or early August, with a week in the Chiemgau area of Bavaria followed by serious climbing in Italy’s Sűdtirol; and of course a whole lot of time trialling.

Good nutrition means good results on the road! Is this Damiano Cunego in the off-season? Mamma mia!

As mentioned, the training is going quite well. I have some interesting new literature related to training and will be doing a four-part series on this shortly, so watch this space! Of course one of the big elements of good training is good nutrition and since it is wintry I have consulted one of my new Christmas cookbooks, “Pasta for All Seasons” by Robin Robertson and made some delicious pasta e fagioli soup to ward off the cold winds. This is Italy’s famous tradition pasta-and-beans stew and is laughingly easy to make and delicious. Since my last efforts to put a recipe on the Tindonkey met with such success, here is one for you to try for the New Year:

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 6 oz/160 ml can of tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
6 cups (1.4 l) vegetable stock or water
3 cups (0.7 l) cooked light red or white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz /225 g elbow macaroni
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large pot, medium heat, then add the onion and cook until soft (5+ minutes);
add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
Reduce heat to low and blend in tomato paste, then add the oregano, bay leaf, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add beans.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, about 6 minutes; when cooked, drain it and stir it into the bean mixture. Simmer gently for 10 minutes to blend the flavours.
Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle some grated cheese and/or basil on top.

Serves 6-8

Nutritional Information:
Per serving: 410 Kcal total; 9.0 g of fat; 65.0 g carbohydrates; 16 g protein


Friday, 12 December 2008

My Latest Book Review at The Competition Bicycle: A Photographic History

For all those seeking excellent gifts for their cycling loved ones (or just good friends), here is my latest book review at the estimable This one is about the superb new publication from Vintage Bicycle Press, "The Competition Bicycle: A Photographic History." It is a wonderful book. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

My Conquest of Winter

My world this morning...

While at the Pedaling History Museum, I noticed a display featuring a spiked tire and a runner, meant to replace the wheels on a bicycle so that it could be used for winter. This was a coincidence as when I came back to Ottawa the special studded rear tire I had ordered had arrived. After I picked it up at the post office on Sunday I spent a good thirty minutes wrestling it on the rim. It did not look all that impressive and is very heavy.

Yesterday was simply too cold to ride so I drove to work, something I only do perhaps twice a year. There is no parking available in our building (which is inexcusable as it is in the middle of nowhere) so I had to park about three blocks away and walk through the biting cold. Of course, when I returned I discovered that Ottawa only lets you park on the streets for three hours and doesn't have to post a sign about this. So now I get to pay a $30 parking ticket as well.

Today I was determined to dress warmly and come in by bike. Of course, overnight a big storm had developed and when I opened the garage door there was a lot of snow on the ground. Big, fluffy flakes were coming down. Instead of my cycling shoes I had a pair of hiking boots on and I thought if it was too bad I could walk the bike back and hike to the office, a good 50 minutes away. But after the first few pedal strokes I realized that the studded tire really works and off I went, tearing through the snow and having a pretty good time.

My route generally avoids traffic but I found where there had been cars the road was a bit slippery so I just hopped up on the sidewalk. The deep tread cross tire on the front and the studded tire together allowed me to move quite briskly, probably up to 22 km/h or so. It was still cold outside but the challenge of it all goaded me on and as I crossed the Minto Bridges and saw the office ahead I felt a surge of triumph. I would be the only cyclist to make it into work today! Of course at that moment someone rolled down the hill near the bus stop and pulled in ahead of me on their bike. My hands were cold (it was still around -20C with the windchill) and the tire clattered over the parking garage floor but I had beaten Winter!

We'll see what the ride home is like tonight. And tomorrow freezing rain is promised. "Bring it on," I say. The Germans have a saying: "There is no bad weather. Just inappropriate clothing." And if gets just too bad I have a new set of cross-country skis. But I would like to think that the cycling season is not quite over yet.

My Visit to the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum

Mr. Carl Burgwardt, collector extraordinaire, with an Ordinary and in front of the Marine Bicycle

A number of years ago while driving along Interstate 81 from Washington to Ottawa, I stopped at the New York State Visitors’ Center just inside the state line and picked up some maps and brochures. Among them was a leaflet for a bicycle museum just outside of Buffalo, New York. It looked interesting and I thought that I would have to visit it when I next went to see my mother in the Toronto area. However, like so many good intentions, this came to nothing until I read on a cycling blog that the museum, considered a major one for bicycles, was going to close in 2009 as the owner retired. He planned to sell the collection and I was now determined to see it before it was dispersed or otherwise entered private hands and became invisible.

On Saturday morning I left on the 90 minute drive to Buffalo and then headed west on I-90 to Orchard Park. I had actually passed this town on several of my trips to Toronto without realizing it. It would have been worth stopping here as Orchard Park is quite charming (certainly compared to what you see of downtown Buffalo from the Interstate–that city is now ranked as the poorest in the United States) and I had found on the Internet what sounded like a good place for lunch. I drove past the museum on North Buffalo Road and easily found Mangia, a quite good Italian café and restaurant. After an excellent espresso and a panino (for that Italian road racer feeling), I drove back to the unprepossessing building that houses the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum. There was quite a bit of snow around but the parking lot was nicely plowed. Mine was also one of the only cars there.

I entered the building and found myself in a impressively cluttered gift shop where I paid my $7.50 admission. Mr. Carl Burgwardt, the proprietor and the man who was responsible for this startling collection, took my money and suggested how best to see the museum. It is simply laid out in a circle, with an additional room housing a poster gallery and space for educational events. In front of various exhibits is a speaker with a red button. Push the button and Mr. Burgwardt’s voice explains the significance of what you are looking at. You would think that going through a bicycle museum would not take very long but it was to be over three hours (and 127 photos!) before I headed out the exit. The Pedaling History collection is a very significant one and I learned a great deal from it.

Reproduction of the Draisine

At first one is a bit overwhelmed by what appears to be genial clutter but in fact is a well-ordered and logical progression. First the visitor walks by a large collection of children’s wheel vehicles, including tricycles and hobby-horses, before passing a novel kind-of-bicycle used for riding railway lines. There is a long history of these devices and I recall that when touring the park in Cass the guide mentioned that the local doctor used one to go up to the logging camps. The railbike lives on in Europe, where there are stretches of track where one can use a pedal- or hand-operated vehicle to tour the countryside. These vehicles, known in German as “Draisine” or in Sweden as “Dressin” immortalize the inventor of what was to eventually become the bicycle, Karl Drais. Or more properly Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Christian Ludwig, Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn (1785-1851).

His “Laufmaschine” , or “running machine” was meant to assist him in his work as a forestry official, and it is referred to in English as a “draisine,” not to be confused with the railcar thing noted. The museum has two reproductions of the Baron Drais’ invention, the first two-wheeler, consisting of those two wheels, a wooden beam to which they were attached, a steering tiller and a cushion-cum-seat. I cannot imagine this heavy device could have been very efficient at all and not much of an improvement over walking but it survived long enough to enjoy a craze as wealthy young bucks took up the sport in France and England.

Moving from Baron Drais, the following exhibits are devoted to the next iteration of the bicycle, the velocipede, more aptly named “the Boneshaker.” This looks somewhat more efficient as pedals have been attached to the front wheel so no more pounding the ground by the rider’s feet for propulsion but weighing a hundred pounds or so, with a heavy steel frame and metal-shod wooden wheels it probably was not much fun to ride either. The boneshakers were often ridden indoors in arenas and the first recorded bicycle race featured them in 1868. Pierre Lallement, a Frenchman who immigrated to America in 1865, patented the boneshaker but unable to interest American manufacturers he returned to France. The museum boasts several Lallement-type machines. The inventor was to return to America where he was later to work for Col. Albert Pope, the bicycle manufacturing tycoon who bought his patent.

With the inevitable desire to go faster, the next stage of bicycle evolution was set as the English took advantage of advances in metallurgy to build lightweight curved frames and increase the size of the front wheel and thus was born that unmistakable icon of cycling, the Ordinary. Known also the Penny Farthing and the High-Wheeler, the Ordinary launched the 1880s bicycle craze as athletic young men were attracted to their (comparatively) breakneck speed. For the first time, people could go faster than a horse entirely on their own power. The aforementioned Col. Pope, after seeing an English Ordinary at one of the seemingly endless World’s Fairs of the day (in that case it was Philadelphia and 1876), felt that this was the coming thing and his sewing machine business soon switched into making bicycles in a big way. His firm, Columbia, became the world’s largest bicycle maker and developed many advanced manufacturing techniques in its Hartford, Connecticut operations. The Pedaling History Museum has a large collection of Ordinaries and one can see that these simple machines boasted increasingly excellent craftsmanship.

Of course, the Ordinary was not without its issues. Mr. Burgwardt has a nice diorama showing a cyclist taking a “header.” This event, which involves flying over the handlebars, could happen pretty easily as the rider was really balanced on the bicycle’s centre of gravity so any sudden stop, for example caused by hitting a stone or a hole in the road, would pitch the cyclist forward with potentially unhappy results. In spite of these pitfalls, the Ordinary was quite fast, limited only by the length of the rider's inseam, and looking back at the records set then it is hard to imagine what it took to race these things. In 1884 a young Englishman, Thomas Stevens, became the first person to ride around the world on a bicycle and he used a Columbia 50 inch Ordinary.

I asked Mr. Burgwardt about how one climbs onto an Ordinary and as luck would have it at this point in the museum there is an Ordinary fixed in one spot, with a small block behind it. I was invited to mount up, which involves putting your left foot on a tiny step next to the small rear wheel, holding both ends of the handlebars and swinging the right foot up to the pedal as you pull yourself up to the seat. At least that is what I think I did, since I have photographic proof I did make it, and I managed to get off again pretty easily as well. The view from the seat, which in this case was around five feet off the ground, is quite commanding and Mr. Burgwardt reminded me that back in the 1880s people were used to riding horses so sitting up so high was not as alien as it is to us. Of course, I also thought that pitching forward on your face and falling five feet down could not have been any fun at all and the records of the day suggested that serious injury and even death was not uncommon.

The Age of the Ordinary was also apparently the Age of Innovation as the idea of what was a bicycle was not really very settled. The inventiveness of people towards this human-scaled machine is amazing. The most extraordinary example is the Otto Dicycle, one of the stupidest devices to ever be ridden on a road. The museum has the only one in North America and there are four or five others in Europe. It is inconceivable that 953 of these monstrosities were built.Mr. Otto came up with the idea of a two-wheel but instead of the wheels being back-to-front they were side-by-side. A seat was located between the two large wheels and the dicyclist spun pedals connected to a chain-and-belt system that turned the axle and the wheels. This is totally unstable but Mr. Otto included a small wheel to the back so that the rider would not pitch backwards but had to figure out how not to do a face plant on his own since there was no corresponding wheel to the front.

In order to absorb shock the spokes of the wheels were wavy rather than straight but I cannot imagine anyone riding one of these fast enough to worry about road shock. Mr. Burgwardt said that they did nothing to provide any suspension anyway. A celebrated manufacturer, BSA, built these things in London. Whimsical for sure, but what was Mr. Otto thinking? Here we had many of the disadvantages of the Ordinary with greater weight, complexity and cost coupled with lower speed. It probably needed a garage-sized structure to store it in. On the plus side, it sure doesn’t look like anything else.

It was evident that pretty soon people got tired of falling on their faces and attempts were made to introduce Safety Ordinaries. There were two ways to do this: you could turn the Ordinary around so that the small wheel is in front, meaning you won’t pitch forward (but you can pitch backward) as was exemplified by the rather elegant Star bicycle produced by the H.B. Smith Machine Company in New Jersey; or you could reduce the size of the front wheel by using gearing. The most celebrated of these was the Kangaroo, produced in England in 1884, and the museum has an example of this and several of its competitors. Amazingly, a firm in the Czech Republic will actually build you a new Kangaroo.

But time was running out for the Ordinary, whether in standard or safety format as the real Safety Bicycle was making its debut, once again in England. With its chain drive, wheels of equal size and hub gear it was not only fast and attractive but could be ridden by women as well and not simply wild young “scorchers.” The Safety soon made the Ordinary obsolete but although it resembles the bicycles of today innovation was not ended by a long shot yet. The museum has a very large collection of early Safeties but what immediately struck me is that like the Ordinaries they all used hard, solid rubber tires. While an improvement over the iron-shod wheels of the Boneshakers or the early Ordinaries, they were heavy and didn’t do much for comfort. This was to change in 1891, when John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic tire let us all ride on air. All the safety bicycles in the collection from this point on have inflated tires but there are still other novelties, such as frames made of hickory or aluminum or chainless transmissions, using beveled gears at the end of encased shaft drivetrains.

The museum has an exhibit representing a blacksmith’s shop of the day, even including a bicycle that has never been removed from its shipping crate. Typically the smith would have gone from horses to bicycle repair to fixing cars. Many famous people in the transportation industry had their start as bicycle mechanics, including the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford and Glenn Curtiss. This is another strength of the museum, which has focused almost exclusively on the industry in the United States as the story of the bicycle, its manufacture and promotion, is an important element of industrial development of the country and the growth of its consumer society. Not only did people buy bicycles, they bought lots of accessories to go with them and bicycle-themed paraphernalia was everywhere. The museum has a massive collection of beer steins with bicycle motifs, and advertising posters and cabinets full of head tube badges and bicycle license plates and promotional pins and lamps. Suspended from the ceiling is a marine bicycle, with long pontoons. The rider pedals a small propeller in the back while in the front a thoughtfully-position pitchfork prevents seawood from fouling it.

"The Maid of the Mist," with a photo of its owner on the right

There are many bicycles that originated in New York State, which was apparently a hot-bed of manufacturing. The Pierce company made fine bicycles from 1896 and its arrow trademark became even more famous on the Pierce-Arrow luxury cars that were built in Buffalo until the Depression killed the company in 1938. In the museum are many Pierce bicycle, as well as what was probably one of the first bicycles made in the Buffalo area (in Orchard Park, in fact) around 1870 and a very charming “Maid of the Mist” woman’s bicycle. The “Maid of the Mist” is the famous boat that cruises at the base of Niagara Falls.

There is a small section devoted to racing, with a focus on the famous Six Day Events, including a triple owned at one point by the celebrated African-American World Champion Major Taylor.

Columbia Model 41 with machine gun

By this point in the museum bicycles were starting to look pretty similar to each other but there were still plenty of surprises. One exhibit showcases three Columbia military bicycles, stock bikes modified by the company to carry small arms. My favourite has a machine gun on the handlebars and a wooden box on the back contained the ammunition belts. I was thinking that this would gain a cyclist respect in traffic but the bicycle was meant to be used as a tripod by the two-man crew and not for firing underway. Pity. Another interesting military bicycle was the folding one used by British and Canadian paratroopers in World War II, given them swift and silent transportation on the ground.

The final part of the museum celebrates the famous balloon tire bikes made popular by Ignaz Schwinn of Chicago and his competitors. Besides four or five of the fabled Schwinn Black Phantom models, the museum has a Donald Duck promotional bicycle, a Huffy Radio bike, and the glorious Hoppalong Cassidy bike, complete with saddle and holstered pistols for the little buckaroo.

One of the most recent bicycles was meant to be the Bicycle of the Future. With its dual headlamps, fiberglass monocoque construction and tailights, the Bowden Spacelander was designed originally in 1949 but not put into production until 1960. Its unique looks were not enough to make it a commercial proposition and after one year production ended. It is an exceptionally desirable collectible and the museum has not only one of the production bicycles but a prototype for the follow-on model.

Of course in the gift shop I could not help treating myself to a book by Mr. Burgwardt about the bicycle industry in Buffalo, along with some of the hardbound proceedings of the annual bicycle history conferences. He was kind enough to sign the book for me and I headed out into the snowy weather and the drive back up the Niagara Peninsula.

As you can judge by my enthusiasm and the few photos I have included here, I found the Pedaling History Museum well worth the travel. It is a serious educational project and remarkable as the work of only a dedicated pair of collectors, Mr. and Mrs. Burgwardt. If you can get to the area you will not regret visiting Orchard Park!

Check out the Museum's website here.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

A Solution to the Automobile Industry Crisis

Keith Knight offers a brilliant solution to the auto industry crisis. For those of us who like to ride on trains and are aging baby-boomers, it looks great!

(Click on the image for a larger view, in case you have forgotten your reading glasses, ahem.)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Revealed: Dark Secrets of a Growing Cult!

"Roadie:" A Book Review

Depending on where you live, the amateur racing season is drawing to a close but there must be a lot of people wondering about the irresistible lure that takes their loved ones out on the open road, oblivious to all else. As I turned the pages of Jamie Smith’s entertaining book, Roadie, it slowly dawned on me just how strange the increasingly-popular pastime of bicycle racing must appear to outsiders. Mr. Smith provides a capsule description of a bike race, which indicates the tone of the book and its essential truthfulness:

A bike race is like a chess game, a boxing match and a stampede disguised as a sport, encompassed by a life-style, and surrounded by a community on a never-ending road trip to the brink of bankruptcy.

Offhand, this does not sound like the kind of summary that would necessarily attract newcomers to a sport, but this is precisely the intent of this book. Mr. Smith, an experienced cyclist and race announcer, decided to write it to explain bike racing to friends, colleagues and families of cyclists—people to whom this sport, which has stature in Europe, is an alien and exotic transplant in North America. He has succeeded with his light and amusing style and his ability to convey the joy of the sport with an unblinking eye. Has anybody else ever written about how roadies wear out their shorts without noticing it? They do.

The life-style of a road cyclist is so peculiar that it is worth the one-quarter of the book that Mr. Smith (a fellow blogger) devotes to it. The fact that the average roadie owns eight bicycles—Mr. Smith does too—is apparently something unusual to non-racers. Besides our obvious obsession over equipment, the author touches on the other idiosyncrasies of cyclists, such as our unwillingness to move very much when off the bike. The truism of “never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down and never, ever walk” is actually good advice to help in the recuperation process but must seem strange to people who think that athletes should be, well, more athletic.

Getting into the riding itself training rides, outdoors and indoors, are discussed. The need to put in the mileage, typically 100-400 per week, is unquestionable but not always easy to explain to family members or acquaintances who would consider this a significant drive, let alone riding it. Perhaps if non-cyclists appreciated what goes into all this training they might be a little more inclined to leave some space for that cyclist they see when they are out driving on the road.

The chapter on tactics is very clear and should be helpful to neophytes but it is followed by a chapter on that very real and very unpleasant aspect of cycling: crashes, although Mr. Smith does say that he wishes he could ignore it. The fact is that if you are a racer sooner or later you are going to be involved in a crash. Improving your odds comes about through experience and upgrading your skills but it still happens to professionals. At least he speaks plainly so people are aware of this real risk.

Races are categorized into criteriums, road races, time trials and stage races, with a chapter devoted to each and not failing to note that there is not much in the way of money for any. Taking my favourite—time trialling—as an example, the account of what it is to ride one and what it looks like to a spectator (pretty undramatic) is very accurate. The author even mentions that fact that you need additional special costly equipment, which just makes it all that much more attractive. Here is an excerpt on time trials:

Once under way, a racer only needs to ride fast and avoid crashing into things. That may sound simple, but the one thing that makes the time trial such an intriguing event is the one thing that heightens the danger: concentration. A rider who is so sharply focused on riding can become blind to the most obvious things. For example, curves in the road.

Ahem, guilty.

So does this book meet its goals? It certainly would entertain any experienced cyclist, the kind of person who sits together with other roadies in a café after a ride and earnestly discusses tire brands, but would it be good to buy for a friend or family member curious about this bike racing thing? There is no question that in its breezy yet comprehensive way it will be able to keep the interest of someone new to the sport strong enough after 206 pages to watch a bike race and get something out of it, and, just possibly, become a convert and go for that first of eight bicycles themselves. Recommended.

It would be remiss not to mention the charming illustrations by Jef Mallett, who, unlike fellow-artist Toulouse-Lautrec, knows what a bicycle chain actually looks like. His work adds greatly to the liveliness and accessibility of this book.

“Roadie—the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer”
by Jamie Smith, VeloPress 2008, illustrations by Jef Mallett
256 pp.
ISBN-10: 1934030171
ISBN-13: 978-1934030172
Suggested Price: $21.95 (but cheaper you-know-where)

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Decline of the French Cafe

A zinc-topped bar and a coffee...
photo: Cafe Vaudeville by Malias, Creative Commons

What with all the cheerless news about the economy, the last thing anyone needs to read about is the decline of yet another institution. But according to the New York Times, the stereotypical French cafe is vanishing as customers are worried about the economy or have to go somewhere else to smoke or are nervous about the police picking them up for drunk driving. Social mores change as well and apparently young people don't drink during the day.

What is most disenheartening is that with no money or time for meals, the French, as the story reveals, are reduced to eating like les Anglo-Saxons!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Trek brings back chainless bicycles...sort of

Trek District

Well, here we go: before I can finish the very interesting article on the history of chainless bicycles for my blog, which has been in progress for some time, Trek Bicycles have jumped the gun and are bringing the chainless bike back to the mass market. Of course they have a long history, falling out of favour due to the additional cost of the shafts and perhaps extra weight. But, in fact, what Mr. Trek is offering is nothing like Col. Albert Pope did back in the days of the Columbia Bicycle Company empire but rather a conventional bike that uses a toothed belt instead of a chain.

It is apparently a newsworthy story as Associated Press came out with the piece below, datelined today in Richmond, Virginia for some reason. I will still do my post when I have worked it into shape but at least you can be entertained in the meantime. Although I am not sure why Mr. Felberbaum thinks internal hub shifting systems are not geared, which of course they are.

Trek introduces chainless bicycles

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM Associated Press Writer

If you've ever been riding down the street and had your pants cuff ripped asunder, there may be a revolution at hand.

Trek Bicycle is part of a movement to bury the finger-pinching, pants-munching, rust-prone sprocket and chain, and usher in an era of belt-driven bikes that might have the inventors of the self-propelled transportation Schwinning in their graves.

Wisconsin-based Trek is introducing two models this holiday season that are chainless, instead using technology most often found in things like motorcycles and snowmobiles. While some smaller custom bike makers have used them before, Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.

The nation's largest domestic bike manufacturer is hoping to capitalize on a new group of urban pedal-pushers who are trading their cars for a more low-tech way to get around because of gas prices as well as health and environmental concerns.

The U.S. bicycle industry was a $5.4 billion industry in 2007, including the retail value of bicycles, related parts, and accessories through all channels of distribution, according to research funded by the National Sporting Goods Association. More than 43 million Americans age 7 and older were estimated to have ridden a bike six times or more in 2005, the industry group said.

"People are really finding bicycles to be a very simple solution to some very complex problems that they face every day," said Eric Bjorling, Trek's lifestyle brand manager. "Anything we can do in our design to really help them and help them live that lifestyle is probably better for both the consumers and us."

Bjorling said the new belts are a low-maintenance solution to a chain, which has roughly 3,000 parts including all the links and connectors.

Aside from the whisper-quiet ride, the lighter and longer-lasting carbon-fiber composite belts won't rust, can't be cut, won't stretch or slip and won't leave grease marks around your ankles. A guard over the belt-drive and the construction of the system makes getting your pants stuck an unlikely scenario, Bjorling said.

One version of the chainless bike, called the District ($930), is a single-speed, complete with a silver body, orange accents and brown leather seat and handles. The other, called the Soho ($990), is an eight-speed bike that uses an internal hub to adjust the speed rather than gears.

Bicycles have come along way from the "boneshakers back in the 19th century," said Orin Starn, a professor at Duke University who teaches a course on the anthropology of sports. Some companies have used direct drive or drive shaft bikes that provide some of the same benefits as Trek's chainless bikes, but those models have yet to replace the age-old chain.

"Certainly for the last 40 or 50 years we have this iconic image of the traditional bicycle that includes the chain," Starn said. "We've seen this evolution in different styles and stuff, but the chain has been a cultural constant."

Bjorling admits chain-driven bikes are still efficient, but said an urban rider won't have to worry about greasing or cleaning the chain. The belt can be cleaned with a normal cleaning agent and rag, and the bike sprocket is designed to push through any snow, dirt or grime. And one belt will typically last three years -- the life span of three chains.

How riders will take to the new bikes remains to be seen, since they are not out for sale yet. The District model will go on sale in December, followed the next month by the Soho. There may be those in the biking community that may take issue with swapping bike chains with newer technology.

"Bike purists are going to take a look at it and say 'oh, you know it's another option to a chain,'" Bjorling said. "Are we going to see a ton of people switching from a chain to a belt drive? I think in some urban environments yes, but it's definitely not the coffin that's gonna bury the chain."

Over the years there have been many changes in the bike industry, specifically materials that have made products lighter and stronger, said David Oakley, a manager at Agee's Bicycles, which has been in business in Richmond since 1910.

While some may question the chainless bikes, Oakley pointed to the initial skepticism, and eventual success, of mountain bikes.

"We all know that putting gears on a beach cruiser to be able to ride back up the hill turned out to be a pretty good thing," Oakley joked of the bike industry's most popular segment. Oakley said there's a general excitement behind the new technology, but cautioned that the notion may not ring everyone's bell.

"From a maintenance standpoint, it's huge," he said. "If this really, completely takes off, the lubricant industry is probably not going to be excited."

Friday, 14 November 2008

My Latest Review on Rouleur's 2008 Photography Annual

My latest book review about Rouleur Magazine's 2008 Photography Annual, appears on today's, the place to go for all your cycling information needs! Read and enjoy...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Italy: Land of Beer!

Campagnolo, Colnago, Masi, Cinelli, Pinarello--and now pilsener, if this article in the New York Times is an indication. Apparently a craft beer scene has arrived in Italy. So after riding the hills of Lombardy or Piedmont one can now celebrate with the beverage that is one with cycling. Hooray! So the only real advantage Belgium offers for cycling fans is being chipped away...

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Again: Beer and Bicycling

In his excellent blog, Gene Bisbee notes again the connection between beer and bicycling and includes an entertaining video of participants at the New Belgium Brewery Tour de Fat quaffing at the finish line. Nice.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Return to the Tour de Basement

Last night I was scheduled to do a one hour ride on the trainer. Just as well the schedule called for an indoor workout as we are suffering through the first big winter storm. There is snow on the ground. The wind is blowing outside at 60 km/h and the temperatures are below freezing.

So it was nice to relive the Tour d'Enfer and ride the Galibier again: I used the Tacx "Video Cycling" DVD of La Marmotte, featuring the climbs up the Galibier as well as the Alpe d'Huez. The DVD is only 86 minutes long, so as you watch it you feel that you are riding a motorcycle rather than a bicycle but perhaps that is to give encouragement! Which is good since given what it looks like outside I will be in the basement until May 2009.

Here's an idea of what the Tacx DVDs look like:

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Spartacus! My current favourite pro racer

Fast Fabian at the 2007 World's
(photo by Bruce Christie, Creative Commons)

Although I am no hero-worshipper of athletes, there are some pro cyclists whose efforts I particularly admire. They tend to be time-triallists (no surprise there, I suppose) and taller and heavier than the typical pro. I have stood next to Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego (luckily not at the same time!) and although they are great climbers I felt as if I was next to children. Being of, ahem, a certain weight and height I identify with racers who have to fight gravity and wind resistance as well as the competition. My favourite of all time has to have been Eros Poli, a gigantic domestique who won the Mont Ventoux stage at the Tour de France. So there.

Anyway, a rider whom I like very much since I watched a DVD of him win the prologue of the 2003 Tour de Suisse, riding then for Fassa Bortolo, is the Swiss Fabian Cancellara. His breakthrough year was 2004, when he came fourth at Paris-Roubaix and then went on to beat Lance Armstrong and win the prologue at the Tour de France that year. Since then he has gone from strength to strength. Since joining Team CSC he has won Paris-Roubaix, Tirrano-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, as well as wearing the Yellow Jersey and the Green Jersey at the Tour de France, winning the UCI time trial world championship twice and taking gold at the Olympic time trials and a very surprising bronze in the Olympic road race in Beijing. He is six-time Swiss national time trial champion. In 2006 at Salzburg his time on the 50.8 km World Championship time trial course was 1 hour and 11 seconds, a minute and a half faster than the next rider.

And he is nice to his fans too. Nicknamed "Spartacus," he still lives in his home area in Switzerland and is happy to sign postcards for fans. Recently in the mail I got the one shown on the left, marking his Olympic success, and personally signed for me and dated.

As the long dark winter approaches and I am on the time trial bike in the basement, watching the Tour de Suisse and enjoying the sunny weather and perfect roads in DVD-land, this is a bit more motivation! Now, all I need is one of those Cervelo P3s...

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

October 18/19: A Fine Weekend in Ottawa

Jake and his first ride on his new bicycle

After several days of indoor workouts (including the dreaded Short Duration Power Test wherein I sprinted up to 770 W of power output for somewhat less time than Mark Cavendish), I was determined to get out on the weekend and enjoy what promised to be excellent weather, perhaps the last good weather for the year.

On Friday I accompanied my colleague Jake to a big sporting goods store in Ottawa. I had recently persuaded him to Come to the Dark Side and buy a racing bicycle. I helped him to locate a very nice and only slightly used one but we needed All the Accessories. It was like Christmas for me: I helped pick out shoes, a helmet, a floor pump, some tools, shorts, socks, gloves, cleats and so forth and he paid for it all. I was a bit jealous since his excellent Giro helmet (in yellow, to match his bike) was unfaded, unlike my precious red Eclipse, and it was a level higher in the Giro line and cost less than when I bought mine! I may have to try and smuggle another one into the house because, well, you can never have enough helmets. I think that bill came to a good proportion of what he paid for the bike, an Opus Scherzo designed and assembled in Montreal.

On Saturday we met behind the National Research Council building on Sussex Drive and as two policemen looked on from their parked cruisers I installed his pedals and then the cleats in his shoes, made a minor adjustment of the seat, put a full water bottle into the holder and directed him to ride around the parking lot. Jake has not ridden a bike for some time and this was several levels of seriousness up. He learned to shift gears and position himself comfortably on the bike. More importantly he learned to disengage the cleats from the pedals as he slowed down.

I got on the Tarmac and we rode out along Sussex Drive. We had to get up on the sidewalk to get access to the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge and here Jake came to grief for a moment, tipping over onto his side. This was his initiation into the joys of clipless pedals and I told him he would not have to do that again. We rode over the bridge and then were soon on the bikepath heading towards Gatineau Park.

Jake tearing up the hills in Gatineau Park--c'mon: relax those elbows!

The ride was excellent, although it was only about 6C--it had been -2C when I left home. We had clear skies and entering the park we found very light traffic. We rode up towards Champlain Lookout and Jake got used to the shifting. The first significant climb on the route is the one to Pinks Lake and he managed this well enough although he did note that he was already starting to feel this in his legs. We went a bit further, to the intersection that would take you left to the Lookout or straight through to the Visitors' Centre and we decided here would be a good place to turn around. Now Jake could enjoy the delights of a high-speed descent on a light, fast and responsive bicycle and I knew the effort of climbing would be forgotten.

We crossed back into Ontario and headed to Bridgehead for some celebratory coffees. We had ridden 51 kms and climbed about 500 m in all. Not too shabby for a shakedown ride. Jake thanked me for being patient and showing him some of the techniques for cycling but I have to say it was an enormous pleasure to introduce somebody to the pastime that means so much to me. Cycling is the very best sport of all and when I think of all that it has given to me, including a high level of fitness, new skills and confidence, a chance to see some many wonderful places and make a lot of great friends, it is a small effort to pass my enjoyment along.

On Sunday I returned to Gatineau Park again, this time alone, to do my favourite climbing circuit. It was quite cold but I was wearing a long-sleeved wool jersey that had sent to me for my book reviews and I have to say that I am sold on this traditional material. It kept me warm and dry even though I did not have a layer above the jersey. It looks very retro-stylish as well, the only drawback being that it has to be washed by hand. But some of us know that fashion always trumps practicality.

In spite of the cold a lot of motorists had decided to come into the park on Sunday and I did not find the ride so pleasant. I also developed a muscle spasm or something in my right side and it hurt a bit as I rode home. Still, it was an enjoyable day out (the spasm disappeared with a hot shower) and I had clocked another 71 kms and 1,000 m of climbing.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Keeping Fit in 2009

The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend passed in a blur for me. Instead of stuffing myself on pumpkin pie, I have finally begun to get seriously into training again:

Saturday: 90 minutes spinning class, followed by 90 minutes of relaxed cycling on the Marinoni (relaxed because it is clear I have to replace the middle chainring now)

Sunday: 60 minutes spinning class, followed by nearly 3 hours of climbing in Gatineau Park on the Tarmac

Monday: 75 minutes of cycling the Eastern Parkway with five high-spin 15 second intervals at 120 rpm on the Tarmac

The Leader time trial bike has been set up on the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine trainer and I have a new Power Computer installed to give me watts readings. I even rearranged the setting for the Tour de Basement so that I will not get any electronic interference on my heart rate monitor. Tonight will be the base-setting Short Duration Power Test. I will be soon summarizing my year of cycling and setting new goals for 2009.

Towards the end of the year I tend to find my motivation drops, which is pretty normal for most people. Knowing that the weather will only get colder and that I will be doomed to spend hours and hours and hours either in the basement or at the gym spinning or lifting weights is hard on morale but I will treat myself to some more racing DVDs and, yes, those cross-country skis and lessons. The other motivator will be the planning for our next assault on the roads of Europe in 2009; some ideas are already being hatched.

Speaking of Europe, two more of the participants at the Tour de France, which we watched in Briancon, have been found to have doped. They are the winner of both time trials and the King of the Mountains, who placed third overall. Both have signed with new teams and both, in my view, should, if the tests are beyond doubt, receive lifetime bans. The riders are obviously not getting the message and as a fan I have other things to spend my money on.

Both of these riders were part of the now-defunct Gerolsteiner team. While living in Germany I saw Manager Hans-Michael Holczer raise up his Continental-level team to the top ranks by 2001. He was someone who loved the sport and he and his family put a great deal into it. There were many highlights, including exciting wins by Davide Rebellin in particular in 2004, and support for a number of young and exciting riders, such as Markus Fothen and Fabian Wegman; there was and only one instance of doping I can find (one of the sprinters in 2005). In 2007 at the World Championships in Stuttgart, the Canadian team's bicycles were stolen and Team Gerolsteiner stepped up with loaners for the race.

Due to the bad odour of pro cycling in Europe, Herr Holczer was unable to find a replacement sponsor as Gerolsteiner was pulling out after ten years of support and the team was scheduled to race a final time in Sunday's Giro di Lombardia. Instead, it has been disbanded and Herr Holczer, who has been outspoken over the years on the subject of doping, has left cycling entirely. I feel disappointed for him but grateful for his efforts. To leave the sport in this way is unfair and uncalled-for.

Turning to that source of breaking sports news, the Economist, there was a nice piece about using high-technology to promote exercise (although nothing about sweating for seven months in the Tour de Basement!):

WE ARE constantly warned that we are becoming too fat. A third of American adults are already reckoned to be obese; a quarter of adult Britons; and, in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru a staggering four-fifths of adults. The World Health Organisation forecasts that by 2015 (rather beyond our horizon) there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world, including 700m who are obese (ie, with a body mass index of more than 30, compared with the “ideal” range of 18-25).

A safe prediction, therefore, is that exercise products will be heavily advertised in 2009—and perhaps even used. Already jogging fanatics can wear a chip in their Nikes that transmits to their iPod to be downloaded to their computers—which will then add to a graphic display of kilometres and routes covered, even gradients climbed, calories burned and speeds endured.

So what could be next in 2009? One project now in development targets the “road warrior” who tries to stave off the perils of fast-food and a spreading waistline by going to the hotel gym. The idea is to transmit a hotel guest’s athletic profile and needs ahead of check-in. All the guest will have to do is key in his or her code to the treadmill or other machine and the equipment will automatically adjust to the guest’s requirement for speed, tension, time or whatever.
Which leads to another safe prediction: there will be plenty of work for the maintenance men.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Recession? What recession?

For people who did not have any money invested in the stock market in the last two weeks or else need to sell their Bentleys, a Swedish design firm is offering a gold-plated fixed gear bicycle for 80,000 Euros (US$ 110,000), delivery included. It comes bedecked with crystals, including Braille top tube lettering, and a genuine $200 Brooks leather saddle. And a gold-plated stand, but no brakes. And a honking big "Limited Edition" head tube badge.

Perhaps the markets will recover by Christmas...

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

One-Tenth the Speed of Sound!

On September 18th, Canadian Sam Whittingham raced the Varna Diablo III to a world record speed for a human-powered vehicle: 83.22 mph, or 132.5 km/h. This is equivalent to one-tenth the speed of sound.

Sam lives in British Columbia and runs Naked Bikes, building custom frames. One of his creations was "Best in Show" at the Handbuilt Bicycle Show in Portland this year and was purchased by Lance Armstrong. He has raced for the Canadian national cycling team and set previous records in other iterations of the Diablo.

Congratulations to Sam and the Varna team!

Monday, 22 September 2008

End of the Summer Time Trial

Doug: he's no slug, finishing second overall

The Ottawa Bicycle Club has regular Thursday night 15 km Open Time Trials, and on Tuesdays has one for women. Both series have now ended for the season but there are occasional 40 km events as well and the final one for 2008 took place today, the first day of Autumn. So, goodbye to summer! I think that the course had been run twice so far this year and someone mentioned to me that it was pretty flat.

I have been suffering from sinusitis for several days and woke up at 3:30 with a splitting headache, that I tried to control with a lot of codeine. I did not sleep very well afterwards so it was pretty miserable to get up at 5:45 am but luckily I had packed the car last night. I drove a short distance to pick up Doug, a fellow-OBCer who needed a ride to the course. It was pretty cold but sunny and the time passed quickly as we drove along the 417 highway and within an hour found ourselves in the village of Fournier. We were probably the first cyclists as we did not see anyone at all around but backtracking we found some of the others and followed them to the little park where we could park and get registered.

After signing up, I set up the trainer and plugged in my MP3 player to warm up. I got so involved that I forgot to pick up my number and get my start time; I noticed a crowd had formed around the registration table so I ran over in my cleats. It was a bit embarrassing as everyone was getting ready to start. My number was 18, indicating I would be the eighth rider out. There were 23 riders, less than the Thursday group but still a good turnout. There were two riders who had come from last week's Ontario championships as the top provincial time triallists in their age categories, among other fast riders.

I was not going to be one of the fast riders. My head was still aching but I was optimistic as I lined up at the start. A good launch and I was off, hitting 47 km/h. Needless to say, this did not last long as I discovered I was heading right into an ice-cold 11 km/h headwind and my speed bled off rapidly.

The course was not really all that flat and I seemed to spend the first 20 kms battling the wind, the rough road (I had thought it was smoother and had really pumped up the tires) and the incline. My turnaround was a bit slow but on the way back I found I could push up the speed to 40-42 km/h at a reasonable heart rate, but I was already very tired from the outbound leg. I passed a few people, and was passed myself right at the finish line. I came 4th out of six riders in my age group, but the first three were very fast.

Waiting for the official times

My time, 1:05:30 was nothing special (although it actually is my fastest 40 km tt of the year!) and as soon as I crossed the line my head hurt brutally, but at least I had one more time trial under my belt. Doug had ridden brilliantly in only his second 40 km time trial ever, and came second overall at 56 minutes. We packed up and a group of the cyclists went to a truck stop near the highway where I enjoyed an enormous cheese and mushroom omelette, hash browns, toast and tea. Although I had had some breakfast at home I was ravenous!

Gunther (blue jacket) and Alex (in yellow) are our dedicated officials

We are very fortunate to be able to ride time trials regularly and I am appreciative of the timekeepers, Gunther and Alex, who keep things working so well. I learned a lot this year in the time trials and look forward to improving next season. The club has a lot of excellent time triallists and I hope to benefit from their experience.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Ian Hibell, cycling adventurer, 1934-2008

Ian Hibell in April 2006
(photo by backintheworld, Creative Commons)

There has been a small flurry of activity to mark the passing of Ian Hibell, a cyclist who took his bicycle everywhere and wrote about it. Taking a two year leave from work, he returned to the office a decade later but was soon off on new trips. One of those endearing English eccentrics, he was a true adventurer: the first man to ride from the top to the bottom of the Americas and the first across the Darien Gap in Panama, he also rode from Norway to Capetown and pretty well everywhere you could ride (or barely) on the planet.

Into the wilds of Darien:

He rode the equivalent of ten times around the equator, according to the respectful obituary in the Economist. His book, "Into the Remote Places," was published in 1984 and has been out of print for many years. Perhaps his untimely passing, a victim of racing motorists and a hit-and-run incident in Greece, will renew interest in it by a publisher and we may read yet again of the man from quiet Devon, going through the wild and trackless wastes of the world, who never stopped riding.

Resononance-FM's The Bike Show featured a podcast about Ian Hibell recently in which his friend Nic Henderson reminisced about his friend. You can hear it here. Mr. Henderson also has a simple page dedicated to Ian Hibell, including information about his bikes (and the special self-designed mud-scraper!).

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Book Review: A Dog in A Hat

A Dog in a Hat
by Joe Parkin
Velopress, 2008
ISBN-10: 1934030260
ISBN-13: 978-1934030264
240 pp.

We all have in our own imagination ideas of what pro cycling is all about. When I was at the Tour de France in 2006 I was impressed by the professionalism of everything: the course organization, from barriers to route markings; the television coverage; the team buses–including the one I passed that smelled like a laundromat as I walked by since they were using the on-board washing machines! A Dog in a Hat, the story of an American professional cyclist racing in Europe from 1987 to 1991, has none of these things and it probably gives a better impression of what pro cycling is really like, even today, than the rarified snippets we get from the top-level teams.

Joe Parkin was racing in California as an amateur when he met Team 7-Eleven racer Bob Roll, who told him to go to Belgium to race if he wanted to get serious. The hard-working Mr. Roll, who also wrote the, uh, colourful introduction to the book, is famous for his cycling work ethic and odd behavior, and was right: it is hard to imagine a place where cycling is taken more seriously than Belgium.

So the innocent author makes his way to Europe to Brussels and moves in with the Albert Claeys family in Ursel. Albert, who owned a bar and sometimes drove a truck, was well-known as a sort of godfather to American cyclists in Europe, helping them to get established and find a team, as well as providing a bed.

The book describes in entertaining detail what it is like to be at the bottom of the pro ranks. Mr. Parkin had dreams of becoming King of the Mountains and felt that his talent was most suited to the shorter stage races. But it quickly becomes obvious just how difficult it is to even finish a race, let alone win one. As time goes on, Joe Parkin comes to the realization that he will not be King of the Mountains but has to accept that he is a good worker, a domestique, and that his role is that of a support rider.

Along the way this naive American, who on first hearing Flemish mistook it for Russian, becomes a kind of Belgian-American hybrid, absorbing the language and holding his own in the cycling culture. This is a culture that prizes toughness above all, and in his spare style he talks about the mud, the crashes, the disappointment. At the lowest level the environment is terrible, with talentless teammates, hotel rooms so awful it makes you laugh, and not much money when it actually does get paid. He has no papers to allow him be in Belgium, something that does not trouble team management very much, even when it means he will be deported. He does not shrink from describing the all-pervasive use of drugs in cycling, and the fixing of races. This is bare-bones racing: to get changed for the kermis, the standard Belgian town race, he and his teammates would strip down in some local's living room. They were keen to get the special jerseys (overall, sprinter etc.) in races because it gave them one more clean garment.

The description of the drug use would be hilarious except for the ultimate repercussions. Riders will take anything with minimal concern: the reactions range from getting faster to getting stupid. Doping controls seem minimal at best and team management does nothing to discourage illegal practices.

But as he improves Joe clearly enjoys being a professional–a European pro. Racing against amateurs in the UK’s Milk Race or in races in the United States he is contemptuous of their lack of skill and discipline. When writing to team time trials, he talks of the focus and teamwork needed to succeed. He is proud of being able to control a race, going ahead and setting the pace and hauling back breakaways. Probably his greatest contribution was helping his team leader, Luc Roosen, win the 1991 Tour de Suisse. But in the end there is no new contract forthcoming (even though some of the team leaders consider pooling enough of their own money to let him ride at a minimum wage!) and he returned to the States. In 1992 he watched his teammates ride the Tour de France on television. He never went back to Flanders, and after doing some racing in the United States and then switching to mountain bikes he ended his career in 1997.

At the time of his Belgian adventures, Joe Parkin was one of only a handful of North Americans in European pro racing, all in the shadow of the mighty Greg Lemond who was considered such a superior cyclist that he was seen as some kind of freak, beyond any national classification. The title of this book, “A Dog in a Hat,” is a translation of a Flemish expression meaning something unusual–Joe Parkin was told while racing to look for changes, to look for the dog, to indicate what was happening in the race. As an American racing for a European team in the late 1980s Joe Parkin was a kind of dog in a hat himself. The cycling public is served up stories about Lance Armstrong’s victories over and over again as if the Tour de France is the only race but this plain, self-deprecating memoir has the ring of authenticity at the other end of the sport where even today not all the riders are being paid, the hotels are still bad and the races just as hard.

Available at VeloPress and

Canyon Speedmax CF at Eurobike

The German mail-order bicycle company, Canyon, unveiled its latest time trial machine at Eurobike 2008. Canyon, based in Koblenz, will be the supplier of bicycles to Cadel Evans' Silence-Lotto team in 2008.

Clearly not having this bicycle is what is keeping me out of the top ten at the Ottawa Bicycle Club time trials. Time to start saving up...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Tour d'Enfer Day 9: 'Allo, Allos! And Goodbye, Tour d'Enfer...

View from the Col d'Allos

July 28, 2008
: and so begins the final day of the Tour d'Enfer, at least as far as cycling up climbs go. We will ride as we see fit today and tomorrow everything will be packed up for the long bus ride back to Geneva.

After breakfast everyone wandered off on their own, either in small groups or individually. A number of the Tourists d’Enfer had ridden the Col de la Cayolle on the day I walked into Barcelonnette and the report back was that it was very picturesque and a reasonable ride. I decided to go for broke and ride the two remaining passes within easy distance of Le Sauze: first I would turn right at the fork in the road and do the Col d’Allos, and then after returning downhill I would take the left fork and try the Col de la Cayolle.

My legs felt good as I enjoyed the screaming descent from Le Sauze for the last time and I quickly rolled through Barcelonnette, a sleepy place at this time of the morning. The road was smooth, there was very little traffic and I made good time, spinning gently and enjoying myself. Just outside of town the D902 turned south and I began to climb gently.

As I came up to the crossroads I saw a sign showing the direction to my two cols as well as to Pra-Loup, a ski resort off the to right that has also been the destination for a number of Tour de France stages. I thought that if I felt good after the two cols I might consider doing Pra-Loup as well, a climb of about 4 kms.

I was now riding the D908 and was heading on the road to the Col d’Allos (pronounced by the locals with the “s’, or “Ah-loss”). I was not sure what to expect but I do not think a pass could have been more different from yesterday’s Col de la Bonette.

Unlike the mere four times the Tour de France has gone over La Bonette, the Col d’Allos was included in every Tour from 1911 to 1939 and having hosted the Tour a total of 33 times it must count as one of the most popular passes, although it has not been used for the race since 2000. Calculating from Barcelonnette, the pass is 17.5 kms (10.9 miles) long, and climbs from 1132 m (3713 feet) ASL to 2240 m (7349 feet) ASL, for a gain of 1108 m (3635 feet). The pass looks fairly easy, at least on paper, with an average grade of 6.3 percent.

I could feel the climb hurting my legs as I gently swung through the curves. There seemed to be some variation in the grade, from around 6 percent to 3 percent and then up to 8 percent. Not only did this make it tricky to establish a rhythm, but the curves were constant and the road had become extremely narrow. The occasional cars that came through took up almost all of the road so it was necessary to be careful.

After about 11 kms (6.8 miles), the road passed began to leave the forest behind and it was carved, spectacularly, into the side of the mountain. I passed a mountain biker and shortly after a road cyclist, who soon joined up with me. He was a Frenchman from Saint-Malo, the Breton city famous to Canadians as the birthplace of Jacques Cartier the explorer. He was riding with his son (the mountain biker) and was riding the various passes around Barcelonnette for a holiday. We chatted for quite a while; I told him that it must have been hard for him to acclimatise as Saint-Malo is at sea level and the area around it very flat, quite different from the scenery we were enjoying. He laughed and said that he always came for three weeks and the first week was very hard. He was in his late 30s and rode very well and as we came closer to the summit I could no longer maintain his pace and let him go ahead.

I passed a charming little restaurant on the right and then was digging in for the last bit of climbing as the road reached for the summit. I caught up to my new friend and we took some pictures and then several other Tour d’Enfer riders came up as well. It was cold at the summit and after our photos I said goodbye to Monsieur Saint-Malo, who was continuing on the descent on the other side towards Allos, and turned back for coffee at the restaurant.

It looked like a mountain refuge and was almost as cold inside as outside. There were four or five of us and we enjoyed our hot chocolate or coffee and excellent homemade cake. On the outside of the building was a punchclock, similar to that I had seen in Switzerland. The tourism office in Barcelonnette promotes a seven-climb tour of the area to cyclists and at places like this you punch your special touring card. I am not sure what you get when you have done all of them but this was my fourth climb in the area already.

I rode out with Greg from Indiana and the Badger but the descent back to the crossroads was very technical, with exceptionally tight and narrow curves so I soon gave up trying to do it at any great speed but just relaxed and cruised through the scenery. Across the valley I could see the road to the Col de la Cayolle, my next goal. The sun was shining, I had already climbed over 1,000 metres for the day and my legs felt good. Although not the most difficult or the longest, I have to say that the Col d’Allos had to be one of my favourite passes of the tour. But then again, I felt that way at the end of each day!

Once I reached the crossroads, I turned right back onto the D902, riding through the Gorges du Bachelard. The scenery was quite wonderful, with grey stone cliffs all around me. A few moments into the ride, Dr. Chef came rolling towards me. He told me that Michelle was just behind and that they had really enjoyed this stretch of road. He continued on and as I came up to a curve Michelle appeared and we chatted for a bit before she headed back down the road towards Barcelonnette. It was now becoming quite hot and I ate an energy bar and drank half the contents of one of my bottles.

The Cayolle averages only 4.1 percent but makes up for this by going on for 29.15 kms (18.11 miles), with a total gain of 1109 m (3094 feet). The road was, in spots, even narrower than the one up to the Col d’Allos and there were a few times I had to wait for cars to sort themselves out before I could continue. The road continued to climb gently but was in the narrow gorge for a good distance.

I was passed by a string of little mini-bike motorcycles and then crossed a bridge carved into the side of the hills but I was beginning to tire under the sun. Riding all by myself, I could feel my motivation start to slip away and I realized that my legs were getting very tired. I determined to ride on for a bit more and passed the village of Fours St-Laurent, with its little church. The road continued to climb and about four kilometers later I pulled off the road and rested for a moment, refilling my water bottle from a spring beside the road.

I knew that the last part of the climb was the hardest and I still had about 7 kms (4.3 miles) to go. I was tired and a bit sore but what made the decision to turn back easier was the appearance of a wall of black clouds up ahead. I know that storms can show up very suddenly here, and they can also be very localized and after seeing the massive thunderstorm from the comfort of our hotel I was pretty sure I did not want to enjoy one on top of a mountain. So I decided that I had ridden enough today and that since I was on holiday I was allowed to enjoy the downhill ride back to Barcelonnette and feel no guilt about not completing one climb on this trip.

The road back was enjoyable, except for those few occasions when oncoming cars caused problems. I was rapidly back at the crossroads, and decided to pass up Pra-Loup as well (Chill told me afterwards that the climb was not very nice, but there was a giant wolf statue on top). The road back to Barcelonnette was all downhill and I stopped there to treat myself to an ice cream to celebrate the day’s ride. Several other Tour d’Enfer folks were in the Place Manuel but I decided to cut my stay short and head up the nasty hill to Le Sauze once more. It had been a good day: 2553 m (8376 feet) of climbing over 79.63 kms (49.48 miles) so I had no complaints.

Andrew rides his own Tour d'Enfer: go, boy!

Our last evening at the hotel was pleasant; we enjoyed beer and each other’s company. It was the last time for those who wanted to use the ridiculous ski-bob track next to the hotel and we went over to cheer the Thin Man on.

The next morning we packed the trailer with our bikes for the last time and Udo took us on the long, slow road towards Gap, passing the truly spectacular Lac de Serre-Ponçon as the D900B took us high above the landscape. From Gap we headed northwards along the N85 to Grenoble, where we connected to the autoroute that took us on to Geneva, stopping only for lunch at a highway rest area.

Once the bicycles were unloaded at the hotel and everyone got themselves arranged, we met at possibly the worst restaurant in France, one of the Buffalo Grill chain, which was like a vastly over-priced Ponderosa Steak House. I was satisfied to have a large beer to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Tour d’Enfer, with everyone having arrived safely and with minimal issues, mechanical or otherwise to mar the trip. We had been fortunate with the route, the weather and, most of all, the company. With my riding in Switzerland before the Tour d'Enfer included, I calculated the I climbed almost 19,000 m (62,300 feet) over some 700 kms (435 miles) on my holiday. Not exactly as restful as some people expect vacations but a great experience all around for us.

After my return to Canada I felt terrible symptoms of withdrawal, missing the regularity of our climbing schedule, the great scenery and the camaraderie. Consideration is already being given to a route for 2009: anyone for il Giro d’all Inferno?

Day 9 of the Tour d'Enfer's profile