Thursday 29 January 2009

Black Bean Chili Recipe

Black Bean Vegetarian Chili

Following my review of the book on nutrition for endurance athletes, I feel that the time has come again to provide something spicy from my recipe box.

From the still-defunct and much-mourned Bicycle Guide magazine comes one of my favourite recipes. Incredibly easy to make, filling and tasty, this is a dish that gets me through winter and provides lots of protein and carbohydrates with very little fat. Of course, Texans will tell you that it can't actually be chili since a) it has beans and b) it has no beef in it. Ignore this and do not mention the carrots.

In addition to just eating the chili by itself or with some cornbread, I also use it for making huevos rancheros by wrapping a poached egg, some salsa, a bit of avocado and the chili into a tortilla.

After years of making the chili the traditional way, I have fairly recently acquired a slow cooker and have discovered that this recipe is pretty well ideal for the slow cooker as well. On a "high" setting it takes about 5 hours max!


* ½ cup coarsely chopped onion
* 4 garlic cloves
* 1 red bell pepper, chopped
* 1 small jalapeño pepper, chopped
* 1 tablespoon oil
* 1 28 oz. can chopped or diced tomatoes with liquid
* 1 tablespoon tomato paste
* 5 tablespoons chili powder
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* pinch of salt
* 3 medium carrots, sliced
* 1 can corn kernels, drained
* 2 cups cooked black beans, or 1 cup cooked black beans and 1 cup cooked kidney beans
*chopped cilantro for garnish

Usual method:

Saute the onion, peppers and garlic in oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until softened.
Stir in tomatoes and their liquid, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt
Cook for 4 minutes, medium heat
Add carrots, cook 3 minutes longer
Add corn, and mix in black beans
Reduce heat, cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes
Add chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slow cooker version:

You can use uncooked beans for this. Just dump everything into the slow cooker except the cilantro, add 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock, set on "high," and come back 5 hours later. You will want to stir it a few times in between, though. Then just garnish it with the cilantro.

Makes 6 servings and improves after a day or two. It also freezes very well.

Please note that I like a lot of chili powder and cayenne pepper. Together with the jalapeño this might be a bit strong for some, so be judicious with these ingredients.

Nutritional Information:

Total calories: 278 Kcal
Fat: 2.5 g
Carbohydrates: 51.2 g
Dietary Fibre: 17.3 g
Protein: 16.2 g

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

“I eat to ride, I ride to eat. At the best of moments, I can achieve a perfect balance, consuming just the right amount of calories as I fill up at bakeries, restaurants or ice cream parlours. On the road, I can get about twelve miles to the quart of milk and a piece of baker’s apple tart."
Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Now that we have covered strength training, the next area that I have been investigating is nutrition. To nobody’s amazement, there is a lot wrong with the way people eat generally: one-third of all added sugar in the American diet comes from the consumption of soft drinks, and French fried-potatoes are the primary vegetable. According to a Johns Hopkins University study every single American adult could be overweight by 2048. Current prevalence of obesity and being overweight is 71 percent, which is nothing to crow about since it was only 57 percent in 2000.

We all know that cycling is a good way to get the pounds off but what happens if you want to push up the performance beyond just losing some weight? I would very much recommend you read Monique Ryan’s “Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.” The 2nd edition of this book came out in 2007 and from what I see it remains the Gold Standard for anyone interested in this subject.

The first part of the book deals with the basics of nutrition in order to establish a base. You learn a great deal about the building blocks: carbohydrates, fats and proteins, along with information on hydration, and vitamins and minerals. Much of this information is available elsewhere easily enough but the writing here is very straightforward and easy to understand. There is a detailed discussion of the Glycemic Index and what it means in terms of building your diet. Helpfully, the author refers to the needs of those following a vegetarian regime as well.

Part II of the book is “Your Training Diet” and covers the rather complicated principles of an endurance athlete’s diet. Not only will you arrange the type of foods you eat depending on what stage of your periodized training you are in but you also have to determine the correct calorie levels to maximize effectiveness, including recovery. There is a specific section on the nutritional requirements for building muscle that is quite detailed.

Supplements get their own section, although the chart on p. 187-188 summarizing them does not pull any punches about their effectiveness (or lack thereof). It was interesting to note that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy on supplements prohibits the providing of muscle-building products such as the popular creatine and even protein powder by a collegiate institution to its athletes. There are real concerns about the contamination of products: the International Olympic Committee found in a study that 15 percent of 600 over-the-counter supplements included non-labeled ingredients that would have resulted in a positive doping result.

With all this useful information, the reader is now set to go into the last section of the book which covers nutrition planning for specific endurance sports. Of particular interest to me is Chapter 9, which covers multiple cycling disciplines: road cycling, mountain biking, track cycling, cyclo-cross and even recreational distance riding.
Ms. Ryan notes: “Cycling is undoubtedly one of the most physically challenging sports that an athlete can pursue. It requires muscular strength, power, and endurance. Cyclists complete long aerobic training rides to prepare for competition, but they also incorporate a significant amount of anaerobic exercise into a program that includes intervals, sprints, and weight training.”
The fact that refueling on the bike is a simple task compared to running or swimming is a good thing, given that fluid and carbohydrate demands during training are so high.

Other endurance sports covered in Part III include rowing, running, triathlon and swimming so if you do cross-training this is useful as well.

Throughout the book one finds valuable sidebar pieces on training in the heat or at altitude and how you can deal with this through proper nutrition. The book concludes with Appendices that cover the Glycemic Index of Foods, a comparison of vitamins and minerals and another on sports nutrition products. Appendix D is very important as it is a guide to planning meals, including snack ideas and tips on reading labels. There is even a section on dealing with restaurants and good choices to make and another sidebar with useful tips for vegetarians. Appendix E has sample menus, which look a bit boring but are only a guide and show you breakdowns by carbs, fats and proteins for the base, build and transition periods of training (with vegetarian alternatives). This is not a cookbook but explains what fuel you need to participate in endurance sports. Taking these basics there is no reason you cannot come up with attractive and nutritious meals to suit your taste. I have referred before to, which is a very easy-to-use website that allows you to record what you have eaten and quickly learn the amount of calories you have consumed and their composition.

One of the lessons I take from this book is that different sports and different periodized elements require varying nutrition. Nutrition is a key to success and while this book is aimed at competitive athletes it is so well-written that everyone with an interest in what they eat and in their physical performance will want to read it.

Dairy Queen, Vancouver, WA
photo by dalechumbley, Creative Commons

Of course, all this effort and self-denial and measuring how much food you eat can sometimes be a bit difficult for someone not paid to ride their bikes. For the final word, perhaps we could turn to former World Champion and three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. He replied, when asked what he thought about during races in Europe: “Dairy Queen, God, I dream about Dairy Queens.”

Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes
by Monique Ryan
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: VeloPress; 2nd edition (March 27, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1931382964
ISBN-13: 978-1931382960
Suggested Price: US$ 21.95 (but you know where you can get it cheaper!)

Monday 26 January 2009

Overnight Fitness?

Every weekend when I am in the gym prior to doing my spinning classes I do 30-45 minutes on an elliptical trainer. There is a bank of televisions in front of the machines and early on Saturday and Sunday two of the screens are generally showing infomercials for fitness stuff. There is one machine that looks like a frame with handles on pulleys, and one-time-famous-supermodel Christie Brinkley is promoting this, along with one-time-political-campaigner Chuck Norris. Everyone shown using the machine looks completely chiselled so they take it to the beach in California to try out on average people, everyone of whom also looks completely chiselled. My favourite segment is when a large group (as in very large crowd) of people stand around to watch Christie Brinkley working out on the machine.

But the other infomercial is more intriguing. It offers a 12 week course for around $140 that is supposed to turn you into a ripplingly-muscled athlete. It actually looks very impressive: you get 12 DVDs with a series of workouts including yoga and stretching (of course, I like the one called "Ab Ripper X"), a workout calendar, a nutrition plan and extensive on-line support. Although I am quite happy with my current training plan, which is cycling-oriented, this program looked quite good although many of the workouts seemed brutally hard. And can you really get a ripped physique in only 3 months?

The answer, according to the New York Times, is no. Fitness requires a considerable investment in time and the changes are gradual. The NYT piece quotes a number of experts, including several who lost a great deal of weight themselves. But the six months to a year to see real change is not so bad and I have to remind myself of this when I don't see improvements as fast as I would like. So even if I will not "get absolutely ripped in 90 days," as the infomercial says, I have to look at this as a lifetime journey and keep my motivation strong.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Nine Tips to Keep You Exercising

Fitness club in Bali
Photo by Matt@TPE, Creative Commons

An excellent piece by Gretchen Rubin at extolls the virtues of exercise and goes on to list nine ways to keep that most commonly made and regularly broken New Year's Resolution to work out more. I find the list so good (and so in sync with my own experience) that here are the suggestions in their entirety:

1. Always exercise on Monday. This sets the psychological pattern for the week.

2. If at all possible, exercise first thing in the morning. The longer the day goes on, the more likely you are to get derailed.

3. Never skip exercising for three days in a row. You can skip a day, and you can skip two days, but on the third day, you must exercise no matter how inconvenient. (This rule is more effective than it sounds; it kept me exercising regularly during college.)

4. Give yourself credit for the smallest effort. When my father started running, he said that all he had to do was put on his running shoes and close the door behind him. I never push myself hard, because I know that if I did, I might stop exercising altogether. And don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The 15-minute walk you do take is better than the three-mile run you don't take.

5. If you don’t have time both to exercise and take a shower, find an activity that doesn’t require a shower afterward, like yoga or walking. I do an extremely tough weight-training regimen that doesn’t make me sweat. (And yes, it is effective, even with no sweat!)

6. Look for affordable ways to make exercising more pleasant or satisfying. Could you upgrade to a nicer gym? Buy yourself a new iPod? Work with a trainer? Get a pedometer? (They’re only $20.) A lot of people are feeling a real money crunch right now, but exercise is a high life priority, so if you can afford it, this is a place to spend some money if that helps.

7. Remind yourself of the benefits from exercising. Personally, I’m more motivated by short-term gratifications like “I’ll feel more focused” or “I’ll sleep better” than long-term considerations like “I’ll live longer” or “If I have surgery, I’ll recover quicker.” A trainer told me that, in her experience, men are more motivated by the idea of improving their performance (a better tennis game) or restoring an ability (climbing stairs without getting out of breath); women are more motivated by the promise of improving their appearance.

8. Think about context. If you find it much harder to go running in winter than summer, maybe the real trouble is that you don’t like the cold. Do you hate the loud music in your gym? Is your workout so exhausting that you can’t face the rest of your day?

9. When choosing an activity, a gym, or an exercise class, make convenience a top priority. You’re much more likely to go to a mediocre gym near your office or home than to a great gym that’s out of your way.

Apart from the happiness gain you'll get from the exercise, merely the fact that you've kept your resolution to yourself will boost your happiness.

Do-it-yourself Bike Lane

Here is an extraordinary idea: use lasers to build a virtual bike lane so that when cycling at night drivers keep their distance. This concept is generating some excitement on the Internet although the hardware does not yet exist.

For more information, look here.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Yet More on Beer and Bicycling: Stella Artois Vintage Race

This wonderful ad for Belgium's Stella Artois beer came to my attention through a posting on the excellent Biking Bis, where there is also an account of the filming of it on the dirt roads of Mallorca. Enchanting, and just the thing to keep us motivated through those winter training sessions. Of course, Belgium is legendary for marvellous beers and, alas, boring Stella Artois is not one of those but, still, a great ad.

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Weight Training for Cyclists

There are some who feel that weight training is a waste of time for cyclists and the limited scientific studies carried out so far have had mixed results as to whether pumping iron makes you faster. There are fears that the possible addition of muscle mass in the upper body (remember Lance Armstrong pre-cancer?) will provide no tangible benefits and in fact will be just that much more weight to carry around.

In fact a strong torso contributes to pedalling action by providing rigidity against which the quadriceps can work. Most of the training programs for cyclists I have seen tend to be aimed at building strength rather than mass and as the riders moves into the racing season the weight program becomes one only of maintenance. Increased strength means reduced fatigue although aerobic capacity seems to be the limiter for endurance. Stronger muscles last longer and stabilize the body, improving technique and efficiency, allowing the cyclist to keep in the proper form longer.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that cyclists typically suffer from low bone density as cycling is not a weight-bearing exercise. Studies indicate that during the Tour de France pro riders can lose up to 25 percent of bone mass, and a surprising number of Masters-class racers suffer from symptoms of osteoporosis. Weight training helps combat this, as do weight-bearing exercises such as running, and calcium supplementation.

There is also a saying “lift weight to lose weight.” Aerobic exercise burns calories but the body’s metabolism returns to pre-exercise levels quickly, perhaps in as little as 30 minutes, whereas strength training “confuses” the metabolism for a much longer period. In addition, having more strength means you will burn more calories as muscle burns calories at a higher rate than body fat.

My coach has given me a simple program that provides the periodization recommended, working from light weights to much heavier weights and then backing off to more reps with lighter loads. I am presently doing three weight sessions a week. At the moment I am doing the full gamut of legs, arms and chest and core but I will soon divide the workouts so that there is one day for each of the major muscle groups and the core would be worked every day.

In addition to my coach’s comments, I have found a very useful guide to weight training to be the recently revised Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance by Ken Doyle and Eric Schmitz. This 2nd edition of their 1998 book, released in November 2008, incorporates new information on core training and lower body exercises. It is very clearly written and explains how strength training in the weight room translates to endurance and power on the bike.

Different exercises for the muscle groups are described and illustrated with very good line drawings that are simple but effective. I have photocopied the section on core workouts and have supplemented my coach’s suggestions so that I am doing more work with a stability ball. There is also a chapter reviewing the best series of stretches I have seen.

The last part of the book presents a range of training plans that are time-efficient and look quite effective. I have incorporated parts of them into my own workout and although it is not quite My Year of Abs yet there is a definite improvement in my core strength.

Of course, weight training can become so addictive that it takes away focus from its goal here which is simply preparation for cycling. While doing my workouts I focus on what I want them to accomplish for me on the road. For example, the leg presses and squats will build up leg strength that will, I hope, allow me to turn a very big time trial gear at high revolutions. I am getting a 56-tooth chainring for motivation!

“Weight Training for Cyclists” is an up-to-date and comprehensive book that is invaluable in building a program to increase strength. Clearly-written, attractively-presented and reasonably priced, it belongs on the shelf of everyone interested in improving their riding.

Should anyone be interested, here is my current workout, designed to maximize strength. Most of it is a single set of six at maximum weight, although pullups are to failure (ouch) and a lot of the core exercises are for 20 or 30 reps.

Machine Squat
Leg Sled
One-Leg Sled
Hanging Leg Lifts
Bicep Curls
Lateral Raise
Lat Pulldowns
Seated Row
Side Plank
Ab Crunch on Ball
Ab Roll with Ball
Ab Bicycle
Ab Crunch
Back Extension

Of course, there are lots of other exercises to consider. In addition to the free weights and machines at my gym, I have a set of dumbells, a stability ball, a chin-up bar and lots of rubber resistance tubes at home. The tubes alone can provide an amazing workout! I also use the Fit Deck exercise card pack when travelling or for variety at home. Of course, you don't need any equipment at all since bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and crunches, are very effective. As you will recall, one of my New Year's Resolutions is to beat Groover's 100 push-ups in a row. I think my weight loss program will be easier...

A weight training program should be a fundamental component of training, coupled with the right nutrition. And nutrition will be the next stop on the Compleat Tour de Basement.

Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance
by Ken Doyle and Eric Schmitz
224 pages, illustrated
VeloPress; 2nd edition (November 18, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1934030295
ISBN-13: 978-1934030295
$18.95 list, but you can get it for $12.89 at you-know-where

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Introduction

Lance in his garage, getting fit.
Is this the best he can do for a home gym?
Photo: Art Streiber, Men's Health

I was alarmed to see the omnipresent Lance Armstrong appear on the cover of Men's Health magazine for January 2009. Alarmed for several reasons: a) he is smiling in the cover photo; b) he is now on every magazine cover in the world, having been on Outdoor magazine's cover in October, the December, January and February issues of Cycle Sport, not to mention the current Bicycling and c) the inside photos show him looking totally ripped, with hyper-defined abs and pecs. This is a cyclist? But Lance knows a thing or two from training as well as self-promotion if past results are any indication of future possibilities.

You have seen me refer to my extended off-the-road season ("Winter" is too kind) as the Tour de Basement. From the beginning of the bad weather in October I can be found on my time trial bike in the basement, watching old race videos or scenery DVDs or at the gym for spinning classes and weight sessions and doing some cross-training, such as cross-country skiing as well. I have an excellent coach who provides feedback to me and I maintain a detailed workout diary at as well as a food diary at

Although I am not a coach or trainer and profess no particular special insight, several years of doing this have given me some ideas about getting ready for the cycling season. In Ottawa I am basically training for seven full months to ride for barely five, and I have three weeks in summer that are the focus of my training. In 2003 I cycled the climbs of the Barolo wine country and the hills around Lake Como; in 2005 a dozen climbs in the Swiss Alps; in 2006 the hilly Black Forest and some climbs of the Tour de France; in 2007 the ballons of Alsace and more climbs in the Black Forest; and in 2008 the Route des Grandes Alpes in France, covering some of the most celebrated (and difficult) climbs of the Tour de France. This is in addition to my regular time trial racing on the flat, which of course has some different training requirements.

I have read very extensively and reviewed a number of cycling publications online. I now have a small collection of recent items related to training and I wanted to share them since they cover what everyone needs for their own Tour de Basement. I propose to do a short series here on Tin Donkey in the form of reviews dealing with books on weight training, nutrition and base training, along with my comments on training DVDs that have recently come on the market.

Until then, be entertained by Lance Armstrong training in Hawaii as he prepares for the Tour Down Under. This week in Ottawa it has been typically -28C (-18F) during the day and approaching -40C (-40F) with the wind or at night. This was clearly not the case in Hawaii. You will also note that Mr. Armstrong is using a 39-28 for the tougher parts of this climb.

Next: Weight Training for Cyclists

Thursday 15 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan---1928-2009

Patrick McGoohan (left) as "The Prisoner"
Photograph: AP

Patrick McGoohan was a talented actor noted for his lead role in the "Danger Man" (known as "Secret Agent Man") television series that began in London in 1960 and ran for six years, making him the highest-paid television actor in Britain. However, he is probably even more celebrated as the creator and lead character in "The Prisoner," which ran for seventeen episodes beginning in 1967 and remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic television productions made.

Strolling in the Village
Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

Mr. McGoohan, who also wrote and directed many of the episodes himself, portrays an unnamed spy who resigns and is subsequently kidnapped, ending up in the Village, which appears to be a charming seaside resort but is actually a nasty high-tech prison, with constant surveillance and much mystery. The McGoohan character, known as "Number 6," has a constant battle of wills with the ever-changing head of the Village, "Number 2," as he is pressed as to the reason he resigned. Many questions are raised in the series about the role of the individual in society, the dangers of technology, trust and power. And what is intriguing (and perhaps frustrating) in a television series is that answers are not really given and you can easily take an opposite position. Spy series, psychological thriller, sci-fi program--it was whatever you wanted it to be. Of course, a lot of people didn't want it to be anything and the hostile public reaction to the last episode, the two-part "Fall Out," caused Mr. McGoohan to leave the UK, living first in Switzerland and then settling in the United States permanently. He passed away on January 13 in Los Angeles.

And of course since this is Travels with a Tin Donkey there is a cycling connection. The symbol of the Village is a highwheeler bicycle, with a canopy. It appears "in the metal" in the hyper-modern control centre of the Village but also is used in the closing credits as an animated highwheeler pieces itself together in time to the music. All of the inhabitants of the Village wear a large white badge with their number on it, superimposed on the image of the penny-farthing.

Patrick McGoohan was reputed to have turned down the role of James Bond in "Dr. No" but had a long career, acting in many films (including Mel Gibson's "Braveheart") and winning two Emmy awards for his appearances on the detective series "Columbo." But to many the high point of his career had to be "The Prisoner" and it bears viewing still today. It has acquired cult status, with a band of dedicated fans and an annual convention in the Village itself, the Welsh resort town of Portmeirion. In fact, a remake of the series is about to be released, incorporating some current events.

Thanks for all the entertainment, Mr. McGoohan. Be seeing you!

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Bikes: The Wheel Story

Following my very successful visit to the soon-to-be-deeply-lamented Pedaling History Museum near Buffalo, I have been reading quite a bit about the history of the bicycle. I understood that our own Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa had a very good collection but that it was almost never on display. I had seen an excellent collection there in 1998 but did not realize then that the artifacts were part of the permanent collection as opposed to loan items.

Reading Glen Norcliffe’s excellent “Cycling to Modernity,” about Canada’s encounter with the bicycle and its social and economic implications, was fascinating. That book refers to the museum in Ottawa and to the collector, Mr. Lorne Shields, whose generous donation of the major part of his own cycling collection, makes up the basis of the holdings. So it was with some delight that while reading my local bicycle club newsletter I saw that there would be a temporary exhibition, “Bikes: The Wheel Story,” at the museum until June. To recover from a very heavy workload at the office over the last three weeks, I had elected to take today off. My first plan, to go cross-country skiing, had to be scratched as the temperature was -26°C/-15°F for a good part of the day (-38°C/-36.4°F with the wind) and although it was very sunny this is frostbite country. So instead after my workout at the gym, I went to the museum which is right around the corner from the fitness centre.

The Museum of Science and Technology is located in an industrial park in a large industrial building. To say that it lacks character is charitable but as the artifacts are indoors and protected. It actually works quite well for the four enormous, and actually quite beautiful, steam locomotives at one end of the building. However, the bicycle exhibition is occupying one of a number of very empty areas in the rest of the building and after visiting the Pedaling History Museum it would be hard to admit that this was not a letdown.

It looks like a bike, but it really isn't!

There is an attractive sign for the exhibit as you enter the area. To the left is a cleverly-designed structure that allows you to pretend you are on a high-wheeler: it is a steel skeleton with handlebars, and behind it is a photo image of the bike. Nicely done, although I am sure that you would not have quite the same feeling of being on an ordinary as at the other museum, which uses an actual bicycle that is anchored.

Straight ahead is a large display case with four bicycles in it, with quite good signage in French and English. The case has a c. 1818 hobbyhorse, a quite superb velocipede (boneshaker) from 1869 and two high-wheelers: one is an Ariel, made in Coventry by James Starley (Starley & Smith) in 1870 and looking pretty primitive, while the second is a taller ordinary made by BSA a few years later and far better constructed. There are some very nice graphics at the back of the display case.

Moving counter-clockwise, the next large display case has another Starley bicycle, the famous Rover safety bicycle, introduced in 1885, with this example c. 1888. There is also one of the strange Coventry Rotary tricycles and two other bicycles, one being diamond frame model form 1905 and the other a typical hybrid of the last decade. The viewer is invited to compare these last two and note how similar they are in spite of the century dividing them.

CCM delivery bicycle
Photograph ©2005, Canadian Museum of Science and Technology

The next display case is devoted more to working bicycles, with a “low gravity” cargo bicycle joined by a folding bicycle used by Canadian paratroopers in World War II (unfolded, unlike the one I looked at in December in Buffalo) and a CCM light delivery bicycle from c. 1932 that had been used for business for three decades in the Ottawa area. This last bike had received a Pixie auxiliary motor in 1940 to assist on hills but unless they were making deliveries in Gatineau Park I am not sure where in Ottawa you would find a big enough hill to warrant such help.

CCM Targa (front) and 1926 Flyer (behind)

The final case was devoted to CCM, the iconic Canadian manufacturer of bicycles established in 1899 through the merger of the cycling operations of four large manufacturers: H.A. Lozier, Welland Vale, Goold and Massey-Harris (the last perhaps more enduringly famous for farm machinery) as the bicycle industry faced a price crash due to extreme overproduction. CCM stood for Canada Cycle & Motor Company, and eventually it split into two firms, with one manufacturing bicycles and the other hockey equipment. Although a famous name until its bankruptcy in 1983, it may be justifiably said that CCM was no innovator, with few patents to its credit. It did produce a very good racing bicycle, the Flyer, which was competitive for several decades on both the track and the road. The museum’s example is from 1926. The other CCM bicycles on display are a Boy Scout model from 1936 (a promotional tie-in with the movement), as well as a Gendron model from early in the company’s history.

In front of the more interesting Flyer stands a CCM Targa, a relic from the 1970s bicycle boom which is described on the case label as “well-constructed,” which is unlikely given its low-end parts and heavy tubing. There was a CCM “Tour de France” model which was much better but I am quite certain I never saw one of these while growing up. CCM still exists as a brand owned by Group Procycle in Quebec, which also owns the Rocky Mountain and Miele brands and at one time had the rights to the Cycles Peugeot name in North America. (Another Canadian firm based in Quebec, Dorel Industries, owns Cannondale, Schwinn, Mongoose and GT, besides making futons and furniture!).

The Ariel (front) and the BSA high-wheelers

There is a pair of interactive items, one demonstrating how gearing works and the other dynamo lighting, and an additional display case shows parts. And that’s pretty well it for “Bikes: The Wheel Story.” If it is the only thing at the museum you plan to see it is probably not worth paying $7.50 for this alone. I know that there is far more in the collection and it is a shame that only eleven bicycles were chosen and that the remainder of the considerable empty space was not used up. It would have been interesting, for example, to have a display devoted to Toronto-based Cervelo and aerodynamics, or more on the sporting elements of Canadian cycling.

There is a far nicer permanent display on canoes, which are probably more deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche than bicycles anyway. Regrettably, in the section on “Canoes and Celebrities,” there is a quote from a 1970 book by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that says: “Travel 1,000 miles by train and you are a brute; pedal 500 miles by bicycle and you remain a bourgeois; but paddle 100 miles in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” I like canoes, but the pretentiousness–it burns.

Friday 9 January 2009


Crescendo in performance

After enjoying looking through my new "By Bike--Holland Agenda 2009" and getting the ever-observant Groover's comment about the cycling band, I did some research and once again the Internet does not let us down.

The band, from the village of Opende, began as a normal marching band and then added complex formations. Some of the members were getting bored so someone suggested (in 1973) that they perform on bicycles since apprently there had been a military bicycle band that had recently been disbanded (in every sense of the word!). Although it was first seen as a joke, the musicians discovered they enjoyed it and the project grew.

Some of the bicycles have been specially modified and the musicians perform in either red-and-blue uniforms or the traditional "Vollendam" outfits that are on my agenda. They perform some twenty times annually in the Netherlands, and have appeared in the UK, Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Japan. Nagasaki boasts a traditional Dutch village so they must have felt at home.

To see is to believe:

Of course, if you would like to hire Crescendo for your event (or "street-folding"), you can read about them and contact their manager here.

As someone who has enough trouble just riding a bicycle, I cannot imagine playing a musical instrument at the same time. Playing a trumpet while cycling the roads around Ottawa would be a ticket to some dental work.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

My Excellent Dutch Diary

One of my colleagues, Vancouver of that Ilk, stopped by my office today to present me with an enchanting 2009 diary/agenda book he had received from the Royal Netherlands Embassy. Not only does it show all the days of the year and all of the months in four languages, but it has a bicycling theme. Since it is called "By Bike--Holland Agenda 2009" I suppose this is not all that surprising. There is an introduction by Olympic gold medallist Leontien van Moorsel, and a wonderful range of big photos featuring different aspects of cycling in the Netherlands: scenery, history, sports, utility. Great fun, and it even comes with its own logo-ed bag. This starts the year off right, and I plan to actually fill in all the exciting things I do this year and attempt that other long-standing resolution of Keeping a Journal.

A great photograph: a Dutch brass band in traditional costume (including wooden shoes) mounted on bicycles

Although I have ridden in the Netherlands just once, it was a very memorable event: the Eleven City Tour of Friesland, with 15,000 participants riding more than 200 kms. Everyone was very hospitable and I had a great time!

Friday 2 January 2009

New Year's Resolutions for 2009

Will this finally be my Year of the Abs?
(with better hair, I hope)

The New York Times had a recent piece on the failure of most people to meet their New Year's Resolutions, with most abandoning their efforts by mid-February. Changing a lifestyle is not easy: talk-show host Oprah Winfrey was cited as an example as her very public efforts to get fit and lose weight have boomeranged. She dropped from 237 pounds to 160, ran marathons and so forth and is now back at 200. Considering she can afford to have a personal trainer and a personal chef on call 24 hours a day, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I have been able to hold my weight down since the Fat Cyclist's B7 Weight Loss Competition two years ago but I can improve. This is the cyclist's mantra since the endless training and obsessive food concerns actually do lead to results. They say that the best way to reach a goal is to let everybody know that you are trying to achieve it. I have been considering cycling goals for the coming year and now in Front of the Whole World I present them:


1. time trial every week with the club (at least once the roads are clear!)

2. achieve 40 km/h in a 15 km time trial by June 1

3. do the Almonte 40 km time trial in 1:03 (current time is 1:06)

4. ride the Ontario Provincial championships for experience in September

5. weight at 76 kg by June 1 (currently 81.6; I have already started using to track my weight and diet)

6. learn to ski fearlessly around corners and down hills (I have already signed up for courses at the end of January for this)

7. Be able to do 101 pushups in a row, beating Groover.

Rides Planned:

Virginia/North Carolina Training Camp in late April 2009
Cirque du Cyclisme, followed by Great Appalaichan Trail ride in mid-June
Cycling in Germany and Northern Italy, July/August
Cycling Ironman Course at Lake Placid, NY
Cycling in the Finger Lakes region of NY

Of course, I proclaim that "This year is Abs Year!" every year and I swear I will learn Italian properly as well but of course having posted this I will have to revisit it on December 31, 2009. And good luck to everyone with their own resolutions!

Thursday 1 January 2009

First Ride of the Year! 1.2 Kms!

I can now say that I have ridden every day in 2009! It has warmed up to -13C today, but with the wind it apparently feels like -20C, with the wind at 14 km/h. Two circuits of my street gave me 1.2 kms of overall distance, taking 5.3 minutes. I managed to reach a maximum speed of 18 km/h on a dry patch.

Nowhere to go but up from here!

Book Review: Viva la Vuelta

During these cold, cold days (I am not kidding: it is -19C outside right now) it is always an escape to look ahead to the warm days that will mark the 2009 racing season. And to warm up what better race is there to consider than the Vuelta a España, which will be run through the hot plains and the high mountains of Spain once again in, oh, 240 days?

A latecomer to the list of Great Stage Races, the Vuelta began only in 1935, inspired by the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France and likewise hoped by its chief sponsor as a way to sell newspapers. It has had a rollercoaster history, far more than those other two celebrated races, but if you want to find out about it there are not many places to look. English-language publishers have focused so single-mindedly on the Tour de France that it is actually rather difficult to find good books about other races. There are dozens of books about the Tour in English but a lengthy search has provided only one on the Vuelta. Viva la Vuelta was written by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell (with a foreward by 1988 Vuelta winner Sean Kelly) and published by Mousehold Press in the United Kingdom in 2005 and is not easy to find in North America but well worth seeking out.

This small paperback is packed with a remarkable density of information in its 350 pages. Not only is each annual race covered in detail, but the authors have made an effort to provide a political and social setting behind the race. Although the race was first run in 1935 and then again in 1936 (won both times by Belgian Gustaaf Deloor), it was cancelled from 1937 to 1940 due to the Spanish Civil War. Relaunched in Franco’s Spain, it staggered through until 1943, when it was dropped due to World War II but started up again in Spring 1945. There were other cancellations due to the lack of funds or internal squabbles and it was not until 1955 that the race became an annual fixture that has continued to this day. Long considered a warm-up race for the Tour, the organizers sought to make it more competitive in 1995 by moving it from Spring to late Summer, giving those who had not done so well at the Tour a chance of redemption, as well as providing an opportunity for cyclists seeking new contracts to strut their stuff.

The flavour of the race has changed greatly over the years, according to the authors. At the beginning, it was clear that the Spanish riders were inferior and foreign riders, with their superior tactics and experience, easily dominated the race. The other element that repeats itself is the resistance of the Spanish towards working together and in many races it seems that they were more eager to compete against each other rather than win the race! Until the 1960s, Spanish racing was marked by rugged individualism rather than a willingness to stick to team discipline, with predictable results (or non-results) against powerful teams from across the Pyrenees.

Conditions sounded dreadful in some years. Following World War II, Spain was isolated diplomatically and the object of a trade embargo. Ineligible for Marshall Plan aid, the country, suffering as well from drought and crop shortages, was saved from general famine only by the assistance rendered by Argentine dictator Juan Peron. The cyclists competing in the Vuelta had difficulty finding an adequate supply of nourishment, with even potatoes becoming a rarity.

Looking over the list of winners of the Vuelta, one is struck by how few repeat winners there have been. Stars like Anquetil, Poulidor, Gimondi, Merckx and Maertens came in with their powerful teams, easily put the Spanish in their place, and swept out triumphantly, not to return. Amazingly, Maertens won more than half the stages in 1977, taking thirteen in all! Hinault, a two-time winner, did not have it quite as easy as by now the Spanish were beginning to learn about competing more seriously. Pedro Delgado’s win in 1985 was the signal that times had changed and the Iberians were now a force in international cycling, although shortly afterwards there was a string of victories by Swiss riders Tony Rominger and Alex Zűlle, followed by Frenchman Laurent Jalabert (admittedly the latter two riding for Spanish teams). Oddly enough, two of Spain’s greatest cyclists, Federico Bahamontes and Miguel Indurain, winners of the Tour de France both, never wore the gold jersey of the Vuelta leader or even won a stage in the race.

Racing on the Angliru

The Vuelta has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. Snubbed by many big names in cycling (some of whom only stayed when the rules were bent for them, to the detriment of the local riders), subject to extreme weather conditions, often struggling financially, the Vuelta has been run as an experiment in road racing, with management willing to try all sorts of new ways to attract an audience and the best riders. With wildly exciting mountain stages alternating with stupifyingly dull flat stages (sometimes run on highways!), the Vuelta has made for mixed viewing but the addition of insanely brutal climbs like the Angliru (where an angry David Miller threw his bike across the finish line in the rain) have increased the drama and the last few editions of the Vuelta have maintained the race’s tradition of unpredictability. And of course the race is populated with exciting and eccentric characters, like El Chaba, Banesto’s erratic but brilliant climber, or José Pérez Francés, called “the Rudolf Valentino of the peleton” by the Tour de France’s Jacques Goddet and greatly feared by Anquetil. Or José Manuel Fuente, who won in 1972 and 1974, who liked to attack when tactically it made no sense.

Viva la Vuelta covers all of these aspects of the race in economical prose and the reader has an excellent sense of the battles on the fabled climb on the Covadonga or during the nail-biting time trials. It concludes with detailed Appendices, covering the podium winners, as well as the points, mountain and team classification winners and even all the individual stage winners from 1935-2005.

Alberto Contador dominating the Vuelta in 2008
(photo by Koke, Creative Commons)

Ending as it does in 2005, it makes reference to Roberto Heras’ fourth victory, going on to describe the rider thus: “...serious, dependable, his victories an exercise of maturity and strong team work that once seemed beyond Spanish capabilities...” which, of course, turned out not to be the case as the Liberty Seguros cyclist was subsequently disqualified for doping, the first Grand Tour winner to be so humiliated. The rise of Alberto Contador, whose brilliant ride with Team Astana in 2008 gave him the hat-trick of Grand Tour wins (Giro, Tour and Vuelta) in only two seasons, suggests that Spanish cycling continues to have a great future ahead of it.

There is presently no American distributor for Viva la Vuelta, but copies may sometimes be obtained at However, the book is available directly from the publisher in the UK, along with a number of other interesting cycling titles. While the only current English book on the Vuelta, it should not be considered as “better than nothing” but stands out as an excellent survey of this sadly underrated race. Recommended.

“Viva la Vuelta”
by Lucy Fallon and Adrian Bell
350 pp., Mousehold Press, 2005, £16.95
ISBN 1 874739 40 4
available from the publisher at: