Do you need inspiration?


Do you need inspiration this year? Inspiration to get off the couch, and out on the bike? Inspiration to train in the off season when the weather is less than ideal for cycling?

I was given a copy of Clara Hughes’ memoire “Open Heart, Open Mind” for Christmas. I am a fan of Clara Hughes but this is not the kind of book I would normally read. For those of you who may not know Clara, she is a 6-time Canadian Olympian, a 6-time medal winner, and the only athlete to win multiple medals in both the summer (cycling) and winter (speed skating) games.

I have a friend who competed in the 1972 summer Olympics. She did not medal, not even close, but it was, and still is, the highlight of her life. She is very proud of the experience, and it has shaped her life since. Imagine, if you can, what it might feel like to qualify not for 1, but for 6 different Olympiads, and to contend for a medal each time.

What is truly remarkable about Clara isn’t the results. They speak for themselves. What surprised me, and makes the medals so remarkable, is the difficult upbringing she had. She came from a highly dysfunctional family from Winnipeg, enduring an alcoholic, and abusive father. She was destined to a life of alcohol, drugs, and trouble until she discovered speed skating as a teenager.

Despite all of her success, Clara suffered, and still does today, from acute depression. Her story is about how she battled this demon, and became an advocate for all those suffering from this debilitating disease. Despite all of her success, she remains down to earth, the girl you would love to have live next door, and mentor your kids.

So, if you are having trouble motivating yourself this year, I suggest you pick up a copy of “Open Heart, Open Mind“. This book may not make you an Olympian, but it will make you want to get off the couch.

Christmas gift ideas …


I have read several posts recently with gift suggestions for cyclists. They have been interesting, even helpful, but I do something a little different.

I love getting cycling stuff for Christmas. Unfortunately, most of my family have no idea what I may need, or like. And, I don’t want them spending a lot of money. Cycling stuff is expensive, if you haven’t figured that out already.

I have some preferences. The Louis Garneau apparel fits me really well, better than other brands, and it’s a Canadian company. Eh!  And ProBikeKit (a candy store for roadies) sells all of the consumables I need – chains, cassettes, brake pads, tires, wheels, cranks … Every year, at the start of December, both of these retailers have an on-line sale. A real sale. Selected items are discounted 50-60%. Really! Some may be last year’s stock, but who cares. So, I go shopping, and purchase items I need (or want).

This year, I bought a pair of bibs that match the Team Europcar jersey I purchased last year at this time, an Ultegra 6700 chain and cassette for the Roberts, Vittoria 28mm training tires for my winter wheels, neoprene booties, another road helmet (I try to turn them over every few years as recommended), and waterproof gloves. Then I put these items in a big plastic bag, unopened of course,  and tell my family if they (or Santa)  needs a present for me, all they have to do is rummage through the bag in my cupboard. I never look in the bag again until after Christmas, so I still have a modicum of surprise. If there are items left, I gift them to myself for the New Year.

I get what I need, still have surprises, and save everyone money. In case you are worried, I do get other presents.

Happy shopping 🙂


I made a commitment …


Three years ago I made a commitment to myself. I committed to commute by bicycle throughout the year, not just when it is warm and dry, or when it suited me. I committed to cycling to and from the office every day regardless of the weather. No excuses.

Cycling was not new to me. After all, I had trained, toured, and even commuted for years. It’s just that when the weather got cold and wet, I would drive, walk, or take public transit. This time, things were different. This time, the stars aligned. I had a suitable bike, and clothing for all seasons. I could bring my bike into the office without fear of the ubiquitous bike thief. The office had a very casual dress code. There was a shower in the office to clean up, and change when necessary. And, there was a community of like-minded cyclists in the office.

What started as a one year experiment, turned into a three year adventure. Although I had cycled seriously for years, cycling became an indispensable part of every day. Every day I cycled 40 km, and very often, a lot more. It is only a 5 km trip to the office in the morning but a 35+ km workout on the way home.

There are the obvious benefits. I saved money on gas and parking, managed my weight without much effort, and spent more time outside.

And, there are unexpected benefits.

I didn’t expect to become a much better cyclist. I guess I thought I was good to begin with. Today, I am more technically proficient. I pedal in circles without even thinking about it. I spin faster in lower gears minimizing the wear and tear on my knees. I climb, and descend faster. I shift easily, and often, maintaining a consistent cadence. I cycle longer, and farther. I complete centuries faster, and more easily than ever. And, the wind and hills are actually fun.

I take better care of my bikes. I need to. I depend on them. I’m a better bike mechanic confident installing and adjusting stems, saddles, bars, derailleurs, tire, tubes, wheels, chains, cassettes, cables …

I eat better. I eat to fuel my rides, not to feed insecurities. No meat. No fast food. No sweets. And fresh, local produce whenever possible.

I’m acutely aware of how inefficient the automobile has become, creating more problems than it has solved. Congestion. Noise. Pollution. And, the wasteful use of land for roads and car parks.

And, perhaps most importantly, I live more simply. I need less, but have more. What began as an experiment to cycle more has shifted my priorities.

Cycle commuting isn’t for everyone. I understand that. Some need a vehicle for work. Some live too far from their work. And, others are not able. But, as urban densities increase, there is an opportunity, no a necessity, to get more people cycling. Municipalities and local businesses have a part to play by providing the necessary infrastructure – bike paths, dedicated bike lanes, traffic calmed streets, end-of-ride change facilities, bike lock ups … A carbon tax and bridge tolls are being considered here, and if implemented, will spur commuters to look for alternatives.

What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

Happiness is a new chain


I have been remiss.

Thatch: “I’ll say.”

Thatch has needed a new chain for awhile. It was easy to tell. She didn’t shift smoothly, and seemed to have lost power. On the weekend, I fixed that with a $15 chain.


I use a chain wear tool and usually do not allow my chains to get so worn. The tool is easy to use. You place one end between 2 links and drop the other end down. If it drops all the way down, as it does in the top picture, the chain is done. If it is unable to drop between the links, like in the second picture, it means the chain is new and good for miles of cycling.

If you replace the chain before it is fully worn, you will not have to also replace the cassette. I generally get 2 chains to every cassette. However, if you spin a fully worn chain for any length of time, you run the risk of damaging not only the cassette cogs but the chain rings as well.

There are several things you can do to prevent premature chain wear. First, and foremost, clean and lubricate your chain regularly. And secondly, don’t cross-chain. Not under any circumstances (but we all do).

What is cross-chainging?, you ask. It’s what inexperienced cyclists do. It is what elongates a chain quicker than anything. Cross-chaining is when the chain crosses the centreline of the drive train. In other words, when your chain is on the large chainring and large cog on the cassette, or the chain is on the small chainring and the small cog at the back.


Thatch: “Ooooooh! That hurts.”

You can easily tell if you’re cross-chained. The chain makes an irritating noise as it rubs mercilessly against the other parts of your drivetrain. As a rule of thumb, I change chainrings when the the chain is mid-point on the cassette.

How often do I need to replace my chain?, you ask. There is no magic number. To a large extent, it depends on the type of cycling you do, how well you maintain it, whether you cross-chain regularly, and road conditions. I would suggest you purchase an inexpensive chain wear tool like I have and check your chain wear every month or two.

Thatch: “That sounds like the smart thing to do. Why didn’t you follow your own advice?”

Compact crankset …


I have been waiting a long time to write this post.

My son gave me new, compact chainrings for Christmas this year. For those of you who may not be familiar with compact cranksets, they have two smaller chainrings that are particularly well suited for climbing. At the time, my son didn’t realize they wouldn’t fit on my standard crankset.

What was I to do?

I had learned over the past several years that for the type of cycling I do, not to mention my age, they are preferable. I have a compact crankset on the Roberts and love it. I haven’t lost any speed, except perhaps on long descents, and I climb more easily, and faster.

There was nothing else to do but purchase a new compact crankset. My son and I looked online, and eventually found a good deal. This past weekend, we installed the new cranks, and I immediately went for a ride looking for hills to climb.

For a road cyclist, hills on a light, carbon bike with a 50-34 crankset is like a bone to a dog. You just can’t get enough. Hills are easier to climb. On the flat, you maintain a higher cadence and tire less quickly, travelling farther with less effort. Is there anything better?

I got my first taste of compact cranks on a road bike several years back. I took my kids there for a holiday. A week in the sun to swim, snorkel and relax. And, cycle. We discovered a bike shop near where we were staying that rented carbon road bikes equipped with compact cranksets. We couldn’t resist, and one day cycled the West Maui Loop, an epic ride around the perimeter of the small volcano which includes several category climbs.

I subsequently learned that professional cyclists are equipped with compact setups, particularly for the long, climbing stages. Where had I been? Now, both of my road bikes have compact setups.

So, if you are out there considering a new road bike, or wanting to upgrade the one you already have, ask about compact cranksets. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

What happened here?


I mentioned previously that I got a flat on April Fool’s Day. I finally got around to repairing it today.

And, look what I discovered. A severed valve. It had been decapitated at the rim. A nice, clean, uniform cut. I have never seen anything like it. Have you? I would appreciate your thoughts. I really have no idea how this happened.

There was no repairing this. I put the patches away, headed to my local bike shop to  purchased 2 new tubes – one for the flat tire and the other for my saddle pack.

Please comment if you have suggestions.

I had a senior moment

I had a senior moment. It wasn’t the first. And, I suspect, it won’t be the last.

Last week I installed a new chain on the commuter. It is not the first time I have done this. No, I have been installing chains for 35 years. I use the large cog, large chainring method to determine the optimum chain length. Using this method, the chain is put on the large front chainring and large cog on the freewheel (or cassette) without threading it through the rear derailleur. The chain is pulled taught and then you add two additional links to the length. There are other methods but I have found this to be fast, reliable and easy.

The next day, I road the bike to the office. On the way there is a small, short incline. I kept the chain on the large chainring and geared down to the third largest cog on the back. The chain locked. The bike stopped abruptly. I was fortunate I wasn’t going fast otherwise, I would have been thrown violently over the bars.

The chain was really locked. The only way I could free it was to loosen the rear wheel and move it forward in the drops to get enough slack in the chain to move it to a smaller cog. The chain was too short. It could not get onto the larger cogs. What did I do wrong?

That night, I was unexpectedly awakened by a dream. I was in the midst of installing a new chain on my bike. It showed me what I had done wrong. I had subtracted two links instead of adding them to the length. No wonder the chain was too short.

How could I have done that? Was I rushed? No! Was I careless? No! Am I inexperienced? No!

I can only think it was one of those senior moments. One of those moments you would rather forget. Certainly not a moment you want to admit and share.

I’ll keep this to myself.

9 reasons I am a better cyclist …

I am be better cyclist today than I was 30 years ago when I first became serious. I am faster and stronger. I climb faster with less effort. I descend faster with less resistance. I am safer on the road. And, I am more considerate of other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Here a 9 reason why I am better today:

  1. I commute regularly. This gets me on a bike most days in all weather conditions.
  2. I ride more than 1 bike. This provides variety, gets me on different routes and road surfaces, gets me out more often and, allows me to mix commuting with training rides.
  3. I train regularly. I do repeat hill climbs, long climbs, fast descents and, long rides most every week. In the winter months, I go to the gym to lift weights and attend spinning classes. I not only work on my conditioning but on my technique as well – climbing, descending and, an efficient pedalling stroke.
  4. I use hand signals. I ride in the city with other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. It is important for those around me to know when I am slowing or turning.
  5. I ride on the city’s bikeways. Vancouver has a network of traffic-calmed bikeways and dedicated bike paths. I use them. They are safer and, more fun.
  6. I take my bike on holidays with me. I take a bike on holidays. There is no better way to explore new locals.
  7. I maintain my own bikes. A well maintained, clean bike is safer, faster and more enjoyable to ride. I have a well equipped workshop that makes all the difference.
  8. I have cycle clothing for all weather conditions. I am prepared for the heat, cold, wind and rain. This didn’t happen overnight. It took several years to accumulate all of the necessary clothing – waterproof jackets, pants, booties and gloves; leg & arm warmers; cycling shoes; helmets … You get out on the bike more often when you are warm and dry.
  9. I live and work with a supportive group of fellow cyclists. The whole family cycles. We each have more than one bike and, a few of us commute regularly. And, the office is also bike friendly. Half of the staff commutes and we have a secure lockup right in the office itself.

Tires that look like new …

Last evening, I prepared the Robert’s for Saturday’s ride, a day trip to Galiano Island, a hilly, 75 km adventure a short ferry boat ride away.

You know the routine.  I washed it down.  Thoroughly cleaned and lubed the drivetrain.  Applied Pledge to the frame to restore a polished looking lustre.  Checked the bolts,  cables, brakes and deraileurs.  When I stepped back, I noticed the tires, despite being washed with soap and water, looked dirty.  A light brown film was on the tire walls.  Fine dust and dirt from the streets.  It would not wash off completely.  I tried again with a scrub brush but with the same result.

My other tires do not look like this.  Perhaps it is the compound or quality of the tire.  Maybe the compound is more porous.  I don’t know and willI investigate more carefully.

Then I remembered using a car tire cleaning product on an old set of tires one time.  An all purpose vinyl and rubber cleaner from Armour All.  I pulled the spray can out, applied it to a clean cloth and wiped the tires with it.  Voila.  New tires.  It was amazing.  The tires have the same sheen as the frame.  They look better than new.  The brown film is gone.

I am not certain how the product will stand up or, if it will affect performance in any way, but I certainly do not mind doing this occasionally when my tires look tired.

I am fanatical …

I am fanatical about keeping my drive trains clean and properly lubed.

I was not always like this.  There was a time when a good cleaning happened only once or twice a year.  But as I began spending more money on components and began to appreciate the difference a clean chain, cassette and chain rings can make to a ride, the more attention I paid to it.

These days, I clean and lube my road bikes before every long ride which is every week or two depending which of the bikes I favour at the time.  And my commuter gets a thorough once over every 1-2 weeks as well.  It is used more regularly and occasional frequents gravel, dusty trails as well.

For me, it is a multi-step process.

  1. First, I put the bike onto a stand.  This is a must.  This way I can easily spin the components and look carefully at each of them for unusual wear.
  2. Next, I hose the bike down with soap and water to remove any loose dirt being careful to scrub the chain, chain rings and cassette with wash glove and brushes.
  3. Then, I clean the chain using a water soluble degreaser running the chain through it many times and, depending on the state of the chain, may repeat this process more than once.  I’ll use the the brushes again, this time with degreaser on them to clean the cassette.
  4. Once the components look clean, I wash them down with water again to remove any loosened dirt and excess degreaser.
  5. I dry all of the components with a dry rag and let air dry for 10-15 minutes before applying a single drop of light lube to each of the chain lugs.
  6. And finally, I remove any excess lube with a clean rag.

This entire process only takes 15 minutes.  I have had a lot of practice and, I have all of the necessary tools ready at hand.

Now I am ready to adjust the derailleurs, if necessary and, measure the chain wear.

This may seem excessive to some but I have few on road issues and I enjoy the rides more when the bikes change gears easily, smoothly and quietly.

How often do you clean your drive train?