Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winterbiking in the Toronto Star

Some great exposure over at the Toronto Star for Winter biking.  I love the graphic personally.  It’s a bit of delicious overkill.

Check it out.

All you need to know about winter biking in the GTA

First thing first.  I was in Toronto this weekend and they have absolutely no snow.  None.  It looks like cold fall day from ‘Sagua to the ‘Shwa.

So, studded tires are definitely not needed right now in T-dot.

There are some good nuggets in this article. I like their:
  • Tips for breaking (i.e. cleaning rims regularly and doubling your breaking distance).  Rim brakes are prone to slipping profusely in slushy conditions.  
  • Suggestion that a cleaning regimen be followed.  I just gave Lieberman his first bath this winter and I should have done it two or three times already.
  • Advice regarding regular weather checks (I do it every morning while I walk the dog.  A process that gives me better weather info than any smartphone app!).
Things I’d add:
  • Have a brush handy to brush off snow and road grit after your ride.  I usually do it when I get to my destination, then again when I get home.  Helps to decrease the number of times you’ll have to bring the bike into the house for cleaning.
  • Keep enough change for the bus, in case you break down.
  • I also like to keep a small container of antifreeze on me.  For those times that ice builds up on the sprockets, or derailleur.
  • Keep your ass in the saddle as much as possible.  That will reduce back tire slippage and keeps you balanced and ready to ‘pontoon’ when you have to.

I've established the disease, not the cure

I have discovered the root of Lieberman’s ‘sickness’.  Here’s a little context. 

My LBS told me my bottom bracket couldn’t be replaced, and that it’s likely it will degrade completely over this winter.  

This is problematic for several reasons. 

Most importantly – I bike everywhere.  As such, a contingency plan had to be hatched. 

That’s how I came to posses a new GT.  I’ll post pics later.  At any rate, I digress.  I

t would seem that my current fenders don’t deflect snow, slush, water, rocks etc. from hitting the bottom bracket.  It just builds up.  I brush it off after sticky sessions, but apparently it isn’t enough.  Here’s evidence. 

When Lieberman bites it, I’ll have to do a better job keeping the BB clear on the GT.

Santa's present to Ottawa’s Baseline Road bikers

Happy Holidays!

It seems Santa dropped a gift to Ottawa’s Baseline Road bikers.  I found this painted on Baseline this morning.

I really have no idea when they painted this 20 meter bike lane, and I certainly hope they extend it along the road, but it’s a start.  I recently did a biking survey for the city of Ottawa, and one of the things I lamented about was the lack of bike lanes on Baseline Road.  While I doubt that my comments have directly resulted in the addition of bike lanes, I am going to take credit.  I mean, nobody reads this anyway, so I can make any claims I want.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I saw from the other side

On Thursday, I had to drive K into work. 

And it was an interesting experience. 

I’m never on this side of the equation. 
I’m never driving a car to work in the morning.  Battling rush hour.  Finding parking. Crawling down Carling behind the slowest Lexus in the world.  Nope.  I never do this.  

You can tell.  See, I almost ran a yellow while a black and white sat watching (thanks for the warning K, you saved Christmas!).

While driving in rush hour traffic, was kind of interesting, I really missed my bike in.  I could have been zooming by the traffic and would have made it home in about half the time.  

The thing that struck me the most was the number of winterbikers. 

Oh, I wish I could have taken pictures of them all.  

I saw a minimalist fixie riding my old backroad route, an apprehensive sidewalk pusher, an electric/peddle hybrid, and two people geared to the nines. 

Good stuff.  Nice to see you guys out there.

As an aside, I’ve inquired as to whether or not I can join the Ottawa Bicycle Advisory Committee.  Here’s hoping I get a chance to do my civic duty.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bike History

Here’s a fantastic photo that’s been rolling around the internerd pretty fast.  It was sent to me by my friend CT, a fellow bike fan. 

It’s just beautiful.  A bike shop from the early 1900s.  If you follow the link (click the pic) you can take a look at an enormous photo.  Things to keep an eye out for:

  • Even in the 1900s bike shops had to diversify in order to stay in business.  You’ll note in the bike shop is also selling pretty rudimentary motorcycles and phonographs.  They’re working all angles!  Come in, get your motorcycle tuned up, borrow a bike, and leave with a new record.
  • The picture is taken from the back of the shop, maybe the work area.  So if you look closely, you’ll see the name of the shop in the glass.  “Excelsior”  It might also say “Auto cycles and Cyclery” below the store name. 
  • Lastly, the cargo bike in the forefront of the picture is hella tough.  Basket up front and caged trailer out back.  That is a work vehicle if I ever saw one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Today in Bike News

Today’s innovation isn’t a bike in the traditional sense. 

I mean, look at this monster!

It has the style of a recumbent, and questionable geometry as far as I am concerned. 

I feel like it might be a bit ‘tippy’ up front.  Not that I have Hulk sized legs or anything, buy my plans for a beast like this include hills - both up and down.  And I don't have a lot of confidence in the down.

It does put the bulk of your body weight (ass) above the treads, which will help avoid slippage.

Two parting thoughts.  Why are these things always just concepts - I mean, if they have merit, don’t they get built?  Lastly, how would this be better than my cross country skis?


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Cycling in the News

But first, a transcript of this morning’s good-bye.

K:  It’s cold out this morning, do you want a ride to work?
Me:  It was just as cold yesterday, and it was even colder Monday when winds were at 45km.
K:  But I can give you a ride in if you want, or you can drop me off and take the car.
Me:  Naw, I’ll ride in.
K:  You’re just being stubborn aren’t you?
Me:  Yup. 

A short conversation that, by itself, is fairly typical of our morning ritual.  But given yesterday’s article in the Globe and Mail, it resonates a little deeper today.

Seems every year we get one or two fulsome articles on winter riding.  (In fact, I wrote my own for this imaginary blog last year - check it) These articles typically polarize the activity.  On the more conservative side of the argument, authors will allude to the activity as dangerous, its participants often crazy.  The other side of the argument sees winter bikers as tough and stubborn riders, pushing as far as they can. 

Ultimately, regardless of the article’s leanings, the authors tend to move from the poles and settle somewhere in the middle with a line like:

“The reality is that winter cycling is about as dangerous as its summer equivalent; in fact, it may be safer. Motorists are actually more careful of winter cyclists because they realize how easily a biker who has not winterized his or her ride can become a casualty.”

Today’s article, referenced above, was found in the Globe and Mail.  Andrew Clark’s piece found it’s way into the Globe Drive section.  An interesting place for a winter biking article, but Clark gives the topic the balanced evaluation it deserves.

Sure, he tosses out the standard clich├ęd references to winter biking elitism, “They form clubs and give themselves dangerous swaggering nicknames like “ice riders” just to let everyone know how bad ass they are.” – but the article moderates these views by painting winterbikers in two very distinct tones. 

He sees a clear delineation between the practiced riders and those that foolishly attempt to navigate the slippery streets with too little experience and no consideration for safety or proper equipment.

Here, I have to intervene and indicate that his short reference to equipment is fairly typical of those who don’t ride in winter.  It’s a classic case of overcomplicating and overcompensating.

Clark writes: “The maniac you see out there with his Avenir Frost gloves, Sports Science Wicking Training shirt and Icebreaker Pocket 200 Beanie is not the one to worry about.  Odds are that this true believer spent money winterizing his ride, bought studded tires, wears reflective clothing and may have even equipped his ride with disk brakes, which are not as affected by adverse weather conditions.”

And while I agree that this type of rider is less of a worry, I disagree with the underlying assumption that good winter riders are those that have frost gloves, studded tires, wicking shirts and state of the art equipment.  I don’t think this level of equipment vanity is the norm, or even necessary for the winter commuter.

It’s about being comfortable.  This morning it’s -13, with a wind kicking the temp down to -22.  I rode in layering a hoody under a fleece.  A thin scarf that K bough me and some cheap, slightly insulated, work gloves that cost 8 dollars at Home Depot.  It was warm enough without overheating.  And Lieberman is just a regular department store bike with knobbies.  And he does just fine (we ran a fresh single track through the farm last night in the dark!).

Apart from the article veering from ‘serious’ to ‘seriously trying too hard to be funny and failing completely’ Clark’s done a good job making the case for the winterbiker.

And his article actually forced me into some self-reflection regarding how I want others to perceive me as a winterbiker. 

K asked me this morning if I was just being stubborn.  And honestly, the answer is yes.  I am being stubborn. I relish being the only bike I see riding in the morning.  I love being the only bike parked on the rack.  And I am proud, probably a vanity thing, of biking in when it’s awful out. 

But I don’t do it to impress anyone but myself.  I do it to prove that I can.  To beat the system by not buying an overpriced pass for an OC Transpo bus that is unfailingly late and always too cramped.  I do it to keep our drive time down and to avoid buying the dreaded second car.  And most importantly, I do it for the fun and adventure.  And let’s face it, being stuck behind this keyboard all day certainly makes a guy crave for a little adventure.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Herd is Thinning

Well, it's been a mild winter so far here in Ottawa.  And for a lot of people, having no snow meant that the bike season was extended.

But last night, we got our first blanket of snow. Nice and fluffy, easy to shovel, but slippery to ride through.

And although my cycling census data collection techniques are still very rudimentary I'd say it's rendered biking impossible for half of the remaining bikers. Note:  my current census methodology includes observing my street, keeping track of riders

Which is nice, because now I get my spot on the rack regardless of what time I roll in.  Check out that cherry spot.  Right at the front of the rack, and ready for an escape.

Those of you that are particularly astute - and given a readership of zero, there won't be many - will notice that Lieberman is a) still kicking and b) wearing a slick on the front rim.  It's not a new system I am trying out, in fact I find a slick up front to be troublesome and dangerous.  Rather, it's evidence of my ongoing laziness.  But have heart, I have that rim off and drying out in the laundry room sink as I type.  Should have a nice knobby up front for tomorrow's ride.


Another quick point.  They need to make longer boots.  My gaiters just don't do it on these slushy days.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The 2010 Rona MS Bike tour

The tour was good to us again this year.

We put together a team again and worked hard on shirts and a name.

The final moniker was E-velo-tion.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Biking in Belgium

K and I just came back from a week long trip in Brussels and will be posting some of the bike-centric pictures we took.

Suffice it to say, Belgium has a pretty big commuter bike culture. In the 3 cities we visited, I only saw a handful of mountain bikes. I didn't see a single hybrid. 99% of whips are commuters with full fender systems and chain guards (In other words - business attire friendly components).

Pics to come soon. EDIT. Pics are as follows:

I took this shot from the rear guard. We signed up for a bike tour of Brussels (we like to do bike tours of the cities we visit) and it turned out K and I were the only ones who signed up! So we got a pretty relaxed and personal tour. Our guide was pretty nice and knowledgable. And yes, the hella bright jerseys were required (no helmets were offered mind you).

The people in Brussels are pretty friendly towards bikes, but you have to be pretty aggressive in situations. And the cobblestones can be a bit problematic sometimes.

Here's a 'vanity shot' I took. If you look closely you can see the camera in my hand. I tried to snap a picture of both K and I in the reflection of a window, and this is as close as I got.

This guy is a Brussels native. Zanneke Pis. He reminded me of Bobby. K had a 'linguistically challenged' conversation with the older fella in the background there.

Just a quick shot of the Ghent train station. It's less than an hour to go from Ghent to Brussels and given the large number of bikes in this lot, I think a lot of people park and ride.

This last shot is just of a nice Honda PA 50 that I saw. It reminded me of my PA 50, who now lives on a farm with my friend Kevin.
I haven't posted a picture of Brughes' bike scene. But I'll note that while in Brughes we rented bikes on the cheap (6 euro each) and spent the day riding. We actually biked to Holland and back. While that sounds far, it's actually less than 40 clicks round trip. Maybe I'll find a good pic of that ride and post it up too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where are Ottawa's Bike Lanes?

The news today indicates that Toronto is extending its bike lanes. The new plan will include University Ave., one of the busiest streets in Toronto.

Great news. I used to rollerblade down University back in the day and I can see how important a bike lane will be to that part of the city. And while I am happy for T-dot, I'm kind of a little jealous.

When was the last time Ottawa announced a bike lane? Or any bike related good news story? Every morning I bike east on a four lane road. The lanes are seperated by a median. How hard would it be to 'skinny up' that median and throw a bike lane on both east and westbound lanes?

Probably more work than city council wants to entertain.

Generally I'd say that Ottawa is a great city to bike in. But, our main arteries are less than bike friendly.

This may be the beginning of my "Strongly Worded Letter" series.

More to come.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Submitted Another Story


Hilobrow is holding another contest. They want a 250 word story about the apocalypse ... the catch? It has to be period specific.

Specifically between 1930 and 1935.

So, I popped the following up (and am one of about 20 submissions so far):

They didn’t call it the Dirty Thirties for nothin’. Droughts, depression, world-wide political unrest, rampant crime - it all made for dark times. But I guess it prepared us for The Fall.

It happened in springtime. Dark clouds rolled over the world like a terrible storm. A storm that didn’t go away. Food production halted overnight. Scarcity created tribal warfare the world over.

That was four years ago and we’d been running since.

But today we stop running.

For months we’d been sticking to the outskirts of small towns. Pillaging what we could at night. Lucky if we found tinned food, stored grains or farmhouse preserves.

Once we found bicycles, and for one week we held an incredible pace – smiling as we distanced ourselves from the starving packs behind us. Maybe we got comfortable, I don’t know, but they managed to catch up.

They found us camping by a starving river and came fast. All blind fury. They were more interested in our stores than us, making it easier to fight them off and escape downriver. We weren’t unscathed.

I held her close as we floated. Her eyes were closed. Her face a pale grey like the sunsets these days.

I carried her. Tended wounds. Suppressed fevers. Hoped. Prayed that there was still a god somewhere.

I thought we‘d make it, that I’d save her and we’d start again.

But I can’t carry her anymore. And I can’t go on without her.

We’ll know soon enough if god’s out there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Great Day for a Hike!

This weekend I was fortunate to have my brother and his girlfriend down for a visit.

Most of the weekend revolved around great food (prepared by K), some beer and wine, and a lot of Wii bowling. Both my brother and I achieved Pro status.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was the hike we took to Luskville Falls in the Gatineau Park. We were introduced to this trail last year by friends. It’s a well used, and well known, trail about 30 minutes outside of Ottawa. Apparently there are many other older, lesser known trails out in the area.

Apparently, many of these trails have been forgotten over time. I’ve heard that there are a few old trail maps still out there, and I have decided to try and find them. I don’t know how, but I am going to figure it out. I have my first clue – there used to be a ‘Yellow Box trail’ near the area. It will be my first conquest.

But I digress. Back to the falls trail. We geared up and left in the afternoon after eating a great lunch (thanks again Kel, you are a fantastic cook and I am lucky). The sky opened up on the drive over, and the sun was shining.

When we got to the hill, the park was actually closed. I don’t think it officially opens for a while yet. But there were about 15 other intrepid parties there. We walked in and passed a few people leaving, but all in all, the place was pretty quiet.

At -5 degrees, we were shedding layers within the first 750 meters of the hike. It was brisk, and we needed gloves and touques for the first bit, but as we ascended, we steadily de-layered.

We passed the first stage of the falls and interrupted a mature doe above our path. She didn’t care about us at all. Just stopped eating long enough to give us a look and then went straight back to the nom, nom, nom. We tried to snag a picture, but she was hard to snap through the bush.

We made our first precarious crossing of the falls over an ice bridge. This effectively separated us from any other hikers as I think most people turned around at that point. But we were adventurers, not to be turned aside by the prospect of a chilly ‘soaker’. Onward.

We quickly made our way to the firetower and enjoyed some blueberry tea, homemade hummus, carrots and cukes (Kel makes fantastic hummus). It was a nice break topped off with a handful of Cadbury Mini-Eggs.

The trip down was fast. I practiced my parkour skills (which are admittedly quite low) and we all moved pretty quickly. As we moved down, we realized why most people had turned around at the first falls crossing. With the stream engorged, the usual route across the falls on the descent was gone. So, we had to muck around a while before finding a navigable crossing, which just happened to be at the very top of the falls themselves. It made for an exciting twist of events.

The rest of the trip down was pretty simple, which was perfect because knees and legs were starting to get a bit sore.

When we walked out to the road we only saw two other cars. It was nice to be one of the last groups to leave.

If you haven’t tried the Luskville Falls, I’d recommend it. It’s not terribly hard, and not very far. Just a little bit of perfect all around.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prepping for the Perfect Backcountry Camping Trip - Clothing Optional?

For the second instalment of our Prepping for the Perfect Backcountry Camping Trip we’ll take a quick look at some of the clothing choices you can make. And I’ll include a short list of the clothes I would take on a late spring to early fall camping trip.

You clothing choices should obviously reflect the seasons and it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst. Now, that doesn’t mean you should bring a down filled parka when you are hitting the woods in April, but it does mean you need to take time to ensure you will be warm and dry.


Ok, a quick note about materials. Cotton, polyester and wool tend to be the main materials that can be found in good camping gear. Both the wool and poly blends wick moisture well, are very good insulators and will continue to do so when wet. In suport of, poly - it'll dry quicker.

Cotton on the other hand won’t dry as quickly and does not insulate well when wet. But I certainly find it more comfortable than some of the other fabrics.

Therefore I suggest a mix of fabrics depending on the activity you intend to undertake.

The List
The following list covers the clothing I would bring for a 5 day interior camping trip.

Hiking Boots/Shoes
I often just wear a pair of beat up trail runners – they dry fast and have good grip. But you’ll want to wear something that you feel comfortable in, especially if you are hiking and not simply canoe-camping. You may also need the kind of support that hiking boots/shoes can provided. Again, it’s personal choice.

I always bring a mix of socks. I bring thin cotton socks and merino wool socks to keep warm.

Long Underwear
Not always a necessity, but on those cold nights, you’ll be happy you have them.

Regular Underwear
Pretty obvious eh? And I guess it's optional.

I like to bring two pairs of pants if I have the room. I bring a heavier cotton pair with a lot of useful pockets and another pair of quick drying pants. If I am pressed for space I go for the quick drying ones. I don’t bring any heavy shorts as I just roll up my pants for the same effect.

You just have to have a belt. Not just to hold your knife/multi-tool etc., but it makes a great tie down for firewood. Just bundle up your firewood, zip that belt around it and amble on back to camp in style (or with your free hand holding up your pants).

Shorts (or swimsuit for the ladies)
Now you can roll all skinny-dip style, or you can retain some modesty and hit the lake, river or spring in a swimsuit. It’s not necessary if you have boxers, but among mixed company, shorts are always a nice touch.

2 wicking t-shirts will keep the moisture off your skin, but you may want a cotton T too.

Button up shirt
I like to bring at least one button up shirt with some good pockets. It’s an extra layer to keep you warm, and the pockets will come in handy. Guaranteed.

Dip it in the lake water and put it around your neck to cool down. Use it to scrub your pots. Use it to filter the big stuff out of your water (before you filter with a good filter system). It’s a sling for a broken arm. In a pinch it’s a good bandage. So many uses … and you can just tie it to the outside of your pack. Simple.

Polyfleece or Wool/Polyester sweater
This extra layer is extremely useful for those chilly nights and frigid mornings before the fire kicks in. I’m currently rocking a poly army sweater. It’s black, so it attracts heat from the sun and it has … wait for it … pockets! Great for layering. And a poly product will keep you warm when it is wet and will dry quickly.

Rain ponchos
Obviously, it’ll keep the rain off you. Not so obvious uses include keeping gear dry, covering firewood, or even acting as a makeshift tarp when necessary.

A hat (with a brim – baseball, or otherwise)
Keeps the sun off your face when it’s warm. Keeps your head warm when it’s cold. You can use it to gather water.

Ok, so that's the quick and dirty on clothing. And as mentioned, you're going to have to find the mix of gear that works for you. Maybe you like the UtiliKilt? Maybe you like full on army surplus gear. It's all up to you. Just make sure you dress for the climate you're heading out in.

Good luck.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Prepping for a Perfect Backcountry Camping trip - Shelter/Bedding

One of the most important things you’ll need to work out is how you want to sleep. A good night’s sleep is the key to having a worry free trip. That means you have to stay dry, warm (or cool depending), and comfortable. So, we've got a few key items and some key considerations.

The Tent –

It’s worth doing your homework here as there are many different tent styles for different climates. The casual camper won’t need a $500 mountaineering tent. You’ll need to determine how big your tent should be. We carry a small rig with us. It weighs just a few pounds and takes up very little room in the packs. It’s big enough to comfortably house our bedding, bags, and the dog (who usually ends up sleeping on my bag anyway).

Things to look for:
  • Tub floor (raised sides).
  • A vestibule. This is like the 'mud room' or front hallway of your tent. It's a sheltered area where you can take off your boots, lay down some gear, and banish the dog to when he eats your gorp.
  • Good ventilation. You’ll need good air circulation regardless of season. Keeps you cool in the summer, and helps prevent frost from condensation in the winter.
  • Gear loft – this hanging mesh ‘shelf’ is great for stowing items that you need easy access to. Flashlights, glasses etc.
  • Tent Footprint – I never used to think the tent footprint was anything special. And on dry sunny days, you don’t really need one. But if you are going to make sure the top of the tent is waterproof, why not pay the same attention to the bottom? Here’s why you need it -condensation tends to form under your tent floor, and can stick to the bottom of your tent’s floor – a process that will degrade the material quicker over time. The footprint is just another way to keep the moisture on the outside and extend the life of your tent (and in a bind, that footprint can be used as a tarp to keep the rain off gear etc.). Keep in mind:· That the footprint doesn’t have to be a custom fit, but should be smaller than the actual tent (so that water doesn’t run down the sides and then pool on top of the footprint.). · It can just be a thin plastic sheeting that covers the area your tent will rest on. Vapour barrier, poly tarps, or custom made footprints will all do the same thing as long as they aren’t permeable.

Sleeping bag –

There are as many sleeping bags out there as there are hairs on the back of my hand (I should mention that this number increases with age). And each one is perfect for someone. While K likes a warmer bag, I like a smaller, lighter bag (mine is rated for -5, and squishes down to the size of a loaf of bread). Again, the type of bag you need will be determined by the conditions you camp in. Winter campers need a bag with lots of loft, while summer campers just need something to cut the night chill a bit.

Things to look for:

  • Mummification – Get a mummy bag, you won’t regret it on cold nights.
  • Synthetic filling – Some like down (and claim it is warmer) but I like synthetic. If synthetic gets wet, it’s going to be warmer than down, and easier to dry out.
  • Zipper compatibility? Sometimes, when boys and girls like eachother, they might want to zip their bags together to make a big sleeping bag … for the added warmth of course!
  • Sleeping bag liners are fantastic. They add a little warmth, and are more comfortable on the skin than the poly shell of the bags. Some sleeping bags now come with integrated liners.

Sleeping Pads –

For the longest time (from the age of 15 to the age of 31) I did not believe in buying an 'expensive' sleeping pad. For those 16 years I had the same closed cell foam underpad. The thing is, that blue-foam pad only cost 12 dollars, but probably cost me hours of lost sleep. While the foam kept me off the cold ground, it did little to smooth out the rocks and roots. So, just before an annual trip last year, I bought a good quality air mattress … and I don’t think I will ever look back. The prices aren't terrible (I picked on up for under $10 for my brother, while mine was $60) And they roll up smaller than the traditional foam pads, and keep you warmer.

Things to look for:

  • Look for a self inflating pad (even though you’ll have to blow it up anyway). That has foam built into it.
  • Get the right fit. Blow it up and lay out on it. Do the shoulders fit? Is it long enough? Is it comfortable?
  • Don’t buy the ¾ or ½ pads. The full pads are the most comfortable, and a ¾ or ½ pad isn’t that much smaller than the full, so treat yourself.

A Pillow –

Ya, I know, I know. A pillow? Is a pillow really necessary? For me, it is. I bring a small inflatable pillow (meant for airplane flights) and inflate it about half way. I’ve been known to use my bag, and extra clothes, but nothing matches that little pillow. And the best part is that it weighs nothing and takes up the same space as a deck of cards. I know pillows aren’t for everyone. And if you can sleep with your head on a rock then all the power to you, but for me, I like a little awesome under my head.

Keep in mind:

  • While the dog seems like he would make a great pillow (fluffy, warm, immovable etc., ) in practice, he is much less comfortable than imagined. And he smells … a lot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Prepping for a Perfect Backcountry Camping trip

Over the years I’ve worked hard to get the right mix of gear for my camping trips.I’ve tried the ultralight camping – leaving behind things like pants and soap, in favour of ensuring a lighter load – and car camping – where we brought coolers, lawn chairs, multi-burner stoves and our weight in beer.

For each of these trips I’ve compiled lists upon lists. Each trip means a different gear list gets written. And because I am disorganized, I lose the lists, or keep too many lists, or forget where I put the list. So this exercise is more about me than it is about you. I’m collecting the perfect list, and I invite you to take a look and share your thoughts and comments on it.

I’ll post gear from 8 categories including:
- Shelter/Bedding
- Clothes
- Personal Hygiene
- First Aid
- Cooking gear
- Random Essentials and
- Keeping the dog alive

Stay tuned, and toss in some comments if you see fit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Winterbiking article in the Globe and Mail

Finally, some interesting Canadian press on the subject of winterbiking.

This short article is written by the paper's CityDesk journalist and mainly focuses on the perceptions other people have, as well as the unique experience that the activity presents.

Some intersting excerpts include:

A recent survey showed that just 10 per cent of Toronto cyclists ride through the winter. Even among "utilitarian" cyclists - dedicated types who use their bikes for practical stuff like getting to work and going shopping - the figure rises to only 15 per cent.


It's liberating at any time of year to avoid the restrictions of driving or public transit and set out on your own, a free agent of the street. In winter, with the sharp, fresh air on your face, it's exhilarating. You begin and end your day with a little adventure.

You may remember our own little piece on winterbiking - Join the Winter Biking Militia - that comes to similar conclusions.

The best line from the article comes when Gee describes his winter biking ensemble - "I look like a safety-conscious ninja assassin"

Friday, February 26, 2010


In light of the Canadian Women's shut-out over the U.S. last night, I am going to talk a little about Hockey ...

A very strange name for a band - but it’s one you are going to remember. And hopefully you remember it the next time you hit up CD Warehouse. When you do, snag Mind Chaos immediately.

And get the disc into your car, mp3 player or whatever media you favour, as soon as possible. Why? Because it’s got bounce. And you need bounce.

Because work gets you down. Going home gets you down. The weather gets you down. Your 1000s of cloying worries get you down. You need something with bounce.

So pop it in and hit play. It’s not complicated music. It’s gonna make you smile …

How long will this last? Maybe 10 – 12 spins? I don’t know. I am not there yet. But I’ll let you know when I get fed up with them.

For now, enjoy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Multiplying Rubber Duckies!

My new office building has two 'bodies' of water in it. A coi pond on the West side, and a small fountain within an atrium a little further east.

Passing by the fountain about two weeks ago, a little flash of yellow caught my eye. And being somewhat work averse - it's a condition that I am dealing with - I investigated and found the happiest little rubber ducky that I have ever seen.

Just bobbing along enjoying him/herself in the privacy of its own little atrium. Quality.

Flash forward two weeks and my little ducky friend seems to have found that certain special someone. And I think you will agree that the two looked very happy.

Now, I have no idea who would have placed these little guys in the fountain. But I certainly derived a significant, if questionable and troubling, amount of joy from the whole thing. But something seemed missing. Despite the smiles, sunny dispositions and playful bobbing in the fountain, there seemed to be a hint of sadness in their eyes. A longing.

Ater some careful consideration, it dawned on me. I understood the very thing these two were missing. And I helped them out:

I can only hope that the little family enjoys their time together. After all ... they grow up so fast.

* Edit: A colleague sassed me after the little duck went missing. She chided me for selfishly taking the pictures, but not staying honest. Here's my response:

Ha ha. XXXXX (name withheld) , you are very observant. And you are correct.

The wee one has been removed from the scene. After placing the wee on in the new adoptive family, I spent some time observing their interactions - to ensure a seamless transition. What I observed was very positive. They got along quite well.

However, as time went on, I noted that the doting parents kept moving towards the 'waterfall' portion of the fountain. I cautioned them to steer clear because the wee one lacks the balance necessary to remain stable in the water. It was my fear that, should the family enter the 'turbulent' area, the wee one would suffer an untimely fate.

As the parents could not be convinced to stay in the calm area, I took it upon myself to remove the wee one until a time when it is stable enough to join its new family. As with many adoptions, there are complicated factors that require ongoing consideration. And it is always the welfare of the child that should be kept in mind.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

I submitted a story!

It's been a while since I tried my hand at writing. So, when i was reading on Io9 (arguably the best Sci-Fi website I have ever seen - one that I religiously check daily) that Hilobrow was having a short story contest, I had to try my hand.

Here's the deal: Hilobrow wants a 250 word story about a troubled superhero. They specifically asked that participants stay away from the traditional caped crusader types.

So I plopped this up:

It’s not murder.
It’s saving lives – protecting the future. You can’t murder someone who never existed.

While the list of marks is getting shorter, the work’s getting harder. I can’t keep histories straight. I struggle to use the ‘right’ memories, to hit the ‘right’ time.

My first cut-back took me to July of 1888. I started with one of history’s obvious monsters. Slipping a sterilizing agent in his parents’ tea saved 60 million from the War.

I changed it all and came back to a better world. I took pride in my work.

But each job meant cutting-forward to a new present. And reconciling the old and the new histories became more and more difficult.

15 marks later and I’m not sure what’s real anymore. Events are muddled. Temporal points are harder to recognize.

I feel the Temp-Reps following me. They have my list of marks. They track my jobs. They know my next target.

They can’t know when, or how, I’ll strike – yet I know they are there. I see them in the corner of my eye but when I look, they’re gone and I start to doubt – it’s all unravelling. It might be paranoia, but I can’t tell anymore.

Before I broke away, they wanted to stop-said we’d done enough, but I can’t quit – I can do more. I can make the world what it is supposed to be. The list has become my life – It’s the only history I have.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday’s Debate.

Peddle Power, Battery Power … or Both?

I run across a lot of different bicycles in my ever continuing quest to conquer the internerd. I’ve seen it all.

3-wheeled motorcycles (, one wheeled motorcycles (, functional personal hovercrafts (, bamboo bikes ( and a plethora of electric bikes.

And while all these innovations are fantastic, it is the last one there that I want to focus on today. This week I saw a very interesting e-bike. The Globe and Mail reports that:
the global sales of e-bikes, which are powered by batteries and can be recharged using a standard electric outlet, reached 23 million in 2008, with 90 per cent of them sold in China – Data derived from Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports). That same source predicts the global market will more than double by 2012. Granted, only 730,000 of those 2008 bikes were sold in North America, but sales could quadruple by 2011.

Now, e-bikes in general have been on my radar for a while, but this week I saw something downright crazy. Or at least I thought it was crazy.

The Emcycle was posted on it’s the first fully contained electric bike that this imaginary blogger has ever seen. It’s got doors. A roof. A trunk. Seatbelts. Brake lights. And … a cup holder!

It really got me ruminating about the electric bike phenomena.

The advantages of the electric bike are obvious:
- Less exertion;
- Consistent speed (in Ontario, most top out at 32kph);
- User friendly (no gear shifting necessary);
- Appealing to the novice rider;
- And lastly, no need for a shower when you get to work!

The disadvantages are a little more complex, and are the real reason I wouldn’t get one (as opposed to just hating the e-bikes because they aren’t cool with the kids)
- Battery pack is both finite, and contains some hazardous chemicals;
- Extra plastic (for the fairings, body etc.) prove to be less than environmentally friendly;
- Maintenance becomes problematic with the higher level of mechanization;
- The costs can be prohibitive (if you are cheap like me that is. I mean, a new e-bike can cost you less than a hybrid bike does these days. But nothing is cheaper than Herschel, the single speed Skoda Rapido my friend Kevin gave me); and
- Lastly, some lady almost ran me over on one this summer. And while I understand that she is not characteristic of all e-bikers, I still habour some resentment …

So, what’s your take? You digging the e-bike vibe? Or are you a purist (Fixie riders, please – no need to respond)?

Lemme know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Robot and A Music Review

I made this robot a long time ago in MS Paint. It's the only 'design' program on my computer and I am too lazy to download anything. It has no arms. Ta da.

Mini Music Review

Noah and the Whale
Album: The First Days of Spring
Released: August 31, 2009

This is the first album I have heard from Noah and the Whale. But apparently, it is their second undertaking. I have yet to listen to the first. I think I lack the courage.

The album makes me want to lock myself in a rented room. Once there, I’d drink until I almost pass out.

I’d put on The First Days of Spring.

I’d put it on repeat.

Then, I’d just lay there. Let the music wash over me. Listen to the words.

I’d first relish the sadness. I’d weep during “Our Window” and “I Have Nothing”. I’d be able to relate to the pain. “My Broken Heart” would carry me deeper.

Then, at some point, maybe the 20th spin – or the 40th spin, the instrumental tracks will play. They’ll sandwich the song “Love of the Orchestra” – and I’ll pick my head up, shake out the cobwebs, and amble over to my hotplate to boil water for coffee. My eyes will sting. My head will hurt. My heart will still be bleeding. But, as the songs roll on, I’ll start to feel better. I’ll start to listen.

The quicker cadence of “Stranger” will energize my broken body a little. Maybe I’ll open the curtains to see what time of day it is.

The coffee will be ready.

I’ll maybe sit down and slowly drink it. No sugar or cream.

“Blue Skies” plays. I take a good look outside now. It’s gray. But there’s promise in those clouds. “Slow Glass” gets me out of my worn and shabby chair.

By the time “My Door is Always Open” plays, I miss the last half of it. I’ve dressed, and left – slamming the door behind me. I’ve decided to start over. I’ve decided to get better – to get happy.

Get Noah and the Whale’s First Days of Spring here

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I am sorry that my dog ate your dog.

Today I am guilt-ridden, ashamed and saddened.

My dog attacked a neighbour’s dog last night. It was unprovoked and sickening. It wasn’t a normal dog reaction, where there is mutual barking and no actual contact. My dog tore into this little dog and clamped down. I had to physically pry him off.

It was terrible during the attack, and worse when it was over.
The poor little thing limped away. Its nose bloodied. And although I am sure I am anthropomorphizing, I saw a bewildered look upon his face. He had no idea why he was just bitten.

I tied my dog to a tree and tried to get close to the little guy to see how he was doing. He was walking well, and panting heavily, but looked like he would be ok. Then I had to address the owner. He was in shock. Sheer shock. Of course I spouted all manner of apologies – all heartfelt and sincere. It was very difficult. I gave him my cell number and asked that he call as soon as he heard from the after-hours veterinarian.

Then I had to turn and face my dog. He seemed to understand that something happened to make me very mad. But it just didn’t seem like he got that trying to kill a little dog was wrong. I pulled his leash tight, making him heel very close and I quickly walked home.

When we got back it became apparent that the small dog had been so scared it defecated on my dog. Which meant he needed a bath. The whole process was strained because my anger continually bubbling to the surface as I washed and verbally chastised the dog. I knew he didn’t understand what I was saying, but I felt better getting it out.

K was just as livid about the whole thing as I was. We tried to figure out where we went wrong. What we could do. We both agreed that the dog is now a wild card and that freedoms must be taken away. He’ll require heightened monitoring, additional training, and can never be afforded another opportunity to make the same mistake. The muzzle will be back out.

When we went to bed, all we could think about was the other dog. My guilt had a firm grip on my mind. Though I had fancied myself to be a ‘good dog owner’ and an authoritative leader, I now had significant doubts. Have the tug-of-war sessions and wrestling all given the dog the impression that his behaviour is acceptable? Am I to blame for this aggressive attitude? Have I reinforced this behaviour? I am awash with the guilt of this catastrophe.

I talked to the owner today. His dog will be fine. He has puncture wounds and bruising - and in my opinion is very lucky. Now I need to work to make things right. Both with the owner of the little dog, my wife, and my own dog. I hope I can make this right.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Join the Winter Biking Militia -

Biking to and from work everyday is one of the most rewarding experiences that a mindless worker bee can have. The mud on my work pants. The sweet smell of dirty bus exhaust fumes. The disdain hurled at you by uncaring motorists. The rain and subsequent skunkstripe (even though I have a damn fender!). Flat tires, broken brake lines, and signs that jump into your path – insidious, ambushing, sharp edged signs that send you ass over teakettle and ruin your front wheelset.

But seriously, there’s crap you’ll have to deal with, but the ride gets the blood moving, clears the cobwebs that formed the night before (or during the work day) and lets you think a little bit about what’s got to get done when you hit your destination. Even more importantly, biking is good exercise, requires no external fuel source, connects you with the city and frees you from a rigid bus schedule (and the exorbitant fees that OC Transpo is charging) or a reliance on your car.

I bike to work. All year. Spring, summer, fall and yes, winter. It’s a small feat. Some people think it’s a big deal, but really, winter riding is the same drive as my summer commute. Just a little colder.

Ok – sometimes a lot colder, sometimes so cold it causes “reverse elephantitis” (did you know that actual elephantitis is caused by a parasitic worm?).

Mostly, it’s fun. And with so few people doing it, you certainly feel a sense of accomplishment. So, while I am no expert, I thought it might be useful to post a few tips I’ve learned over the years. Hope that they help to make your experience safer and more enjoyable. If not, you can’t sue me, I’m imaginary!

Matt’s Winter Biking tips:

1) Be hyper-aware

Car drivers aren’t really expecting to see you. They have blindspots, cellphones, screaming kids in the back and a thousand other preoccupations. It’s your responsibility to be aware of these drivers – to anticipate their actions and respond accordingly. Keep your eyes moving. Stay alert, stay present and stay safe.

2) Be visible

This tip is an extension of #1. Many drivers don’t expect to see bikes on the road. So you have to make sure they see you. Proper lighting, and if possible reflective clothing will help.

Stay out of drivers’ blindspots, and approach intersections carefully. Make eye contact with drivers at intersections. Just because you have the right of way, doesn’t mean you are going to get it.

3) Stay warm (but not too warm)

It’s winter – you have to stay warm. And you have to stay dry. So, stay warm and dry. Simple huh? You’ll need to test drive some of your gear to get the right mix. I layer my clothes. That way I can add or remove as the weather changes.

Usually I wear a hoodie underneath a thin poly zippered jacket on days between -5 and -15 celcius. My snowboard gloves do the trick on my hands, and I double up on socks to keep the kickers warm.

Some people favour a moisture wicking layer against their skin, followed by an insulating layer and then a water/wind repelling layer to finish it off. You’ll figure it out, but only practice is going to help you here.

4) Types of riding

There are really three types of riding in winter. Wet riding, dry riding and icy/snowy riding.

Wet riding usually occurs after a snowfall. The plows and salt trucks have been out and the roads are mostly clear, but a slushy brown sludge will likely be found on the shoulder of the road (right where you are gonna be riding). Wet riding means that your brakes will be slower to stop you, and you’re going to get a bit wet. Dress appropriately and keep your speed in check.

Dry riding is usually accompanied by colder weather. There is less precipitation when it is colder. The roads are more likely to have been salted and cleared and the road itself will have a bone gray look to them. This is ‘money-shot’ riding weather. It’s fast, visibility is good, and you aren’t going to slip around on the white stuff. But, it’s cold. So bundle up.

Snowy/Icy riding. This is a whole chapter all on its own. Regardless of the amount of snow, you need to be smart. These riding conditions wreak havoc on motorists, and it’s less likely that they will anticipate bikers on the road. Couple that with poor braking conditions and you’re fair game to get t-boned.

In addition, the riding can be heavy slogging. My advice is to take it slow. Break your own trails - don't just follow car tire tracks as these often provides less grip than a trail you make on your own.

Keep your ass in the saddle. This is going to keep the bulk of your weight on the back tire. It’s like throwing bags of sand and salt in the back of your truck. It’s gonna give you a little more grip and keep that rear tire from spinning out.

It’s going to be slow going, but when you get to work 45 minutes ahead of your car driving buddies, you can rub it in a little.

5) Keep your shit straight

If you’re going to hit the streets, you’re going to need to understand a little about motion. In that snowy/icy weather, your brakes won’t be as effective as they are in dry conditions.

You’ll find that on icy surfaces, a quick pull of the front or back brakes will lock up a wheel and send you sliding. The same thing will happen when you try and make quick turns. In both cases, your momentum will continue forward as you fall. Slow down and anticipate when you will have to brake or turn.

Keep an eye out for icy patches. But ride with caution, a blanket of snow can easily cover up those patches.

I also like the ‘pontoon method’. Simply put, be ready to throw your feet and legs out (like pontoons) when you hit a slippery spot. You’ll be able to plant a foot and keep your ass from hitting the ground.

6) Maintain your bike

You have to love your bike. Love it or lose it. I love both Herschel and Lieberman and that love keeps them rolling.

Make sure your bike is in good working order. Brake and shifter cables can freeze. Ice and sludge can build up on rims and brake pads. I give Lieberman (my heavy duty commuter) a weekly bath and lube in the winter. It's important to have a well oiled chain, and lubricated cables - this will reduce rust on the chain and decrease frozen lines.

A little TLC each week means that I am sure things will function normally and I can rely on the bike to get me safely where I want to go.

I know there’s a million other tips for this kind of thing. Do you have any? Throw them in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday January 11, 2010
(Posted a day late ... it's how we roll)

Ahhhhhhhhh. What a terrific weekend.

K was out of town to do some shopping in Chicago. And by all accounts she had a fantastic time. It sounds like this will become an annual thing for her. And true to form, the girl was extremely thoughtful. She brought me back some sweet swag. Pants, a shirt and a sweater. All fit perfectly and complement my personality … I mean, a t-shirt with a pigeon on a pile of bikes wearing a bowler hat and smoking a cigarette? That’s me! You don’t know me, but if you did know me, you would know that’s me.

This image is from - a SanFran art collective.

So, while the cat was away, the mice … didn’t really play so much as dutifully work on getting things in order in the house.

With the basement renovations happening, it’s kind of hectic, so I used the opportunity to get some of our shit back in gear. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. This was a great weekend for me. All the cleaning helped me relax. I was hella stressed out last week, and needed to put things in order so that I could be calm … and chill. Sad really.

Hopefully this week will be more normal …

Today’s Minute Music Review:

John K. Samson’s City Route 85 EP

The Weakerthans. How awesome are you? So awesome that your songs have become immediate, and poignant, reminders of many events in my life.

These songs are bookmarks that snap me back to nervous first encounters, drunken nights in small apartments and foolish moments of love and win.

John K. Samson is the lead singer of The Weakerthans and has released his first solo effort in over a decade.

City Route 85 is a timid reminder of why we all loved The Weakerthans. The music is simple, lyrics beautiful, and the whole package is (relatable). The man is an intelligent and engaging storyteller. He’s reviving a lost art. Samson is our generation’s equivalent of a bard.

Over the next while, Samson intends to release a number of EPs that all tell stories of his home province’s roads. Keep an ear out –

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Intro

Well, as far as introductions go, you aren't gonna get much from me. This is going to just be a place where I dump thoughts.

It's 11am, plumbers are in the basement jackhammering away. I'm gonna try to squeeze in a nap - despite the noise.

Didn't sleep at all last night. Tossed and turned and couldn't slow my brain down.

It was one of those situations where events seem to conspire against you. A lot is going on, and my brain was trying to work them all out at the same time. It's a bottleneck.

As the night drew on, all I kept thinking was "If I fall asleep right now I'll get X hours of sleep". But that puts more pressure on me, and sleep became even more elusive.

Having all that time to ruminate does have hidden benefits. In the silence, I heard her hum in her sleep. A little song, just 6 or 7 notes. She says she hears music when she dreams. I feel like I got a little insight into them with that little song.