Crash and Burn

So glad I wasn’t in the midst of that one. Even the best are vulnerable to being pitched over their handlebars or sliding on bare skin down the highway at top speeds.

This is just one of the incredible moments of this year’s Tour where super cyclists endure and compete over 21 days.

These guys are super humans.

They use up 6,200 calories a day competing for up to four hours or more on mountain roads.

They ride through the most difficult climbs in Europe’s mountain ranges, sometimes going from blistering sun to a snows showers in one ride.

Over 21 days they can average a riding speed of 50 kph. The winner can be chased relentlessly and finish first with only seconds over three weeks of difficult terrain and crushing heat.

Middle Aged Men in Lycra – MAMILs

There is a new phenomena on the road these days known as MAMILs, middle aged men in lycra.

All of a sudden accountants and middle mannered creatures are discovering the joys of wearing lycra and aerodynamic outfits while zipping down the road on a lightweight road bike.

It is a growing trend for a number of reasons. It is relatively easy for people in their 50s to cycle compared to running or playing rugby.

It is completely acceptable while cycling to wear tight clothes you would not have been caught dead in ten years ago or on the street. And those tight clothes actually make you feel fit and lithe, even if you would never be identified as such while wearing your business suits and socks to the office on Tuesday.

It’s a relatively affordable sport compared to, say, Formula One motor car racing.

And men can do it in packs, feeding their inner tribal needs.

Sometimes the tribal gang goes a bit off the straight and narrow and bumps into a bit of Neanderthal behaviour, which does not always end well.

That’s when the weekday persona gets a seismic shock and rationale comes to the fore. It reminds us all of the reality of taking risk – even for MAMILs.

Funny Cycling Antics

A sense of humour can come in handy on the road.

Cyclists can be very intense, especially the new converts who are filled with the passion of a new love. And tempers can flare when things go wrong. But as you see in the attached video, there are lots of comical things that happen.

It’s pretty much a sure thing that you will fall prey to a few comical antics yourself as a new rider.

It’s just about guaranteed you will keel over at a stop sign when you are learning how to use shoes that clip in. You will spend the first month using clips looking like the Arte Johnson  character on the old tv show “Laugh In”  who fell over on his tricycle. But you will be standing so you will have a month of scrapped knees and elbows or both. Hello seven year old learning to bike.

It can be amusing to see men with mature figures decked out in lycra  suits and heavy duty speed helmets fit for the Tour de France who pack a very rotund tummy carrying a substantial investment in beer.

It can be pretty entertaining to watch people invest heavily in the lightest carbon fibre bike frames, wear the lightest weight socks and clothes and then carry enough water bottles to double the weight of their bikes when out for a two hour ride. .

It can be  ironic when you see how some recreational male cyclists try to become more aerodynamic by shaving their legs in order to gain a nano-second of speed over their competitor. Then they race each other to the coffee shop for a butter tart.

It’s all a matter of perspective and seeing the humour in all of our pursuits.

Road Safety

There are rules of the road you need to know to keep alive. Cycling beside a massive truck can really drive home the need to be safe.

The rules are not universal. In some areas, you are encouraged to ride double file. Why? It takes a driver less time to pass a group of cyclists riding two abreast compared to a longer line of single file riders.

In some jurisdictions, you are advised to ride single file so you do not block traffic.

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This sign from a California jurisdiction advocates going single file.  In some areas, it’s an option – in other areas, it’s the law.

By contrast, you can view British government safety videos that advocate riding double file to improve your safety.

Find out the rules in your area. In Canada, search the website of the Transportation Ministry in your province or seek advice from the local police force. Good advice can be had from cycling club websites.  Don’t be too surprised if you get conflicting advice. It is an emerging field.

Cycling clinics offer tips on how to ride safely and learn the rules of the road. I highly recommend Pedal Pushers as a high quality, boutique company offering sessions in Collingwood, Ont., that provides sessions that are for women only. It takes out the intimidation factor for many women and is ably led by great cyclists who are friendly and helpful.

Visit http://www.pedal-pushers.ca or http://www.activelifeconditioning.com to see how the workshops can help you.

http://pedal-pushers.ca/womens-cycling-clinics

Out of my Comfort Zone

There are risks in learning how to ride and riding  – alone or with a club.

The growth of cycling has been accompanied by the growth in deaths of cyclists. In Toronto, there have been three deaths of cyclist this year by mid June. In the countryside outside the Greater Toronto Area, there have been two deaths of several well known, experienced cycling club members in southern Ontario.

It is impossible to ignore these stories when you are cycling. To be a rider means learning  to live with risks and respect the dangers on the road.

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Imagine you are riding down the road, keeping to the right of the road, as is the safe prescribed practice, and for some inexplicable reason, the driver in the car immediately behind you blasts their horn at you. It makes you want to jump out of your skin. It takes great control to not wobble or waiver. And it takes guts to patience and control to  ignore it and not flip the driver the bird.

“Share the road” is a sticker campaign to remind people  that the road is meant for both cars and cycling. But slogans don’t save you. Safe practices do.

Here are a few rules that can help you find your comfort zone and stay safe:

-ride to the right (meaning stay close to the edge)

-ride shoulder to shoulder in a double line when travelling in pack to ensure that if there are two riders abreast you are close to each other and visible

-give warning signs to cyclists behind you of trouble ahead that you can see to warn them of oncoming potholes, stop signs, oncoming cars

-use hand signals when preparing to turn the corner or stop

-stop all stop signs, and follow the same rules of the road you would if driving a car.

Riding in the Rain – to Conquer Cancer

Rain in Niagara

Riding is thrilling, elevating and exhausting.

But in the rain, it can be miserable, dangerous and even deadly.

The second day of the Ride to Conquer Cancer began with dark, ominous skies and the certainty of rain and thunderstorms ahead. it kept us moving as we headed out at 7:11 a.m. to cover 110 kilometers before the weather worked against us.

Spirits were high and legs were sore but the cyclists were intent. The weather held off longer than expected and we felt like we  beating the odds. After three hours on the road, the skies opened up and the rain came down slowly at first and then with increasing intensity.

Ahead there was a cluster of bikes, cars and confusion on the road. I tried to decipher what is was as I approached at 35 kilometers an hour. Rider down, bloodied and bruised, laying on the cement with police and ambulance on its way. A chilling vision and a reminder of how easy it could be that anyone of us could be the next to land on the pavement with the slippery surface.

We pushed on and the finish was in sight 90 minutes later. But the team practice was for all riders to wait and cross the finish line together so we waited in the pouring rain for ever so long, getting colder and wetter. Once we finally all regrouped, we pushed to the finish and were buoyed by the cheers of onlookers and supporters.

Soaked, chilled and almost speechless due to the fatigue and physical discomfort. But elated that we met the challenge and did the deed, raising $65,000 as team and working together to complete despite mechanical breakdowns, sore muscles and nasty weather. What a great experience. We were all ready to sign up and do it again in a minute.

220 kms to Conquer Cancer – Day 1

The glory of the deed done

I cycled 220 kilometers and raised $3,000 to fight cancer.  I didn’t think I could do it – but i did and it was a great feeling.

The Ride to Conquer Cancer is a great life experience that humbles and inspires.

You feel the energy of thousands of excited, restless riders ready to leave the start line to do the deed for which they have planned for months. There was not a dry eye in the place after the opening ceremonies and the moving stories of those who fight and lost their cancer battle. A video of O Canada song by a teenager who sang in person last year and lost her fight with cancer in March. There was not much noise as the assembled throng of cyclists were so moved that it was hard to sing.

And then off on the road, the feeling of a joint purpose and the thrill of the open road pushing, everyone pushing faster than they expected to go. Along the path were spectators cheering you one, survivors with signs saying “thank you”, “keep going” and some with a great sense of humour who asked with their sign”how’s your arse?”, which is a reasonable question for anyone who has been on a bike for five hours.

I travelled 110 kilometers in over four hours of riding. At the 80 kms mark I thought I could go for another 80 kms. but by 100 kilometers, I was like a horse heading for the barn, on a mission to end the effort. It was a great day and one more to do.

Collingwood – Ontario’s cycling mecca

Collingwood and the Blue Mountain area on Georgian Bay are a cycling mecca  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collingwood,_Ontario)

Cycling, hiking, kiyaking, beaches, golfing, and skiing draw sports enthusiasts in all four seasons.

The area is a haven for cyclists thanks to the great terrain including the 1,000 foot Niagara Escarpment, wide and paved country roads, expansive vistas of Georgian Bay and interesting villages with bakeries and general stores that offer many temptations along your path.

Any weekend in spring, summer and fall hundreds of cyclists are on the county roads and climbing the hillsides with a club, on their own or in small groups.

Thanks to the Collingwood Cycling Club, for $65 a year you can join, join group rides with cyclists who match your talents and volunteer mentors help you hone your skills.

The knowledgeable club members  help get you back on the road if you have a flat tire and make sure no one is left behind.

Different routes are set every week for varying levels of cyclists but any route is sure to show you great vistas, the view of Georgian Bay, rolling farmland or gorgeous hillside views.

That is one of the reasons cycling is drawing in so many new recruits. It’s affordable compared to many sports like golf, does not hurt your knees like running and its social.

What is not to like? Check  it out at http://www.ccnbikes.com or sign up at info.collingwoodcyclingclub.org

Riding to Conquer Cancer

The weekend of June 14-15, I will join about 5,000 cyclists on a 200 kilometer trek between Toronto and Niagara to raise funds for the Princess Margaret Hospital (www.conquercancer.ca)

The Ride to Conquer Cancer has raised $119 million in seven years.  It is Canada’s largest cycling fundraising vent and takes place in four cities across the country every year.

It has rode the wave of cycling’s popularity and encouraged cyclists to raise funds for a disease that affects just about everyone directly of indirectly.

Impact

I  first learned of the ride after the death of a friend Anthony Mosley seven years ago. My colleagues who rode in honour of Anthony speak of  the great emotional experience of riding with thousands of cyclists and the impact of being cheered on my onlookers, cancer patients, cancer survivors and others,

I will be joining a team of 21 riders called Abcon Angels. Each rider must raise a minimum of $2,500. I am riding in the memory of my mom who died in 1998 from kidney cancer.

The ride attracts all levels of riders from the lite road racers to friends and families affected by cancer who dedicate a weekend to ride for the cause. I plan for this to be my first and last but so many I know have found the experience so exciting or so rewarding that they return year after year, despite the rather steep task of seeking funds frm the same sources again and again.

Bonking on a bike

Every sport has its own lingo and road cycling is no different.

Bonking is one of those terms. It sounds nasty, and it is. (www.active.com)

Runners talk about “hitting the wall”,  when you can run no more. Bonking is the equivalent in cycling.

And you might be surprised how it creeps up on you.

Near the end of a 80-kilometer hilly race, I bonked. It was 32 degrees Celsius and 90% humidity. I was tired after three hours of pushing hard and was starting to feel my hamstrings tighten. I asked one of the seasoned cyclists with me if  I should keep going as the end was in sight or get off the bike.

She stopped with me and waited for me to stretch. All seemed ok so we went down the road, but it started again.

I swung off my bike and my legs literally collapsed underneath me. They started cramping and I was incapable of standing up. I was like a troll hunched over with my legs refusing to straighten. And did it hurt!

A support van with two great guys literally dragged me and my bike into the van and drove me home with the advice to soak in a cold bathtub of ice to stop the leg cramps. Doesn’t that sound like fun? I could not bring myself to do that so I put ice packs on my leg and the cramping soon subsided.

So now I too have bonked. And I hope it never happens again.