New bike?

My new bikes?

My new rides?

That’s me in my new Quest velomobile, with my DF and Alleweder behind me. In my dreams, at least. In reality, I stopped by Bluevelo for a test ride in the Quest when I found myself in Collingwood last summer. And what a ride it was.

Bluevelo’s owner, Randy, accompanied me in the Alleweder as I piloted the Quest for an hour-long ride through the rolling countryside around Collingwood. Although I’ve lusted after the Quest for several years, it was my first time actually sitting in a velomobile. Indeed, it was my first time riding a recumbent. Hell, it was even my first time on a trike in nearly 40 years. And the Quest is a lot more sleek than the trike I used to power along East York sidewalks in the 1970s.

Randy and I set out on a warm sunny morning, first winding our way through local traffic and an industrial area before hitting the open roads just outside town. Riding a recumbent is all kinds of different from an upright bike. You grow accustomed to the sitting posture quickly enough, but leg muscles that are used to pushing down on pedals in a particular way take a little while longer to adapt to the legs-forward position. I thought my legs were going to fall off when we rounded the first corner, barely a couple of minutes into the ride. But it got better from there.

Coming from the world of upright two-wheelers, I quickly encountered a few things that required getting used to:

  • The steering felt a lot more twitchy than I’m used to. I’m sure it’s just a matter of getting used to the steering tiller and using two front wheels instead of leaning to control my direction. I was already riding more smoothly by the end of my hour-long ride so the twitchiness would probably be gone entirely after a couple of days of regular riding.
  • It’s heavy. No amount of aerodynamic fairing will help you climb a hill. I’m used to pulling a heavy trailer up all kinds of hills on loaded tours and I found the Quest’s 70-pound frame to offer a comparable experience. On the upside, you can go as slowly as you need to because you don’t need to maintain your balance. Feeling the weight on uphills and when starting from a dead stop would be a bit of a culture shock to a roadie.
  • Chain slap. Shifting gears at speed sometimes resulted in big waves traversing the length of that long chain from the crankset at the front to the cassette all the way at the back. I’m used to making soft shifts on my upright bikes by easing off the pedals a bit when I hit the shifter but found that I had to be much more conscious about the technique in the Quest. Again, I’m sure that it becomes second nature once you’ve ridden it for a few days.

And that was basically it; I’d catalogued all of the negatives and idiosyncrasies within a couple of minutes of pedalling away from the shop. The rest of the hour was spent marvelling at the wonders of the Quest. Although the weight makes it slower to accelerate, the full fairing and low-to-the-ground posture mean that once you’re going, you can keep going with little effort or really fly with just a little more. And fly I did. I never did much more than turn my legs at a steady pace but ended up with an average speed slightly higher than I would have gotten if I’d done the same route all-out on my road bike. The aerodynamic shape is incredibly good at maintaining speed when you coast. And I coast a lot.

Going up hills was undeniably more difficult in the Quest than on a road or mountain bike, but it was far easier to maintain higher and more consistent speeds on the flats. As for downhills, they’re ridiculous amounts of fun: push a bit at the top and you feel like you’re going to take off by the time you get to the bottom. If you get going fast enough, the inertia can take you over the next roller so quickly that you don’t even notice you’re climbing.

I could definitely get used to taking the Quest for a spin through the countryside. Which raises the question…no, I haven’t bought one. Yet. I spent a full two hours at Bluevelo that day and the pitch is compelling. I went in expecting (maybe even hoping) to find some kind of deal killer but every time I said, “Yeah, but what about <X>?” Randy had a great explanation. I’m probably not going to buy one this year, but I can definitely see one in my mirror, slowly reeling me in. The only question is whether a velomobile will be my next city bike or my next touring bike.

 

Lindsay to Bethany rail trail

A wetland view from the Lindsay to Bethany rail trail.

A wetland view from the Lindsay to Bethany rail trail.

Continuing my exploration of the many rail trails in the Greater East Dodgeville Area, I rode the Lindsay-Bethany trail last month. The trail runs southeast from Lindsay to Bethany and is the southernmost section of the Victoria Rail Trail, which runs all the way up to Haliburton. Like most trails in the area, the surface is highly variable, sometimes changing between loose gravel, sand, mud, grass, and crushed gravel all in the course of a few hundred metres. At the very southern end past Bethany, a portion of the trail has perfectly spaced and sized depressions; it feels like riding a mini pump track and is way more fun than you’d expect riding on a straight rail trail would be. Most of the trail is hard-packed double track that’s easy enough to ride on, but you do have to be ready for the occasional potholes and surface changes that come with a trail that isn’t quite up to Trans Canada Trail standards like the Omemee and Hastings trails are. I seem to say this of a lot of trails, but I wouldn’t recommend it for hybrids or road bikes. It’s quite acceptable on a decent mountain bike, with or without front suspension. Of all the trails I’ve been on recently, it’s also the most heavily used by ATVs: I encountered close to a dozen of them in the first few kilometres riding out of Lindsay on a sunny Sunday afternoon, though there were none on the last half of the trail to Bethany.

You always know where you are on the Lindsay-Bethany trail

You always know where you are on the Lindsay-Bethany trail

One thing does set the Bethany trail apart from all of the other trails I’ve been on recently: it feels very isolated. While most other trails pass behind backyards and farm fields, the Bethany trail spends a lot of time skirting large wetlands and valley forests while the Pigeon River and Fleetwood Creek meander back and forth with no farm fields or houses anywhere in sight. Even road crossings become rare on the southern half of the trail, making the whole experience feel more wild and natural than other trails, even knowing that the farms and quarries are still there, just a little out of sight.

Another rare sight is clearly visible at every intersection where the trail crosses a road: signs! No, not the stop signs, but honest-to-goodness street signs. It’s the first trail I’ve been on where every intersection is marked so that you don’t have to guess which road you’re crossing. It’s a wonder that more trails don’t have this simple nod to the fact that people may want to know where they are.

Read on for the ride gallery.

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Kingston to Cobourg, Day 2: Blow the man down!

The Millennium Trail in Prince Edward County.

The Millennium Trail in Prince Edward County.

Nothing gets you going in the morning like a hearty French toast breakfast, and Magnolia Meadows host Isabelle didn’t disappoint. An hour after polishing off a stack of French toast, a pot of tea, and a glass of juice, I was ready to hit the road again on Day 2 of my mid-July ride from Kingston to East Dodgeville. It was just a bit cooler than it had been the previous day, but still uncomfortably hot as I got underway shortly after 10 a.m. But the killer this day wasn’t the heat or the humidity; it was the wind. Blowing briskly from the west at a steady 40 km/h (and gusting to 60 km/h), Old Man Wind’r would be my nemesis for the next few hours as my route took me straight into his gaping maw.

The Friday ride was to start with a short stretch along the main rail trail in Prince Edward County, the Millennium Trail, before moving onto local roads for the majority of the ride into Cobourg. I joined the trail a short distance north of the B&B. I’ve shared trails with dirt bikes, ATVs, and even full-sized touring motorcycles, but this was the first time I’ve ever had to share a rail trail with golf carts: in Wellington, the trail goes through a golf course and carts zip onto the trail for short distances to get to the next hole. Fortunately, it only takes a couple of minutes to get past the course and I only saw a couple of carts.

A causeway carries the Millennium Trail across a lake.

A causeway carries the Millennium Trail across Consecon Lake. I hope there’s a bridge at the far end.

This day’s route called for me to stay on the rail trail for 3-4 km and then venture back onto the roads for the rest of the day. But with the open road came my first taste of the headwind that would bedevil me for the rest of the day. After a few minutes, I scurried back to the trail and the sheltering vegetation lining both sides and keeping the wind to a minimum. Although the trail surface varied from smooth limestone dust to sandy double track and large gravel, it was far easier to maintain a good pace on the rail trail than to battle the wind.

Being beaten back to the trail turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the Millennium Trail was easily the best part of the ride on either day. The wind was controlled, the scenery beautiful, and the trail was wholly deserted: I didn’t encounter a single person on the trail after I passed the golf course on my way out of Wellington.

The only problem: at one point, my GPS and my printed Google maps disagreed over whether the trail continued across a bridge over Consecon Lake up ahead. Should I keep going on the trail or return to the road grid to get around this potential dead end? I decided that I’d rather have to double back on the trail than ride on the road if I didn’t absolutely need to, so up the trail I went. In the end, Google was right: the trail followed a causeway out across Consecon Lake and an old bridge did indeed span the gap that my GPS showed. And the bridge was a little more confidence inspiring than it was in 2004.

Most of the Millennium Trail isn’t in good enough condition for casual cyclists on hybrid or city bikes, but it’s a easily ridable on anything with wider tires. It was a pleasure to ride on a front-suspension mountain bike, but rigid forks and well-padded gloves would have done just as well. The entire trail northwest from Wellington is a great ride. Next time, I’ll ride it all the way from the eastern end of the County in Picton. But all good rail trails must come to an end and I rejoined the road to cross the western end of the Murray Canal outside Brighton. Away from the busy Loyalist Parkway, the crossing at this end of the canal is much quieter and allows you to skirt Brighton rather than going through the town on major streets. Highly recommended for all cyclists riding between Wellingon and Presqu’ile. Unfortunately on this day, with the open road came the fierce wind and the afternoon heat, kilometre by kilometre sapping my will to ride.

Lone jogger on a hot road

From the closed bridge on Barnes Road, a lone jogger plods down the deserted and very hot road.

I rode through the south end of Brighton, past Presqu’ile Provincial Park and toward Cobourg, my target for the day. I wanted to stick as close to the lake for as long as possible before joining the main road to Cobourg, so I took a chance when I saw a “bridge closed” sign directing me up to the highway as a detour. It meant I’d be rolling the dice for a second time in one day on a potentially non-existent bridge, but what the hell; at least I’d have a tailwind for a few minutes if I had to backtrack. Two and a half kilometres after the sign, a gravel barrier blocked vehicular access to the railway overpass on Barnes Road, but it was obviously still well-used by pedestrians. I hefted my bike over the pile of gravel and sat down for lunch on the bridge, just a few hundred metres short of the road to Cobourg.

At this point, it was clear that finishing the ride all the way to Cobourg would be a serious challenge. Although this day’s ride was planned to be around 25 km shorter than the previous day’s, the wind was taking so much out of me that it might as well have been 50 km longer. As I turned onto the main road west to Cobourg and back into the full-on headwind, I knew I was defeated. I slogged through Salem, Colborne, and Wicklow before finally succumbing to the heat and wind at Grafton, calling Risa to pick me up about 15 km short of our planned meeting place in downtown Cobourg. By that time, my pace had been slowing down so steadily that my GPS had been declaring Cobourg to be just an hour away for the previous 45 minutes.

I’d definitely do the entire ride again if I had the chance, but I’d order up cooler weather and a much lighter breeze next time. And barring that, I’d head east with the wind, rather than west into it. That said, I highly recommend the entire route I took. I’d make more detours with more time and more bike-friendly weather, but the route was an excellent combination of being away from traffic on backroads and quiet trails, together with scenic highways when necessary. If I’d been on a road bike, I would have had to stick a little closer to civilization for most of the second day. It’s one reason that I like doing tours on my mountain bike: it can be a bit more challenging if I’m just riding along paved roads, but it gives me a lot more freedom when it comes to selecting a route and making detours along the way.

I bracketed this ride with a bus trip to Kingston and a car pickup in Cobourg, but the trip could just as easily have started with a train ride to Kingston and ended at the Cobourg VIA station for a ride back to Toronto. Or add an overnight stay in Cobourg and a third day of riding to the GO bus in Newcastle or GO train in Oshawa.

The gallery from the ride is below the fold.

 

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Peterborough to Hastings rail trail II: New and improved

The Lang-Hastings Rail Trail before and after its makeover.

The Lang-Hastings Rail Trail before and after its makeover.

What a difference a year makes! I first cycled the Peterborough to Hastings rail trail last August, saying at the time that the trail was “challenging” because of the relative lack of summer maintenance. Back then, the trail was rough, somewhat overgrown, and best suited to a mountain bike with at least front suspension. At that time, a plan was afoot to improve the trail and elevate it from a “proposed” route for the Trans Canada Trail to being an official part of the cross-country walking and cycling path. Well, the trail got its promised upgrades last autumn and spring, was officially named the Lang-Hastings Trans Canada Trail, and is now an absolute pleasure to ride on.

peterborough-hastings-rail-trail-2013-3946

A beaver pond along the Lang-Hastings trail.

The trail starts at the southeastern edge of Peterborough and meanders east toward Hastings on the Trent River. Like most rail trails, it’s quite flat, with long gentle grades rather than hill climbs. It passes behind farm fields, beside quiet country roads, next to wetlands,  and between hills.

The new crushed limestone surface brings the Lang-Hastings trail up to the same quality as the Omemee trail to the west and is a vast improvement over the rutted and loose gravel double track I rode last summer. With a better trail comes more traffic: instead of cycling for 90 minutes without seeing another soul as I did last year, I encountered at least two dozen people riding the trail on a sunny Sunday afternoon in May.  There were even a couple of spandex-clad roadies enjoying the smooth ride.

peterborough-hastings-rail-trail-2013-4054

The trail ends at an open swing bridge over the Trent River

The trail head is a little awkward to access from the Peterborough end, where it doesn’t quite match up yet with the rest of the Trans Canada Trail to the northwest. Don’t make the mistake of trying to join the trail from Technology Drive in Peterborough; the trail there is wholly unimproved and still has rails and ties for about the first kilometre. Your best bet is to join the trail at Keene Road, a short distance outside Peterborough. There’s some roadside parking available there, or you can make the relatively quick ride from downtown with only a short section along a busy Highway 7 / Lansdowne Avenue.

Between Peterborough and Hastings, the rail trail has the expected mix of farm fields, wetlands, and very gentle climbs and descents. There are a few surprises along the way, including a pond created by an impressively long beaver dam that abuts the trail. After riding thirty-some kilometres east to Hastings, the trail ends rather abruptly at an open swing bridge over the Trent River, requiring a rather lengthy detour to pick up the TC Trail again on the other side of town. You’re best off bailing from the trail at 7th Line and riding into town along River Road and Park Lane. (Hint: take Park Lane, even though it looks kind of silly to do so on a map.)

Although I wish the connections at either end were more direct, I’m happy to have the Lang-Hastings trail brought up to standard. With more users will come greater pressure for connectivity and improvements for other trails, and that can only be good. Peterborough is at the centre of a network of trails that stretches from Uxbridge and Lindsay in the east, to Haliburton and Bancroft in the north, Prince Edward County in the south, and Renfrew in the east. As the gaps in existing trails are filled in and more of them are improved to be suitable for casual cyclists, you could be looking at the backbone of Ontario’s own Route Verte-alike cycling network.

Continue reading below the fold for a short gallery from along the trail, and compare it to last year’s ride along the same route.

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Road turkey

Road-running turkey

Near Millbrook, two domestic turkeys were foraging at the side of the road when I cycled by. One ran straight back into its field while this one ran up the road to the driveway and then ran up the driveway to the barn. Neither one took any notice of the car that passed by a few seconds earlier. So why did the turkey cross the road? To get away from the cyclist.

Major malfunction

Cyclist caution sign

Not only does this cyclist exhibit some seriously flawed technique, but he’s suffering a major mechanical malfunction too: those shattered rods flying in front of him must be the missing top tube and chainstays from his bike. The perils of crappy carbon frames.

Also, I notice that Mr. Stickman is carrying a few extra pounds:

Mr. Stickman is a little out of shape

Poor Mr. Stickman. He’s out for his first (and likely only) spin around the block this year, just trying to work off his winter fifteen and disaster strikes! I’m not even going to try to figure out what happened to his feet.

Secure bike parking in downtown Kitchener

The new parking garage at Charles & Benton in downtown Kitchener has a secure bike parking corral. Similar to Toronto’s bike stations,  Kitchener has two of these facilities downtown now with at least one more planned. Where access to Toronto’s bike stations comes at the cost of a daily fee or monthly membership, Kitchener requires only a one-time $10 deposit.

My hotel last weekend was directly across the street from the Charles & Benton facility, so I thought I’d give it a shot for locking up even though the city doesn’t recommend using the secure corrals for overnight storage. I’d rather take my chances in a secure facility than leave my ride in the hotel’s bike rack tucked away in the darkest corner of its own parking garage. By the time I picked up my pass at City Hall and wheeled over to the garage on Friday afternoon, the sun was out and it was a gorgeous day, in contrast to the mudstorm I’d ridden through just a couple of hours earlier.

Here’s a quick look at the still-shiny-new garage and corral. Cyclists get a separate curb cut and ramp into the garage (between the bollards on the right side of the picture), so there’s no waiting in line with cars or squeezing around lift gates:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s the sign at the front of the secure corral, showing cyclists how to use it and how to get access:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s my bike, complete with stylishly dangling shopping bag, ready to be locked up while I go spend the afternoon on the town:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s a sign assuring cyclists that the crowding problems will soon be alleviated. It was unclear to me if the promised additional racks were already in place or if there were more yet to arrive:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

And here’s a shot of my bike locked up among all the others in the corral. This was as crowded as it got all weekend long:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

This was 3 p.m. on Friday. Granted, the rain earlier in the day may have kept some people from commuting by bike, but I confess that I expected to see a few more bikes than that. I do know that at least one other person was in there over the weekend because he or she left a water bottle resting upright on the floor beside one of the racks on Sunday morning.

I’m always deeply appreciative of all kinds of good cycling infrastructure—not just bike lanes—and get a little alarmed when it seems underused. If facilities like this are frequently empty, it’s much harder to make the case to maintain them, never mind install more of them. With a rock music festival going on just a block away all weekend, I was keenly aware that my little bike was taking up the equivalent of five parking spots for cars. I’m assuming that the seeming lack of use was from a combination of the weather discouraging cyclists that day and the newness of the lockup which has only been open for a couple of months. Getting access also requires in-person registration during business hours a few blocks away at City Hall. There are a lot of bikes in Kitchener and I’ve got to think that it’ll be more heavily used as word gets out and more people register. I also think that the two big hotels within one block of this new garage should partner with Kitchener to publicize it and make it available to guests on a short-term basis as part of their room fee.

Guelph to Kitchener

The road from Guelph to Kitchener

The farm-lined road to Anywhere, southern Ontario.

First, a travel tip for anyone taking a bike into the York Mills GO terminal: the canonical way to get to the bus platforms is to go into the York Mills Centre at the northeast corner of Yonge and York Mills, take the well-hidden elevator up to the second floor, and then walk down a short flight of stairs. It’s not so bad on foot, but it’s an overly complicated two-step when you’re swinging a loaded bike around. It’s way more convenient to ride just a few more metres north up Yonge to the same portal that the buses use and ride in through that as if you owned the place. It’s not only a shorter and easier route to the platform, but it means you don’t have to shoulder your bike down stairs or make everyone in the elevator miserable. It’s also far safer. You won’t be riding into a fare-paid zone, so it’s not like you’re doing anything underhanded.

I made a multi-modal trip to Kitchener this weekend (I’ll write more about that in the future), taking GO Transit to Guelph and cycling from there to Kitchener on Friday morning, and then reversing the trip on Sunday evening. Riding the roughly 28 km from Guelph to Kitchener is unlike riding in the countryside anywhere near Toronto. Oh sure, you’ve got the same corn fields, roadside ruminants, sod farms, rural communities, and quiet country roads, but the terrain is remarkably flat. There were only two noticeable hills for the entire ride and even those were smaller than climbing up Danforth from Coxwell to Woodbine. I’m used to traversing the Oak Ridges Moraine or climbing hills on hills on hills in the Peterborough drumlin field when I ride in the country, so riding somewhere flat is quite a treat.

Highway 7 provides the shortest and most direct route between the two cities, but it’s not very pleasant to ride on. A more southerly route along Wellington 124 is about 5 km longer but it’s at least 10 km nicer to ride on. I took a middle way to Kitchener that had theoretical advantages over taking 124: the route along Fife Road is both quieter and shorter by almost 3 km. It also has a long stretch of riding on dirt roads, which doesn’t usually bother me. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t been riding in Friday’s rain, which begat mud, which begat a poorly functioning drivetrain, which begat sucking the fun out of the ride. I was insanely happy that my hotel room was ready three hours before check-in time. “How are you today Mr. Dodge?” “A little muddy.” “I see that.” In total, the ride from downtown Guelph to downtown Kitchener was 28.5 km and took 90 minutes in the rain with a malfunctioning rear derailleur that left me more or less stuck in an awkward gear.

Sunday’s evening’s return trip was sunny and warm (see the picture above) with a steady tailwind. I took advantage of the tailwind to ride the slightly longer return route along Kossuth Road and Wellington 124. Both of those roads have nice wide paved shoulders for most of their length and are easy to ride on if not quite as scenic as some of the quieter rural roads. The return trip was 30.5 km in just 75 minutes with a tailwind blowing all the way. Not bad for a loaded mountain bike. I’d recommend the Fife Road route if it’s dry and you don’t mind riding on dirt roads. I don’t think I’d do it on my road bike. If you want a smooth ride that’s relatively fast but with less traffic than Highway 7, take Wellington 124 and Kossuth Road. You’ll have to head either north or south to cross the Grand River into town; take whichever way is the shorter route to your ultimate destination.

If you’re so inclined, you can read a more detailed ride report below the fold.

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Public bike repair stands

I was riding downtown a couple of weeks ago and decided to pop my bike up on one of the newly installed public bike repair stands to give it a quick once over:

Old Faithful on a public bike repair stand.

Each of the three stands downtown (plus one more on the university campus) includes a full set of tools for most basic on-the-go repairs and adjustments:

Tools available at the public bike repair stand.

The stands even feature bike repair videos and tips, via a QR code that links to a helpful website.

QR code for bike maintenance instructions on the public repair stand.This is the kind of cycling infrastructure that I love: it’s incredibly useful for both casual and seasoned riders and just sits unobtrusively in the background until it’s needed. The only thing missing from the stand is a pump, which is probably the one tool that would be used the most. Susan Sauvé, a transportation planner at the city, told me via email that pumps were originally included with the stands when they were installed in July, but they all broke within a week. The city currently has more durable pumps on order from the manufacturer and hopes to re-install them soon.

My bike checked out fine on this occasion, but I definitely could have used one of these stands when my pedal broke near Grange Park last year and I needed to conduct some emergency repairs before finishing my commute. It’s good to know that if it happened again today, I’d be just a short 163 km ride away from this stand at the corner of George and Simcoe Streets in downtown Peterborough. The two other downtown Peterborough locations would be a smidge closer, and the one at Trent University a bit farther. The stands were installed this summer through a partnership of the City of Peterborough and B!ke, a local DIY bike repair shop. Oh, you didn’t think these were in Toronto, did you? Doncha know there’s a war on the car here? The last thing we want to do is make things easier for those dastardly bikers.