Falcon Ridge: Quick and Dirty

by CycleChick on July 22, 2014

IMG_1270First, let me clarify that by ‘quick’ I am not implying whatsoever that at anytime during the Falcon Ridge mountain bike relay race on Saturday I was anything approaching fast. In fact, at one point, while momentarily under the delusion that I was going fast, Olli the Finnish Flash came rocketing by me – like a man, as Jonny G would describe it – and silently assured me I was not going fast at all.

‘Dirty’, however, is something I was. Not in the sexual slangy sense, but rather in the fact that I was covered in dirt. And blood. And sweat. And gallons and gallons of the highest octane (yet oddly ineffective) insect repellants money can buy.

The 24 Hours of Falcon Ridge mountain bike race is a much loved annual affair happening in a rocky lakeside haven in southeastern Manitoba. Racers ride a seven kilometre course for 24 hours, banking as many laps as possible. The event is open to solo racers as well as teams, and includes relay options. I can only assume that had I elected to do the full 24 hour solo event as opposed to the eight hour relay, I would be roughly six times more bitten, bruised and dehydrated – and most likely dead.

Some of you may remember my first attempt at this race two years ago. Some of you have enjoyed the video more than I think is normal.

This year I teamed up with Charlene, the lovely Missus G, a fellow lanky lady who loves to bike fast and knows a thing or two about staying upright on the technical stuff. While she was certainly the muscle, I was charged with coming up with a fun and creative name for our team, penning one only slightly more creative than ‘Andrea and Charlene’.

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As you may know, I am not much of a mountain biker. Part of this may lie in the fact that I do not mountain bike much. Although they say that people tend to like things that they are good at, I do like mountain biking in spite of not being good at it whatsoever. Regardless, it’s easy to say I prefer the nirvana of the open road, providing it stays under the rubber.

Although bikes factor highly in both disciplines, that is where the similarity seems to end. For example, I have never been to a road race where the preferred pre-race fuel was White Russians.IMG_1277

However, I think that would be a welcome change.

When a stray deer wanders onto the road, in addition to being lost and confused, they can be a also hazard. When a human wanders into the bush, it is much the same thing, but in reverse.

IMG_1292“…the fuck? Stupid human must be lost. Shoo!”

There are other things you will probably never see at a road race. For example:

Smiling exhausted people covered in blood, sweat, insect bites and beer.IMG_1293

Children playing barefoot. I bet their parents are hippies.IMG_1278

Men wearing red panties over their bike shorts.IMG_1298Ok, you might see that.

In spite of the laissez faire attitude, bike maintenance is still taken very seriously.IMG_1288

After all, we are not savages.

If winter biking is the most fun you can have with eight layers of clothes on, mountain biking is the most fun you can have falling down and being devoured by insects. By the end of eight hours, I looked like I had been pushed off a cliff into a pit of fire ants.

And yes, I was smiling.

Huge thanks to Bill Algeo and the Birch Club, and Dark Red Racing, who braved the relentless bugs to clear the course. Thanks also to Falcon Trails Resort who open up their beautiful little pocket of the world to a bunch of smelly (and somewhat inebriated) bikers. Apologies to Sweet Sweet Cheryl Koop, who narrowly avoided death (and barfing) while a passenger on my first ever attempt to drive a quad. Yeehaw!

Fantasy Tour Talk

by CycleChick on July 10, 2014

Le TourNext to my birthday, the Tour de France is without question the most wonderful time of the year. While the minions work furiously at whatever it is they do, I sequester myself in my office watching a shitty feed of the day’s stage on my laptop and pretend to work. Even still, as enthusiastic a fan as I am, trying to keep track of twenty two teams and one hundred, ninety-eight riders is damn near impossible. And so when the time comes to pick my team for the Fantasy Pool (which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds), I select my riders based on fairly unconventional, yet mathematically sound criteria:

On a scale of 1-10*:
1) how cute is their team photo?
2) how closely does their name rhyme with “Pantani”?
3) how nice (or hideous) is their team kit?
*10 = top marks, 1 = nothing to see here, move along

It may come as a surprise, but I rarely do well in the Fantasy Pool. No matter, rather than dwelling over the lacklustre performance of my good-looking, yet talentless team, I entertain myself by following the various dramas and side stories that inevitably form around this grand dame of sporting events.

This year the drama began long before the racing did, when Team Sky surprised everyone by cutting Sir Bradley Wiggins from their Tour dream team in favour of the younger and arguably faster Chris Froome. You have to admit it takes some balls to sack a knight, especially one with a famously bad temper. “FOUL!” The Brits cried! “FOUL BALL!” and furiously began growing their sideburns in protest. As you know, Wiggins was knighted by the Queen two years ago after becoming the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. As such, Sir Wiggo McPottymouth joined the impressive ranks of  Sir Elton John and Sir Jean Luc Picard, who will undoubtedly lay down their lives to protect Her Majesty’s empire should the unfortunate need arise.knights

Crashes are, without a doubt, the hockey fights of pro cycling. They are terrible things to watch, but add an element of excitement that gets bloodthirsty fans worked up into an incredible lather. We peek through spread fingers as our favourite riders hit the deck at speeds equivalent to being thrown out the window of a moving car. In addition to being horribly painful, a crash can change the outcome of the race faster than you can say Polysporin.

There was no better example of this than the series of crashes that caused Tour favourite Chris Froome to abandon the race in Stage 5. (Froome may have been a favourite, but only scored a miserly six out of thirty on my fantasy scale, so was not one of my picks). Although Sir Wiggo made public statements in support of Froome, I can’t help but think he is doing a celebratory schadenfreude chamois dance behind closed doors.

After being dethroned as the most hated man in cycling, Alberto Contador slithered back into the peloton a year ago after riding out (if you’ll excuse the pun) his suspension for eating steak (a.k.a. dope). He was a favourite in this year’s Tour until Stage 5 yesterday, where he got his ass handed to him, losing a whopping two and a half minutes to the equally diminutive, but less disliked Vincenzo Nibali. While ‘Nibali’ does sound a little like it might rhyme with ‘Pantani’, Nibali lost major marks with his hideous Italian champion jersey, which caused quite a stir among those of us who are petty enough to care about these sorts of things.Vincenzo_Nibali_astana-387563

The colours of the Italian flag clash so badly with the Astana team colours it makes my eyes bleed. This might be excused if they had actually bothered to run the flag stripes in the proper direction, but like my very liberal college drawing instructor once told me during an awkward discussion about sleeping with short men, it doesn’t really matter when you’re lying down.

Speaking of such things, poor Nibali defied all Italian convention by striking out with this podium girl in spectacular fashion. (fellas, you might want to look away)

Ouch.

Of course one rider who is always on my Fantasy team is none other than my adorable boyfriend Mark Cavendish. Even though his name sounds nothing like Pantani and his team kit is forgettable at best, he scores a clear three hundred on my Fantasy scale. If you are new to this blog, you may not be aware of the special relationship I have with the Manx Missile, but I assure you it is as genuine and reciprocal as it is fictitious.Cavendish

Needless to say I was gutted like a fish when he crashed out of the race in the final sprint on the very first stage. Crashing is nothing new to Cav, nor is causing crashes for that matter, but this one was different in that he was badly hurt AND admitted the crash was his fault. Perhaps in addition to dislocating his shoulder, he took a hit on the noggin as well.

And so I find myself in the unfortunate position of having even less chance than usual of garnering any points whatsoever in the stupid Fantasy pool AND having to find a new boyfriend.

And they say riding the Tour is hard.

In other news, Andy “Abandy” Schleck has withdrawn from the race, citing a knee injury from his unfortunate run-in with a spectator. It is 99.9% likely that Schleck would have abandoned on the wet and cobbled Stage 5 anyway “because it’s hard”, but the spectators this year have been an increasingly frustrating and dangerous part of the race. In the efforts to wow their friends with clever selfies taken from the middle of the peloton, these bone heads put their lives and the lives of the riders at terrible risk. selfie_2966194aI think even El Pistalero could be forgiven an errant elbow to the back of this gal’s silly head. She must have got him on a good day, unlike this guy a few years ago who wasn’t so lucky.t31_22016729

And so the Tour continues, and while I’m disappointed that Cavendish is out of the race, I’m happy to have his company on the couch as we watch the rest of the race unfold. After all, it’s my fantasy.

Nibali Photo: EPA via Daily Star UK.

Thoughts on Socks

by CycleChick on June 12, 2014

I don’t know about you, but if there is anything that keeps me up at night, it’s the mystery of what length of cycling socks will make me look as Pro as possible. Since I have no hope of ever actually attaining Pro status, the best I can hope for is the admiration of my fellow amateur cyclists and maybe one day being mistaken for a Pro by someone who follows tennis.

I searched far and wide on the interwebs for a definitive answer to this mystery, and came up with not much more than than a bunch of know-it-all forum dorks doing their best to out-dork each other. So I turned to my roadie friends, who take the subject extremely seriously, but apparently can’t have a discussion about the length of anything without turning it into something dirty.

And so I decided to take matters into my own hands and create this diagram (and associated notes) to help guide us in our collective quest for sock enlightenment.

Socks Diagram

Zone 01: The Triathlete Zone (i.e. sockless)
Unless you want to be mistaken for a triathlete at a group road ride (hint: you don’t), you must always wear socks. Period. While roadies are notorious weight weenies, triathletes are time weenies, forgoing the comfort of socks in lieu of the three second time loss it would cost to put them on. I suppose several hours of excruciating pain followed by a week of oozing blisters is somehow preferable to the humiliation of those precious three seconds added to your T1 time.Paris Al-Sultan

(Photo: Paris Al-Sultan by Howard Gadsby)

If you think I’m being hard on triathletes, believe me, it’s all in good fun. In fact, some of my best friends (including my sister) are triathletes. Plus, anytime I catch myself looking down my nose at them, I remind myself that to most other cyclists, roadies are nothing more than triathletes who can’t swim or run.

Zone 02: The Tennis/Gymnast/Cheerleader Zone
Itty bitty ankle socks should only be worn by gymnasts, female tennis players, and cheerleaders. Even if you do happen to fall into one of these categories, get your sports straight and wear some proper socks when you ride.
Zone-2-Socks
If you do choose to play in Zone 02, preserve a shred of dignity at least and remove the pom pom. Another possible implication of wearing socks this short is they might not be immediately visible and you may therefore be mistaken for a triathlete (see Zone 01).

Zone 03: The Pro Zone
The Pro Zone starts approximately 1 inch above that ankle bone that you bash on your crank or pedal when you don’t clip in properly, and extends to just above the bump where your calf muscle starts.Northwave Socks

Rowr. (photo from Betterbiking.com)

Within this basic zone, there is much debate among the roadie masses about what is an acceptable height. In addition to the fickle winds of fashion and trend, my sense is that where you feel comfortable has a lot to do with the era you started following cycling. Purists from the Merckx era tend to favour shorter socks, while later adopters start to creep dangerously close to Zone 04. Personally, I prefer higher socks as they tend to minimize my calves, which are not unlike those of a Russian shot putter.

Zone 04: The Schoolgirl Zone
I love knee socks. There. I said it. But there are times and places for that particular look, and a road ride isn’t one of them. High socks can be helpful on mountain bike rides to combat poison ivy, but if you are in the bush on your road bike, you likely have bigger problems to deal with than the length of your socks. Part of the resurgence in knee socks may be attributed to compression technology. The jury still seems to be out on this, but research is tending to favour the argument that with the exception of ridiculously long efforts, compression garments are best used for recovery, rather than performance. So unless you are ten hours into an ultra anything, or on your way to biology class, leave the knee socks at home, because they do not look Pro.Zone 4 Socks

Zone 05: The Stripper Zone
If your socks end anywhere above your knees, there are several possible reasons: 1) you are a stripper or prostitute; 2) you are dressed for Halloween as a Sexy Nurse, Vampire, or Witch; or 3) your socks are actually leg warmers, and are too big. Whatever the reason, when you are riding a bike, Zone 05 must be avoided at all cost.

The Question of Colour
Historical precedence and tradition dictate that cycling socks should always be white. Even the 1971 Constitution and Rule Book of the Victorian Amateur Cyclists Union says so.1962688_498644233579230_1766181094_n1903992_498644286912558_351189975_n

Someone posted this gem (albeit for amateurs) in a discussion following this article by Gianni about sock colour on the Velominati site – the definitive masters of the Art of Looking Pro. Like Gianni, I think nothing shows off off a nice tanned and muscular set of gams like a perfectly white pair of cycling socks. So hot. However, I cannot shake my natural abhorrence of seeing white socks with black shoes. Or black socks with white shoes for that matter. It’s just not right.

That said, sometimes we do need to loosen up and not take ourselves so seriously. Case and point, my current favourite socks are these Sriracha Socks from Sock Guy, or as I like to call them, Cocks on Socks.2013_Fall_SG-SRI

So in conclusion, while I will reluctantly concur with Velominati Rule 29 that states “socks can be whatever damn colour you like”, I would also respectfully submit that length does indeed matter.

Stay in the Pro Zone my friends, and we’ll all be better for it.

What Will You Tell Her?

by CycleChick on May 24, 2014

This post is in response to the increasing hostility I have encountered lately while riding west of our fair city. Today while out on a group ride, a truck travelling in the oncoming lane intentionally swerved into our lane, then gave us the finger. Over the last number of years, we have been repeatedly (and increasingly) threatened, honked at, and yelled at by people who think nothing of using their vehicles as weapons. The traffic in these areas is light, and cyclists make up a minuscule fraction of the ‘obstacles’ on the road. If this aggressive, entitled, and ignorant behaviour doesn’t stop, I guarantee it is only a matter of time before a cyclist gets killed. While I hate to generalize,  I have seen enough incidents to say that the majority of our aggressive encounters have been with males, 40-70 years old, driving trucks. I can’t help but try to imagine what these men (and I use the term loosely) are like when they go home to their families.

Her: Grandpa, Granny told me that today you hit a cyclist with your truck and that she might die.

Him: That’s right Sweety. I put a couple of other ones in the hospital too.

Her: Why did you hit them Grandpa?

Him: Well you see, Grandpa has a big truck and likes to drive fast. If I have to slow down a little bit, or wait to pass a bunch of cyclists, that makes me very, very angry.

Her: Will you go to jail if she dies?

Him: (laughing) No, honey, of course not. You see, she was riding BESIDE someone and that’s not allowed because then people in cars have to slow down or pass them. That can take five seconds sometimes. She was breaking the rules, so it was her fault that I hit her.

Her: Oh, that’s good. But don’t you have to slow down for other things? Like other cars, or people out walking, or tractors and things?

Him: Yes, but it’s not the same thing. Those aren’t bikes and they are allowed to be on the road. Those people pay taxes. Cyclists don’t.

Hey honey, it’s such a nice day outside, you should go ride your bike or something.

Her: No, that’s ok Grandpa. I think I’ll stay inside.

Kids of Mud

by CycleChick on May 23, 2014

IMG_5127Three years ago I made the executive decision that my son would no longer play soccer. Watching him run halfheartedly after a soccer ball in a swarm of other children was unbearably boring, and sitting on the sidelines listening to the neighbourhood soccerati discuss which private school they were sending their kids to was slowly killing my soul. I had to get out.

Thankfully, having no real love for the game of soccer, the boy put up little to no resistance. Not that he had a choice.DSCN2685

Kids of Mud teaches kids of all ages the basic skills and general awesomeness of riding a bike. The coaches are parents who love cycling, and we are all too happy to share this obsession with our impressionable offspring while they are still under the delusion that we know what we’re doing.

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I decided to help out and took a coaching course in the hopes that I might actually pick up a thing or two so as not to look like a complete moron. The course was great, covering all the basics like braking, climbing and descending, balance, turning, and so forth. It also covered non-bike related topics that are critical to all coaches – like conflict management, keeping everyone safe, and reminded us that swearing profusely or showing up intoxicated are generally frowned upon.

As cool as I figured Kids of Mud would be in comparison to soccer, I was wary it would share a similar Lord of the Flies ethos. While I would be lying if I said this was entirely not the case, the kids are – like most kids – polite, eager to learn, and unintentionally hilarious.DSCN4760My group this year is all boys, ranging in age from nine to twelve. I am well acquainted with Planet Boy, so it came as no surprise when they decided Kids of Mud should be renamed Kids of Flame Throwers, and that the skills they most wanted to learn this year included riding with no hands and doing wheelies.

The did, however, surprise me a little when we were out riding the other day. One of the boys behind me was discussing Very Important Boy Things with the boy behind him, and happened to mention how pleased he was that there are no girls in our group (the implication being that in addition to being generally icky, they are irritatingly slow). Ahem. When Kevin, the other coach, called him on it, he was quick to point out that Coach Andrea is a WUMMIN and therefore does’t count.IMG_2431

I have considered getting one of the girls from the faster group to ride with the boys one day to teach them a lesson. And by teach them a lesson, I mean crush their blossoming male egos. Katherine is a sweet and pretty pixie of a thing who rides her bike with the rage and hellfire of The Dark Lord himself. In terms of teaching this little life lesson, she would be perfect.

DSCN4870Or perhaps we could enlist former Kid of Mud Leah Kirchmann to teach them a little something about riding like a girl.Leah Kirchmann (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) wins

We ride twice a week from 6:30 until 8pm, from early spring until the end of June – allowing plenty of time to cover lots of topics in a variety of locations around the city.

We did an alley cat through the Wolseley neighbourhood, where a particularly talented and motivated hippy painted cartoon characters on all the fire hydrants. The ceremonial post-race beers were replaced with disappointingly lukewarm juice boxes.IMG_2515We did an evening of climbing and descending on Winnipeg’s only hill, the old garbage dump appropriately named Garbage Hill. The boys were full of bravado at the bottom and scoffed at our suggestion to climb up using a zig zag technique called “switchbacks”. This was short lived as one after another they attacked the hill at full tilt only to stop dead after a few pedal stokes and fall over.IMG_0758We’ve been fortunate to have trials experts come out and do demonstrations, which has taken the responsibility of teaching them how to do wheelies out of my hands.IMG_2204IMG_2424One night is devoted to balance skills, where ramps and balance beams are set up to teach the kids to ride in a straight line. We teach them to look where they want to go and the bike will follow. I am careful not to demonstrate these skills, nor attempt them when anyone is watching.DSCN4752 DSCN4726DSCN4712

Cyclocross night is always a favourite. I have observed that most children, in addition to being kind of short, are also fiercely competitive, even in simulated races where they have absolutely nothing to win or lose. I have also observed that, for some inexplicable reason, kids’ bike weigh roughly one hundred times more than adult bikes, making jumping barriers generally impossible.DSCN4966DSCN4967

Most of the kids would rather be covered with scorpions than have a grown up help them, so we watch helplessly as they repeatedly bash their bottom brackets, derailleurs, chainrings and pedals against barricades, shins, and each other.

One area the kids show a particular talent and enthusiasm for is heckling.DSCN4981Oh sure, they look cute, but don’t let that fool you. They are merciless.

Make no mistake, even with all of this teachy stuff, we have plenty of time to just ride our bikes, which is probably everybody’s favourite part. We explore paths, streets and trails – sometimes getting lost, but always going places and seeing amazing things that we would miss if we were home on our couches.IMG_2207DSCN4868 IMG_2210 DSCN4879 DSCN4862

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. After a long day at the office, the idea of riding around at 10km/h with a bunch of chipper and chatty kids asking a million questions is about as appealing as those scorpions I mentioned. And yet, after racing home to change, shoving a sandwich in my mouth as I sit on the toilet tying my shoes yelling at my kid to get in the car, within five minutes of being there I am smiling and having the time of my life. The other coaches are my friends, the kids are all pretty awesome, and we all love being on our bikes.

Let me tell you, there are way worse things to do on a spring evening. Some probably even worse than watching soccer.

It’s Giro Time!

by CycleChick on May 9, 2014

GiroAs you are all aware, the Giro D’Italia starts tomorrow morning at 8:30am CDT. If we are lucky, by the time we get to work it will still be streaming and we can use the Friday Sicky’s* computer to watch it.

Of course it goes without saying that we must all wear at least one article of pink clothing tomorrow, regardless of gender. Fellas, I will have you know that no hot-blooded woman can resist a man with the sexual confidence to wear pink. Consider yourselves warned. The only other acceptable option is a zebra skin suit. Choose wisely.

To fully embrace the experience, here is an excellent primer of Italian Cycling terms from our friends at Pez Cycling to get you prepared.

Don’t worry, you have a few days to memorize these terms because for some idiotic reason this year the race starts in Ireland. Mind you, something tells me a concentrated (and likely well-lubricated) combination of Italians and Irish would make for one hell of a party. And probably lots of babies. Regardless, somewhere, Marco Pantani is spinning in his grave.

*a person who only gets sick on Fridays.

The Guerciotti Project: The Reveal

by CycleChick on May 3, 2014

Guerciotti-1

At long last I can share with you the finished product. The whole affair took longer than the gestation period of a human baby (exactly a year, in fact), and like most babies, it was a hell of a lot of fun to make, then almost broke my back, and, in spite of a multitude of imperfections, I love it to pieces.

For those of you who followed the build, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. For those that didn’t, and as a reminder to the rest, here is where we started.IMG_4945IMG_4947 copyIMG_4949

In spite of ‘great bones’ – not so pretty, but we all knew that with some lipstick and a little loving, she had real potential. This was my first ‘bike makeover’ (the guys hate it when I call it that). I detailed all of the steps of the build here in the blog, and even added a specific category here.  So if you want to know the whole story and have some time on your hands (like if you’re in jail or something) go ahead and give it a read.

With the eternal winter finally over, I send my newest minion Mark out yesterday to take pictures of the finished bike, which I brought to HQ in my car, wrapped in sixteen layers of bubble wrap.

So without further ado, here she is in all her splendid purpleness.

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Here are the bike geek particulars:

Stem and Handlebars – Ambrosio (Natural Cycle)
Brake hoods and levers – TRP Tektro (new)
Decals – Cyclomondo, Australia
Front wheel – Ambrosio  (donated by Coach Rick)
Tyres – Panaracer Paselas (new)
Crank & 53 Chainring – Gipiemme (came with frame)
Brakes – Campagnolo (donated by Brad Enns)
Back Wheel – Mavic (donated by Coach Rick)
Freewheel Hub – Campagnolo (new)
Seatpost – Campagnolo  (donated by Coach Rick)
Saddle – Selle San Marco Royale (donated by Andrew at Natural Cycle)
DT Shifters – Campagnolo (Recycle a Bicycle, New York)

There is nothing terribly fancy or expensive about this bike. But every single piece of it has a story, and roughly a million people helped make this build possible. First, Johnny S. and Cheryl who wanted this frame to get some TLC.. Brad helped get the stem unstuck and donated brakes. D.O.D and Lyle provided valuable welding services. Brother Al ordered the fancy decals, and wisely stayed away when I installed them. Adrian from Olympia and Andrew from Natural Cycle provided hours (yes hours) of advice, help and encouragement. Paul at Villian Ride Co. lovingly sanded, filled, and powder-coated the frame, all while dealing with my neurotic panic attacks about the colour. Coach Rick raided his basement to help me find the perfect parts I needed, and some I didn’t. Cousin Adam, Ian, Dan, David, Mark, and Louie from Twitter all provided parts that almost but didn’t work. Some I’ll give back, but hopefully the rest will be put to use in the next build! And of course Mark took these sexy shots.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the hubby for giving up countless hours of hockey watching to listen to me babble on about this project, and most of his tools, which have either been misplaced or broken.

And finally, thanks to Tomek, who at the start said this bike was an “ugly old Italian man”, which made me that much more determined to make it Cipollini sexy.

April 24

by CycleChick on April 24, 2014

TerryNot one to be deterred, Terry donned his favourite race kit and sparkling white shoes, and pumped his tyres to an immoderate 160 psi. “In your face, Mother Nature!”, he screamed in Italian, as he sped off through the slush, sleet and snow that fell from the terrible April sky.

Godspeed, Terry.  Godspeed.

Random Acts

by CycleChick on April 22, 2014

CycleChick headquarters has gone through some changes of late. The army of minions is ever-growing, and minions need stuff like desks, pay checks, orientations, and health plans. World domination, as it turns out, is quite time consuming. But time has this extraordinary habit of trundling on regardless of how much we attempt to cram into its oddly shrinking pockets.

Simply put, I’ve been busy. But it’s been a good busy.

Back in February, the day before I cheated my way to the Actif Epica podium, a crew of us went to a couple of rural elementary schools to extoll the virtues and benefits of winter cycling. Cross-cultural exchanges are always interesting, and I learned that rural children are just as small and no less loud than children in the city. JP and I talked about the kind of equipment, nutrition and planning it takes to do a winter endurance race. The kids sat quietly and listened, especially after we told them that we had promised ManiYeti he could eat the bad ones.actif-trials-demo-ktphoto-1actif-trials-demo-ktphoto-6Liam and Adrian from Fat Levels came along to do a trials demo, instantly making JP and I the least cool people in the building. The moment the first wheel lifted off the ground, the screaming in the gymnasium caused both of my eardrums to simultaneously explode.

actif-trials-demo-ktphoto-48actif-trials-demo-ktphoto-39The children (much less their teachers) could hardly contain themselves. At the end of the demo, crowds of adoring children surrounded the guys asking for stickers and autographs. Even I got to sign autographs, which might have had something to do with the fact that I told them I was Miley Cyrus. As if they would know the difference.

There is some debate over who first uttered the adage “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. Regardless of who said it, they were totally full of shit. In this woman’s opinion, men are (with some notable exceptions) pretty rad, and I think every woman who is so inclined should have at least one. And as for the fish, why should they be denied the pleasure of a bicycle? I had the opportunity to visually express this opinion when my friend Tony from Minneapolis asked me to design a t-shirt in support of Minneapolize, who will donate 100% of the net profits from shirt sales to help a non-profit cycling organization (to be determined via. reader poll on Twiiter). You can buy yours here (hipster not included).
MocksAs you may have heard, Winnipeg will host the 2014 and 2015 Canadian Cyclocross Championships at The Forks. Never ones for half-assery, we have some big plans in the works. Racers, volunteers and spectators can expect a three day cycling extravaganza that will make Interbike look like a church garage sale. Lots of work is afoot finding sponsors, volunteers, and people to bring me drinks and food over the course of the weekend. And of course, the propaganda machine has purred to life, starting with a kick-ass logo designed by Lucas Pauls. A preliminary website has been put up here – watch for more awesome details as they are unveiled. In the meantime, be sure to follow @wpgcx2014 on Twitter for up-to-the minute updates and plenty of cyclocrossy snark.

CX_Nat-headerI had the opportunity to do a little cross-border promotion (that may or may not have included some shoe shopping) in Minneapolis back in March. I visited Flanders Brothers, One-on-One, Hansdsome Cycles, and the delightfully quirky Alley Cat Cycles. When I first walked into Alley Cat, I felt a bit out of place – not unlike when I walk into a factory or pressroom in my grown-up business lady clothes and wait for someone to shout “the stripper’s here!”.  Nevertheless, everyone was super welcoming, curious, and excited about the race. We’re lucky to have some good Yank friends like Isaac (aka @oldirtybiker) who are helping spread the word to our Americano neighbours. IMG_0553

Although roosters tend to be pretty tough, it’s been a long, cold winter, and we don’t really like the cold. It was decided by the establishment that it was high time to get some sweet sweet wool for Dark Red Racing, in the form of merino jerseys and caps from Cima Coppi in Vancouver, right here in Canuckistan. Cima Coppi had done a great job of the Fort Garry jerseys a few years ago, so we knew we were in good hands. The design features our beloved Coq Wallon, the symbol of the Wallonia region of Belgium, and yet I can’t help think that if Bruce Lee’s mom made him a Christmas sweater, it would look something like this.DarkRedRacingFront copy

Here you can see it in action, as modelled by Cousin Thomas and the Secretary.imageWell done. As you were, fellas.

There is no better time of year than when the pro cycling teams reveal their new kits for the season. We revel in the act of systematically eviscerating each one, down to the last stitch, pinstripe, and hideously misplaced logo – because nothing brings a community of critics together faster than our mutual snobbish disdain for what we see as poorly designed lycra jumpsuits. As such, when I am tasked with designing a kit myself, it terrifies me to near paralysis.

When James and Karin asked me to design Alter Ego‘s new kit, I couldn’t say no. In addition to being awesome people, they know what makes a kit cool, and were totally open to working together to make it so. The club’s signature colour is primary red, and I’m a firm believer that clubs should differentiate themselves as much as possible with the design and dominant colour of their kit (I’m looking at you Trek/Sky/Movistar/IAM). So the red stayed. We worked with the existing store logo and came up with a design that gives a nod to classic club jerseys, while incorporating more contemporary elements like contrasting topstitching on the shorts, and tone-on-tone dot pattern. Critics be damned, I can hardly wait to see it in action!Alter Ego KitYes my friends, it’s been a busy (and epically long) winter. But with lots of projects, new minions, and plenty of gin, we’ve made it through the worst of it. As race season starts there will be lots more to report, and plenty of cool projects to do. After all, there are always new pockets to be filled.

Epica Tour school photos by Kyle Thomas. Rooster wool in action shot by Mark Reimer.

Day 8: The Forbidden City

by CycleChick on March 1, 2014

Todd MortonIf you ask most cyclists where the birthplace of cycling is, the majority will say “Italy”. Those that don’t are likely either French or Belgian, and are most probably drunk. When I think about cycling in the classic sense, the pure essence of the sport and its history, I think of Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani, Gino Bartali, Felice Gimondi, and a score of other racers who’s names fly off the tongue like an exotic Italian buffet. I think of the Giro and of rich espressos drunk from tiny ceramic cups held by gloved and blackened fingers. And I think of Campagnolo. No other company embodies the passion and history of Italian cycling like Campagnolo, and today I am going inside the great factory – something precious few people have had the privilege to experience. I feel profoundly unworthy.

This morning is the first in eight that I haven’t woken up and dressed myself in semi-damp and rank-smelling lycra. It feels nice, but strange, and I still feel like shit. Under normal circumstances, the past week would have been appallingly difficult. But this week has been anything but normal. It has been glorious.

After a short ride in the Super Ban, we are met at the front entrance of the Campagnolo factory by our host, Joshua Riddle. His name is appropriate, given the fact that he is something of an anomaly. On first glance you would take him for a local – he speaks beautiful Italian and is completely at home here. But when he speaks English, it is almost impossible to identify his accent. A mix of soft European sounds mixed with a slight Southern drawl, and a twinge of … what is it? Australian? It turns out he is from North Carolina, but his mannerisms, his personality, his hospitality, even his fiancé, make him 100% Italian. Even Sergi, when I ask about Joshua, shrugs his shoulders and tells me “he is more Italian than most Italians”.

Nevertheless, I am notably disappointed when he does not greet us at the factory entrance with a top hat on his head and accompanied by an army of Oompa Loompas.Joshua RiddleThe inside of the factory is impossibly clean. But considering where I am I should not be surprised.

Campagnolo FactoryAlmost every single thing Campagnolo makes is made by a machine that Campagnolo made to make it. Every chainring, gear, sprocket and do-dad is inspected by hand and made to adhere to impossible tolerances. Then it is tested, in the factory and on the road by a multitude of engineers, scientists and professional bike racers._AAA1988_s_AAA1992_S_AAA2034_sWe are, quite literally, kids in a candy store._AAA2008_sI am particularly pleased when Joshua tells us about the rigorous testing Campagnolo chains are subjected to. They are built to stand up to the repeated application of incredible force, and three days ago I broke one.  I see the sideways glances of Jordi and my fellow riders and smile. I wish my boyfriend Valentino was here.

We also get a rare peek at “Mr. Ghibli” – the one man who is responsible for making every single Ghibli disc wheel that comes out of the factory. Made only to order, he does not make one wheel that will sit on a shelf. He works behind plexi glass and Joshua tells us they take very good care of this man’s health. If Mr. Ghibli gets sick, the production of Ghibli wheels grinds to a halt._AAA2038_sYou don’t have to be around other cyclists for very long to see the respect and reverence  people hold for Campagnolo. But walking through this factory, I am starting to understand why.

In spite of a new, more open policy at the factory, Campagnolo still has its secrets – vast parts of the plant where new technologies are built and tested that must remain hidden from our curious eyes and cameras. As Joshua leads us through the factory, he often skips ahead to make sure there is nothing lying about that we are not supposed to see. In addition to bicycle parts, Campagnolo makes parts and wheels for Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini, to name a few, and even made satellite parts for NASA back in the late 1960′s, when they knew more about working with metal than the egg-head science guys did.

If I make it sound serious and impressive, it is. But there are small glimpses of the fact that this is a place full of friendly and exuberant Italian craftsmen and women. They are clearly proud of their work – you can see it as we walk by – the shy smiles as they go about their task trying to pretend they are not being stared at and photographed by a crowd of curious onlookers. In one of the areas there is a dirty joke hanging on the wall. We are, after all, in a factory, where a complete absence of off-colour propaganda would be highly suspect. It’s written in Italian, but the combination of the picture and the use of the word “Sushi” is enough that I get the joke.

When the tour is finished, the next item on the day’s agenda is a short 55 km ride to the Astoria Winery in Arcugnano. We will be accompanied by Joshua, who will lead the group along with some very special guests, including Davide Malacarne from Team Europcar. I try to be cool. I’m not.Davide Malacarne_AAA2061_sIMG_6108 We get all kitted up at the factory. I have applied a special tattoo that Joshua gave me. If there was any company logo in the world I would even half consider tattooing on my body forever, I think this would probably be the one.

The ride is fairly relaxed, flat, and not necessarily the prettiest we’ve done. But riding with Joshua and the handful of very experienced riders he has brought along is amazing. I watch the pros and marvel at their smoothness, the casual confidence they have on the bike – no doubt the result of spending most of their waking hours in the saddle, likely since they were old enough to walk. It is a beautiful thing to see._AAA2076_SAnd then there is the obligatory stop at a castle for an espresso. Just another day in Italy._AAA2105_s_AAA2106_sWe continue to ride. The 55km route has now turned into 110, but I don’t mind. Joshua is a little stressed about being late for lunch, but this is Italy, and we are not German, so it’s all good. For the second half of the ride we kick things up and let the group break apart into natural pace groups. I am in heaven as we tear down the road in a fast and smooth single pace line.

We finally arrive at our destination, Astoria Vineyard – the makers of the official podium wine for the Giro d’Italia. As we turn into the driveway, the road slants up to a bit of a climb. By now, this is normal and I don’t feel the panic I used to when faced with going uphill. I stand and push the pedals, rocking back and forth to get the bike and myself up the hill. I pass the small gaggle of pros we’ve been riding with, and wonder why they are going so slow.

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Then the road turns a corner and I am at the bottom of what must be a 30% grade climb that goes up for about 500 meters to the top, where a crowd of people are waiting for us. With wine. And cameras. I panic – this climb is ridiculously steep, and on gravel, and represents the last pedal strokes of this incredible week of riding in the Italian mountains. The pros pass me easily, chatting. I can barely move the pedals, but I cannot walk up this stupid hill. Somehow, I make it to the top, and am greeted by the applause of a ridiculously stylish group of Italians holding cameras and champagne glasses. I am a mess. Many pictures are taken._AAA2186_SThen we are treated to such an incredible showing of Italian hospitality, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. In the front room of the winery, we are served a magnificent spread of antipasto, accompanied by a special edition Campagnolo prosecco made here at Astoria for their 80th anniversary.

_AAA2200_sIMG_6146_AAA2197_sWhen we are led into the lunch room I am already full and a little drunk – but unfortunately not quite drunk enough to not care about how awful I must look and smell. I sit down next to Benjamin Fitzmaurice, editor of Conquista magazine. Benjamin and his lovely family (his wife and two incredibly well-behaved little boys) were with us at the factory tour and have met us here for lunch.

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They are Australian, living in Switzerland, and we get along famously – something we attribute to the strange but undeniable affinity between Australians and Canadians. We talk easily about cycling, wine, family and Italy, and I quickly forget about my less than stellar appearance and odour.  _AAA2249_SBetween each course, glasses are rung with forks to get our attention. Dignified and imposing, the owner of Astoria rises from his chair at the head table and addresses the crowd in Italian, offering praise, respect and gifts to the Campagnolo family.

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These presentations are countered with a presentation by Joshua to Astoria on behalf of the Campagnolo family.

“Joshua parla!” Mr. Astoria announces, causing the entire room to fall silent. He presides over the room in a way that makes Don Corleone look like a waiter at Pizza Hut.

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Lunch is served in a progression of courses, each more fantastic than one before, and each accompanied by a perfectly paired Astoria wine. I don’t really believe in heaven, but if it does exist, I sure hope it looks like this.

The final presentation is extra special – each one of us from the tour is given a bottle of the 80th anniversary Campagnolo prosecco, complete with an 11 tooth cog._AAA2295_S_AAA2300_s10Life does not get better than this, my friends.

We wrap up the day with a tour of the winery, a veritable museum of cycling royalty, with some beauty queens for added colour.IMG_6182IMG_6184IMG_6186With that, what will probably stand up as one of the most incredible days and weeks of my life comes to an end. Looking back, it still seems like an incredible dream.

I cannot say enough about our guides – Sergi, Jordi, Pablo and Daniel. They were incredible hosts and I’m happy now to call them friends._AAA2169_s_AAA2192_SPabloDanielMy fellow riders were equally amazing, and this shared experience will always make us family. Augustus Farmer, the wonderfully snarky photographer from Peloton, is going to be stuck with me whether he likes it or not, and I have every confidence our paths will cross again. Joshua Riddle from Campagnolo made the mistake of encouraging me to contact him if I need anything – a privilege I will try my very best not to abuse. Much.

My heartfelt thanks goes to Thomson Bike Tours, for creating this incredible tour, and bringing me along for the ride of a lifetime. If you love cycling and want to experience the best riding the world has to offer in style and comfort, I cannot recommend them enough.

Ciao! Viva Italia!



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