As the Tri-City News’ ad-hoc cycling reporter, pretty much any story on two wheels gets sent my way. But not all bikes have just two wheels. Or one rider.
You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can get him on a bike every couple of years.
At 106 years, Don Simpson certainly qualifies as old. In fact, according to Phil Reist, the driver of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Big Bike,” he’s likely the oldest participant to ever ride the 29-passenger behemoth bicycle that helps raise money and awareness to prevent heart disease.
Simpson was the captain of a contingent of spry seniors from the Mayfair Terrace retirement home in Port Coquitlam who took the Big Bike for a 20-minute spin on the roads around Coquitlam Centre last Friday. It wasn’t his first rodeo, though.
Simpson cycled the Big Bike when he was much younger — two years ago when he was 104. But he also remembers riding his bike as a boy around Vancouver’s Stanley Park and attending the six-day bike races at the old China Creek velodrome.
“That was our stomping ground,” he said.
So when it came time to climb aboard the gargantuan single-geared machine, Simpson knew exactly where he wanted to be. He ignored the requests of a photographer and cameraman to mount an outboard seat so they could get a clear shot of him pedalling, and instead scrambled — slowly, and with a bit of help — to the middle row at the very back. After all, who’s going to argue with someone his age?
And with a few last-minute instructions from Reist, a shake of the maracas and other noisemakers to ensure passersby notice the big bike — like they’re going to miss it? — they were off.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Simpson gets his photo taken prior to climbing aboard the big bike as captain of a team of seniors from Mayfair retirement home in Port Coquitlam.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Don Simpson, 106, is the team’s captain, and a veteran of riding the big bike. He last did it two years ago, when he was 104.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS And they’re off, with an appropriate message as their send-off.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Brian and Barb Corbould, right, lead some of their team members from Mayfair retirement home, in a little warm-up dance prior to embarking on a ride on the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “big bike.”
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Simpson isn’t the only centenarian on the big bike team from Mayfair Terrace. Jessie, who’s being escorted to the team photograph, is 103.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The seniors from Mayfair retirement home in Port Coquitlam arrive to ride the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Big Bike” on roads around Coquitlam Centre last Friday.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Simpson is not going to let a photographer and cameraman dictate his place on the big bike so they can get shots of him pedalling. He heads mid-ship.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Don Simpson, 106, gives the thumbs up for the big bike to depart.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The big bike’s pilot, Phil Reist, awaits his charges from Mayfair Terrace retirement home.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Big Bike driver Phil Reist gives the cyclists from Mayfair Terrace retirement home their instructions to stay safe and have fun.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Don Simpson, 106, gets a little help climbing aboard the big bike.
While the major rainstorm that was forecast held off, dozens of riders still got down and dirty at Saturday’s annual Donkey Cross cyclocross race in Port Coquitlam’s Castle Park.
The race was the first of seven that comprise the Lower Mainland Cyclocross series.
Cyclocross is like steeplechase racing on two wheels. Riders navigate a winding, undulating course for several laps that includes obstacles, a metres-long “beach” of soft sand, and even a stretch of snow from a local arena dumped into a corner. The sport originated as a form of off-season training for road cyclists in Northern Europe who would often challenge each other to get to the coffee shop in the next village the quickest. Often, that meant traversing farmers’ fields and hopping fences and hedges, elements that are still honoured in modern cyclocross racing.
A version of this article appeared in The Tri-City News.
It’s one thing to build a multi-use path, quite another to get walkers and cyclists to use it.
Port Moody accomplished the former with its $4.627-million upgrade of Gatensbury Avenue to make the steep, winding connector between it and the city and Coquitlam safer for motorists and add a $285,000 multi-use path (MUP) along its western flank for pedestrians and people on bikes.
The project was identified as an early priority in Port Moody’s master transportation plan, which was endorsed by council in March 2017. That plan will see the city invest more than $31 million over the next 20 years to make it easier to get around the city, and encourage more sustainable modes of transportation, like walking and cycling.
Ascending Gatensbury, though, remains a test of fortitude, leg strength and lung capacity.
Already the climb to the top has been dubbed the “Gatensbury Gasp” on social media by some pedestrians who have ascended its 12% average pitch over 1.1 kilometres since it reopened to traffic at the end of May.
But what does that mean for cyclists?
Always up for a good bike story, I set out to find out.
I’m not a climber. Descending is more my jam.
I ride up hills and mountains because I have to get to the top so I can turn around and speed back down.
For the most part, cyclists have avoided Gatensbury for years because of its narrow lanes that lacked a shoulder and its pocked pavement that made it unsafe at worst, uncomfortable at best.
Oh yeah, there’s also its perilous steepness, which ranges from 11.1% at the bottom to 18.3% in its final rise.
By comparison, Mont Ventoux, one of the iconic climbs of the Tour de France, peaks at 12% and the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium, that has been a decisive climb in big-time professional bike races like the Tour of Flanders, rises an average of 9.3% over its 1,075 metres over bumpy, tire-eating cobbles that can rattle the fillings from your teeth.
The pavement on Gatensbury’s new MUP is smooth tarmac, not yet heaved by straying tree roots or ravaged by winter freezes and thaws.
The path is also wide — maybe not wide enough to allow teetering cyclists to weave their own switchbacks to stay upright, but certainly wide enough for pedestrians and riders going uphill to pass each other easily.
According to Strava, an online app that allows cyclists and runners to upload data from their GPS devices, 43 cyclists have completed the segment called “Todds Gatensbury climb,” which is .94 km from the base of the hill at Henry and Grant streets to Bartlett Avenue at the top, this year. The fastest was Matthew Cox, a Port Moody cyclist who made it to the top in four minutes, four seconds. That’s an average speed of 13.9 km/h and well off the all-time record of 17.7 km/h by Brett Wakefield back in 2015, when the road was in much worse shape and there was no MUP. Some notable athletes have also tackled Gatensbury, including Canadian Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield — he did it in 3:49 in 2013.
At the start of the MUP, after a warmup pedal from The Tri-City News’ office in Port Coquitlam, I could only dream of such blinding uphill speed. In fact, I just wanted to survive without my knees, or heart, exploding.
The climbing starts at a modest 3.9% at Henry and Moody streets but by the time it hits its first switchback, it touches 17%. It’s about then I realize I’m still in second gear. I veer into a driveway to change gears because doing so under high torque in a difficult climb can blow apart a derailleur.
The second switchback is consistently around 15% but goes as steep as 18.2%.
But the nastiness is just getting started.
Looking ahead, the road straightens, the gradient moderates slightly and the end seems in sight. The bike computer says I’m doing 6.6 km/h but, gasping for breath and rocking side-to-side, it feels like I’m standing still.
Then, the road veers left to reveal its cruelest twist: more climbing, some of it is as steep as 17.3%.
I reach Bartlett Avenue 7:09 after I started the climb, the 25th-fastest — or 18th slowest — ascent of the segment recorded on Strava so far this year.
As I turn to cross the road and collect my reward — a speedy descent on Gatensbury’s smooth, new pavement — a cyclist on an electric-assist bike with fat, cushy tires, cruises nonchalantly by on the uphill side. He’s smiling, with barely a bead of sweat on his brow.
I love shooting cyclocross. Especially if the weather is bleak. That just makes the muck much more epic.
Leaden skies and rain might mean the end of summer. But for cyclocross racers, the fun is just beginning.
The Vancouver Cyclocross coalition kicked off its season of nine races in the Lower Mainland Saturday with the annual Donkey Cross at Castle Park in Port Coquitlam.
Cyclocross is where road riders go to wallow in the mud.
It was started in the early 1900s in northern Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit as their summer season wound down. The cyclists would challenge each other to race to the next town or village in Belgium, France or the Netherlands and they were allowed any route to achieve their destination. That often meant traversing muddy farmer’s fields, skittering along narrow dirt trails, hopping fences.
By 1924, cyclocross had become a recognized cycling discipline when the sport’s first international competition, Le Criterium International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris. But the sport wasn’t officially sanctioned by cycling’s governing authority, the Union Cycliste Internationale until the 1940s and the first world championship was staged in Paris in 1950.
A cyclocross race is usually contested on a tight, twisty route that includes several obstacles and challenges that forces participants to carry their bikes, over a barrier or up a steep, slippery hill. Saturday’s event included races for kids, youth, novices, masters and elite men and women.
BC Superweek is Canada’s largest, most prestigious series of pro bike races. Over the course of a week, riders from as far away as Germany and New Zealand converge in Metro Vancouver for nine races, most of them criteriums around tight, fast city courses.
This year’s PoCo Grand Prix was the first time the racers did their thing in the fading light of twilight and, for the men’s race, darkness.
The Friday-night party vibe around the course and the city’s central square was unrivaled, and the racers put on a great show, even if it was hard to see in the growing gloom.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The next generation of racers test their skills at the Kids Zone.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The entertainment doesn’t stop even as the bike race begins at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The women race past a photographer along the course.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The women round a corner in fading daylight at Friday’s Poco Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Kendall Ryan, of Team TIBCO, pops the champagne bottle to celebrate her victory in the pro women’s race at Firday’s third annual PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The early laps of the pro men’s race at the PoCo Grand Prix are held in dwindling twilight.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The pro men’s race speeds around the darkened streets of downtown Port Coquitlam at Friday’s Poco Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Canadian criterium champion Sara Bergen, right, chats with her Rally Cycling teammates before the start of the pro women’s race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS A replay of the women’s race plays on the monitor as the men await the start of their race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Bikes can even create art.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS A commissaire keeps track of the laps at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The pro women’s race sets off in twilight.
MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Mitch Kettler, right, pips Florenz Knauer on the finish line to win the men’s professional race at Friday’s PoCo Grand Prix. The third annual race was the first in BC Superweek history to be held under the streetlights.
“Ride,” she said, as the sun broke through the clouds. “You need to go for a ride.”
Of course, Princess of Pavement was right.
It’s been a dismal winter of ceaseless cold and snow and ice and rain. And it’s put me in a sullen state.
Last year at this time, I’d already put 1,300 kms into my legs. This year, it’s a third of that.
It hasn’t helped that the wintry weather also cost us nine weeks of road hockey.
There’s no doubt the lack of activity has softened my belly. And the diminished endorphins have soured my mood.
So when the morning rain turned to sunshine, Princess of Pavement prodded me. She knows the frustration of inactivity as injuries and school commitments have kept her from her beloved running for more than a year. She’s only just getting back to it, heading out for measured 5 kms when she has the opportunity; her smile lights her way.
But while the sun was out, an icy wind blasted up the river. We’re in the back half of March and we’ve ventured into double-digit temperatures maybe a half dozen times. Last year, the cherry trees were already in full pink bloom.
It was slow going into the stiff headwind. My ears chilled even under the flaps of my winter Castelli cap. I harboured no great ambition for the ride, other than 90 minutes of turning the pedals in fresh air; but it was so much warmer at home in the condo.
But at the turnaround, when the head wind became my booster, my mood lightened, my face warmed. My heavy legs suddenly became powerful pistons. I was a jet engine, rocketing along the flats at 35-40 kph with barely any effort.
It had taken an hour to get to the turnaround; it took only 30 minutes to get back home. Grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished.
This was originally published in my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
My feed is pocked with reminders of last winter, when the weather was mild, the roads clean and riding opportunities seemed endless; in the first two months I already had 1,000 km in my legs.
This year has been all about stealing rides.
Sure, there’s the whole job thing; earning a paycheque again does have a way of curtailing long midweek days in the saddle, turning the pedals.
But mostly it’s been the weather.
This has been a winter unlike most.
It’s snowed, a lot. So much in fact, even our weekly road hockey game was put on ice for two months.
It’s been cold. Thaws have been few and far between. And when they did happen, they were quickly followed by more snow and extended stretches of freezing temperatures, icing the roads and bike routes all over again.
So when the clouds do part, the temperatures moderate, and the roads are dry, it’s time to pull on the tights, layer up and steal a ride. Even if it’s just for 90 minutes or so. Before Environment Canada issues the next “weather advisory.”
Spring can’t come fast enough. The way things are going this year, it likely won’t…
For cyclists that can mean waking in the pre-dawn gloom to hunt down streaming feeds from bike races around the world because Eddy Merckx knows we don’t get those on mainstream TV. Or exchanging quips about the results from the latest World Cup cyclocross race.
Around here, some serious geek jones can be fulfilled by a ride to The Musette Caffé.
I’ve written about The Musette before. But that was when Vancouver’s favourite cyclists’ coffee shop was a hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley off a bike route.
In January, The Musette emerged from its secret spot to a highly-visible location on one of the main thoroughfares for bikes and cars into the downtown peninsula. It had been closed more than a year after the old site was bulldozed for a gleaming new condo tower, and the owners built out the new café. The wait was worth it.
The Musette has been a destination for Vancouver’s cycling community from the day it opened. The snacks are tasty and healthful, perfect fuel at mid-ride or as a post-ride treat. The walls are adorned with all manner of cycling bric-a-brac and memorabilia, from classic steel bikes to a collection of cloth musettes from various pro teams, to autographed pro team jerseys to route markers collected at the Tour de France and the Giro. There’s even bike racks inside the café so cyclists never have to be out of sight of their ride.
The new location takes that cycling geek chic to a whole new level. The memorabilia is still plentiful, with new discoveries to be made every visit. But the café now offers a full immersion experience into cycling lore and legend. The outdoor patio is constructed of cobbles. The communal tables inside are made of wood reclaimed from an old velodrome track in Antwerp, Belgium. The banquette overlooking the main floor area is modeled after the open concrete showers at the Roubaix velodrome in France where the Paris-Roubaix spring classic race concludes every April; the race’s winners are commemorated on little brass plaques affixed to each “stall.”
The attention to detail is stunning. Interior pillars are wrapped with ad banners from the roadside of the Tour de France. Order number stands are modeled after number plates affixed to bikes at the Tour and the Giro. The impressive espresso machine has been painted with World Champion stripes.
Stepping into The Musette is like walking into cycling, and everything that is great and colourful and historic about the sport. And yes, there’s still racks to park your bike inside. Although it was so busy on our holiday Monday FRF pilgrimage, we had to lean our bikes amongst the dozen or so already parked outside.
This post originally appeared on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
Keeping your head down on the bike is how you power through rough weather, or a bonk on the third mountain climb of the day.
This winter, it’s a matter of survival.
It’s been an extraordinary off-season. After a run of virtually snowless winters, we were hit hard in early December by three consecutive storms. The thaws that usually wash those snows away never really happened. Instead we descended into a weeks-long deep freeze that iced the land and roads and bike paths.
Now that temperatures have moderated, and most of the snow and ice has melted away, we’re finally able to safely get back on our bikes. But keep your head down and your eyes on the pavement ahead!
Because the consequence of our wintry weather is streets and bike lanes cratered with crumbling asphalt, gaping potholes, yawning sinkholes. A moment’s inattention can collapse a front wheel, pitch a daydreaming rider over the handlebars, destroy a season.
The work crews are out there, doing what they can to patch the pocked pavement. But they can’t keep up with the structural failings. The repeating cycle of freezes, brief thaws and subsequent deep-freezes expanded cracks into fissures, pocks into potholes. And with more cold temperatures forecast, it’s only going to get worse.
Still, a couple of weeks of warmer weather has afforded some chances to ride. The legs are still feeling the effects of the season’s sloth, so the routes have been conservatively flat, the pace languid. But the air filling the lungs feels good, the muscled fatigue is welcome. Because it means we’re actually out there, turning the pedals, keeping our heads down. Dodging divots.