Trying to Bicycle 50km with Hills

I knew it would be difficult but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be.  The other weekend, my friend had to take her bike into the shop for a tune-up not realizing that it’d take more than a day to tune it up.  It had taken quite a bit of rust over time — a result of water damage.  Sometimes it’d sound as if springs were going to just explode and fly in all directions.

Anyhow, while the weekend wasn’t due for a training session — I set out to go for a test run with my bike.  Discovered that the hills did take a toll on my endurance in my attempt to tackle 50km but that also my allergies were literally destroying me.  The weather had gotten warmer … trees were starting to bud, dandelions blossoming, pollen in the air … you get the idea.  I am quite the sight… looking like I’m crying all the time.

Test Ride with the GoPro
Test Ride with the GoPro

So as I make my way on to the East Don Parkland trail in North York, starting near Leslie and Sheppard — I soon run into signs indicating that parts of the trail were closed for construction.  Really?  Now??  Suffice to say, that it was a pain turning around and having to make my way all the way around to another entrance point on to the trail.

I only made it 35km … between the hills and allergies … I was just too tired.  On the bright side, I successfully tackled a really big uphill afterwards on the way home.

I was hoping to get a successful time-lapse on my GoPro.  This was a test run after all but I soon realized once I got home and uploaded everything onto the computer that it didn’t work out.  A 10 second time-lapse just doesn’t work well so after some research, I’m going to give the 2 second time-lapse a try — fingers crossed!

The Push to a 50km Ride

Over the weekend, I decided to take the opportunity to set up the GoPro Bicycle Mount that I picked up from BestBuy. I had attempted to get some third-party stuff from Amazon but they all failed to fit my bicycle handlebar properly. Apparently it is too thin.

Setting up the GoPro Mount
Setting up the GoPro Mount

I also attempted to set up the Blackburn bike pump holder on to the bicycle frame, but unfortunately — one of the screws that the Blackburn provided totally failed on me.  The screw head was messed up after I set up the pump holder.  Normally, I’d walk away and say that’s fine because it was installed but I had to make further modifications to the set up and now I couldn’t get bike pump holder off my bike.

The consequence of a single broken screw. Time wasted and the presence of the red toolbox.
The consequence of a single broken screw. Time wasted and the presence of the red toolbox.

I tried all sorts of tools and it just wouldn’t work so I ended up trying to wiggle the bike pump holder and most of it snapped off.  Oops, but by that point I didn’t care — I just wanted the bike pump holder off so I then grabbed a pair of pliers and worked at twisting the remaining part until the screw was loose enough.  Not cool as some paint was scratched off my bike in the process but at least I learned something and was able to get rid of the problem.

The broken air pump holder
The broken air pump holder

This time, we were going to tackle 50km make our way east along the Waterfront Trail in Toronto.  Unfortunately that particular trail itself wouldn’t make up for the full 50km so we tacked on some of the Don River Trail as well as the trail that runs through the Leslie Street Spit (otherwise known as Tommy Thompson Park).  We also accidentally ended up on the Taylor Creek Trail which was a nice surprise for us because it was quite the pretty trail.

It was a much colder day than last time and we fortunately had gloves and additional layers.  It was however, nice in the sun and once we left the core of the city and made our way into the Beach area — it was rather comfortable (albeit a bit too windy when cycling).

Having an opportunity to sit down at a bench dedicated to Larry "Hot Tub" Hayes.  Pretty cool.
Having an opportunity to sit down at a bench dedicated to Larry “Hot Tub” Hayes. Pretty cool.

Once we reached the furthest east we could go (or thought we could) — we sat down for lunch.  The view was great just to chill out and rest for a bit until some squirrel came along that was a little too comfortable and jumped right next to me and then proceeded to try and rummage through my bag.  I’m guessing that people fed the little critter a bit too often so I’ll refrain from doing so in the future.

Good view for lunch.
Good view for lunch.

The ride was a success but we were definitely feeling the burn near the end.  My quads will probably be paying for it tomorrow but at least it is for a good cause!

A Weekend with my Bicycle

With some great weather over the weekend of April 16th, I finally had the chance to work on my bicycle AND do some training.

So I woke up on Saturday and then pulled out the bicycle multi-tool that I had crowdfunded on Kickstarter some years ago.  Until now, it had sorta sat in my drawer but I was happy that The Nutter from Full Windsor was completely helpful to me as I worked on adding a new pannier rack.  I managed to pick one up from a local Trek store near my work.  It just so happened that they had a sale on so the discount was a bonus.

The Nutter bike multi-tool was helpful because I really had no idea what tools I needed to work on my bike...
The Nutter bike multi-tool was helpful because I really had no idea what tools I needed to work on my bike…

As I was adding on the pannier rack to my bike (a 2010 Trek 3700), I found myself fiddling around with the tools and even almost removing the wheel by accident.  Oops.  So I took a step back and made sure I knew what I was doing.  I had initially thought that I’d have to remove the wheel in order to install the pannier rack.

What I soon realized was my bicycle frame had specific holes in place for specific upgrades or components.  I also realized that I eventually need to get a bicycle stand.  Relying on leaning the bicycle against the wall is eventually going to drive me nuts when I have to pump my tires and install components.

Successfully installed! The new pannier rack on my bike
Successfully installed! The new pannier rack on my bike

So that was Saturday.  Success!

On Sunday, a friend and I began preparing for our 75km Ride for Heart by opting to train on the Toronto Waterfront trail.  I’ve never biked on this trail before so it was a pretty cool experience.  We managed to tackle about 25km by riding around some areas off-route after realizing that the route we took would only cover approximately 24km.

Using the empty spot where fold-up seats are to park my bike.
Using the empty spot where fold-up seats are (to the right) to park my bike and not get everyone’s way. [Photo via BlogTO]
On another note, because I live in the suburb of North York — I had to take my bicycle on the subway to the downtown core.  Now, one of the things that subway trains still fail to tackle is the transportation of bicycles.  This is why bicycles aren’t allowed on the TTC subway trains at certain times.

Surprisingly, I found the perfect spot to park my bike while on the subway.  I didn’t get in people’s way — I merely took up a spot.  Of course, if someone were to come into the subway train who required that space for the wheel chair — I would immediately move out of the way.  Today, there were seats galore — everywhere.  I was just simply enjoying the subway experience when suddenly I heard a, “Hey buddy, move out of the way — I need to sit.” — to which I immediately apologized and got out of the way, moving my bicycle aside.

This is when I came to the realization that he had just gotten on the subway and there were seats available immediately left of the entrance as well as opposite of where he was standing.  I guess he really wanted to sit down in those fold-up seats.  Can’t please everyone!

Aside from that peculiar experience on public transit, bicycle training was a success this weekend and the goal is to aim to tackle 50km.  Let’s just hope the weather will work out for us again!

Learning Bicycle Maintenance 101 from a MEC Clinic

As I mentioned earlier, I am pretty much clueless when it comes to bicycles but I can’t remain that way if I intend on cycling 500km on the Greenbelt.

So I decided to sign up for a 1 hour bike maintenance 101 class at MEC.  It only costs $10 so it is pretty affordable (based on cost of living these days in Toronto).  If need be, just skip a lunch!

I dragged a friend along because he happened to be experiencing problems with his bicycle chain and wasn’t sure how to address it.  There were 201 (more advanced) classes as well but I figured if we needed to, we could take those later.

The class itself was really casual and informal and run by a friendly bicycle technician at MEC with quite a few years of experience.  People from all walks of life showed up to learn at my class.

Bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner
A cool bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner

Most of the class was focused on fixing tire flats but we did cover some of the other major things.  Some major takeaways for me were:

  1. The differences between presta and shraeder valves for the tires.
  2. The steps involved to replacing or fixing the tire.
  3. How to clean and oil the chain properly.
  4. Determining the right tire tube for your tire.
  5. Why there may be issues with the bicycle chain.

In hindsight, the steps involved with fixing the flat tire make total sense but the lack of knowledge and understanding of the anatomy of the bike (not to mention information overload) is what hinders us from making the right decision on what to do first, next, and last.

Some notes that I took were:

Fixing Flats

  • Before trying to remove the tire, shift gear to the highest number (furthest away from the wheel) to avoid hindering the tire removal.
  • Unhook the brake noodle for V-shaped or cantilever brakes.
  • Recognize the differences in approach to presta and shraeder valves
    • Presta valves have a bolt and nipple to adjust when filling air
    • Shraeder valves are wider
    • Tire pumps are not always compatible with both.
    • Use the brand or labels as reference points to know where the valve will go and/or when checking for issues with the tire or the rim.
    • The tire bead (a wire encased in rubber within the tire) helps maintain the tire form and structure

Chain maintenance

  • Use a rag or old t-shirt and clean the guck or dirt off the chain.
  • The chain should be silver.
  • Don’t use grease.  Use proper lube — eco-friendly if possible.
  • After applying lube into the chain and NOT on to the chain — use a rag to wipe off any excess lube.
  • Excess lube or oil will only catch more dirt and cause more problems down the road.

Picking the right tire tube size

  • Refer to the bicycle tire.  It should identify the brand, the dimensions of the tire or type of tire (i.e. 700CC), the suitable tire pressure range.

Overall, I really enjoyed the MEC Bicycle Maintenance 101 Clinic.  I do wish they had example bikes that we could actually work on but I guess perhaps the cost might be higher.  It was nonetheless really informative and I may pursue the more advanced or specific clinics down the road.

In the meanwhile, it is almost time to start trying some maintenance on my own bike!

Some additional resources I found helpful:

Between the Bike and the Weather

With spring time fast arriving in Toronto, I am hoping to get started with some early spring training once I return from a quick trip to Utah.  I don’t know this’ll happen if temperatures continue to be looking to be in the low single digits.

A 14-day weather forecast from Weather Network starting from March 20th 2016
A 14-day weather forecast from Weather Network starting from March 20th 2016

I’m hoping that once I return from my trip to Utah, things will be significantly warmer for the first weekend of April.  I’ve been doing a bit of reading on training and it is suggested that cyclists training should start off with short one-hour rides.  I might even start with less than that if the weather is that cold.

I’ll also need to see if any of my toques can fit under my helmet and will work effectively.  I think I caught a brief cold in mid-late March as a result of wind chill and my toque was practically useless as I could feel the cold wind blowing right through.

In the meanwhile, I’ve focused on learning more about my own bike, a Trek 3700, a 2010 model if I remember correctly.  There’s a lot to learn and I haven’t figured out which bicycle maintenance book to buy yet — but a friend and I have signed up for a bicycle maintenance clinic at MEC.  It’s $10 for an hour’s worth of learning, and you don’t have to bring your own bike (which is good because I live a fair distant away from the MEC store in Toronto).  I’m excited to see what I’ll learn and be able to put into practice when I bring out my bike for some spring cleaning!

My bicycle when it was younger (and newer)
My bicycle when it was younger (and newer)

Between the bike and the weather, I’ve got a lot of figuring out to do…!

Thoughts on where to start when you know nothing

So I know I want to tackle the Greenbelt Route in about a year.  One of the first things I did was inform my friends and family — nearly all of whom pretty much just rolled their eyes and said something along the lines of yea yea, we expect you to do this so go and do it.  Now, I don’t know if I should be flattered that everyone has such great expectations for me — or concerned that so many of them perceive what I am setting out to do as an assumed success.

The current map of the Greenbelt Trail as of March 2016
The current map of the Greenbelt Trail as of March 2016

I’ve never done this before.  This ain’t hiking where I’ve failed (and fallen) before and continued where I left off.  The longest I’ve ever rode my mountain bike is 50km for the Ride for Heart in downtown Toronto.

Some of the things that top my concerns are:

  1. Can I still use my mountain bike?  I’m in the process of saving money for a home so I don’t really want to spend more money where I don’t need to.
  2. What upgrades do I need?  Or, what bike components do I need to replace to ensure success on this bike tour?
  3. I don’t even know how to fix a flat or replace chains (other than by force) — I’ll probably need to learn this stuff.
  4. What are the logistics going to be like once I’m on the road/trail?
  5. Can I do this without a car or car support?

Will start to assess my current situation once things slow down a bit with work and life.

’tis the Beginning of a Journey

Since I returned from my trip in Tanzania, I’ve been itching to do something new.  I wasn’t really sure why I was so restless.  Perhaps it was a result of being away for a month and getting back into the groove of things was a challenge, but I didn’t think so.

One day, I happened to be chatting with a bunch of folks at work about the Ride for Heart (disclaimer: I used to work (up to May 2016) for the Heart and Stroke Foundation) and one colleague happened to mention she had completed the 75km bike ride last year.  We were all commiserating amongst ourselves about how cold and wet the ride was last year, although I thought it was worse before in the past.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Ride for Heart, it is a fundraising event hosted in Toronto where two main highways (the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and the Gardiner Expressway) are closed down for half the day so that cyclists get to ride on these highways while fundraising for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Route Map for the Ride for Heart in Toronto
Route Map for the Ride for Heart in Toronto

I’ve cycled the 50km route for the Ride for Heart over the past 6 years and although I always wanted to tackle the 75km, things just never worked out.  When I heard that one of my colleagues had done it and toughed it out through the rain and cold — I suddenly felt as if I needed to take on the 75km as well, but it still wasn’t enough for me.

So I began browsing some training routes for cycling in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and I came across the Greenbelt Route.  About 475km long, it follows environmentally-protected land that surrounds Toronto and the municipalities (GTA).

Now the thing is … I don’t know the first thing about bicycle touring or even bicycles themselves.  The only thing I know is how to ride one.

Looks like I have a lot to learn first… this blog is to detail my journey…