Monday, May 25, 2009

To Barrie and Back

Last Monday I came home to find a message from my nephew Kieran on the answering machine. "Hi Uncle Apple. [For this is what he calls me.] Umm, I learned to ride a two-wheeler. (Pause) That's, ah, pretty much it. (Pause) Okay bye."

Well, this was exciting news. And what's more, my mother was planning on visiting my sister in Barrie that coming weekend to buy Kieran a proper-fitting bicycle. Naturally I wanted to be part of the "two-wheeler-riding" celebration.

Since Barrie lies almost exactly 100km north of my front door, I thought I would ride there and back. Ideally, I would have avoided the monotony and general unpleasantness of riding out of the city, but our city's terrible weekend transit service meant that no buses ran until after 9am. So I woke up at 6am and was on the road at 7.00.

Nishiki, groggily allowing himself to be photographed. My camera needed to use its flash to make this picture turn out, and the flash woke my neighbour. Moments later, she gazed sleepily out her window and asked me if there was a thunder storm, and why I was looking in her window.

My route took me along Bloor to Dundas, which I travelled northwest to Weston Rd., onetime home of CCM Bicycles. Here I am at the corner of Weston and Eglinton.

Weston eventually joined up with Jane St., which was to take me all the way to Barrie. Here I am at the notorious corner of Jane and Finch, which actually looks quite a bit nicer that you'd expect.

It certainly has a lot more character than dreadful Vaughan, the low point of the ride. Not even Canada's Wonderland can save this odious stretch of "exurban" wasteland.

The best thing about Vaughan for the passing cyclist: its end. As soon as you pass Teston Rd. you're in the verdant pastoral glory of Jane St. south of the Holland Marsh.

This is quite literally two blocks north of Teston, with only that hydro pole support to remind us of the horrors four blocks south.

It had rained the night before, and the countryside was in all its late-spring glory.

Jane St. south of the Holland Marsh has this very wide paved shoulder, which is nicer than most bike lanes. Unfortunately, a 25km/h headwind somewhat impeded my enjoyment of it.

This wind was felt dramatically in the peculiar, flat, and rich-soiled Holland Marsh, where I saw a hummingbird.

Having negotiated the tangle of roads north of the Marsh, I was on my way once again on 10th Sideroad. The stretch from here to Barrie isn't as pleasant as the road to the south, but the terrain is rolling and very fun.

The rolling, not-as-lush landscape.

After four and a half hours of battling the headwind, I arrived in Barrie and was immediately fed and taken bike shopping. I wanted to buy Kieran's bike from a local bike shop that once gave me a free replacement for a stripped seatpost clamp bolt, but sadly it was closed on this Sunday. So we went to Canadian Tire, and Kieran got a Supercycle. I wanted something without suspension, but the only one that fit him had a suspension fork. His bike has a single front chainring with a guard only on the outside. Sure enough, during pre-ride fiddling, the chain came off the ring. If only he had some double guards à la Alan! Here is Kieran on his bike, my sister with my mom's bike, my brother-in-law on my sister's bike (with Ronan and India in the trailer), and me in my civilian clothes on Nishiki.

As I rode around the schoolyard with Kieran, he asked me, " 'Bi-' means 'two,' right? So 'bi-cycle' means two wheels, right?" He is a lad after my own heart! Here I am about to set off back home, which I did after some more eating and playing with Ronan and India (the former pictured behind.)

The ride home was glorious, thanks mostly to the 25km/h tailwind. I spent nearly the whole ride in my 46x15. I switched the route up a bit and rode back on 5th Sideroad, which follows Hwy 400 on the west rather than the east as Jane does.

It seemed like all the hills were descents on 5th Sideroad...

This one hill was long and gradual—a rare thing in Ontario! I will definitely ride 5th Sideroad north of the Holland Marsh from now on: it's quieter and prettier than the same stretch of Jane. But I do fear all the climbing in the other direction!

At the turn on to a far more northerly stretch of Weston Rd., the flags indicate my strong tailwind...

"Civilization" visible in the distance... On the run-in to dreaded Vaughan the road is smooth and slightly inclining. Combined with the tailwind, I was spinning out my 46x13 and probably travelling at about 40km/h. The tailwind cut an hour from my riding time on the way back.

Rather than riding down a clogged Jane St., I turned left at Steeles and right at Dufferin and came eventually to the Downsview subway stop. I was very happy to get away from the cycling-unfriendly northern stretches of the city.

And now, having written this post, I'm excited to ride once again the roads to Barrie!

Monday, May 18, 2009

OT: The Blue Jays, Pizza Pizza, and Their Nasty Accusations

My birthday, a sunny Sunday, my visiting mother, the Blue Jays, a bunch of strikeouts, and free pizza—what, dear reader, could be better? This was a glorious combination, surely? Alas not! No, no: A noxious, bitter, upsetting mix!

This weekend, you see, was my birthday. And my loving mother proposed a trip to see the Blue Jays. It was a lovely day, Halladay was on the mound, and all was cheery. The game itself went as well as one could dream. After a difficult first inning, Doc calmed right down and was dominant through six more, during which time his teammates scored eight runs. His dominance expressed itself in many strikeouts, which carried an added bonus: if the Jays' pitcher gets seven strikeouts on a weekend game, you get a free slice of pizza. Just present your ticket at your nearest location, and a Pizza Pizza pepperoni slice is yours to devour.

Well. This afternoon, after listening to another Blue Jays victory over the visiting White Sox, I went to the Pizza Pizza location at 585 Bloor St. W., at Bathurst. I presented my ticket, an e-ticket printed off by my mother. Immediately I was met with suspicion.

"This is a photocopy," the cashier told me, holding up my black-and-white home-printed e-ticket. "All the other ones are in colour." Here she referred to a stack of tickets identical to mine though printed via bubble jet.

"My mom printed my ticket on a laser printer. It's black and white. There's not much I can do about it," I said.

She went and got her manager, who, on further questioning, gave his name only as "Zi."

He concurred with his subordinate's assessment. "It's a photocopy. Look at these ones," he said, once again referring to the stack of coloured print-outs. He noticed that my mother's printer hadn't handled the Blue Jays' margins well, and that some text was cut off. "See?" Then he rubbed the colourful e-tickets between his fingers, comparing their home-printed paper with mine. "You can feel the difference. Yours is fake."

There was an excellent argument to be made. "You just printed out several copies of your ticket," they might have said, "and brought them to location after location, until you were quite full." Indeed I might have done that! But it would be impossible to prove! And so while there were grounds for suspicion, the fault lay not with me but with the Blue Jays, Pizza Pizza, and their shoddy ticket-checking coordination (a rather expensive sychronized barcode-scanning setup would do the trick.) And anyway: the tie goes to the runner.

That I hadn't hit print several times is certainly a testament to my honesty (and my moderate appetite—I am a cyclist, after all!). But it's quite beside the point. The point is that their actual accusation was incoherent. Why they thought I would photocopy a printout; why they thought a bubble jet printout superior to a laser; why my mother's economical choice of printing paper should impact my ability to enjoy a free slice — well, all of this escaped me.

Angered at the multiform absurdities, I asked Zi to call his manager, which he intially refused to do. Sullenly I sat myself on the bench and refused to leave. Eventually, in the background, I saw Zi on the phone. After some time, he approached to tell me that I would have to call Pizza Pizza myself. And so, after expressing my indignation at having been accused of unsuccessfully defrauding my way into a $2 pizza slice, I went home pizzaless.

From home I called Pizza Pizza. I talked to customer service, and explained the situation. They called Zi. After five minutes on hold, I was told that my ticket was incomplete and so there was nothing they could do. I hung up. Then I called back, and tried again; they called Zi, he gave the same story, and I was once again told they couldn't accept my ticket. I asked to speak to the customer service person's manager this time, and on I went. This person called Zi once again. This time I was told, "I don't know what's up with that location. I'll give you $5."

After having wasted the better part of an hour on a glorious day, however, I wanted an apology as well. And ten dollars! And so the manager's manager promised to call me, which shortly she did. I have now forwarded my original ticket and photographs of the offending printout, and am awaiting judgment.

There are lessons for us all in this vexing tale.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clive's Construction is Imminent

Today, a box arrived in Cleveland containing the following:
  • a Mariposa front rack
  • a pair of engraved Mafac 2000 brakes
  • a set of Mafac braze-ons
  • a Mavic 840 rear derailleur
  • a Stronglight A9 headset
  • a Zefal Solibloc pump
  • a Champion slapguard
Fenders and a Simplex right-hand shift lever are en route from elsewhere.

Starting Friday, Dan Polito will be putting the frame together to receive these many parts. Some time in June, it will arrive here and I will begin connecting the wiring, fabricating lights, making switches, and having it painted.

Until then, watch the Cicli Polito flickr page.

As previous readers will know, I spent a few months on the Mariposa wait list for a randonneur. Then Mike retired, so I got on the Velo Orange wait list, where I remained for 16 months. Then VO ceased making these frames, and I went to NAHBS in March and met Dan, who said he could make me a frame in around four months. He's a wonderful guy and a fine framebuilder, and this frame is going to be very special, with lots of cool touches. I'm excited to see what Dan produces!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Favourite Ride: Oakville-Acton-Oakville

Today was a glorious one in Toronto, so I set out on my favourite ride. I brought my camera along, planning to document the route. But I ran out of batteries about three photos in. Luckily I had quite extensively photographed it on a ride last fall. But the colourful leaves are a bit incongruous in an early-May post! Well, bear with me.

The ride is an exactly 100km loop. It begins and ends at the Oakville GO station, and has as its turn-around the lovely town of Acton. Acton is perhaps best known as the home of the "Olde Hide House" leather shop, with its slogan "It's worth the drive to Acton." Well, it's worth the ride as well! The loop is scenic and fun, with two tremendously steep ascents of the Escarpment, and some fun descending as well... It's all covered below!

I first rode these roads with the Toronto chapter of Randonneurs Ontario. My route is a very slight modification of the Oakville-Acton 120 Populaire. See the route sheet on that page for exact directions, and read below for my modifications. (Basically, pick it up at Lower Baseline Rd.)

I'll try to mostly avoid gear-discussion in this post, so I'll get it over with now! Here is my bike at the Exhibition GO station, ready for the train ride to Oakville. This is my Nishiki, which was my winter "beater" until last week. There was a 200km Randonneurs ride I wanted to do, but since I won't have my Polito for some months, I was randonneur-less. So I set Nishiki up as a "temporary randonneur." As you can see, he's quite nice! I used the Stronglight cranks (46/30) that were supposed to go on Marta's Fuji (the spider was out of true—it took some work!), wheels from yardsale find (Weinmann rims and Shimano 600 sealed-bearing hubs!), the Berthoud bag that's been sitting on my shelf for a year, and various other things from my increasingly incredible "spare parts" collection. It's a true pleasure to ride—the phenomenally narrow tread definitely feels nice when riding. (I couldn't ride the 200km, alas, because I couldn't get a ride to the start. Distant start-points and my lack of a car are the bane of my randonneuring existence...)

My newly installed VO decaleur. It works quite well, though it rattles (I'll bend the tubes.) A shorter stem would be a good idea for keeping the bag out of my hands. The bag is supported by one of the silly-looking, cheap, but functional TA Mafac racks which bolt right on to any Mafac brake. The bell dinged jubliantly and independently throughout my bumpy ride...

My modified route sheet! Highlighting indicates extremely steep hills...

Okay. I arrived at the Oakville GO station, took Lyons Lane north under the QEW, and headed up Sixth line. There's a bike lane, and suburban traffic of this sort for about 4km.

Then, before you know it, you're in the country. (Here my batteries died, so we're back to fall!) You take Sixth Line until you hit Lower Baseline Rd, pictured above.

Lower Baseline follows a river. There are nice views to the right.

At two points it dips down and crosses the river. The bridges are a bit rough, but the little climbs away from them are fun (and gorgeous in the fall!).

Descending toward the second bridge...

You continue west on Lower Baseline, then head north on First Line. This is farmland, and flat. But visible on the western horizon is the Escarpment. Small as it may seem, this is as close as we get to a mountain range in southern Ontario...

Heading west on Britannia Road, bound for Tremaine.

You keep on Tremaine until 14th Sideroad, home of the first serious climb. And very serious it is! I don't know the actual grade, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's 20% in parts. It's also quite long, tree-lined, and twisty. When I rode this in a 42x15 fixed gear, I got about a quarter of the way up before I gave up. Two weeks ago I was out of the saddle and pushing hard in a 42x27 just to stay moving. Today, a 30x26 allowed me to climb in the saddle. It was still tough going, but for the first time I was able to appreciate the beautiful view from the top!

One you reach the top, you head north on the plateau along Appleby line, which leads to a steep descent. This is looking back up from the bottom. (This is one of the sad-to-non-Ontarians ski hills in the side of the Escarpment.)

Then, immediately, comes another tough climb—6th Line/Nassagaweya Road. This is neither as hard or as pretty as 14th Sideroad. It's quite manageable at first but kicks up viciously near the summit. This is the view from the top. I think these two climbs would make my route ideal "Spring Classics" material! (Thus the "Oakville-Acton-Oakville" designation above!)

Once you're up the Nassagaweya Road climb, you're in my favourite country. It's a nice plateau with rolling roads and lots of swamps, ponds, and streams. It's mostly deserted by cars and cyclists and very peaceful. There's even a nice section of dirt road! (That's Nassagaweya Esquesing Townline, reached from 15th Sideroad.)

The next turn is east on 17th Sideroad.

Then it's north on Dublin Rd. This another beautiful, rolling road. You stay on it past 22nd and 25th Sideroad right up until Mill St., which leads into Acton.

The halfway point!

Downtown Acton! My usual stop is the Jug City convenience store, which has a nice bench out front. But there's also a nice little restaurant, and a Tim Horton's on the outskirts. Today I only stopped for 5 minutes for a Pepsi, and was back on my way...

You leave town on Churchill, descending into more beautiful country... Glen Lawson leads to 4th Line, which leads to 22nd Sideroad, which leads into Limehouse—a gorgeous, tiny town I unfortunately don't have a picture of. It's a highlight!

From Limehouse I head south on 5th Line (skipping the detours on the Randonneurs' routesheet) to 10th Sideroad, then south on 6th line. Here it's back to farmland. The landscape doesn't excite me here quite as it does on the Escarpment plateaux, but there are pretty farmhouses and fields, and views of the Escarpment on the right...

Navigating back to the GO station is pretty simple: 6th line goes all the way there (you need to head east a bit when you hit Steeles to connect back with 6th line). As you get closer to the city, increasing numbers of cyclists out on "training rides" begin to come out of the woodwork. Today a fellow on a carbon Orbea passed me and said, "Old school! Cool!" I tried my best to stay on his wheel and show him just how quickly I could move on my "old school" bike... but I decided that wasn't quite in the spirit of the ride, and let him go!

I'm allowed to be moderately competitive with myself, though, I figure. I completed the ride in 3 and a half hours today — fast for me, and leaving me half an hour for donut-buying at Tim Horton's before I had to catch the train back home...