Traveling with a bike

Over that last few years I have traveled with my bike to several destinations by plane.  Unfortunately, the airlines have decided to increase the cost to a point where it is always a coin toss whether or not to rent.  For instance, this winter I’m heading to Maui, on the way there I will have to pay $50 for a second bag plus $75 for an oversized bag (West Jet).  On the way home, Im flying American Airlines, which has a flat rate of $150 dollars per bike on a flight anywhere in Canada and the United States.  So…to take my bike on vacation, it will cost me $250 (plus a bit more as the Canadian dollar basically fallen through the floor right now).

Depending on where you rent, typically the longer the rental period, they cheaper the deal.  In Maui there are a few bikes shops to rent from; both offer mid level bikes with Ultegra setups, either mechanical or electric.  I priced it out for my wife and I and to ride mid level bikes for the time we were traveling it was going to cost $300 more then taking our own.

There are several benefits to renting a bike.  First off, you don’t have to worry about packing your bike and lugging it around the airport.  Secondly, you avoid the stress associated with your bike getting lost and or damaged.  On the flip side, there are extreme downsides to renting a bike.  For instance, if you damage it, break it or crash it, you will be on the hook for the price tag.  

My wife and I love travelling with our bikes.  If you are thinking about picking up a bike bag  there are several solutions out there to choose from.  Like with everything I do, I spend hours researching things like this so I make a smart purchase. Here is a short list of options to choose from.

On a budget…

Pay a visit to your LBS (local bike shop) and ask for an old bike box.  When a bike shop builds a new bike, they arrive in a perfect sized “bike box”.  I have heard of people doing this, however, I have never tried it myself.  You may have to completely tear your bike down, wrap it in foam, but a cardboard box is light and its pseudo hard shell offers some protection.  

Another option if you are travelling on a budget, use a hockey goalie bag.  I have several mountain bike friends that have used this method.  Tear the bike down, put in lots of padding and hope the baggage handlers treat it with some respect.  The good news is I’ve heard that many airlines don’t charge for hockey equipment?  I wouldn’t do this, but I know people that do.

Soft shell bags…

These seem to be the most popular bag right now.  I looked into three companies in my research.  Biknd, EVOC and Scicon.  Depending on your traveling habits and your mechanical ability, each company offers something different.  

Scicon offers the Aero Comfort 2.0 bag which only requires you to remove the wheelset, leaving the rest of your bike how it is, including the rear derailleur, handle bars and pedals.  This is definitely a bag for anyone with limited mechanical abilities.  If you plan to fly somewhere and stuff a few bikes in a car, you don’t want this bag.  Apparently these are the choice of the pros, problem is they are a bit bulky because the handle bars remain in place.

The EVOC Bike Travel bag is interesting because you can access it from either side. I took a close look at this bike and it finished a very close second to the Biknd.  They claim to be very light and provide a bit of padding protection in their walls. The thing that steered me away from them was their wheel system.  This bag only has 2 large skate wheels at the front, which means that you need to bend over to pick it up and set it down every time you move it in the airport.  I know this sounds a bit meaningless, but when you are dragging along another piece of luggage with you, its nice to have a bike bag with 4 casters on it.

Biknd offers their signature bag called the Helium.  The name comes from the two inflatable bags that protect your bike from either side.  This is the bag I own, so I can tell you everything you want to know about it.  For instance, it does a few things very very well.  For starters, there is no doubt it protects your bike very well.  The combination of air bladders and the strong tear resistant outer material provides a bullet proof exterior.  Another benefit is that it is quit small and can easily be packed in any car.  For instance, I can pack 2 of these babies into the back seat of my Mini Countryman or Jetta (yes, I said back seat, not trunk). This bag is also very easy to wheel around the airport due to its size and the fact that it has four wheels (the two front swivel).   For this bag to be the size it is, there are a few trade offs. For starters, you have to practically take the entire bike apart (wheelset, handlebars, seat & seat post, pedals, rear derailleur).  If you ride a bike with Di2 the battery has to be removed as well, which could prove to be challenging if it is located in the seat post.  I have also had problems with a caster breaking, the pump breaking, an airbag getting a puncture and a broken handle.  On the positive note, the Biknd warrantee took care of everything without charge.  I attribute all the issues of this bag to its first generation design.  I purchased a second bag for my wife, its the new version and they seem to have fixed all the problems associated with the previous generation.

Hard shell bags…

I originally wanted a hard shell bag thinking that it would provide the best protection for my bikes.  After doing my research, there were a few things that turned me away of them.  

  1. You can’t “squish” it into a back seat of a car, there is no give to a hard shell case.
  2. Each part of your bike has a separate place where it gets strapped into a hard case shell.  If the bag gets opened by TSSA and they remove the items, its virtually impossible for them to get it packed back up properly. We met a cyclist when travelling that had his hard case opened and his bike showed up damaged because they couldn’t close it properly.

Everyone travels differently.  I made the best selection of bike bag for the type of traveling I do.  I needed a bag small enough that can be stuffed in the back seat of a car, but solid enough that it provides my $$ bike with great protection.  Despite the problems I had with my original Biknd Helium, I would still buy another one today.  

The winter months -Training indoors

Cycling in the winter in this area is extremely tough.  Once the snow gets deep enough the riding is restricted to fat biking, getting out on the gravel bike that odd warm winter day or sitting on the trainer indoors.  Each one of these offers something different, I tend to choose the easy way out and head to the torture chamber in the basement for the winter months.

Riding indoors at home offers several advantages to freezing your butt of in minus temperatures during January and February.  Sessions are often much shorter, you can ride with normal cycling clothing on and you can can catch up on all those Netflix shows on your list!  

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine & Trainer Road software playing over top of Netflix on TV.  

For the best experience you don’t have to spend a lot of money on equipment, however, you need to be smart about what you purchase.  There are many different trainers out there and like anything else you can spend as much money as you want.  I tried out several trainers and ended up with the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine.  If you are looking for "bang for you $", the Road Machine is the best you will get for under $500.  I could bore you with all the countless hours of research I have done, but you need to trust me on this one.  The Road Machine is solid, consistent and extremely reliable.  I have used the warrantee only once after riding it for two years.  The peeps at Kurt Kinetic shipped me another frame, no questions ask (amazing customer service).

I pair my Road Machine with Trainer Road for the fall and winter months.  Trainer Road is a SAAS (software as a service) solution that makes training inside during these colder months bearable.  Its monthly cost is $12 and it provides hundreds of rides to choose from.  Along with your monthly (no contract fee) there are several different training plans to pick from depending on what it is you are trying to achieve.  Trainer Road also pairs extremely well with Sufferfest videos and has recently started providing online “Training with Power” webinars to its members.  Another benefit to using the Road Machine is its consistent power curve which allows Trainer Raod to estimate virtual power when paired with your Ant+ Garmin Speed/Cadence sensor better then other trainers in the same class.  Training with power is the way to go, no cheating power numbers, its proven to take your riding to that next level.

So there you have it,  my secret to riding during the winter. If you need a goal to work towards, plan for the Tour of Sufferlandria which occurs at the end of January each year.

If you are looking for a better idea of what Trainer Road is and how it works, check out the video below.

A ride to reflect…A ride to plan

For me, cycling itself is a form of therapy or as my friends call it, “cyclotheraphy”.  Spending time in the saddle alone allows you to take your mind off of the days business and allows you to focus on yourself.  This past Sunday, I was able to do just that. 

The roads were dry but the temps were below zero, I jumped on my cyclocross bike and headed south out of town towards Nottawa.  My selected route started at the Black Ash trail to Poplar Sideroad to Hamilton Trail and then south along the rail trail to Stayner.  The trails were soft from all the snow that had melted over the last few weeks, so once I got to Nottawa Sideroad, I decided to head west toward the escarpment on the asphalt.

Riding alone has a several perks, one of them is the time you can spend thinking about….well sometimes nothing, but mostly whatever’s on your mind at the time.  I spent this ride reflecting on my 2014 riding season.  It started off with a bang during the end of January and the Tour of Sufferlandria, followed by two months of trying to ride 250km on the trainer per week.  Endless hours were spent watching  Netflix and Sufferfest videos before the weather begain to turn warm.  All of my training was focused on one event in France at the beginning of July, Le Marmotte (175km 5200m of climbing).  By the time I got on the plane the last week of June I had already logged over 6500km all for the year.  Le Marmotte was an incredible experience; however, the rest of the riding I did in France was life changing.  I realized that there are so many places out there that I need to see….especially by bike.  For the remainder of the summer, my focus was on the local cycling club and riding my bike for the sake of riding my bike.  I forgot about uploading to Strava, I didn’t care how fast I climbed, I dismissed “segments” from my mind and majority of the time rode with my Garmin stuffed in my pocket (just to track my millage).  I spent time getting to know new cyclists, rode with people that I wanted to, and always, always spent time at the back of the pack.  I rode my bike and loved every minute of it.

For 2015, I have 10 cycling goals.  There are as follows, in no particular order:

1.       Ride faster

2.       Climb harder

3.       Always help at the back

4.       Always chase - Always attack again

5.       Ride more with my wifie

6.       Break a chain

7.       Wear out tires

8.       Tour of Sufferlandria

9.       Maui & Italy (Maratona)

10.   Remember why I ride

My ride ended after I had climbed up towards the Osler Ski club and flew home along Sixth Street with the wind on my back.  Despite the fact I was alone, I still sprinted for the Collingwood town sign (it’s what people don’t see that makes you stronger).

If you find yourself trying to plan your 2015 season, hop on your bike, take a ride and spend some good quality time thinking about what you want cycling to give you, there’s nothing wrong with a little cyclotheraphy!

Wet cold December roads….and hot lattes

Sometimes we get lucky in December and find a day that has plus temperatures and dry roads, this weekend, half of that equation happened.  After being inside on my trainer for the last two weeks, it was good to get pressured by a few friends to get out and hit the road for a quick hour ride.  The temperature was a steady 4 degrees and the roads were wet, so I put on the fenders and rear lights and we set out for a very quick tempo flat loop with the intention to hit up a coffee shop at the end.  We had chosen a fairly new loop to the area, lets call it the “Airport Loop extended”.  When Highway 26 was realigned, the Province had to repave the old highway before they could hand it back to the municipality.  In doing so, the Town of Collingwood and the Town of Wasaga Beach worked together to have a gigantic bike lane put in…a win win for everyone!

From Curries Fruit Market, this is a fast, 30 km loop that will take you a quick hour to complete.  Its ideal this time of year as there is no climb, so you can remain warm by constantly pedalling.  The only area of concern on this ride is the three roundabouts that you navigate through as you cross the new Highway 26.  It can be a little intimidating, so be sure to make sure that cars see you, don’t be afraid to take your time.  Our group all had high viz jackets on and flashing lights; which I think is mandatory this time of year with all the glum weather we have.  People could see us as we stayed together through the roundabouts.  Once you hit the new bike lane on Beachwood Road, its smooth sailing until the Poplar Sideroad turn off.  You can choose your route back, we decided to head through the outskirts of town, navigating to the downtown core for a well deserved latte at Espresso Post.

Happy Global Fat-Bike Day!

Happy Global Fat-Bike Day!  Actually, December 6, 2014 was officially the 3rd anniversary of a global celebration for all those interested in riding fat-bikes.  Urban myth has it that the holiday was started by a couple of very passionate Brits with the hopes to bring the fat tire community together.  

I don't own one yet....however, I have ridden them several times and would own one in an instant if I just had an extra few thousands $$ and enough room in my garage to store it.  Last month my wife threatned me with the..."no more bikes until you sell one" lecture.  That being said, she did say that our next dog will come with two fat-bikes, so maybe I should looking for a new dog? :)  

Fat bikes hit the scene a few years back with with 3.7inch tires or bigger and rims wider then 44mm.  The frames and stays have been designed to fit the larger tires.  They are typically used on snow and sand as it allows the bike to float on top of the surface.  Typical air pressures range from 5-10 psi which provides a very smooth soft ride over any terrain.  

A few years back several nordic ski centers began opening trails to fat-bikers.  Hardwood Hills in Barrie, has a series of trails open to fat-bikers during the winter months with groomed tails and rentals.  Around the Collingwood area, the Georgian Trail provides a great place to experience a fat-bike for the first time.  Venture onto the snowshoe paths in Cranberry Golf Course or the Eleventh Line trails.  Kamikaze rents fatties for $50 a day, give them a shout and reserve one for an afternoon of fun.

The best conditions occur on the colder days when the snow is packed and not slushy.  A word of warning....its only the beginning of December and the word on the street is this; if you rent one, you'll want to buy it once you return from the ride!...its happened a few times already.  

Get out and embrace the Canadian winter.

Escaping between flurries

Once the cold north winds begin to show up in November, I stop climbing.  I follow the simple rule that if your not pedalling your bike, your not staying warm.  All but one climb (Scenic Caves) in this area takes anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes to descend, with a good windchill, its smarter just to stay on the flats and pedal.  However with the warmer temps I decided to give it a shot.

Here in Collingwood we didn’t see the epic amount of snow that Buffalo did, however we did receive enough to get the locals excited about the upcoming ski season.  Most of my roadie friends hit the nordic tracks this weekend, since I don’t own skis, I opted for the trainer on Saturday while it poured rain and was able to get out for a quick ride Sunday.  This time of year, any time away from the basement and the trainer is always welcomed.  With warmer weather and threatening rain showers, I headed out for a quick loop on my gravel bike.  Cruising up Sixth Street toward the escarpment, its always amazes me how much more snow they get “up top”.  Today I decided to climb Grey 19 and descend Scenic Caves.  My theory, warm up on 19 and get down quick by descending the Caves (it’s only 1.5km long, so its the quickest to descent this time of year, two mins tops).  Between the climb and descent was an amazing messy gravel section. Its always good to get your gear filthy, makes it look like you were having a good time!

The overall experience was great.  With just over an hour on the road I managed to completely cover myself with mud, but more importantly I was able to escape the flurries we normally get this time of year.  It was only a short ride, but it still counts!

Just passed the 1/2 mark on the Grey Road 19 climb

Trying to stay outside…

November in Collingwood brings several challenges to those wanting to get out and put in those last few miles before the lake effect snow squalls sweep in and banish us to our trainers for the winter months.  From adequate footwear choice to proper tires, if you don’t have the right gear, you’re putting yourself at risk for good case of frost bite or an epic crash. 

Clothing is always the first challenge, it’s what separates the wannabes from the hardcore.  The minute the “thermal booties” stop working for you, it’s time to put the bike away for the winter.  I’ve had several pairs of booties, all kinds, all shapes, all different makes; they’re great for keeping cooler air off your toes, but the minute you introduce “windchill”, you might as well burn them.  Do yourself a favour, if you really want to ride in the cold weather, go buy a pair of fall/winter riding boots.  I picked up a pair of Specialized Defrosters last fall and I haven’t looked back since. Warm feet let you stay out longer!

Tires, the second challenge.  As the temperatures fall below zero and black ice begins to form, normal tires are no longer safe.  It doesn’t matter how much you ride, no one can stop a bike from slipping out from under them on ice.  Studded tires are great, they dig into those ice surfaces and provide extra traction on those snowy climbs. The first snow means breaking out the studs for me, better safe then sorry, after all, bike parts were made to be used, so put them on and wear them out.

This past weekend I donned my Defrosters, changed out my regular cx tires for studded ones and hit the trail for a 42km ride from Collingwood to Thornbury and back.  This ride is a “go to” route for us here in Collingwood during these off-season months.  The route gets you off the road, protects you from the nasty north winds and keeps you fairly close to home if the weather goes south (or north of that matter:) ).  If you plan it right there are two great places to stop in Thornbury.  If its the lunch hour, hit up the Bakery Cafe for an amazing sandwich.  If your just looking for an espresso and butter tart, head across the street to Ashanti.  

This time of year there is only one rule, if its nice out….somebody better be on a bike!

Heading south toward Collingwood on the Georgian Trail, Near Grey Road 21.

Heading towards Collingwood along the Georgian Trial, near Grey Road 21.

Ashanti espresso stop, Thornbury

The first snow.

This time of year in the Collingwood area, mother nature loves to play games.  While the local kids were knocking on doors in town ‘trick or treating’ in the wind and rain, lake effect snow was falling in the higher elevations around town.  When I woke up Saturday morning, Facebook and Instagram was full of pictures showing 4-5 inches of white stuff up on the escarpment.

I didn’t have time Saturday for anything but a quick ride out to Northwinds Beach on the Georgian Trail, up through a few neighbourhoods near Blue Mountain and back to town; so I was looking forward to a great gravel ride with a few friends on Sunday morning.  Mid morning, under cold temps (1degrees) and blue skies we set out for the ‘Goat Path’ a classic gravel climb named appropriately, followed by a short descent into the Pretty River Valley and an climb up Reid's Hill.  We took our time on the flats and descents, but for some reason felt the need to hammer the hills, after all we are cyclists.  By the time we got to Gibraltar, the cold was beginning to set in.  We opted for the slower gravel descent down past three stage for the views overlooking Georgian Bay, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Midland.  As we popped out on Grey Road 19, the bandanas came out to block the windchill on our faces as we rode back into town.  

This ride changes with every season, this time we were lucky enough to witness the beauty of what mother nature has to offer early in November, 4 inches of glistening white snow everywhere,  we couldn’t have asked for a better route for the day.

Download route Thefirstsnow.gpx

'Goat Path'

Reid's Hill

Magical Little Germany

With heavy WNW winds blowing this past weekend along with the rain, the leaves have some how managed to disappear from the trees, leaving behind a grey tinge to the forests.  However, that shouldn’t stop you from getting out and riding; with the leaves gone, you see things you don’t normally do during the summer months.  This past weekend I rode a fantastic local gravel loop.  Half asphalt, half gravel, this ride is great no matter what time of year it is.  The first portion of the ride takes you to one of the most scenic points over looking Collingwood.  To get there, you have to crawl over a few huge gravel rollers, but its well worth the work.  From there you venture into the a short section of the Pretty River Valley just to be side tracked for the quick but steep climb up Reid's Hill.  With the warm up done, carry on west towards the Kolapore uplands where Little Germany is nestled amongst swampy lands and thick cedars.  This is where the magic happens, sheltered by the forest canopy, the gravel road meanders and you nearly forget where you are.  Little Germany has no sign announcing its location, no population to be counted, but when you cross the bridge you have ridden through it.  Leaving Little Germany there is a short beautiful climb that winds up and around a few corners and pops you out at Metcalfe Rock, a popular spot for climbers and day hikers.  From here, venture on to Ravenna for a delicious lunch at the General Store and then head home via Scenic Caves Road.  

 Gravel rollers heading toward Pretty River Valley - great scenic look out point

Gravel rollers heading toward Pretty River Valley - great scenic look out point

 The base of the short climb at Little Germany

The base of the short climb at Little Germany

Gravel lovers take note…

Georgian Trail, just outside of Meaford.

Temperatures dropped this weekend, meaning one thing…the second part of fall has finally arrived.  Time to ditch the arms and legs and pull out the full thermo tights and jackets.  Despite the heavy north west winds that haunt us here during the autumn months, this weekend was perfect if you were looking to see some fall colours.  

Side Road 5, near Banks.

This is the best time of year for gravel rides.  Collingwood has kilometres of gravel, everything from goat path climbs to smooth rail trails.  If the winds are strong, ride from Collingwood to Meaford along the sheltered Georgian trail.  A great carefree ride that takes you on an “out and back” route through Thornbury to Meaford and back.  Stop for a coffee and some goodies (or lunch) at the halfway point, McGuintys Cafe in Meaford.  The Georgian trail is great for highbred bikes, but completely rideable on a carbon road bike, as long as you don’t mind the stone dust.  Most of us spend hours riding this trail in the bad weather on cyclocross bikes.

I spent Sunday venturing around the gravel backroads up on the escarpment, taking in all the colours the fall has to offer.  If your looking for a great gravel ride (on a cyclocross bike or mtb), head west out of town, climb 12th Sideroad, and spend a few hours riding the concession back roads, great anytime of year if you’re looking for a challenge.  As November approaches, get out on those nice days….there isn’t too many left before the snow starts to fly.

Thanksgiving weekend didn't disappoint!

Thanksgiving weekend in Collingwood was ideal for getting out on the roads.  Colder temperatures in the morning, and warm, sunny afternoons made for near perfect conditions for exploring the backroads before the colder weather sets in.  On holiday Monday I took in the Coffee Run with a few friends.  Battling the south winds paid off as we rode through the rollers on Concession Rd 6, the fall colours were at their best.  Unfortunately, the bakery was closed in Creemore due to the holiday, but we were able to grab a quick bite to eat at the Old Mill House Pub.  As we around the corner there were twenty bikes parked parked along the side of the pub, turns out it was the Barrie Cycling Club halfway through their eleventh annual Thanksgiving Monday ride.  It never surprises me to see this many bikes parked along the side of a building in this small town.  The foliage was so stunning that we rode home the same way, just to take in the view in the opposite direction.  

Hope you had time to get out and ride!

Looking south on Concession Road 6, 7km from Creemore

Fall is here...

The last few weeks in the Collingwood has proven to be one of the best autumns on record.  The foliage has been incredible, the mix of reds, oranges and yellows is enough to slow your cadence down forcing you to take in all the colours.  On October 4th, Ontario Parks noted that the colour change was at 60% and the leaf fall was 20%.  

Some of the best routes to ride this time of year include ascending the Pretty River Valley, descending into Maple valley and twisting along Grey Road 13 through the Beaver River Valley toward Kimberley.  The Thanksgiving weekend looks to be some of the best riding of the fall, just remember your bennie, sleeves and legs, temperatures are going to be in the low teens.  Get out and take it all in before the snow arrives.

Looking north at the mid point of the Pretty River Valley Climb.