Monday, March 29, 2010

adventures in cleats part wun

I buckled.

I finally decided to purchase those biking shoes with those cleats that will attach firmly to my trike pedals. Presumably, I can cycle more efficiently as I would be developing power on the backstroke (versus the upstroke on upright bicycles) as well.

So, when we went into MEC and purchased new biking shoes for me, I was really looking forward to seeing just how much more efficiently I could pedal.

Well...I haven't quite got that far yet.

Long stupid story short, the cleat on my left shoe tore off when I was trying to slide it out of the slot on the pedal exactly the way the instructions said. It turned out the bolts on the cleats themselves were about 1/8" too short and so were not physically holding the cleat itself in place.

Now came our trek to find slightly longer bolts and, well, we did find a pair that would fit and grip the cleat. The tops of the bolts were not flush but we didn't think that would make too huge a difference... did make a difference! So, the shoes were repaired here; with bolts that fit properly and would grip correctly. However, the cleats would not seat correctly on the pedal. That meant Adam having to file down the rounded tops of the bolts. Now, they fit properly, can be seated in the pedals correctly and all that is left for me to do is to practice clicking them into place properly and removing them without tearing the cleats out, destroying the shoes or otherwise making it nearly impossible to engage and disengage the shoes.

Adam doesn't like the shoes but I like them. You can't walk around on them. The bottoms are hard plastic with no tread and walking on the shoes will wear out the bolts...the same ones that we had problems with.

As I become accustomed to engaging and disengaging the shoes, I will feel a lot more comfortable wearing them on longer trike trips.

btw, the weather forecast for this upcoming weekend is calling for +24C...

Friday, March 19, 2010


Since the weather is supposed to turn cloudier, much cooler and damper, I thought I would head out for a quick trip today while it was still nice outside. At this time of year, you gotta take what good days there are 'cause you never know when some rogue blizzard or vicious drenching might take place. It's the last day of winter today and so the stormier spring weather is coming.

Long story short, I did a quick 6.9 kilometre trip this morning in bright, hazy sunshine. As I have no problems whatsoever in riding my trike on main roads (they're for my use too, ya know), I decided to head east on Hunt Club road. As it was around 10:00 am, I didn't expect to find much traffic and there wasn't too much though that's not to say there was none. Oh sure, I got to share the road with taxis, cars, trucks and the odd motorcycle (it's their road, too) but, for the most part, we all got along well enough. There was a problem with one motorcyclist who seemed to think it was perfectly reasonable to weave in and out of traffic, cutting off several other cars and cutting in front of someone who was trying to turn left onto a road. I hung back in the bike lane, hugging the curb, actually, and merely played the role of witness to all this. The words emanating from some of the other drivers were - uh - colourful to say the least and made all the worse by the evident indifference of both the motorcyclist and his passenger. Still, we all seemed to be able to get where we needed to go without any bloodshed (as far as I knew).

The one other type of driver that I felt worth mentioning is the transport truck driver. This morning and universally, I found each one I encountered (about three in total) acted in the most careful and courteous manner. I felt safe sharing the road with these rumbling behemoths and had no problem whatsoever when I needed to merge across two lanes of traffic and into a left turn lane. While I have no problems driving my trike in traffic, am keenly aware of the fact that I am a very low sitting small object and that most other drivers may not see me despite the tall and very orange attention getting flag that flaps about. I tend to pull over or slow down until it is absolutely safe to change lanes. However, given just how few cars there were on the road, I didn't have to do much of that.

It was chilly when I went out but at least there wasn't much of a wind to make things even chillier. However, if the latest weather forecast pans out, it'll be a little while before I head out again. Still, out three times before the, technical, end of winter isn't bad.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Make hay while the sun shines...

The weather continues to be unseasonably warm with the crusty, dirty snow sublimating as I write this at 6:07 pm (18:07 to we 24 hour clock types). So, naturally, we headed out after a late lunch and did a 12.8 kilometre trip through the suburbs here.

At this time of year, the weather can get a little unpredictable. In fact, according to The Weather Network, we can expect 5-10 centimetres of snow on Wednesday, the 24th of March. This isn't out of the ordinary; spring snows are a common feature here in Ottawa but any such snow doesn't last very long. Things tend to unfold like this: it gets cloudy, much colder, then it snows for a good day turning everything white after which the sun comes out the next day and melts all the snow. There, just like a visit to the dentist - you're in, you're glued to the chair while the dentist does something to your teeth, then you're out again and can forget the whole thing.

Of course, the real trick here will be to see if the city can actually forego its nauseating habit of dumping yet more road salt on every flat surface the truck drivers can find. We're all getting just a little tired of being treated like a huge plate of french fries.

Yet, as we all know, the weather is not required to conform to the forecast so if the predictions change between now and then, I won't worry. In the interim, I'm out triking on the streets while the sun shines.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First day out!

It was absolutely gorgeous today, just as the weather dudes had promised. Actually, the weather has been really grand lately, with sunny skies, warm temperatures and no precip to speak of...until this past Sunday when it poured like mad.
But, unlike the past two summers when it did nothing but rain - so it seemed - this was a wanted rain. The showers, drumming steadily against the roof of the house and swirled about the skies by the brisk easterly winds, washed all that blasted road salt away! By this morning, the skies had stopped pouring with rain and, when the sun came out, the roads dried. To be sure, we still have lots of fine gravel spread fairly evenly across the road - but at least it won't dissolve the catrikes.

It was still pretty windy today, which is typical for this time of year as weather patterns shift from the stability of winter to the stormier spring, but the winds didn't sting. They were still coming from the east (predominantly) but the day was warm for this time of year and the sun was shining brightly. It looked like the perfect day to get our catrikes out and go for the first run of the season.

We waited until lunch had settled before heading out but some dusting off of things came first, starting with checking the tires. My trike has three Schwalbe Marathon Racers and they are rated for 85psi. Adam's trike, the 2006 Catrike Speed, has two Schwalbe Kojak tires, inflated to 100 psi, on the front with a Schwalbe Stelvio, also inflated to 100, for the rear tire. Adam pumped up the tires and, after ensuring no air was leaking for any reason, we were off to the races.

Well, actually, I was off first. Anxious to get out on the road, I plunked myself in the seat and did a quick run just up and down the road. MAN, it felt SO GOOD just being out on the trike. While I was zipping up and down the road, doing speeds ranging from 13 to about 25 km/hr, I did a quick check on the shifters, the brakes and the steering. I am very happy to report that three months spent in the garage with nothing more than an old shower curtain draped across to keep it clean did nothing bad to it.

When I got back to the house, grinning as I was, I saw that Adam was ready to go. We snapped a couple of pictures (Adam takes much better ones) and, before long, we were both out on the road. We only went for a 6 kilometre run, half of that spent beating into the still gusty easterly winds, but not only did we have a ton o'fun but we did some sprint runs downwind on, basically, empty roads. With Adam being much taller and more muscular than me, naturally he clocked higher speeds. At one point, he reached 39 km/hr on the same run that I touched 34 km/hr.

My Catrike Trail shifts very smoothly and, just like last year, the brakes were both responsive and even - no pulling from either side. I'm debating on whether or not I want to buy a pair of clipless shoes. I am told that I can increase my speed by up to 20% as I would be producing power throughout the entire cycle and not just when pushing down. It's a nice idea but not necessary.

Tomorrow promises to be a carbon copy of today so perhaps we will head out once again to add to the 6 kilometres we already did so far this season.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What to wear...what to wear...

I saw a cyclist earlier this afternoon. He was dressed in a long sleeved t-shirt and long, spandex style shorts. That got me thinking about appropriate cycling clothing.
Typically, we see the cyclist pedalling along the road or pathway wearing things like shorts and t-shirts. After all, whether you ride a bike, a trike, a quadracycle or a unicycle (yes, I've seen a few of them in use), it's pretty hot work. Energy use invariably results in the production of waste heat so it's really important to find ways of adequately dissipating said waste heat. In the case of cyclists, dressing properly for conditions will go a long way towards making any trip enjoyable and, yes, safe. Overheating can be quite dangerous and, for someone like me who has MS, it doesn't always take much heating to turn what should be a fun trip into a not-fun problem.
Yet, this early in the season it generally isn't a problem of overheating that I get concerned about but the opposite...not wearing enough proper cycling clothing.
Sure, the days are getting pleasantly warm. We did a 12 kilometre walk yesterday and actually had to remove our jackets, gloves and tube scarves. At this time of year, it becomes necessary to dress for two seasons. Mornings and evenings are very chilly (there is still some snow on the ground and it is still, technically, winter) but the afternoons are quite warm so the snow won't last much longer.
However, even in the warm afternoons, and even with cycling generating all that heat which our bodies must dissipate, it's still going to be $*#*($%&#$% cold on our faces, hands, arms and legs.
Thus, we may be in shorts and short sleeved t-shirts in a couple of months but, for now, we will still need to wear gloves, jackets, long sweats or cycling pants and a scarf. The relative airflow as we cycle will generate a windchill. Heat is removed from our bodies and we wind up getting quite cold. True, our bodies are still working hard, pumping oxygenated blood to our legs as we pedal our little hearts out, but we cannot generate enough heat to offset the windchill. However, I do not worry too much about such matters; in short order, I'll be having to stop often enough to cool off with the bottle of ice water I bring with me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wish coming true???

Well, according to both Environment Canada and The Weather Network, we here in Ottawa can expect a thorough soaking this upcoming weekend. The down side to this is that while we will have a warm, sunny and dry workweek we will also have a wet soggy weekend. Yet, I am heartened by the forecast of sunny skies and +8C on Monday because, by then, the rains that will have washed away all that #$%*(#%(#^ road salt will facilitate drying and that we just might be able to get our trikes out of the garage and onto the road where they belong!

Of course, all of that is predicated in the weather forecast being right. I do check UNISYS weather's GFS images and double check that with Canadian's GFS images. So, assuming the forecast will pan out the way I, not to mention all the other cyclists here, am hoping it will, my next blog posting will likely be weather updates (bear with me) and then - YAHOOGONIE - a genuine trike trip! I am stoked, can you tell?

I removed the links to both EC and TWN because clicking on them will give the reader the current weather and not anything like the conditions this blog entry refers to.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I love maps and I especially enjoy Google Maps. The street view is particularly interesting but it isn't as much of a help when planning trike trips as you'd think. It's just fun to find your own house and see what your front yard looked like when the Google-mobile came past.

We don't plan any trip, whether a morning one or an all-day trip, without carefully reviewing the route and while we use Google Maps as one of our prep tools we bring along a couple of good, old fashioned paper maps in one of our panniers. It may be fun to just pick a direction and go and we do that sort of thing in a very local manner but for serious trips we study maps.

We are very fortunate in that the city of Ottawa is quite well laid out although there are a few areas that present challenges for us. For instance, one of the roads nearby, Albion Road, is sliced in two by a railway line. That means having to detour around the rail line to re-gain our intended track. Knowing what other roads, streets and pathways are around goes far in helping us there. One of the more irritating features of this city is that, too often, streets are not adequately signed so missing an important turn is always a possibility. Having and studying the street maps keeps those mishaps to a bare minimum.

Finally, with the snow melting, it's only a short time before construction and road crews come out of hiding to plant themselves and dig up the road for some eventual purpose - even if no one knows what that is. Construction invariably includes road closures or roads so degraded by whatever grinding, digging, pummeling machine is out there - uh - grinding, digging and pummeling, that it's impossible to ride our trikes over top. Catrikes, as I said, sit low to the ground and that means the chain does as well.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this blog entry, the clearance on my Catrike is a measly 89 mm while Adam's Catrike Speed checks in at an even lower 51 mm. So having to negotiate construction zones is something we try to avoid. Having a good map can help us find our way around whatever's being torn up. Still, there are times when we cannot avoid shredded roads and so all we can do is gently ease our way through ever ready to have to hop out and lift our trike over a curb or some other impassable object. Thankfully, trikes do not weigh a great deal and so it is easy to scoop it up and carry it over. Once safe on the other side, it is common for us to pull over, grab a drink of water and read over the map once more. Otherwise, we may not always have a good idea of precisely where we are!

Maps allow both of us to plan, to dream and to muse about trips. We can look at what's nearby (and there's a lot nearby - if you just look), think about travelling there and mentally plan the whole entire journey. Now, with the sun just having set at 5:45 pm, and the forecast high for Saturday to reach a whole +10C, I can just feel the day I take my trike out approaching so I'll just go and pore over a map and think about where I can go.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road Salt

I grew up in Montreal where road salt was commonly used on the roads throughout the winter. Salt is used to prevent any melted snow from freezing. Salt will chemically bond to the water molecule and prevent it from joining with other molecules into a solid, slippery death trap. In the short term, it can help to make winter driving a little less hazardous though I really think that learning winter driving skills would work just as well. Still, cities in this part of the country use road salt during the winter and none more lavishly than Ottawa. It just seems to me that every time more than a few centimetres of snow falls, out come the heavy trucks, armed with sprayers and flinging hard, dried chunks of salt everywhere like one of those grass seed sprayers. While I argue that there's really no need for this there are at least as many who argue for having road salt and that's fine.
Yet, the effect of road salt usage isn't all good. Salt is corrosive especially to cars and we see this by the increasing numbers of rusting, salt encrusted hulks skidding and sliding along the artificially slushy roads. When the last of winter's snow finally recedes, many are the homeowners who note the existence of a brown line of dead grass or whatever foliage they have growing bordering their property. That's salt damage.
The weather right now is getting nicer and nicer (we were really getting quite hot coming home from running errands) and the temptation to bring out the trikes is becoming quite strong. But, until the snow is completely gone and we get a really good spring rain-shower to give the roads a final cleaning up (at least until next winter), we will just have to be patient.

EDIT: Patience pays off - maybe
According to the weather forecast, especially on The Weather Network (TWN), we can expect a really good couple of days of rain later this week. We only need one half-way decent rainshower to wash away the salty remnants before we can hit the road...

Energy (part toooooooo)

In the world of human powered transportation, no matter the purpose, energy has come to mean two things: how we fuel the machine (meaning we ourselves) and the broader issue of the energy we as a species consume in order to power our lives. Our microwave ovens do not run on hamster power and our cars, trucks, buses and airplanes all require fuel to run.
The problem, though, is that the fuel we use to run our cars, SUVs and jetskis is non-renewable. We have only a certain, finite amount of fossil fuel energy and the current energy "crisis" we are facing is more a matter of that we can no longer have the cheap and easily obtained fuel than that we are rapidly running out. Oh, one day, I suppose we will run out of oil but, for now, our problem is that it's getting more and more expensive to find, extract and refine less and less oil.
We have responded in various ways by such things as buying smaller cars, driving less often, using public transit more frequently and otherwise just being aware of how much energy we are using and in what way. Remember going for a "Sunday drive"? Thing of the past. Remember those huge behemoths skimming down the road? Gone and replaced with compact cars. Solutions, to be sure, but only short term.
I'm not against car ownership - if you want a car, that's your decision. I'm just for more creative ways to get around and, when it comes to doing just that, relying on my own energy is what works for me.
I don't know anyone who owns a car and regularly touts all the wonderful things or lists all the marvelous benefits to having a car. Face it, nobody has a car and proudly announces that it can carry groceries or that it's a neat way to get around. The first we take as self-evident; the second is not something I often hear. In fact, I usually hear the opposite.
"#$&*%#^@*$# traffic!" is a comment one is likely to hear from someone driving a car, whereas "#**&#%#*@ cars!" is a comment one is likely to hear from cyclists.
But, back to energy.
Like the family who decides to cut back on their use of energy, you know, hanging out the laundry to dry rather than tossing the shirts, slacks and underwear into the dryer or heating things up in the microwave rather than employ the stove, our decision to rely solely on our own human power - our own human energy - to get us around is our way of helping the environment. By no means do either of us presume that our going without a car (easy to do in a city - especially Ottawa) and fully embracing human powered transportation will preserve all the oil reserves in the world. It's just our way of taking advantage of our bodies' ability to move us around at will. In the case of our catrikes, we can have the best of both worlds. We can rely solely on whatever energy our bodies have at their disposal and yet be able to comfortably carry groceries home from the store.

Monday, March 1, 2010


By that is meant both its consumption - in this case mine - and the more abstract idea of sustainability. On the first front, I consider nutritional needs to both feed my body properly and to provide said nutrition in the most economical - and tasty - manner.

With the day still quite light at 5:30, and with the sun shining and the snow-pack melting quickly, my thoughts turn first to recipes I can create. Triking is a mode of personal transportation designed around compactness. That means that what food I bring with me must also be fairly compact. No elaborate picnics here though that doesn't mean I can't bring anything interesting. We're not the Apollo astronauts here. Sooooo, what do I do? Well, I really enjoy granola bars, both eating them and making them. They're nutritious and energy dense. However, there is a pretty important problem with them.

The problems with granola bars
We're all familiar with granola bars. They're in every grocery store and come in a variety of flavours made by a variety of manufacturers. The problem, however, is that way too many of them contain far too many calories in such a small little bar. Our overconsumptive society can't really work with small portion sizes and so we do tend to eat more than one or even two granola bars. Sure, we read the label and note that the granola bar in question contains nuts, seeds, peanut butter for protein and even bits of dried fruit. Fair enough but that same granola bar also contains a lot of sugar in that peanut butter and both nuts and seeds are quite high in fat - good fat, mind you, but fat nevertheless.
Another (common) problem is that the nutritional assay on many bars describes how much of anything is in one bar - yet many servings consist of two bars. That means the '195 calories per bar' is really 390 calories if you eat both the bars in the wrapper.
Still another fairly common problem is the so-called 'yogurt coating' on some bars. It's mostly sugar with the yogurt ingredients (such as they are) listed way down on the bottom of the ingredients. It pays to read the labels, I suppose, but when nearly all commercially made granola bars consist of sugar, fat and calories it's pretty hard to properly nourish your own body. If you're going to be triking a lot, as I certainly plan on doing, it pays even more to make your own granola bars.

Our solution

We make our own. There are many many recipes online and most of them don't involve the oven at all. A rule of thumb, however, is that recipes requiring the use of eggs or egg whites are generally baked but not all granola bars require eggs.

A favourite recipe of ours consists of honey, peanut butter, bran flakes, granola cereal, dried cranberries, raisins, dates the occasional bit of dried apricot. True enough, those are high fat ingredients but we make these bars to be so compact that they really don't turn out any less caloric or fatty than the commercial brands - but neither do they have any more fat or calories. Make no mistake, I have nothing whatsoever against commercially made granola bars, except that they're expensive. I just object to the marketing ploys heaped on the unwary consumer. To me, that's right up there with selling 'fat free' cookies to people who will undoubtedly eat too many of them and wonder why they're gaining weight. Know what you're putting in your mouth and, if you don't like it or think you can do better, do something else or have at it.

Some problems we've encountered with our own granola bars include the tendency for our bars to not have quite the right level of cohesion. That means the bar tends to fall apart much the same way an over-warmed, over-marshmallowed rice krispy square might. We still play with the ratio of ingredients but we still wind up with quite tasty, nutritious bars.

So, if not granola bars, what other forms of energy?

Well, there is always the tried and tested trail mix, though here, too, do we run into the same sort of problem as we do with the bars - too much sugar and fat and serving sizes that are too small for most of our palates. However, the solution is also the same - we make our own and with much of the same ingredients. Granted, the trail mix I make does not contain honey or peanut butter but it does contain dried cranberries and, my favourite, almonds.

What about portion sizes?

The issue of portion sizes is not a new one. We have plenty of opportunities to "biggie size" our fries (more like our thighs). Yes, it is a problem but one we have addressed adequately by making the following observation..

we tend to eat our food wayyyy too quickly.

It can take about twenty minutes for the "all full" signal to reach your brain. Thus, it is quite common to spend that time stuffing our faces before we're even aware that we've had enough. The other problem with eating too quickly is that we tend to swallow a lot of air and that tends to have some - uh - unpleasant consequences along the lines of attempting to sing the national anthem in one rather raucous eructation or else bouncing up to someone and saying "C'mere and pull my finger". The solution there is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. True, getting up to speed on the catrike is a fairly important thing but fueling our bodies for the venture should not be some kind of race. There, speed isn't as important and, if you plan your trip carefully, you won't be so rushed to eat.

So, take your time when eating. If you're in a huge snarling rush then leave a little earlier next time.

I'll write about sustainability in part 2 of "energy"