The ultimate tour

I started reading a book the other night, “The Story of the Tour de France” by Bill and Carol McGann.   Now, as you probably guessed, I’m a big Tour fan – try to watch it every year, if possible.   So, when I came across this book, along with the glowing reviews (thanks, Amazon), it looked like a good gamble.

Now, as you probably know, the Tour is considered to be one of, if not, the greatest sporting event in the world – if you don’t believe me, ask any Frenchman.    Or if you want to have some fun, tell them why hockey trumps the Tour as the sport of choice!   Just make sure you’re wearing your helmet when you do!

The book chronicles the history of the Tour by giving the highlights of every race since its inception in 1902.   “Sounds about as much fun as reading an encyclopedia”, you’re probably thinking.    Well, it has its moments, but what is so fascinating about it, is not who won the race that year, but how brutally difficult it was to just finish the race!    Think about it – in 1902 the bicycle was still a relatively new invention.  Most only had one fixed gear, built on a heavy steel frame – brakes were optional.    Then, these two French newspapers come up with this idea to hold this multi-stage bike race to help increase the circulation of their papers.    But not just any bike race- let’s do a race where riders have to complete 15 stages averaging 350 km per stage – 350 KM PER STAGE!!!!!!!   Today, it would take a well conditioned athlete 12 hours to do such a feat.   Over a century ago, riders in the Tour de France were expected to complete this mind-boggling journey, on their own, with no assistance from anyone.   Also, they had to complete it carrying the original gear they set out with.    A stage like that would average 18 hours to complete!!

Here’s an example of what they had to contend with –

tour 1

Oh,then they had to get up and do it again the next day.   During one Tour, they were allowed only THREE rest days during three WEEKS of racing!!!!   How insane is that?  This was also before racers really understood how the body worked – the impact of good nutrition and training and Gatorade!!!!

The part of the story that I found to be fascinating, if not hilarious, was how they eventually were allowed to change gears on their bikes.   Initially, two different size cogs were placed on the left and right side of the rear tire.   So, to switch from one gear to another (you only had two), the rider would have to stop, detach the tire, turn it around, reattach it, and then pedal on.   It seems ludicrous today but that was their reality.    They probably thought they had it made as they began their ascent up into the French Alps.

Remember, roads didn’t exist back then the way they do today.    One contestant had his bike break down (a common occurrence, as you can probably imagine).   Because the rules stated that you had to finish the race with all the equipment you started with, he borrowed a bike (which was allowed in later tours) and, strapping his broken bike to his back, proceeded to try and complete the remaining 300 km of  the stage.   Needless to say, he didn’t make it.    Still, the tenacity and determination of those men was remarkable.    They were truly Iron men in the fullest sense of the word.

Believe it or not, a broken down bike was the least of their worries.    During the initial few Tours, fans became so obsessed with cheering on their favourite riders that they would try to sabotage the competition.   In several Tours, fans deliberately threw nails onto the road to try to make the racers get flat tires.    In one instance, a rider was beaten by a gang of men hoping he would then drop out of the race.    He had to be assigned a body guard for his own protection.     Another rider is believed to have been poisoned during a rest stop!    Tough crowd!   If your wheels broke, you walked until you could find someone who had shop where you could fix it – with no assistance!   Imagine what’s going through this poor chap’s mind below.

tour 2

Fortunately, as the Tours progressed, the rules were modified – speed became the name of the game – not to see who would be the last man standing.

Today, the Tour de France is one of the most celebrated races in the world.    The black years of doping scandals seem to have been left behind.   There have been far fewer cases of doping during the past couple of tours than during the nineties.   This bodes well for the future of the race and for the image of cycling in general.

Regardless, when one looks at what was demanded of cyclists during the beginning years of the Tour, it makes doing a Gran Fondo look like a walk in the park.    I’ll try to remember that when I’m looking for an excuse not to train.

In the meantime, VIVE LA FRANCE!!!

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A confession (of sorts)

If you’ve been following this blog since its inception (a whole four postings ago), first of all, “Thank you” for doing so.    It’s nice to know that someone out there is actually reading this.   As a matter of fact, nearly twenty people have read it so far from around North America.    I assume those are good stats for  a new blog but then what do I know?

In case you’re reading this for the first time, then let me provide you with a brief summary of what this blog is about (if you’ve been with me from the beginning, bear with me for some earth shattering news is about to be dropped shortly).

In a nutshell, this blog is about my decision to attempt what is known as a “gran fondo” or “big bike ride”.   How big?  About 150 km.    When?  This summer.  Why?  I’m still working on that one but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with fitness, desire, goals, and passion.   Not necessarily in that order.

With me so far?   Ok.    Now for the earth shattering news.

If you’ve read all the entries up until todays, then I have a confession to make to you, my loyal readers.    The fact is,  those entries were originally written exactly one year ago.   I know what you’re thinking- “WHAT!!! The lies, the deceit, the pain!!!!!”     Allow me to explain, if you will.

You see, I originally came up with the plan to ride a gran fondo shortly after Christmas of 2013.   It all began with a gift certificate to L.L. Bean – (curse you, online shopping!).     As I was browsing their online catalogue trying to decide what to purchase, I came across a lovely cycling jersey that would fit my budget.  As a matter of fact, it was exactly like the one you see below (I’m hoping to get at 10% kickback from L.L. Bean for free promotion:)


Now, initially, when I purchased the jersey it was not my intention to ride in a gran fondo.  I do a lot of cycling with my kids using our mountain bikes.   Aside from cotton t-shirts, I didn’t have any other kind of cycling clothing to wear.   Given my current body shape, that was probably a good thing.    But, having worn proper cycling jerseys years before, I knew of the advantages they provided in terms of absorbing sweat and keeping you cool.    So I thought this new jersey would come in handy for my rides with my family.

Unbeknownst to me, when I received said jersey in the mail, it flipped a switch.   Holding this piece of fabric in my hand, it occurred to me that it would also be good to wear as a road cycling jersey.    I had kept my road bike in my shed for the past several years, (blowing the dust off it occasionally),  partly as a reminder of how much I enjoyed riding the bike, and also to remind me that maybe there would come a time when I would be able to commit myself to taking up road cycling again.  I had recently heard about gran fondos and participating in a ride like that appealed to me.   Now, as my wife will tell you, when I get an idea in my head, I tend to become a bit obsessed about it and go all out.

One of the ways I thought I could motivate myself was to start a blog.   So I did.   In January 2014.    Like now, I proceeded to begin writing entries (the first four that you have recently read) and then reality set in.   One of the other major changes in my life that I decided to undertake in 2014, was to get my family’s finances in order.    As a result of doing so, I discovered that as much as I wanted to do a gran fondo, I was going to need a new bike and in January of 2014, that simply wasn’t financially possible.    Paying off debt became the man focus, which is the way it should have been, and one year on, I’m happy to say we have successfully completed our goal, and much more.

“Great!” you’re probably thinking – “but what about the bike?”   Well, once I discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my gran fondo goal during the summer of 2014, I was totally bummed.    My wife, Karen, in all her wisdom and beauty, sensed there was something amiss and when I confessed my overwhelming disappointment about not being able to complete my goal (for as we previously discussed, there was no way I was going to be able to ride 150 km on my old bike), Karen stepped up and said that if I was able to save the money for the bike vs. buying it outright using credit – after all, we had just finished paying off debt and didn’t want to accrue any more- I could get the bike.  (That was a long sentence).

So, all was not lost!   But back to the blog – that’s why we’re talking about this in first place.   As excited as I was about the daunting task of saving several thousand dollars for a new bike (yes, that’s what the good ones cost), I lost the motivation to continue the blog – after all, there was really nothing else to blog about at that time.   I suppose I could have written about my enlightening journey on reducing debt – which it has been, don’t get me wrong.    But that probably would have been as exciting to read as watching paint dry.   So, I elected to let my blog exist in the never world of unfinished blogs for the time being, should I ever decide to come back to it.

Which brings us to the here and now – still with me?   This does get easier.

At this point you’re probably wondering “Why should I keep following this blog if he’s gonna stop writing after the first four postings again?”    Well, there is a substantial difference between this blog and the one I began a year ago.    What is that difference?   I have the money for the new bike already in the bank!!!!   WooHoo!!

As a matter of fact, I will hopefully be ordering it as early as next week.   I’ll keep you posted on that one.    So, it made complete sense (to me, anyways) to start blogging again.   Now, I can be a pretty busy guy- what with kids, work, laundry, staring aimlessly out the window – you know how it goes.    So, to become an efficient blogger, I decided to simply repost my original postings from a year ago, with a  few minor updates.   After all, nothing had really changed that affected the legitimacy of what was said and it made it easier to get this new blog up and running.    As a matter of fact you can read the original blog right here –

Just make sure you keep reading this version or you’ll miss all the new juicy stuff that’s about to come.

As for you, my loyal reader, I apologize if you feel you’ve been misled or ill treated.   I pledge to you that from here on out, my postings, including this one, will be original and current (only because I’ve run out of old postings form the other blog) – just kidding.

I’m excited about what is to come as my journey is about to move full steam ahead.  I hope you’ll continue to be a part of it as well.





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The evolution of my bikes

Now that I’ve committed myself to riding a gran fondo (this is one of those “What was I thinking!” moments -ok it’s passed), it’s time to discuss my method of transportation.    In the summer of 1993 I “discovered” road biking.   I had purchased a Norco mountain bike back in 1989 just prior to moving to Burnaby, B.C. to attend Simon Fraser University.   Mountain Bikes were just becoming popular and I thought it would be a great mode of transportation while going to school.   This is what it looked like –Image

Yes, that actually is a mountain bike!    Old school, kids!!!    Unfortunately, within the first month of living in Burnaby, it was stolen.    Heart broken?  Yes.    Tough way to be introduced to life in the city.   Regardless, I moved on and when I returned home that summer, my brother had acquired a Miata Road bike (like the one below) and I began riding it around (note the awesome toe clips on the pedals).


I discovered that I could go a long way in a short period of time on this bike and that it was a lot of fun.  So I began riding from Cranbrook out to Wycliffe and back and would put on 60-70 km in one ride.   Those initial rides hooked me on the sport and I’ve been an active cyclist ever since.

In the summer of 1993, I had returned from SFU and was about to complete my B.Ed. degree in Cranbrook.    Once again, after riding my brother’s bike all summer (which was a  little small for me) I decided the time had come to get my own.    After much research I settled on purchasing a Specialized Allez Comp.  Here it is.


Here’s another look at one that is almost identical (sorry for the crappy pictures – hard to find good ones of bikes this vintage)

ImageIn 1993 this was, and still is, a good bike.  It was $1500 (a lot of money for a bike 20 years ago), has a steel frame and aluminum fork.   Mid-line Shimano components were included and the aero bar was added in later years.    So this is what I’ve been riding for the past 20 years although for the past 10 years it hasn’t seen much action.  Funny how kids and work can get in the way.   Now, it’s set up on the wind trainer ready for action.

For comparison, here’s what a Specialized Allez Comp looks like today –


As you can see, a lot has changed in 20 years.   Carbon fibre frames are now the norm with larger gearing ratios and more comfortable frame geometry.    Not to mention shifters integrated into the brake hoods, unlike my down tube shifters which force you to let go of the handlebars to make the necessary gear changes.    Also, carbon frame bikes weigh a fraction of what a steel frame bike does, are more rigid, absorb more of the road vibrations, and make for a much more comfortable ride.

As much as I have loved owning my 1994 Allez, it was too big for me when I initially bought it.   Why would I buy a bike that was too big for me?  Well, in 1994 I was 25 years old, and didn’t really know what I was doing when it came to buying road bikes.  As well, road cycling was not the “in” sport it has become over the past decade.   Bike shops didn’t offer formal fittings for bikes, nor did they stock a lot of road bikes- mountain biking was becoming the new rage and that’s what everyone was buying -including me.

The result was being sold a bike that was too large for me.   Ironically, I knew that it was too big for me as soon as I got on the bike .    However, given that bike shop owner had specially ordered this in for me, as well as my impatience for having to have waited six weeks for it to arrive, I couldn’t bear to send it back.   Should I have sent it back?  Of course.   Instead, being young, I discovered I could adapt my body to fit the bike, which was good enough for me.   My body was more flexible back then so I could endure having to overextend my reach for the handlebars.

Now, twenty years later, my body can no longer endure that kind of stretching and twisting.   I decided that riding 150  km on a bike that doesn’t fit, as well as having components that are twenty years old, just isn’t going to work. I don’t want to set myself up for failure from the get go.     So the only option, if I want to succeed at this grandiose plan, is to get a new bike.    Which is what I am about to do.

Stay tuned!

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Gran Fondo – What is it?

By now you’re probably wondering what exactly it is I plan on doing with this blog.    Well, as the title to this blog states, it is about a cyclist preparing for his first Gran Fondo.   If you’re not familiar with Gran Fondos, they have become the newest cycling rage in North America over the past five years.  Gran Fondo is Italian for “big ride”.   They have been popular in Europe, especially Italy, for many  years and recently they have made their way into North American cycling culture.

Essentially, they provide an opportunity for the average cyclist to compete in an organized ride over  a controlled course within a certain amount of time.   The important thing to remember is it is NOT a race.   Cyclists compete against themselves to complete the course in the best time they possibly can.    What’s great about them is that they attract cyclists of all ages and abilities.   The Axel Merckz Gran Fondo in Penticton has been running for four years now.   Last year there were thousands of cyclists that took part.

Here’s a video clip that gives you an idea of the size of these competitions.

As you can see, this has become a huge event in Penticton.   Axel Merckz, who organized this race, is the son of the great Eddy Merckz – a five time Tour de France champion (who won without the use of performance enhancing drugs, I might add), and probably the greatest competitive cyclist of all time.   Axel rode in the Tour for the Belgium team, as well as the Olympics,  and now resides in Kelowna.

A full Gran Fondo is about 130-160 km.   The Penticton event is 160km but you can do shorter versions of the same race .  There is a Mediofondo which is 92 km as well as a  Cortofondo which is 55 km.    So it attracts a wide variety of cyclists making  it a great opportunity for all ages.    The Pentiction event even holds a minifondo for kids.

Penticton is not the only city that holds Gran Fondos.   Others take place throughout Western Canada including Vancouver where cyclists ride from Vancouver to Whistler on a closed lane of the Sea to Sky highway.   There are also fondos in Banff, Vernon, Cranbrook (held their second one last September), Salmon Arm and many others throughout the province.    My challenge will be to decide which one to do.  Maybe I’ll do two.

The other great thing about fondos is the support that is provided for riders.  160 km is a long way to go so there are aid stations set up along the way providing food and drink.   There are support vehicles that follow the racers should they run into mechanical trouble and a meal is often provided as well.    Sound like fun?  You bet.    Can’t wait to get out there.

As you can imagine, training is essential.   You can’t just jump on your bike and ride 160 km.  So I recently bought an indoor trainer for my bike and we’ll talk about my training regiment next time.

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Cycling- a brief history (very brief)

Do you remember the first time you rode your bike?  Well, I don’t.   Chances are, most of us probably don’t either which means when you hear people say “Oh yeah!!!” – they’re lying.    However, I do have a lot of very fond memories of riding my bike when I was a kid.

Suddenly having the freedom to jump on those two wheels and let them take you where ever you want was an amazing experience for any ten year old.    The neighbourhood I grew up in  had an extensive trail network right out my back door.  As kids, my friends and I would spend hours riding around those trails and exploring all the nooks and crannies we could find.  It was an amazing time and I am grateful for having that experience.  Unfortunately, today all those trails have now been taken over by a massive, sprawling subdivision which is unfortunate for the children who live there today.

My bike was an essential part of my childhood and I can vividly recall the different kinds of bikes that I had as I got older.    Starting with the traditional tricycle, I graduated to a blue two wheeler with drop down handlebars and a big banana seat like the one in the picture below.  Anybody 35 and over will remember what I’m talking about.

Remember this classic?

The only disadvantage to that bike, as cool as it was and still is, is that it only had one gear – forward.    You had to back pedal to hit the brakes although it did allow you to make good skid marks.     The next evolution was to the Baycrest 10 speed purchased at the Bay.    I was probably in grade 8 when I was given one similar to the one you see below.

10 speed

Suddenly I could go really fast and climbing hills was actually tolerable.   And like any teenager, I had to customize it by adding saddlebags, water bottles, and the coolest addition any bike has ever seen – foamy handlebars just like the one’s you see below – mine were blue.

Cushy handlebars

By the way, whatever happened to those extra brake levers?  My bike had those and they were plenty convenient.   Alas, the good old days!     That bike got me through high school until mountain bikes became all the rage.

More on that next time.

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And we’re off!!!!

How does one start a blog?   It’s easy to lose sleep over.   After all, you want to make a good first impression for your readers so that they’ll actually stick around and keep reading.   Plus, given the fact that there are a gazillion blogs out there, you want something that will make your blog stand out.    A rather daunting prospect if you think about it.   My daughter should be the one doing this – after all, she’s the writer, not me.    Alas, I guess it’s important to focus on the long term goals and hope that the story unfolds on it’s own.  I guess we’ll see.

So back to the beginning- where to start.   I suppose I should elaborate on who I am and why I decided to expose myself to the world – figuratively, not literally.    My name is Mike.   I reside in the small but breathtakingly beautiful town of Golden, British Columbia, Canada.


And, yes, Golden really does look like that.   I’ve lived here for nearly twenty years and I have no intention of moving any time soon.

So what has any of this got to do with the title of my blog – “The Pedal Practitioner”?   As I tell my English students, it’s all about context.    This is often followed by a student staring blankly at me and replying “Contacts?  What’s my vision got to do with it?”   Welcome to my world.

When I moved to Golden nearly twenty years ago, I was a very avid cyclist.  I had purchased a road bike several years ago and continued to cycle here on a regular basis.   However, life got in the way and the bike became secondary in terms of priorities.

Well, that’s about to change (at least, that’s my plan).   What my plan is and how it will be carried out is in the works and I’ll keep you updated along the way.

So, stay tuned – I’ll try to update at least once or twice a week so keep checking back.

Let the games begin!

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