It was mid-summer. I was eighteen years old with my own car and eager to hit the road. I was full of youthful energy and ignorance as I planned my first big “away from home” ride. After some discussion with my riding buddy, we had set our sights on the well-known Hardwood Hills Mountain Bike Center near Oro Medonte.
I called ahead and made a reservation using their “bike and camp” package. The thought of going away to some new strange trails and doing some overnight camping was overwhelming. I made lists and checked them multiple times, serviced every part of my bike, and verified my camping gear was in good condition. I can still remember my worn out 1990 Cavalier (the good Cavaliers with the V6 engine) packed tight with gear in the trunk and back seat, the rear of the car nearly dragging on the ground. Atop the car were the instruments of our adrenaline fueled hobby – my 2003 GT Avalanche and my friends 2003 Specialized Hardrock, both only a few months old. Each one of the bikes was worth more than the car.
I can remember a brief through to myself. It was along the lines of “Is this car going to make the trip?” I’m sure it mostly had to do with my mother’s multitude of warnings and trying to convince me to ride closer to home, but I was determined to get there and back, while having the time of my life.
The drive up was without issue. The trusty old Z24 buzzed along spiritedly, the engine singing along around 3500 rpm as it took advantage of everything the little 3 speed automatic could give. Large bumps in the road were followed by a repeated bounce, like a yelling voice echoing in a tunnel, as the worn out shocks fought to keep the car on the road. I would drive while my friend was on navigation duty. We followed a highlighted route that spanned multiple pages of my Ontario map book (this was back in the days before GPS). I remember the odd rattles and clanks in the car as I sped up the 400 towards Barrie, comparing them in my mind to the rattles and clanks that must have been present in the Apollo space crafts as they hurled out of our atmosphere. I felt like a real adventurer. I was going into my own uncharted territory.
After some time, we pulled into the parking area at Hardwood Hills. We went to the chalet, got our bike passes and camping details then geared up for the trails with a map in hand. That first day we rode Fun, Serious, and Sidewinder trails. The trails were great and we pushed ourselves hard, trying all the rock features and man-made obstacles on the way. Exhausted, we packed our bikes back on the car and headed to the Barrie KOA for our camping. We enjoyed a nice meal of Kraft Dinner before sitting around the campfire and packing it in early. Our second day was more of the same, doing more trails at Hardwood and even participating in a weekly race series event. That evening we headed back to the KOA for another meal of gourmet Kraft Dinner. Good thing we brought enough money to eat real food for lunch at the Hardwood cafeteria.
Our 3rd day had ended with more riding but our legs were shot. We were tired but all smiles as we finished off our trip on Sidewinder trail while getting some serious speed on the ‘Coffee Run’ section. It was time to repack the car and head home, our glorious first mountain bike road trip behind us. We felt invincible. That’s when things took an interesting turn.
While buzzing down the 400 south, back towards Toronto, I noticed that the car was getting a bit louder. I chalked it up to the handy-dandy coat hanger that was holding my exhaust must have come loose. “No problem” I though as we charged on. Shortly after getting onto the 401 West the coat hanger let go and the muffler hit the pavement. I remember the Pontiac Grand Prix in my rear view mirror locking up his brakes, the car nearly doing a nose stand, as exhaust parts flew out from under the Cavalier. What hadn’t flown out the back was now dragging with a loud steel-on-asphalt sound and my car now 100 times louder. It was like driving a derby car in Toronto traffic…. Actually that’s pretty much what I WAS doing. I got off the highway and into a parking lot. A quick trip under the car and I had the muffler (what was left of it) and the coat hanger in hand. A quick toss into the nearest fast-food chain garbage can and we were back on the road.
Conversation was strained now, as we had to nearly yell at each other over the noise of the exhaust. I remember a little kid giving me a ‘thumbs up’ gesture, thinking the sound was cool. No worries though, what could possible go wrong now that the exhaust was out of the way? That’s when I noticed the engine temperature was getting pretty high, and I already had my bypassed manual-controlled fan running. I kept on going, while watching the gauge, until I could smell the anti-freeze. I remember thinking "as long as it doesn't overheat" and kept driving while slowly loosing coolant. What could go wrong?
Coming off the 403 onto highway 24, so close to home we could taste it, and we hit a small construction zone. The crew had ground down a section of pavement but left a substantial lip at the end of it going back up onto the existing pavement. I must admit that I was going a little quick for the impact, but regardless, the bump jarred the entire car. The difference was immediate. I could feel that a belt had broken in one of the front tires as the car shook violently at 65 km/h. The thumping of the tire was barely audible over the muffler-less exhaust but I could sure feel it. I held tightly and sped up to 100 km/h where it smoothed out nicely.
I pulled into home, the car thumping, loud, and steam bellowing out from under the hood. I parked the car and unpacked. I did a quick look over of all the post road-trip damage. I would need a new exhaust, new radiator, and new front tires. The poor old car was a beat up lump, but it had taken me on my first road trip adventure. A bit of cash and TLC got her back into fighting shape again, all while planning my next adventure. You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but I could only hope the little car would fare better next time.
Mountain biking. It was the vessel that brought me into cycling so many years ago. I've spent countless hours in the woods, piling up thousands of miles of singletrack over the last two decades. The passion for it has come and gone over the years as I spent time with other hobbies and activities, but I've always came back to mountain bikes. Some of you know, others don't, that the last year has been a struggle for me. Coming away from a bad accident with major injuries has left certain parts of my body in a state of permanent degradation. I've tried to fight through the pain and get myself back to where I was, but I now realize that I may never operate at the same level again.
I want to keep cycling. This isn't me quitting. Its just going to be an adjustment. I'm still going to mountain bike too, just less of it. The multi-day recovery after a mountain bike ride isn't something I can handle multiple times a week now. Maybe I can continue to strengthen myself enough to ride like I use to but not right now. I've decided that I will embrace a "shift" or sorts, a "changing of gears" if you will. Events like the TillsonBurn and the long rail trail rides I've done in the past are helping pique my interest in gravel / adventure type riding.
I've had to retire my trusty Norco CCX, as my back won't agree with the reach / drop of that bike anymore. Thus, I've recently revamped my RSD Catalyst from an upright commuter bike to a lean and mean all terrain adventure rig. The addition of some crazy looking Soma Condor handlebars, barcon shifters, fat gravel tires, and my tried and truePower saddle, have made this a mile eating machine that can handle everything from pavement, to gravel roads, all the way to singletrack. Focusing on this type of riding will be much easier on my broken back / knee / shoulder situation and the reduced recovery time will keep me riding more. Hopefully this helps in my recovery as well.
I've found myself lately spending time on Google Earth, looking at old dirt roads, logging roads, and how I can connect them through old trails in the woods. Its brought back some of the sense of adventure that mountain biking brought to me those first few years where everything was new and each trail was a trip into the unknown. I've already put together some epic looking rides to do this year, all of which are mostly loose plans where I will wing the details and ride by "feel". Its time to take the path less traveled and find some spontaneous adventure along the way, and hopefully continuing the healing process.
It feels like spring just does not want to come this year. Last year at this time I was shredding sweet singletrack, today its more like an icy water trough through the woods with the occasional mud hole in between. I'm not going to complain though... time to get tough and ride what I can.
In the meantime, to help get my mojo flowing, I bought a new trail bike. I've realized that as cool and fun as the fatty is, it just isn't always the best option outside of winter slop riding. I looked long and hard, did countless hours of research, and bugged the holy hell out of my wife before I finally made the choice. I knew I wanted a plus bike. I briefly considered a 29er plus, but they just don't seem to be a popular choice and selection is limited. For future-proofness I went 27.5 plus with boost axles.
I've owned a Norco Torrent (too slack) and an RSD Sergeant (too all-mountain) and just wasn't 100% happy with either. I want a trail shredder that can also take a few bikepacking bags for an overnighter, On my short list was the Salsa Timberjack (nice bike but couldn't get over the bendy down tube and only three year frame warranty), Jamis Dragonslayer (no local dealers) and the Specialized Fuse.
I went with the Fuse. Better fork, better tires, better brakes, and a dropper post that the others in this price range didn't have. Also, I bought from the nearest bike shop to me, that just happens to be the place I've shopped for the last 17 or so years. So, behold, the 2018 Fuse Comp...
The only thing I'm not a fan of is the pressfit bb, but I factored the price of a Wheels Manufacturing BB into the purchase so in the next few weeks when it starts to creak I can toss it in the bin. The forks is quiet nice and if its anything like the Magnum that was in my RSD, it will be great.
Come on warm weather...
I've felt like such a blob lately. I think its the combination of not riding much at all recently and the lack of sunshine getting into my head. Seasonal Affected Disorder, that it. I finally got to hit the gravel on my reconfigured Catalyst. Drop bars with barcons, etc is fun. I do have a new handlebar coming for it but have the Salsa Cowbell on there in the mean time. Behold...
I decided to put her to the test on the Lynn Valley Trail. The trail was soft and it was windy, but I was determined to make Dover and back. I felt pretty out of shape and realized quickly that I need to pack the miles on before the P2A in the end of April.
Some of the trail was beautiful and dry...
Some was covered by ice and snow...
I even managed to find someones poor old department store bike that had washed down the river years ago. Hopefully they upgraded to something nicer...
I felt pretty slow but even the road signs were poking fun at me...
Near the end of my ride I found a nice spot to sit down and soak up this sunshine. It felt great and I didn't realize just how much I missed it. As I sat there, I thought about bikes. I thought about the few new bikes that I had been lusting over lately, the Salsa Timberjack, Kona Unit X, Jamis Dragonslayer. Maybe I should just keep riding my fat bike year round with a new set of wheels, maybe I should go with a plus bike for non-snow rides. Maybe I'm just overthinking this and I need to ride more...
Oh well... I can only get stronger from here. The clock is ticking on my P2A40 challenge and I need more hard rides.
I'd like to share a story from a couple years back. I won't name any names because the parties involved were pissed enough at the time and there is no sense in kicking the hornets nest again. It should shed some light on product reviews in the bike industry and how they are a farce. Just remember this story next time you read even an "independent" product review.
I was approached by a fairly popular "user review" type website to test out a product made by a very well known hydration pack manufacturer. They were trying to get some bloggers on board to get this product reviewed and info on the web ahead of its release. I had my reservations about doing the review, as I had previously written off this manufacturer because of their cheap materials and increasing cost, but ultimately agreed to do it. They said they wanted honest reviews of the product, written by us (blogger types) selected, posted to the user review website they had teamed with. I'm cool with honesty.
The product arrived in the mail, absolutely free of charge. I thought the idea was great, I get to test out new unreleased gear for free just for giving my two cents. I could get use to this.... or so I thought.
I un-boxed the product and took thorough photos from all angles, paying attention to build quality and materials, as well as unique features. I was immediately disappointed in the quality as the materials felt very cheap and the zippers honestly looked like crap. The reasoning behind the thin material was "weight savings" as they said, but this is mountain biking and I like durable things. Considering what I received would retail for nearly $200 Canadian, I was disheartened.
These faults aside, I had to actually use the product to do a proper review. This is when everything went sideways. I loosened the straps all the way but it still wouldn't fit. I know I'm a big guy and hard to fit at times, but this thing had no chance of even coming close to fitting. A few emails between the manufacturer, the user review site, and I later... I was pretty much told tough luck about the fit. They say its appropriately sized for average riders. I guess I'm above average. They also had no plans of making bigger sizes for bigger guys.
Taking into account that my Wingnut packs fit me great, I had no choice but to call BULLSHIT on this product being made for the masses. It was completely unusable, and made like shit in my opinion. I went to work typing up my review. I was honest just like they asked. I quickly realized that honestly and bike industry reviews do not go hand in hand. A shit-storm was brewing.
It wasn't even two hours after submitting my review that I got the first email. It was the boss of the user review site asking me why I felt the way I did about the product. I reaffirmed my position and told them that I would not be changing my opinion. The next day I noticed that my review had been heavily edited and my rating changed. I was pissed. There was one of my pen names being whored out to this deep pockets corporation. I took up the issue with the user review site, the manufacturer got involved and threatened libel.... all over an honest review.
In the end, the review was nuked to uphold the farce that this was a great product. After all, a negative review before the product even hit the shelves would be disaster... that and the fact that the manufacturer was a sponsor of the user review site. My last message was to inform them that I had too much personal integrity to do any more "honest reviews" for them and I would not be available for future reviews. I'm pretty sure I wasn't on their "reviewer" list anymore anyways.
Just remember this next time you read an "independent" user review on any website, and especially for bike magazines who depend on advertisers to keep the lights on. In light of all that, I've decided no more reviews from me... and I've deleted all reviews from my blog. Just like in the X-Files... Trust No One.
The human heart gets an average of 2.5 billion beats in a lifetime...... how will you spend yours?
I'm sure at some point many of us cyclists have been asked "Why ride?". The knee-jerk answer is "Its fun" but looking deeper into the psyche of a cyclist will undoubtedly result in a much more complex answer. Some ride out of necessity, some for fun, and some fall in the middle ground between the two. Each cyclist has their own reasons. So I sat down and looked in the mirror, asking myself "Why ride?".
For me, cycling isn't a hobby or a pass time. It has been a way of life for me since I was very young and found the first spark of love for cycling by pedaling along deer paths in the woods. It was an escape for me, to be outdoors surrounded by nature, the sights and sounds of everything simple and pure. As I aged I became more and more aware of my own mortality and the fact that I wouldn't live forever, I wanted to get as much fun and personal happiness as I could in this life. I want to traverse the path less traveled, take the alternate route and stop to smell the roses. I want to find things hidden in plain sight that most people scurry by in their busy lives. I realized that sometimes to get the most out of life, you need to slow it down. Quantity does not equal quality and packing more into your day will not make lasting memories if you have to stay on schedule and can't stop to daydream or laugh a bit.
I've battled my own demons and used cycling as the cure. I've never spoken about it but I've suffered with depression and did a great job of hiding it from almost everyone I know. I've crashed head first into the dark tunnel and found the light at the other end, just to stumble into the darkness again. I've had the talks, taken the medications, but with the support and love of my wife and kids I've beaten the disease. I ride as often as I can because I know that I could slip into the darkness again. I'm a big guy and not scared of much but being trapped in your own head is tough sometimes when you can't help but think you are worthless. When I feel the cold damp fingers of depression reaching out again, a quick spin on the bike does wonders for my mind. I am committed to staying on top of it and using my life-long passion to battle it is a bonus. I was ashamed of myself but realize now that depression is a disease, and I can only hope that my coming out of the shadows will help lift the stigma surrounding it, or help someone else push on, to know that better days are ahead. I realized that on my darkest day, in my darkest hour, there is a light at the end and better days will come. Cycling has a way of melting away all your worries, fears, and poisonous thoughts. I've gone from thinking "I can't" to saying "I can" even if the odds are against me. Bicycles, for me, are the cure and the prevention.
I cannot just exist. Everyone needs some sort of driving force in their life that keeps their heart ticking, whether it be cycling, baseball, cars, etc. To have to just go to work and pay the bills, just doing enough to exist, would drive me back into that dark tunnel. Being outside and interacting with nature, whether by riding or camping or gently floating down the river in a canoe, gives me a sense of how small and insignificant a human life can be, or how wonderful and filled with joy and accomplishment it could be. To be out there and smell the pine needles, sit in the dirt, and gently drag your fingers across the bark of a hundred year old tree, gives meaning to our place in the world. Being outdoors in the forest isn't just existing, its living.
When I die I don't want to be filled with regrets. Regrets are made of unfulfilled dreams and expectations that where not met. I'm not concerned about being a person of great importance or remembered by many, I'm only concerned with being the best husband and father I can be and to do the things in life that bring me joy, even if faced with failure. I would rather try something and fail than to not try at all and be filled with regret when I've run out of time to live. I'm going to love my wife and kids with every ounce of my soul, I'm going to ride the trail I've never been on, take that road trip to a trail far away, spend the money on a new bike, all because when I've had my last breath I don't want to be wishing "I had" when right now, in this moment "I can". Too many people trade their time for money to buy things that won't matter in the end, because when you are at the edge of death the only thing that will matter are your memories and the ones that you've made with your loved ones and friends that they will carry on in their hearts.
So, in the end, my answer to "Why ride?" is simple.... to live. To keep my glass full and squeeze every drop that this short life has to offer. To look up at the stars knowing just how small and fleeting we all are in this vast universe, but to be satisfied with who I am. To know that in the end, I've done everything I could to make the best out of my time.
To many miles of dirt under your tires, and memories made along the way.
I'm not going to lie. I've been a long time gear head (ever since my first shitty car) and have loved anything with an engine since. Growing up I was always interested in how things worked and figuring them out on my own. Once in High School, I signed up for every auto shop class I possibly could while working at a local grocery store trying to save enough money for my first car. Once I had that first car at seventeen (and a Haynes manual in hand) I had to keep it on the road and was working on my $700 heap of crap every weekend. I learned alot in a hurry and my interest in motorized things was going from a bubble to a roaring boil.
A car just wasn't enough to keep me satisfied and after some time spent with ATV's and dirtbikes, I decided to get my motorcycle license on a whim one day. I woke up, drove to the drive-test center and wrote my M1 license test. I passed with flying colours. I got home an told my parents the good news, both of them looking at me very surprised as they didn't know I was going for my license (and in all honesty neither did I until that morning). My mom and dad were supportive, being motorcyclists themselves, and my mom offered up her bike for my maiden voyage. I quickly tossed on some jeans, a hoodie, and an old snowmobile helmet and roared out of the laneway on her 1986 Suzuki GR 650 Tempter. I muddled about the back roads near Delhi getting comfortable with the handling of the bike, the little parallel twin sewing machine humming away underneath me.
It was my first taste of motorized two wheel freedom (on pavement) and I knew I needed more. I returned mom's bike home with a full tank of fuel, smiling ear to ear. I pulled a copy of "Boat Bike & RV Trader" from the saddlebag that I picked up at the gas station and began studying each page. In the days before Kijiji we had to wait a week for each new issue, hoping to score that deal of a lifetime. My dad and I looked it over, lots of me pointing to a bike excitedly and him doing his best humm and haw. Finally we came to agreement on a good looking Yamaha in Woodstock. A phone call later and we were on the road.
It was a 1982 Yamaha Seca 550. The bike was mint and I put down my $1400 and loaded it on my trailer. This bike was so clean you could eat off it. My first motorcycle might have been plain Jane to everyone else, but to me it became an icon of freedom and speed. I still get starry eyed whenever I see one out in the wild. My vintage rocket, 550cc's of engine spread out over four cylinders, front disc brake and rear drum, chain drive, and pure fucking black with a red stripe that said "I'm sexy".
In all honesty the bike was a little slow, but it didn't matter to me. It would reach 140 km/h on a long flat stretch and the brakes were weak to say the least. In two years I put over 60,000km on it, commuting to work, pleasure cruising, and even some iron butt 500km+ days. That bike took me places, from lake shore vistas to the stop and go of city traffic, onto roads and places I didn't even know existed. We had some close calls too, nearly being run into a few times by distracted drivers. I had to learn quickly to ride like no one could see me and always assume that the guy at the stop sign is going to pull out in front of you.
One of my favourite rides was to head south out of Delhi to Turkey Point and head east along the lake shore passing through Port Dover, Nanticoke, Peacock Point, and eventually way down the lake shore to Fort Erie. I'd head north and grab some lunch at a retro looking diner in Niagara Falls (I don't even think the diner is open anymore, I can't remember the name) and either head home via Dunnville and Highway #3 or West on the QEW and over the Burlington skyway, around the north side of Hamilton and eventually south from Brantford on Cockshutt Road. I also did quite a few late night runs to Brantford to eat the huge hamburgers at Admiral Submarine and watch the drunks walk the streets after being kicked out of the bars.
I ended up selling that bike, which I still regret to this day. I did own another Seca 550 a few years later but it was a heap of shit to be honest and having a toddler and a baby made the insurance hard to pay for. I'm bike-less now but I know that my motorcycle days are far from over. I can feel the itch every now and again. I keep teasing myself by dropping in at the local toy store and drooling over machines like the FZ-09, the V-Strom, even the Harley Davidson Iron 883. I dream of bikes I will never afford from the likes of Triumph and Ducati. I spend time looking at 2-3 day routes around Ontario or the Great Lakes, imagining putting on big miles over a few long days. A new bike might not happen today, or tomorrow, but I can see one far off in the future. Besides, my midlife crisis is only 8 years away and I'm guaranteed a new motorcycle then..... or a sports car...... nope, fuck that, it will be a motorcycle.
Another year, another Global Fat Bike Day. This one was special for me as it was my first ride back on the mountain bike (expect for a couple of very painful rides I gave up on in the summer) since my accident. It was also the first ride out on my resurrected fat bike.
The bike was everything that I hoped it would be when done. Fully rigid on 4" rubber, 1 x 10 driveline, loaded with simple and reliable components. It doesn't get much simpler than this when it comes to mountain biking, and its just what I needed. A reliable machine to get me back on the trails. Full spec below...
Feast your eyes.....
My good riding partner, Wide Open Willie, and I set out to do our own little ride at Turkey Point. We kept to the trails within the Provincial Park and did a nice loop that reversed back on a few trails. A great day to get out there. The resurrected fat bike did well, very well. It took everything in stride and kept me grinning ear to ear. I think its safe to say that I'm back in the saddle again and I can't wait to put more miles on.
Its been far too long and I've missed the sound of my huge tires humming along in the dirt, with the occasional click of the shifter or squeak from the brakes. Carving up the winding trails and attacking the short climbs put me back into my Happy Place that I've missed for months.
See you on the trails...
Its been an exciting few weeks getting the fatty frame put back together. The paint is done and the bike is built. Lots of work has gone into the fat bike rebuild and now its time to ride. Can't wait to get it out and return to mountain biking on Global Fat Bike Day. Its going to be great. I'll take some photos and do a big reveal then.
Working on the project has added fuel to the dwindling fire that is my passion for cycling. After my accident in April I had little to no interest in riding, until now. My body is healing and the fatty is fixed, its going to be great.
The frame turned out great. The metallic black is stunning in person. The build went perfect with a few much needed new parts to get it ready to rock for another few years. GFBD'17 here I come...
Got some more work done recently on my fatbike rebuild. After the flux was cleaned off and the frame was given a good working with steel wool to remove any surface rust, I gave it a rub down with Acetone and got to work with priming.
A good paint job is all in the prep and doing light coats. I sprayed the self-etching primer and let it cure for a few days. A soft rub with a scouring pad and another Acetone wipe down, then a coating of primer sealer. Not many people bother with a primer sealer but I find it makes the paint job tougher and improves the look of the finished project. Self-etching primer is also a great option for extra hold on your base coat.
Its looking good so far. After the primer sealer cures over the next couple of days I need to start thinking about a colour. Lots of options in the automotive isle, and am thinking I'll spray it with an Acrylic Laquer. It will be my first time with laquer, I've done a few with enamel but it does not seem to cure very well and won't polish up nice with wax.
Once its shot with colour and clear coat, the fun beings and I get to hang parts back on it. So far I'm going to need a new bottom bracket, cables, and a chain. Everything else looks good. This old friend is going to be back and badass when she's done. Can't wait.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.