Monday, 29 September 2014

The Best Two Wheel Coffee Shops

What makes the best coffee shops?  Is it the coffee?  Is it the staff?  Is it the ambiance?  Is it he snacks or food that are available?

Well, of course it's all of the above.

From a cyclist's perspective, it also means you're welcome with your cleated shoes on and there is a secure place to park your bike where you don't have to be paranoid that it will be gone when you're done the cappuccino.  I was in a local coffee shop the other day, one of my favorites (Leva /, and a cyclist came in to get a coffee and head out to the patio.  The entire time, while the dude was at the counter, he was facing outside to see if anyone was going to steal his Trek.  He may have been overly worried, but also, the bike looked pretty new and he may have still been in the "new baby" phase.

Leva is a great cafe because it has great ambiance, great staff, a margherita pizza that is incredible, and the cappuccino is perfect.  The cafe itself looks great outside and in.  There is a huge patio that accommodates lots of coffee lovers and the whole cafe can open up for an indoor / outdoor experience.  Which unfortunately, usually only lasts a couple of months in Edmonton.  The patrons range from 2 yrs to 82 yrs, cyclists, students, professors and anyone else.  They also have a fantastic selection of beers if you're into that kind of thing ... which I am.

Another of my favorites is the Wild Earth Cafe ( in Laurier Heights in Edmonton.  A small, comfortable spot that is easy to access and it has one of the coolest benches you will ever see located right inside the door.  It is really more of a bakery than a coffee shop per se, but the staff is always friendly, the coffee is excellent, and they have never yelled at me about my shoes.

I think my favorite non-Edmonton cafe has to be the Denver Bicycle Cafe ( It seems to encompass all of the things that a cyclist wants.  It has bikes, coffee, and beer.  It has a beautiful interior.  They sell custom bikes, not off the rack pre-assembled cookie cutters like every other bike shop does (which is fine, someone has to).  They have a true passion for what they are doing.

The small business in general is not doing well.  Everyone is supporting the Starbucks, Costcos, Walmarts, etc instead of looking for something unique and individual or paying a little more and supporting the little guy.  The power of branding is amazing ... I am guilty of getting my Starbucks too, but if there is a small business option available, I'd take that anytime.  And the reason?  Not only does the money usually stay local, along with the jobs, but the passion of the owner usually shines through. And that's what makes a great coffee shop.  The passion shown by your barista for coffee, the baker who made the sweet treats, or the owner's love of being an independent business owner and having control of quality and customer service.  Next time you need bike stuff, go to your LBS.  Check the price online to make sure you aren't getting totally screwed, but they will usually come close to the price anyways (when you factor in shipping, duties, etc).  It's good for the local business (they need the support) and its good for you (expert advice, immediate delivery).

Someone once asked me: "why do you want to open a bicycle cafe, you're just buying yourself a job?  You'll never get rich!"  I realized I have a passion for a few things: bicycles, coffee, enjoying "my job" everyday, and getting to decide how I can give great customer service and meet interesting people.  Money is just a means to doing interesting things in life.  I know more than a few people who make loads of money, and they are neither happy nor doing anything interesting.  They spend more on bikes than I can, but they don't have time to ride them.  We only have so many hours in our life (about 700,000 for most of us), so make sure you do what you want to do.

So don't be too surprised if one day you see a "Two Wheels & Caffeine" on the corner.  Come in.  Don't expect a bike snob (or act like one yourself).  Expect a passionate bike guy who can talk about bikes all day or make you a great mochaccino.  I also appreciate a fine beer - there is no reason to exclude the finer things in life!  I may go off on a tangent about big mountain skiing or fly fishing.  The TV may be showing a bike race, a classic movie, or even SYTYCD.  You never know.  I plan on building custom bikes of ALL price ranges, not just the ones for my rich friends.  I promise great coffee and beer that should be savoured.

Now, I just have to convince my wife that I am allowed to change jobs ...

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The "new" stage race

OK, I imagine that someone has thought of this before and I'm not really coming up with something new here.  In fact, it may exist somewhere in the cycling world and I haven't heard about it yet. However, I have decided that if it is new, then I want credit for it.

The "new" stage race will be a leg of each discipline: road, mountain and cyclocross.  

The first stage would be the road event.  Perhaps it would have a circuit feel to allow for good crowd support and feel like the other stages.  It should allow the road geeks the ability to distance themselves from the peloton before they leave the pavement.  The team aspect to the road portion would be minimal as it really doesn't carry too much to other the stages. Maybe maximum 4 members for each team?  After the first stage, each rider's time will be recorded and placings will be determined with time bonuses, etc.

The second stage would be a mountain stage that is technical but not so much that the roadies are dead at the end of the day.  That wouldn't be fair.  Obviously the two disciplines (road and mountain) are so different that there would be an opportunity for the fat tire freaks to pull equal with the road specialists.  To make it equal to stage one, the race would be a challenging circuit that was X number of laps that was timed.

The final stage would be the lung buster.  A fixed number of laps on a cyclocross bike of a course that would allow both disciplines a chance to shine - some flat out speed and steady climbs mixed with a few gnarly climbs and scary descents.  Normally a timed event, but that would be tough to keep the placing square as far as I can figure.

Here are some the things I think are good about this idea:
  • You need to have at least 3 bikes.  I love bikes.
  • You can wear spandex 3 days in a row - you don't even have to change.
  • It lets everyone hang out together like cycling best buds (roadies, off-roadies, pscyo-Xer's)
  • Everyone could have a coffee together in the morning and a beer together at night.

Now, that is an intense look.

Drawbacks to this idea:
  • Ryder Hesjedal would win every race if it went to a pro discipline (or is that a positive?)
  • Lance would come out of retirement and blame Oprah for his downfall.
  • Bike shops would be overwhelmed by demand for all the bikes.
  • Jens would tell the legs to "shut up" and would take second place behind Ryder after he also comes out of retirement.
  • The women's division would be ruled by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (or is that also a positive?)

So if you want to help me start this discipline, I am looking for a marketing genius with deep pocket to get this off the ground.  I think the public will get behind it ... or not.  But I think the coffee, beer and racing thing seems to work out most times.  Just look at NASCAR, minus the coffee.  

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Redbike Redcross

Cyclocross marks the end of the cycling season, and it's supposed to be fun but hard as hell.  The Redbike Redcross did not disappoint, except for the good weather and lack of mud and sand.  Joking aside, it was a beautiful day to race and a competitive field.

First lap, first climb
Cyclocross attracts all kinds - the roadies, the mountain bikers, and the cross specific riders who are in love with the unique mix.  Not only did we see an eclectic mix of racers, but where else will you have jumpy castle next to the speakers blaring hard core rap?  My 11 year old definitely learned a few new phrases ... "Dad, why does that motherf@#$%r want to b#%*h slap his ho?"  I told him the key phrase we have all used since it's introduction: "ear muffs."

Just like this shot ...
I enjoyed the jeering from the crowd.  It was a special kind of love from the fans.  "You can't blame your bike anymore, it's brand new."

One of the "Hardcore" riders
One fan yelled: "you got a guy on your wheel, keep going!"  The same fan then yelled to the very next rider: "you're right on his wheel, you can take him!"  He was very supportive to everyone.

Jumping the obstacles.
There's something addictive about watching athletes up close and personal push themselves to their limit on each and every lap of the cyclocross course.  There is the adrenaline of racing your peers, the challenge of not barfing up a lung, and the technical side of descending a a grassy hill or picking up your bike and running over obstacles while you're nearly seeing double from exhaustion.

Picturesque setting for the race.  Don't think too many racers noticed the lake.

If you get a chance to go out and watch a cross race, I suggest you do it.  It is a great sport to test your endurance and challenge your bike skills.  Redbike did a great job putting on the race and the venue (Hermitage Park) was perfect.   Hopefully there will be more spectators at the next race on September 27th.

The next race in the Edmonton area is the:  Jim Horner Grand Prix of Cyclo-cross on Saturday September 27, 2014 run by Juventus Cycling Club.  Races start at 10:00am.  Go to for a complete list of races.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cycling in Jasper National Park

Riding your bike in the mountains certainly gives you great surroundings to focus on even if you are punishing yourself up a climb.

As we headed out this past weekend to ride some of the climbs around Jasper, we were met with beautiful blue skies and perfect vistas to admire.  My riding partner commented that he hadn't ridden in a while and the climb would be tough.  After climbing for a bit, he said he thought about turning around but it was just too beautiful not to climb up the mountain to see the views and enjoy the day. He did a great job putting the pain out of his mind and getting up to the top.

Great roads, blue skies, and the perfect backdrop

We could hear the Elk rutting in the distance all around us.  It's the time of year when they are in a frisky mood and are willing to compete for the best mate.  We're happy that we didn't run into any excited animals.  We did however, see some very excited riders coming down off the Marmot climb encouraging us with their excited hoots and hollers as they bombed down the mountain at 70+ km/h. We were climbing a grade of 11-12 % at the time and their excitement gave us extra energy and it also made us look forward to going the other direction soon.

As I was crawling my way up the mountain, it made me think of the pro riders who fly up these grades and make it look easy.  I thought: I need to train more, lose about 10-15 more pounds, drink less beer, and maybe train some more.  Unfortunately, this silly thing called work keeps getting in the way of training and keeps me wanting to drink more beer.  Not to mention everything else that interferes with life and prevents us from doing all the things we want to spend more time on.

Patricia Lake - small climb.  Worth it for the view. 

Thinking of the pro riders flying up the climbs also made me think about the Tour of Alberta.  The Marmot road climb is a category 2 climb from what I've read, but at the end of a long road stage, it would be a decent summit finish.  It is about 12 km long and an average grade of 5.5% with max gradients of 18% (according to Strava and my Garmin).  The stage could start at Maligne Lake and go to Marmot basin for the finish ... that would be epic.  Not to mention, there is some great terrain around Banff for a stage as well.  There would be plenty of hotels and restaurants to accommodate the teams and media as well.

All alone on the roads near Pyramid Lake.

When we arrived at the top, I felt like I had achieved a pretty good climb with pretty good energy left over.  My mind went to that place where you ask yourself ... should I try the Mt. Edith Cavell climb today as well?  It is another 12ish km climb with an average grade of about 4% right at the bottom of the Marmot climb.  My legs and lungs then had a conversation with my brain, and said it would have to be another day unless a motor was going to be involved.

Top of the Marmot climb.

It was an incredibly busy weekend in Jasper and there were lots of people in town, but the mountain roads were super quiet.  It felt like we had the mountain to ourselves which is always a treat.  My riding partner made the observation that we really should do this more often, and I agreed wholeheartedly.  If you are heading to Canada for any riding, make sure you see Jasper National Park on your bike.  Not only are the roads for miles, but there is mountain bike terrain to make any rider happy.  Epic day long rides, short trail rides, or gnarly technical stuff to challenge the pros.  You get so much more out of the experience when you hear the animal sounds, feel the wind, smell the crisp mountain air, and see the peaks rising around you.  It is a magical place.

It would be criminal of me not to mention Snow Dome Coffee Bar in Jasper as well.  Yes, you can wash your smelly clothes and shower there because it is also a multi-disciplinary business, but the coffee and baking are second to none.  Do not miss it!!

Tell me where I should go ride in North America.  What are your favorite places to ride?  What do you think about the Tour of Alberta heading into the National Parks?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Tour of Alberta 2014

It is a real treat to watch the pros ride by at 50 km/h or more.  I stood at the curb and felt the wind blow by as these pros fought through wind and rain and grim.  They climbed the hills of Edmonton with tons of ferocity and descended fearlessly.  

For those of you who have watched the pros on TV, you need to see them in person.  It is amazing to see how fast you can make a bike go with your tires only centimeters from the rider in front of you.  I have done this many times, but it still gives me a bit of sphincter lock.  It doesn't matter to these guys if it's going uphill at 30 km/h or downhill at 70 km/h.  On TV, it is great, especially with the commentary from Phil and Paul.  But in person, the energy is pretty incredible.  The determination in their faces to keep racing is beyond compare and the level of professionalism is inspiring.  It must take a huge amount of professionalism to ride through the crap conditions day after day, get up off the tarmac after a fall and catch back up to the peloton when you're bleeding everywhere, or even when you have to answer really dumb questions after you just came in 2nd place by 1 second.  

A few notes about this year's tour.  Dumoulin was awesome here in Alberta and should have won the tour title; his amazing performance was only exceeded by the way he handled winning the white jersey instead of the yellow jersey.  Also, hats off to Tim Johnson, not only is he a cycling star, but he has a bright future in TV broadcasting.  Great job on colour commentary!  Ryan Anderson, the Red Jersey winner for best Canadian, was amazing.  He looks like a future winner.  The dirt sections referred to as Canadian Pave are nothing more than an interesting twist to the terrain.  If it was truly dangerous, the pros would slow down ... just like they do if a descent in the mountains is slick.  The brave will prevail!

Climbing at the Tour Of Alberta

Overall, the Tour was a huge success from my viewpoint.  The stages were interesting and challenging - the pros can handle anything including "Canadian Pave." The field was talented with lots of young, up-and-coming riders and diverse teams.  The events were family and fan friendly.  

Belkin Procycling Team has a  new fan.

Not much could be improved.  If we can somehow manage to get a tour stage to traverse one or several of our mountains, that would be perfect.  I would suggest a few climbs in Jasper National Park (more on that soon).  We have some huge mountains here in Alberta ... we should include them.  I know the National Parks are always a touchy subject, but it would be awesome for a professional bike race and have very little impact on the Parks.  It might even attract some of the best climbers, increase the clout of the race, attract more teams, and bring bigger sponsors to make it an economic super success. 

I hope to see you next year Tour of Alberta!


Monday, 1 September 2014

Build the next bike yourself.

When I was in graduate school, I took up fly fishing.  I liked it quite a bit and it felt like something I would do for a long time and keep for life as a hobby.  So, I went to a fly shop in Portland and bought everything I thought I needed to build a 4 weight fly rod.  After learning a lot about fly rod building, I finally used that rod to actually catch a nice rainbow trout in a beautiful mountain stream on a perfect day.  It was the best fish I've caught so far.  The rod is terrible compared to some Sage and Orvis rods I've used, but I built that sucker from scratch, and it caught some fish too.

How many of you have built a bike from the ground up?

I've tooled around with a plethora of replacement parts for all of my most loved bikes - always trying to get just the right feel, size or even weight.  I have only built one bike so far from nothing to complete.  My cyclocross ride is an Ibis Hakkalugi non-disc version.

Ibis Hakkalugi - cyclocross season is coming!

I was selling bikes at my favorite LBS when I decided to build the Hakkalugi.  The frame was a good deal because I got the employee discount.  I used the SRAM Rival components, 3T stem, Dedacciai handlebar, Easton seatpost, TRP brakes, old Easton clincher wheels.  Nothing exceptional, but a lot of fun to ride.

There's something to be said for riding a bike that you built with parts you chose from the beginning. I know every part, every adjustment, and every small detail of why the bike rides the way it does or feels the way it does.  I take full responsibility if something is out of alignment or not working the way I want it to.  That being said, I love riding this bike.  It fits perfectly and feels like a million bucks.  It handles the way I want it to.  The brakes are smooth and powerful.  The reach on the bar / stem is exactly where I want it.  The gearing is crisp and accurate.  The only problem is the rider, never as strong as he should be...

I learned a fair amount about a few things. Mainly to do with brakes (short pull mini brakes to go with road levers - the first set of cantilevers were also pretty weak, making the Ibis "hand-job" unsatisfying).  Also, SRAM Rival is a huge step down from Force in my mind - not even close. Force to Red = small step.  Thick bar tape is also nice for the 'cross bike.  Seems to absorb some of the vibrations over roots, rocks and holes as you cruise over everything as fast as you can.

I also learned that your LBS is your best friend some times.  In my case, the shop I had been working at, went broke just a month after I had left (pretty sure it wasn't my fault).  I was taking my sweet time building the bike and needed advice on certain things, as well as a few tools to make sure things were installed correctly.  I ended up going to another shop and getting the help I needed.

In the end, it was both rewarding and educational to build this bike.  This won't be the last one I build, and I'm sure the next one will be even better.  I have learned which parts feel the best to me and have the fit characteristics that suit me best.  I really like SRAM components (yes loud, but exact), 3T, Ritchey, and some of Specialized's parts.  The next build will be a road bike.  Probably aero, probably OEM Carbon, and maybe painted with a name sake that is related to this blog. Although, the aforementioned theft of my mountain bike may change some of these things.

I encourage everyone who has any interest in bikes to build your own.  You will learn a ton about the mechanics of your bike and know how to fix it when necessary.  You can customize things just the way you want them.  You can source out parts from different suppliers to save money.  You can be proud of the bike you build and probably enjoy riding it more.  If you do it just right, you may be able to land that special trout as well!

Let me see your builds.  Any advice for people building their own bikes?