Friday, October 21, 2016

Should cyclocross evolve?

My interest in cyclocross has certainly waned over the years. There are now 17 races and it seems every course is the same: 100% grass, and run-ups, if there are any are short. Watch any run-up (if there are any) and you will see people who have signed up for every race in the series, yet haven't even bothered to learn how to carry their bike properly. Points go 18 deep, and 3 18th places gives a better start position than my one 4th place. At least the janky off cambers and awkward corners from 5 years ago are gone. When I first started racing 11 years ago, there was variety. Some weekends, we'd be racing on ski trails at Goldbar and Goldstick and have really long run-ups. Others, we'd start on the pavement or gravel, then venture out onto the grass.

Shantel, Abby, and Bridget all carrying their bikes properly! Right arm under the downtube, grabbing the left drop. Left hand free! photo: Andrew Davidson

But I am certainly no authority on cyclocross courses in Alberta. The one race I did this year was almost more frustrating than it was fun. It was like NASCAR trying to work my way up before I was finally able to float my way up to the lead group by myself where the real racing began. Do Jeremy Powers cyclocross videos not provide any tips for after the first 2 laps?
I was planning on racing again this weekend, but after a complaint about the last doubleheader in Edmonton where races were held on a snowy course that deteriorated into mud, the city hastily decided to cancel the permits for the races. The cyclocross community was caught with our pants down. We know that the grass heals by springtime. But we haven't convinced the community and the city.

The city offered up Terwillegar Park as an alternative but the organizers politely turned them down going as far as to say that the park is the least suitable option for cyclocross in the city. Sure dodging dog walkers (and their out of control dogs), unclaimed dog poop, and large chunks of gravel isn't optimal. No, you can't have a 100% grass race there, plus it is way too late to reschedule and design a course. But to say it's unsuitable for cyclocross shows how homogenous this discipline has become. I've had fun racing dirt crits there before. Maybe it's time to dust off the mountain bikes. Why can't we allow wider tires and mountain bikes anyways?

I think this muddy hill, and not the muddy grass was the straw that broke the camel's back. Some poor dogwalker got muddy feet on their normal loop. Too bad. photo: Andrew Davidson
Ok, here's an idea. Sure there isn't parking close by, so you can't haul your trainer, tent, spare bike, and spare wheels there as easily, but it's a park that nobody gives a shit about. Some decent climbs, and some trail that isn't just grass.
How about Sunridge?

My perfect cyclocross race? Long hill off the start to seed the riders properly. Some ski trails, some grass technical sections. Long run up. Barriers that can be hopped or run. Straightaways and corners taped wider than 3m. No dangerous descents, or driveside off cambers. Hop 'n Hurl 2017 at Goldstick, Kurt?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Redevelopment of the Glacier Park Lodge at Rogers Pass

How cool would it be to have a new hostel at Rogers Pass? Parks Canada has taken  control of the old Glacier Park Lodge site with plans to redevelop it. Would be a shame if it became yet another Brewster attraction that is too expensive for the people who use the area. Here is what I wrote to Honorable Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna.

Dear Honorable Minister:

I am pleased to learn today that Parks Canada is moving forward with redevelopment of the Glacier Park Lodge site. I was young at the time when it was closed and just getting into backcountry skiing so I never got to experience the convenience of being able to wake up and go skiing or hiking right from the door of the hotel. I am writing to you today because I believe that the site would be best utilized as a hostel. The Alpine Club of Canada and Hosteling International operate hostels along less popular travel corridors such as highway 93, so I believe that a hostel is viable along the much busier Trans-Canada Highway.

Backcountry skiing has exploded in popularity and Rogers Pass is home to some of the best skiing in the world. The combination of great ski terrain and abundant snowfall and being reasonably close to Calgary means that skiing is popular. The 1 hour drive from Golden or Revelstoke can become quite treacherous in the winter and it has become increasingly common for skiers to “camp out” in designated trailhead parking spots rather than brave a morning drive, and sleeping in the car presents an economical option for a group who cannot afford resort hotels, lift tickets, helicopter, or cat skiing. Catering to climbers, skiers, and hikers honours the heritage of the original Glacier House which was used as a base for mountain climbing and the Swiss Guides when it was located near where the Illecillewaet campground presently sits. A hostel would also be welcome to travellers that become stranded due to highway avalanche closures or motor vehicle accidents rather than having them extorted for $300 per night hotel rooms.

I fear that if the site is redeveloped as a luxury wilderness hotel, it will not provide the same benefit to the community. West Louise Lodge in Yoho National Park has become increasingly aggressive to backcountry skiers, and now charges parking fees on the multi-day point to point Wapta traverse, one of the best ski tours in the world.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on redevelopment of the site as a hostel.


Peter Knight

Monday, October 17, 2016

My costs of bike and ski racing, broken down slightly

Bicycling and skiing are seen as expensive hobbies, and I'm sure the average income of the participants is well above the national average. Yet both sports have a savvy dirtbag contingent who are able to participate in these sports by keeping a close eye on costs.

Racing can take a backseat when other life expenses: housing, car, children, vacations and constraints: work, children, start to add up.

How expensive are bike and ski mountaineering racing in the grand scheme of things? How does that break down monthly?

Race fees

$542.07 or $45.17/month. This includes 5 mountain bike races, a race license, and 1 cyclocross race. A light year for me, but one that gave me lots of time to ride and hike on the weekends. Only really cost me $442 because I won $100!

Signing up for all 17 of the Alberta cyclocross races will set you back over $500 over the 2 month season. Unless of course you belong to one of those clubs that uses casino funding to pay for masters race entries.

$950 or $79.16/month. This includes the bargain $500 I paid to race Singletrack 6, but no cyclocross races as I was injured. 5 mountain bike races, and a 6 day stage race.

$630.99 or $52.58/month. 7 mountain bike races and 3 cyclocross races.

So typically about $50/month in a normal year

What about ski races over that same period?

$455.43 or $37.95/month. 6 races

$2021.17 or $168.43. $1574 of that was for racing, accomodations, and food in Verbier, not a bad price for over a week in Switzerland.

If I were to go race in Europe every 2 years for world championships, I would expect to budget around $100/month for race fees. If not, under $40/month.

What about gear? Bike stuff requires ongoing maintenance, in addition to the upfront cost. Since February 2014: I've bought a couple of bikes over that period, as well as sold some bike parts (that revenue is included). I'm very foruntate to have good support from both Hardcore Bikes and Dynafit.
Biking $4841 or $146.69/month
Skiing $4170 or $130.30/month


Travel. Hotels and flights. I've only really done this for skiing, in the summer, I camp.
Biking (camping): $278. A mere $8.69/month
Skiing (flights, hotels for races): $1714.54 (does not include the $1574 that was a bundle of food, accomodations, and race fees). $53.58/month

So totals: Biking $7242.06 or $226.34/month
Skiing (gear, races, travel) $6646.60 or ~  $261.29/month

But really, some of the biggest costs are related to driving my gas guzzling Toyota Highlander (that I just replaced) back and forth to the mountains and keeping it running. Gas has averaged $270/month, and maintenance $164/month for a total of $433.82/month. Pretty costly when you consider that I only really drive to feed my biking and skiing habits.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bontrager Ion 700R light review

With a basic LED light, cars would turn left in front of me. They don't turn left in front of me anymore, because now I've got 200 lumens (low setting) pointed in their face. The 700 lumen setting works good for singletrack riding, though with just a bar mounted light, it can be hard to see around corners. Combined with a Flare rear light, cops don't give me shit for riding at night.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The social media of things

"Where should we go today?"

It's a common question presented to the group when discussing ski plans.

"Hey, I think I know of a new place we could check out"

Is becoming a rarer response. Perhaps we've now exhausted the selection of good ski spots in the area. Or maybe new spots are getting harder to find.

I used to spend free time on the internet not watching cat videos but tumbling down the rabbit holes of internet forums (The Alberta Report on now BackcountryTalk, Canadian Rockies Roll Call on,,, gravsports-ice) and blogs (SchultzGambit is a favourite of mine). By carefully comparing pictures to Google Earth satellite images, I was able to add more ski spots to my arsenal to check out when the guidebook spots were busy, tracked out, or we were just looking for an alternative. Scrolling through the pages of a simple google search also yielded good results. Even youtube is handy. Forums neatly organized discussion in subforums and treads.

But forums and blogs are dying. hashtags have replaced more detailed write ups. In fact, only started using instagram as a tool to find out where people are skiing, and when. Perhaps Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide more instant gratification in the form of followers, shares, retweets, regrams, and likes for a lot less effort. Or maybe less is more and being able to limit your bragging to your followers and friends better preserves the spot for next time. Either way we are left with a decreasing amount of searchable, archived material but with more stuff that is there for its 15 minutes of fame before getting buried to the depths of the internet (only to get uncovered when the person runs for public office).

Is Facebook a "one stop shop"? In my feed, I can see discussion of ski conditions, used gear for sale, and pictures of recent conquest. But the mainstream nature, shear volume, and lack of organization on Facebook means it might be necessary to fragment into target groups. People start new groups so they can fluff their ego with administrative power only partly responding to a need. Backcountry-YYC, Bow Valley Skiers, Wild Terrain Freeriders, Backcountry Skiing Partners Rockies/Rogers Pass. Canmore Gear Loft, Calgary Mountain Gear Loft, YEG Mountain Gear Loft. Calgary MTB Conditions, Moose Mountain Shuttle Group, Calgary Downhill MTB. Edmonton Mountain Biking, Edmonton Bike Racers (Interclub), Edmonton Downhill Mountain Biking Meetups, Edmonton Downhill Mountain Bike Travel Group. One stop shop?

Should I check out Reddit? Talk about a rabbit hole

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Ah sweet carbon fiber. The wonder material. Unmatched stiffness to weight, and the options for shape and form are nearly limitless. Road wheels provide aerodynamic benefits that allow you to slice through crosswinds. Mountain bike wheels have unmatched stiffness for precise and confident handling. But this comes at a cost. Top of the line bikes cost above $10,000. Wheelsets can be $3000. Not to mention the fact that it is difficult to recycle thermoset resins (not to say that mining aluminum is that environmentally friendly), and we have pretty much outsourced all frame and wheel manufacturing to Asia. 
When I first started biking, I never thought that I would personally see the top of the line equipment that I had only seen online and in magazines. I thought that stuff was for the pros. But this is Alberta and the economy was booming. I'm pretty sure I saw XTR or Dura-Ace on my first group ride. Shop employees sell off "demo" bikes for great discounts at the end of the year. My point is that there lots of high end bikes out there, new and used that will make an aluminum SLX build feel inadequate.

But bicycle technology is very good at trickling down. Thru-axles, geometry updates, ever increasing cassette cog counts, clutch derailleurs, and even frames using less exotic carbon layups would make me pick today's $3000 bike over an $8000 bike from 5 years ago. But even these offerings from reputable bike brands aren't enough to satisfy some people's appetite for cheap carbon. There are stories of knockoff bikes, open mold bikes where tolerances are out of wack, and carbon layups are designed to look good while keeping costs down with little concern over strength and durability. Yes, rather than suffer the indignity of riding a $2500 105 equipped Cervelo or aluminum mountain bike from your friendly local bike shop, or gasp, a used bike, people roll the dice with no-name, Asian bikes. The bike brands can't afford to have frames fail, it could tarnish their reputation. Do the open mold manufacturers even care?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Strava hunting for dummies

Ah Stava. Even the mention of that word can bring up debates about suspected poor trail etiquette of its users. Segment speeds are used as fodder for anti-bike advocates. But it's a heck of a good training tool.

You need ideal conditions: Strava leaderboards list people's personal bests. There might be asterisks for weight classes or age groups (for premium users), but it doesn't give a shit if you got your best time against the wind, in the mud, or on a busy night. Road bike segment leaderboards will be packed with people on slick road tires (not mountain bikes), often riding in a group to share the workload, and with a tailwind. So don't go hunting solo, into the wind, on your mountain bike. Conversely for mountain bike trails, you're going to want tacky trail conditions, no fallen trees, and you should ride the trail when it is not busy so you won't have to slow down or stop for other riders using the trail.

Know your segment: It doesn't hurt to preride your segment to find the fastest lines, how to pace yourself, or study online where it starts and finishes. Some segments are poorly made with non intuitive starts and finishes or based off poor GPS traces, but those are the cards you have to deal with. Don't be a loser and make your own segment.

Don't hunt at the very beginning of the ride: Not only are you not warmed up yet, but your GPS likely hasn't had enough time to really lock in on the satellites. You might be able to put in a good time, but it won't count if your GPS trace is out to lunch.

Experiment with entering and exiting trails from different directions: These might be ways to trick your GPS track into giving you a head start or an early finish line. At the very least, you'll find a way that lets you carry speed in and out of the trail. Don't start hunting from the entrance of the trail, or stop right at the end of the trail.

Average wattage: For road segments, you can look at average wattage of your previous attempts to make sure that you don't blow up early or leave too much in the tank.

Be smooth: Some of my best times happened when it felt like I held up a little on the throttle and rode more smooth and controlled. I paced better so I could give it more gas at the end without giving up too much at the beginning.

Don't hunt: Bask in the glory of beating the Strava heroes in a real race! (Mostly) closed course, mano et mano.

Some mountain bike segments are too close to roads and it's hard to compete with road bikes as you weave through singletrack alongside the road. Sometimes the trail has been rerouted, making it almost impossible to beat the previous times.