Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road is an online cycling magazine. It is intended for writers and riders who want to share their on the road cycling stories and pictures. Submissions that follow our guideline are gratefully appreciated. See the appropriate page in the site menu. Will publish the best of the best each month. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @PicosCycling.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road June 2015 Vol. 3 No. 6

Our May issue lived up to all my expectations. We did reset our monthly readership record. Final numbers won't be in until tomorrow but as of the time of this posting we're already past 1800 page views. Another first is to see every single article surpass one hundred individual views. A big thank you to all our readers. I think this month is another excellent issue and I'm hoping to see continued growth in our readership.

In the coming months, we will continue to work to improve the site. At the end of each article we try to add links to similar or related stories. That will continue. One thing that I've noticed is that a lot of our readers are not aware that the pictures and titles have been set up as links to those articles. Not sure what I can do to make that easier to follow. I'd also like to figure out how to set those up so that the article opens in a new tab instead of routing people away from the page. Over the course of the summer I intend to slowly add similar links to all our back issues. The intention is to enhance our reader's time visiting us.

In This Issue

Click on the links to read or just scroll down

Jack Hawkins brings us a story of a cyclist who has crossed a large part of Canada not on two wheels but on only one. Sophie Stirl shares with Jack her experiences touring on her unicycle.

Riding alongside parked cars can be dangerous. This article is written to spread awareness of the issue. This type of accident is entirely preventable if everyone just took the time to look before opening a car door.

My story continues. This instalment sees me tackling mountains like I'd never done before. From the San Francisco Bay area over Donner Summit and on to Reno Nevada. This was definitely an unforgettable climb. 

Loaded down creaking slowly down the road on my touring bike, this scenario played itself out over and over again on my tours. Part of me found it annoying, while another part of me finds it too funny.

Sometimes we don't know how fast we can ride until we really push ourselves. I found out on this occasion but I'm still usually content with moseying along at a more sedate pace.

That's it for another month. I hope our readers enjoy this issue as much as they did last month. A big congratulations to Canadian Grand Tour racer Ryder Hesjedal for an inspiring comeback. The Giro d'Italia finishes today. He was at one point in 29th place and finished yesterday in 5th overall. Way to go. Winning again would be nice but that is one impressive comeback.

Don't forget to follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Picos-Cycling-Tales-of-the-Road/204903946360150?ref=hl or @PicosCycling on Twitter

Until next month, keep those pedals churning.


Unicycling Across Canada With Sophie Stirl

By Jack Hawkins
Photos: Sophie Stirl

Many people ride a unicycle, and many people ride across Canada. But not many people ride a unicycle across Canada. Meet Sophie Stirl.

Sophie Stirl has spent the last four months cycling across Canada... on a unicycle! Sophie, 18, from Dusseldorf in Germany has been cycling across Canada since early July, and her journey has taken her from Toronto to Montreal, then back West again as far as White River, Ontario.

Sophie has been riding a unicycle from a young age, "
When I was six there was a girl in my kindergarten, who had a unicycle, but couldn't ride it. I told my parents that I would like to learn it and a couple of days later my dad came home with a 16" unicycle. I've been riding since then."

"It does take some time and it does require balance. It's hard to say how difficult it is, because some people learn it in a couple of hours and for others it takes a few weeks. It depends on how often you practice. It's usually easier to learn when you're a child. Children are just less afraid of falling."

I was interested in how different it was for Sophie to ride with panniers, and what she did about maintenance while on the road...

"I tried to ride with a bigger backpack first, which was easier to learn, but harder at the end of the day. Then I tried to ride with more weight on the unicycle and less on my back. I only went for a few rides with the panniers before this trip, so I guess it didn't take me too long."

"I have a second inner tube (which I never had to use, because I didn't have a single flat tire!), a couple of spare bolts and nearly all tools that I need to fix it (except for crank tools, because if one of my cranks break, I have to order one online anyway, so it doesn't make really sense to carry it). Oh, I have spare spokes as well. Some things are easier to maintain on a unicycle than on a bike, because I don't have a chain to look after. On the other hand all the weight is only on one wheel so I have to look after my spokes a bit more often."

Sophie also rarely locks up her bike. "Whoever steals a unicycle must be really stupid, because finding it is a lot easier than a bike."

Sophie has been planning to ride across Canada for two years, but already has extensive bicycle touring experience, on both one and two wheels, "My family (my parents and now 14 year-old brother) went on cycle tours almost every summer holiday." Sophie and her family have toured in many countries, including: France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and her native Germany.

Sophie had been planning her cross-Canada ride for two years, she was attracted to Canada by the Unicycling World Championships, Unicon that took place this year in Montreal, Quebec. "I knew that Unicon was going to be in Canada, so I decided to come here two years ago. Then I figured that I might as well apply for a working holiday visa, because I wanted to do a gap year and not go to university straight away anyway."

"And then I thought, 'Oh, if I do a tour I'm going to see so much more and meet so many more people.' I didn't plan a lot, which was probably good. Planning the route in Germany was hard, because I didn't know which roads were better. Once I met a few WarmShowers hosts in the first few days in Canada, I knew a lot more then from my reading on the internet."

Some of the highest points of Sophie's trip, she says, have been the people she's met. As well as personal milestones. "I met a guy the other day who is walking across Canada. That was very motivating to keep going. I had my first 100km ride (I've never even ridden that much without gear) that day as well."

Conversely, the lowest points of Sophie's journey have been the wet and windy days - which any cyclist can understand. "I rode 10 kilometres in 2 hours (I think) and had to concentrate a lot to stay on the unicycle. That wasn't fun."

Sophie's cross country voyage on one wheel has unfortunately come to an end. But, she plans to stay in Canada until next summer.

"I have a working holiday visa, which allows me to work in Canada until next year July. I want to stay here over winter, find a job and just keep meeting people. And continue for a bit next year."

The Endless Climb

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

The ride from the San Francisco Bay area to Sacramento was a pleasant roll through rich farmland. A field of sunflowers that stretch out as far as I could see and then the same thing with tomatoes. The field of tomatoes had been partly worked over by an automatic picking machine, which destroys the plants and misses quite a few of the tomatoes. I feasted on them for lunch.

Sacramento isn't a very big city but I went straight through the heart of it, right past the state capitol buildings. I didn't take any pictures. At the time I was more concerned about not missing any turns or getting run over.

After leaving the city civilization started thinning out again. I picked up I-80 and continued heading east. That road and I were together for most of the rest of the trip. Wide paved shoulders made it surprisingly bicycle friendly. At the same time the riding got more difficult because the road climbed steadily.

My bike was a twelve speed touring bike without a super low gear range. I was able to pedal up the steady incline but every once in awhile I would get off and walk. Built up quite a bit of tension in my leg muscles and that seemed to help. It seemed to go on forever and I developed a preoccupation with photographing elevation signs. I don't know why I get so much incentive from numbers. Give me, great scenery, an odometer and elevation signs and I'm a happy rider.

The gold rush town of Auburn was an interesting sight along the way. The rest was mostly mountains, trees and the ever present I-80. Finally that Thursday I reached the crest at Donner Summit. The top had a small roadside park and I had the man in charge there take a photo of me. He said he'd never seen a cyclist ride over the top like that before. I didn't understand why not. Seemed like the logical route to me.

From there is was all down hill all the way to Reno, Nevada. It was not very physically challenging. I camped out amoung the trees alongside the freeway right close to Truckee. That night I had an epic nosebleed. Not sure the reason for that. Might have been the elevation, the climate change or a combination of the two. Once staunched I was done with it, so I wasn't particularly concerned.

The following day I arrived in town early and once I'd located Leroy and Yong's home I had a lot of time to kill before anyone got home to say hello. That was the start of a whirlwind weekend that to this day I can't quite figure out how we squeezed everything in. I arrived on Friday and left Sunday morning. There didn't seem to be enough hours or evenings.

More Stories From This Tour (Photos and titles are clickable links)

It Begins

Leaving on my first big tour. This is part one in the series. The trip begins in Pasadena, California. I head straight to the Pacific coast and then north.

Finding My Rhythm

The story continues with part two in this series. After a few rocky moments at the beginning I settle in for the long and sometimes winding road.

Scenic Rollercoaster

Third in the series. I get to ride some of the most beautiful coastline in the USA. At times spectacular but challenging.

Through the Urban Jungle

Last month's instalment of this story has me crossing the urban sprawl of the San Francisco Bay area. Quite an experience for this Canadian.

Hope That Ego Boost Lasts All Day

By Pico Tiano
Photos: Pico Triano, Jack Hawkins

I creaked down the road at little more than a snails pace decked out in old sweat pants, cotton t-shirt and bandana. My touring bike was loaded down with gear, carrying my home with me. Sleeping bag, tent, camp stove, pots, pans, dishes, clothes, first aid kit, maps, bicycle repair tools and some food and water. My load weighed somewhere between fifty and seventy-five pounds. I'm cycling's equivalent of a plough horse. Plenty of strength and endurance but not much speed.

Before I leave city limits on my first day, another bicycle approaches me from behind. This guy is on a racing bike dressed in the latest gear. Black cycling tights, multi coloured lycra jersey, clip on cycling shoes and back in that time that stupid looking little Tour de France cycling cap (on backwards of course). 

It isn't the fact that he passed me that I found amusing, it's how he passed me. No he doesn't just blow on by. He first tucks right up behind my rear wheel and starts drafting. He waits for that perfect moment. It was early in the morning and there was no traffic so he wasn't waiting for that. Maybe he was waiting for that moment of weakness he sensed in me.

After drafting me for a block or so he suddenly whips out and put on a burst of speed. He passed triumphantly. Doesn't look at me, never mind say good morning or even a brief nod of acknowledgement. What can I say the man is faster than me... So what! I get passed by people's grandmother on level ground. Passing me is no great feat.

If you thought that was even a little bit funny. Forty miles down the road or so, I picked up another one just like him. Did exactly the same thing. Then before supper after I was closing in on ninety miles a third guy came along. I'm glad I was able to make their day. Maybe they were real racers just practicing their passing technique...somehow I doubt it. Incidentally on tour I ran into riders like this regularly. This was just one day.

More Humour From Pico (Photos and titles are clickable links)

Wardrobe faux pas. Didn't realize what I might look like to the rest of the world.

My First "Time Trial"

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pixabay

I am six feet five inches tall and weigh 210 pounds. I also have minor asthma. As a cyclist it should be obvious that I am not built for speed. At what point I decided I still liked cycling and was okay with being slow, I'm not sure. I don't ever remember out sprinting anyone. My older brother destroyed me every time and we only raced at his insistence. I never pushed myself to see how fast I could ride or for how long.

My first full time job was eleven miles from home on the outskirts of St. Catharines, Ontario. The commute home by bicycle took me roughly 50 minutes. Keep in mind that home was somewhere between 150 and 200 feet higher in elevation. I almost invariably had to battle a headwind as well. That time is probably not as bad as it sounds. Keep in mind that was ridden after a full day of physical labour as well. There was a day when I was going to have to do a lot better though.

I signed up for a speed reading night school class in Niagara Falls. That was twenty miles a way but not really an issue since Mr. MacKay the instructor lived across the street from my home. I got a ride from him once I'd gotten home. Of course there has to be one day when there was a scheduling conflict and I had to get home after work in thirty minutes or miss my ride. Worse no one involved thought it a very big deal. I would not call this shaving a few minutes off my ride.

I told Mr. MacKay that I would try but couldn't guarantee I would manage it. If he had to leave without me, I understood. He seemed certain I'd manage, after all I ride all the time. His best friend is Mr. Bauer father of Steve Bauer, the Steve Bauer who finished third in the Tour de France one year. Probably the greatest cyclist in Canadian history. For Steve this feat would be no big deal. For me it looked insurmountable.

At the end of the day, the work bell sounded and I was as ready as I'd ever be. Blue jeans and steel toed work boots. I hopped on “The Beast” a rebuilt Canadian Tire ten speed, which was my steed at the time and started pedalling furiously. I made a passing effort at pacing myself but pushed way harder than I thought I could sustain. The first couple of miles weren't too bad. Then I got to the Niagara Escarpment (the land form Niagara Falls falls off of). It is an easier spot and I stood on my pedals and ground my way up. I rolled and weaved through the countryside faster than I thought I could. In North Pelham there is a short downhill stretch and I tore through there grateful to be able to go faster with less effort.

I wasn't wearing a watch so as I entered the home stretch racing along my street pushing with everything I had left. Mr. MacKay was still there. My mom had a change of clothes all ready for me. I got to rest once I got settled into the car. Mr. MacKay gave me one of those, “I knew you could do it looks,” and we went to class.

That's the closest I've ever been to a real bicycle race. Maybe I'm not as velocity challenged as I tell everyone. I still don't feel a need for speed and when I ride I don't really care who passes me. I'm happy enough when I get where I'm going.

More Stories (Photos and titles are clickable links)

Difficult Century

The challenge of riding an unplanned century ride when all my well laid plans came apart at the seams. Sometimes you have to improvise and do the best you can.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Riding in the Door Zone

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano (thanks to my wife and son for staging these shots)

For urban cyclist one of the most serious dangers is the possibility of being doored. Dooring is what happens when a parked car on the side of the road opens its door either causing the rider to run into the door or being knocked into traffic. For a cyclist this is potentially lethal. 

Years back in Toronto, Canada there was a horrific dooring accident. A young father commuting to work on his bicycle was doored on one of the main roads. He was knocked into traffic where he was hit by a truck. He died leaving a widow and several young children.

I have a lot of cycling miles under my belt but have never been doored. Granted there have been a lot of close calls. This does not need to happen.

Sadly most people who can help spread awareness or avoid the hazard themselves don't take the danger very seriously. In Ontario the government changed the legal definition of a collision to exclude incidents of dooring. As a result police no longer track these incidents. There are people trying to do something about the issue but far too few. We can all do something to prevent these types of accident.


Cyclist need to be ultra aware of the parked cars they are passing. If possible ride far enough out to not be in the door zone. Also be especially wary of any car with occupants who don't appear to be aware of your presence. If you can keep up with the flow of traffic, I am all for claiming the lane by riding in the middle of it.

If possible avoid streets with trolley tracks. They really complicate the issue. Any evasive action might put one of your wheels into the groove and send you flying. If you manage to stay up on the rail, your brakes are useless until you're back on the pavement.

Motorists, please, always check your rear view mirror and do a shoulder check before opening your door. Look for cyclists, they are not as big as most of the other traffic. Don't open your door even a crack until they are passed. Popping the door handle and moving the door out even slightly can panic a cyclist into a potentially dangerous evasive manoeuvre. It has been done to me many times.

In Canada there are consequences for hitting a cyclist with a door. Usually a fine and points taken off your license. You don't want the life a cyclist on your conscience either.

Let's make the world a safer place for cyclists. Cheap, clean, efficient transportation doesn't have to be too dangerous.

Attention: The following video is a news report that happens far too often. It has been previewed carefully. It is not as graphic as I feared. This is a reality that doesn't need to be.

More Safety Articles in Pico's Cycling

Stop - Yes That Means You

Rules of the road are made for everyone. Not just motorists and not just cyclists.