Ride For Heart, and a summary of two bicycling months

3 06 2012

Today was the Ride For Heart, an event in which cyclists raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The city of Toronto closes the Don Valley Parkway and most of the Gardiner Expressway, and cyclists get to ride on it. (This is like something out of Rob Ford’s nightmares – major traffic arteries clogged by… bicycles.) This was the first year I had entered it, and I successfully managed to bicycle 50 km. Yay.

It took me a little over two months of training to be able to do this. During the past week, I was very nervous – what if I suffered a last-minute injury or came down with a virus? All that work would go down the drain! It didn’t help that my upper left leg was sore from running for the subway two weeks ago, the day after doing a long ride. (Advice to others: don’t run for the subway the day after doing a long ride.) It hadn’t quite healed by this weekend. And the back of my right calf tightened up on Wednesday, and I wondered whether it would go SPROING on the day. Fortunately, nothing bad happened.

Riding on the expressways is totally cool. From the Gardiner, you can look down on the city and the lake. The Don Valley Parkway is now a very pleasant place to ride – the valley has actual trees and stuff in it now, instead of the chemical plant and pulp and paper factory that it had when I was a kid. Cars now generate less exhaust, so greenery can actually co-exist with auto traffic.

I was worried that the banked turns would be uncomfortable to ride on, but only the steep turn near Don Mills was bad that way. And the way around that was to either stay close to the inside lane (less steep) or ride near the breakdown lane (not steep at all). I also discovered that you can’t really tell when you’re riding up a hill – several times, I only figured out that I was going uphill because I had to shift down one or more gears to keep going.

Other things I have learned from two-plus months of bicycling:

  • That I wasn’t lubricating my chain properly. (Wow, that would sound wrong if taken out of context.) Apparently, very light but more frequent chain lubrication is the way to go.
  • One water bottle is essential. Two water bottles is even better.
  • Dressing in layers is good. And always have one more layer in the backpack, just in case.
  • Bike shorts are good too. More protection, less chafing.
  • The hardest part of the ride is just before the halfway mark – I’m starting to get tired and/or sore, but there’s still a long way to go. Past the halfway point, it gets easier.
  • I mentioned this before, but starting by riding into the wind is good – that way, when you get tired, you have the wind at your back all the way home.
  • Walking a little after finishing a ride is a good thing – the muscles slowly cool down. (Today, I had no choice but to do this – it took me a while to get from the finish line at the CNE to where I could board a transit vehicle to get home. I wound up walking all the way to King and Strachan.)
  • I worry a lot about minor aches and pains.
  • When I’m feeling stressed, I tend to hibernate – I’m not any fun to be around, so I tend to avoid people.
  • Eating before riding is a very good thing. (I tried going on a long ride once after work. Just once.)
  • Trying to use a very old pressurized can of bicycle degreaser is a bad idea – extremely toxic and corrosive liquid burst out of the can and spilled all over my living room floor. It took me several sessions to clean it up, I am still reluctant to walk on that part of the floor, and I still haven’t gotten rid of the bag containing the can and the various implements I used to clean it up (I have to take it to a hazardous waste disposal on a Saturday sometime).
  • Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and buy a new back wheel for your bike – I was sick and tired of unexpected broken spokes (my bike went into the shop twice because of this – I got the wheel replaced after #2).
  • Bicycling doesn’t cause you to lose weight, but it distributes the weight you have a little better.

During the two months, I didn’t bicycle everywhere in the city – I didn’t go to the Toronto Islands, or up the Humber, or into eastern Scarborough. But I did go a whole bunch of places. My favourite bicycling routes in the city:

  • #1 probably is along the lake west of Bathurst to the Humber. The lake is postcard pretty. If you live in Toronto, and you don’t visit the lake every now and again, you’re missing out.
  • The Gatineau path from Kennedy subway station to Victoria Park and Eglinton is a short but very peaceful ride. If you want to get away from everything and just be surrounded by grassy fields, this is where to go. (It’s not developed because a major power line runs overhead.) The city has installed traffic lights at all the major intersections now, which makes this even better.
  • The former railway line east of Leslie Street, running from Overland Drive to Bond Avenue in Don Mills. Smooth pavement, nice scenery.
  • High Park from Howard Park Avenue down to the lake.
  • The path from Cherry Beach to Leslie Street.
  • The lakefront path in Etobicoke proved to be a pleasant surprise – some nice parkland, and a street named Lake Promenade. Who would not want to live on a street named Lake Promenade?

A couple of routes that are less enjoyable:

  • I used to really like the Leslie Street Spit route, but it’s been ruined by the installation of really sharp, jarring speed bumps. I can understand wanting to ensure that people don’t bicycle too fast, but these speed bumps are almost punitive.
  • I didn’t use the Don path between Riverdale Park and Queen much. It’s very bumpy in places, and is very muddy after it has rained.

Anyway, I am glad I did this, but I am grateful that I don’t have to train any more. I’ll give my legs a few days to rest up, and then I’ll go back to bicycling shorter distances just for fun. And I’ll try to have more of a balanced life – the last little while has mostly been working, bicycling, and resting up from one or more of the above.

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