Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “bicycle”

Whimsical fish and bicycle mixed-media illustration

seafood bike_collage_med.res

This was an illustration I did for my 3-1/2 year old nephew based on a trip I made to London, England in September of 2012, where I happened upon a lovely green delivery bike complete with wicker basket for Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill off Regents Street.

The bike and cat were hand-drawn using a black pitt pen; the fish and newspaper were photographs I had taken and cropped, while the boy, cartoon fish, and background were all drawn using Photoshop. Colorization was completed in Photoshop. My nephew loved it! 🙂

Vancouver: Is there a more beautiful Canadian city – despite all the rain?

I’m an East Coaster born and bred, and so I already come from God’s country – The Maritimes. Having said that, I’ve also lived for nearly a decade in Montreal, a city very near and dear to my heart. Known for its vibrant arts & culture scene, politics (provincially), gastronomy, and of course, the Habs. Montreal was also where I found my voice both personally and professionally.

It has been said that those who grew up by the sea will always feel the lure of the ocean even if they end up moving away. In other words, you can take the Maritimer away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean away from the Maritimer. And so, whenever I have the opportunity to spend some time by the sea – east coast or west coast – I take it! 🙂

Last week, I had to be out west for business, so I decided that once the work was completed, I would tack on a few extra days and fly over to Vancouver to hang out with my relatives and recharge with a little R&R and a lot of great outdoor recreation.

If you’ve never been to Vancouver, I highly recommend a visit. I’ve been there three times in all: once in 2002 (fall), 2012 (fall), and just last week (spring! :-)) with this latest trip. Don’t let Vancouver’s ‘wet blanket’ reputation dissuade you from exploring it. Despite the clouds, fog, and rain of last fall, there was still no shortage of natural beauty and activities to enjoy in the city, including shopping and great dining. As you’ll see from the photo spread below, the weather gods totally spoiled me during this latest trip. How many cities can deliver warm sunshine, fresh salt air from the ocean, snow-capped mountains, dense forests, lush vegetation (in the form of flowers, blossoms, and a thick urban tree canopy), a magnificent, oceanside city park, cool breezes at night, all manner of outdoor recreation (believe it or not, there is still some downhill skiing to be had at this time of year), shopping, and world-class dining all on the same trip?.. I thought not. Too bad it’s so expensive to live there!?.. 😦

So, this is a sunset view from the waterfront of Granville Island looking out toward downtown Vancouver. We hunted all over the place to find a gelato vendor that was open on a Monday night. Finally, we discovered the little Asian lady’s shop tucked unobtrusively between several other small tourist shops along the wharf.

View of harbour from Granville Island

Enjoying a gelato and the view of the harbour at dusk from Granville Island

This is a shot of the harbour fronting downtown Vancouver that I took while cycling through Stanley Park last fall. It was a damp, cool, cloudy, foggy day, but I thought the grey and blue tones produced a beautiful, moody landscape.

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

A popular tourist activity in downtown Vancouver is to take a flight on a float plane over to Vancouver Island. It’s tempting and the views are probably quite spectacular, but I think I will personally stick to the ferry service!

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront, fall 2012

These intrepid kayaking guys – at least one of them – were not shy about being photographed for posterity as they plied the sometimes choppy waters of the harbour from False Creek across the narrows dividing Granville Island from the downtown.

Kayakers in harbour near False Creek

Kayakers enjoying early evening paddle in False Creek harbour

This photo was snapped on my first afternoon roaming Granville Island on foot (I hung out a lot there!) using my Blackberry’s camera. It wasn’t a very high res pic, so I decided to sepia-fy it (à la MacAskill) in Photoshop to give it that old school feel.

Yacht club along Granville Island

Boats moored along Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

These guys and their vintage car were such a throwback to James Dean cool. So wished I’d brought my hard-core SLR camera to take their pic instead of my BB camera. At least, the BB was much more covert than a bulky SLR with a big, protruding lens.

Boys & their car

Boys & their cool retro car on Granville Island

Ahhh, the Public Market on Granville Island… Such a great vibe, despite it being high-tourist season now. Super place for people-watching and doing some photography. When I first visited it last fall (see pics below), it was not so bustling as it was last week, but weekends can still be teeming with people. The food – especially produce – looked amazing. I was so tempted to just buy my groceries there even though that would’ve been completely impractical stuffing perishables into a suitcase for a flight home. Except for the ocean outside, the Granville Island Public Market reminded me a bit of the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, where I previously made many fond gastronomical shopping memories.

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market, fall 2012

Good enough to eat!

A feast for the senses, fall 2012

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

A must-do activity – regardless the weather – while in Vancouver is to go for a bike ride around the seawall of Stanley Park. I read recently that the Dutch believe there is no such thing as bad cycling weather, only bad clothing choices. I would mostly concur with that assertion. It’s hard to imagine not enjoying the splendor of the Park – even if you happen to get caught in some rain. Could be quite Zen or even romantic!

Stanley Park Boathouse in the fall

View from Stanley Park Boathouse, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Van in background

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Vancouver in the background

Did I mention all the city beaches in Vancouver??? It seemed everywhere we ran or cycled, we came upon a beach. This one (below) was located on the west side of the Park facing English Bay. Clearly, school was out, as this beach was packed with sun-seeking students. I was amazed by the number of bikes. Vancouverites really embrace two-wheeled transport; at times, I felt like I was in a Little Amsterdam or Denmark.

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Yet another beach – Kitsilano. What was so interesting about this particular pic (below) was the Coney Island-like Kitsilano Showboat stage, whose history dates back to 1935. I discovered this little nostalgic gem while I was biking back from a trip out to UBC. The huge swimming pool located behind it was also a curious juxtaposition against the Kitsilano Beach waters of English Bay. You can see the small outdoor amphitheatre of seats in the foreground, where I spotted several runners racing up and down the steps for their morning work-out.

Kitsilano Showboat - a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Kitsilano Showboat – a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Pedaling a bit further, you bike through a sandy bit of trail that cuts across the main section of Kitsilano Beach before entering a more treed section of bike trail, where if you’re lucky, you will gaze upon a number of lovely sailboats dotting English Bay through the trees. The morning before these shots were taken, I was running through this area – sans camera, unfortunately – and saw the most perfect scene of tranquility in the greyness of the sky and the colorful sailboats bobbing peacefully on the glassy water. It was a breathtakingly beautiful scene that would’ve inspired a classic Kiff Holland nautical-themed watercolor.

Bike path along Kitsilano Beach

Bike path near Kitsilano Beach

View of English Bay

View of English Bay

This was a cute, spontaneous moment. Two kids on bikes and their mom were stopped along the trail staring intently up into a tree. The little girl announced with the earnestness of a budding biologist that they were observing a woodpecker carving the entryway to his waterfront tree house. I spotted him alright, but he certainly blended in well with the bark so that I really needed a zoom lens to capture his image clearly.

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

When I visited Vancouver for the first time back in 2002, I did a day trip by ferry out to Vancouver Island to explore Victoria and its famous Butchart Gardens (as well as the Rogers Chocolates flagship store and the Empress Hotel). I did not even know of the existence of the beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Garden located right in Vancouver! I learned of it this trip, however, because my cousin was helping host an evening fundraising event at the Gardens, so I was invited to tag along. Since I am not exactly a glad-handing, work-the-room extrovert, (au contraire!) I decided to explore the grounds and go on a bit of a photo shoot.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was the main building where the fundraising event was held. It was the perfect, sunny, warm evening for it. The setting was absolutely magical. Too bad I didn’t have a date! 😦

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

I loved wandering through the canopy of flower bushes and tree blossoms, but I also loved some of the interesting trees in the Asian garden section.  I think for my next trip to Vancouver, I will have to explore a lush, mature forest like that of Lighthouse Park recommended by my cousin.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was a particularly stunning section of the Garden. I love roses and the landscaping reminded me of when I was in France and visited Monet‘s Garden at Giverny. This rose garden definitely would’ve inspired an Impressionist canvas!

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

The hustle and bustle of Granville Street… Now this was a part of the city (lower Shaughnessy) that I spent a lot of time walking through. The retro Stanley Theatre (below) reminded me of something I would see in a Fred Herzog exhibition.

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

There is a great Chapters store on Broadway and Granville where I could (and almost did) spend hours whiling away the time browsing through the latest books.

Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

W Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

Shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

Hallowe’en display in Pottery Barn shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

bike

One word: Meinhardt. This was my adopted food haunt in Vancouver. And yes, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a really cool, European-like fine food emporium with sidewalk terrasse and colorful flowers on display that really knows fresh food and merchandising. I discovered this shop last fall and would go there every day to pick up a delicious homemade sandwich or salad, perhaps some yogurt and fruit, maybe a slice of banana bread or homemade granola bar, but always the requisite chocolate chip cookies +/- dark chocolate bar. This time around, I picked up a 6-inch decadent carrot cake for a birthday party and it was awesome – though I still am left wondering how off-the-chain delicious that decadent dark chocolate layer cake would’ve been – my cousin is not a chocoholic like I am, so carrot cake it was!.. Next time…

Meinhardt grocery store, fall 2012

Meinhardt grocery store on Granville Street, fall 2012

This poor Lab puppy looked so forlorn waiting outside in the rain last fall as his owner no doubt was inside enjoying a delicious, fresh, gooey cinnamon roll – probably straight out of the oven…

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Mmmm Purdy's along Granville Street, fall 2012

Mmmm… Purdy’s along Granville Street, fall 2012

If you are as addicted to Indian cuisine as I am, then no visit to Vancouver would be complete without a stop at one of Vikram Vij’s award-winning restaurants. Last fall, I was fortunate to be in town on business with a colleague who was acquainted with Vikram Vij, himself, so we decided to go to Vij’s one night for supper. We were greeted personally by Chef Vij and I was totally starstruck! It was a Friday night, so his restaurant was packed. They don’t take reservations, so we had to bide our time patiently at the back of the restaurant with all the other foodies, feasting on complementary wine and hors d’oeuvres. It was like a party atmosphere not unlike an after-work cocktail hour. Since my friend is Indian, I deferred to him for recommendations on what to order, but we shared our plates. He, having the famous lamb, of course. I settled for something vegetarian with (lots of) curry. We were stuffed, but it was worth it!.. Last week, my Vancouverite cousins and I went there on a Monday night and got a table right away. I think I was the only one who had eaten there before, ironically. We ordered four different dishes for sharing and it is safe to say, there was not a speck of food left on the plate when we finished. The pork tenderloin in curry sauce was particularly outstanding. I had to laugh at my super-slim cousins, who are accomplished varsity runners: they easily devoured their meal along with several rounds of naan bread. Afterward, I treated everyone to gelato on Granville Island, which required us to walk down hilly Granville Street (and then back up!) to get there. Good way to work off all that food!..

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij's two restos: Vij's and Rangoli

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij’s two restos: Vij’s and Rangoli at W 11th and Granville

A walk through the quiet, tony, tree enshrouded neighborhood of Shaughnessy, where a good proportion of Vancouver’s elite reside, is a relaxing diversion. The houses are imposing but tasteful, and the properties impeccably managed. These are the kind of homes one would expect to see featured in Canadian House & Home. An elegant black limousine stopped to allow me to cross the street during my walk, doubtlessly carrying some famous Vancouver luminary inside.

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

One of my last excursions was a bike ride out to the University of British Columbia from the downtown. My cousin works at the UBC hospital, so lucky for me, she said she’d bike with me to UBC. So, we set out in rush hour traffic that crisp, sunny morning, joining the throngs of other cyclists making their way to work or school. It was a great 35-40 minute ride, but wow, there was quite a section of hills to climb toward the end. Glad I dressed light and in synthetic fibers or I would’ve needed a shower! The campus was modern and minimalist with an eye to sustainability. Trees could be spotted everywhere and I was quite impressed by the flowers and shrubbery by the hospital’s urgent care entrance.

UBC campus

UBC campus

UBC Hospital

UBC Hospital

The ride back to the downtown was absolutely thrilling! I was on my own, so had to navigate my way through campus and down the hill through a couple of posh neighborhoods to pick up Marine Drive.  I was a little leery about riding in traffic without a helmet (my cousins did not have an extra helmet to loan me) on a road bike, but Marine Drive was a mostly flat, smooth, relatively quiet ride on a country-like road that ran parallel to the ocean. With trees on either side and snow-capped mountains visible across English Bay, I was practically euphoric in the experience! It got a little trickier, however, around Jericho Beach with the traffic picking up, so I moved over to the relative safety of the shoreline’s bike trails and continued weaving my way along the coastal path until Granville Island. Knowing time was short for catching my flight back home, I quickly dropped into Meinhardt one last time for a great take-away lunch before grabbing my suitcase, and hustling out to catch the city bus and then Sky Train to the airport. Until next time, Vancouver!..

Photography class field trip: Byward Market, Ottawa

A few weeks ago, our intro SLR photography class at the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa went on a field trip to the Byward Market to practise shooting street photography from a parking garage rooftop. Here is a sample of some of the shots I got:

Fabulous blue Mini Cooper

Blue Mini Cooper close-up: love this car…

Lamp post, early evening

Street reflection through the butcher’s window

Yellow bike

Rooftop view of Market buildings

Bike & bricks

Bike pop art

Cupcake Lounge

Street pattern

Downtown Ottawa near the Market

Fire escape detail, downtown Ottawa

Hot summer evening in the Market

Window shopping at night in the Market I

Window shopping at night in the Market II

Little red dress

Along Sussex Drive

Adventures in comparison bicycle-shopping in Ottawa

Last June, I sustained a running injury to my right foot. I wasn’t sure what I did, but running any amount of distance resulted in pain, swelling, and stiffness. My range of motion (including dorsiflexion) was also reduced because of the swelling, which made running up hills difficult and uncomfortable. Fearing I had torn a ligament or had incurred a stress fracture, I reluctantly decided to stop all running as a precaution until my foot was able to be assessed. To that point, I had been running three times per week, including 21-22k (or a half-marathon) every weekend. The idea of losing the considerable cardiorespiratory fitness I had built up over the years was inconceivable to me, and so overnight I had to metaphorically ‘flip the switch’ and transition to activities that would preserve (or, at the very least, mitigate any loss of) my fitness.

Bicycle along Front Street East in downtown Toronto

Since I had already been using my aging, but trusty, purple Trek mountain bike for commuting back and forth to work every day, I simply decided I would just have to up the ante and add a separate 20-k bike work-out every day. However, I wasn’t sure if daily cycling would be enough to safeguard my fitness, so I also decided to face my fear of deep water and check out the community pool nearby. [My swimming adventures/misadventures will be chronicled in a subsequent post.]

Not surprisingly after biking almost every day to/from work and then at night for exercise last summer and fall, my 17-year-old Trek took a beating. Since I still needed it as a commuter bike, I decided I would have to look into getting a hybrid bike that would withstand work-outs on both the road and trail.

The freedom and pleasure that comes from riding a bike: a Sharpie sketch colorized in Photoshop.

Shopping for a bike is no small task — especially if you live in an über-athletic city like Ottawa (or Vancouver) where there is no shortage of sports stores and the specialty, independent, neighborhood bike shops — with their exclusive, often non-overlapping  lines of bikes — can be found on just about every other street corner. As someone with little mechanical inclination or in-depth knowledge of cycling, comparison-shopping for bikes became akin to collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing data for the purpose of answering a complex (to me, anyway) research question.

I decided to do what any good researcher would do: conduct a field study or pragmatic trial (since a controlled trial would be impractical, if not next to impossible). I visited several shops (a sort of non-random sampling of the population), and conducted extensive bike-related Q & A interviews with the sales staff who approached me. (Lucky them! And no, I did not formally consent them into my research study! ;-))

Bikes in a Queue, Rideau Canal, Ottawa

One place — store # 1 — I was particularly impressed by, for both knowledge and service, advised me that most bikes within a given price bracket are comparable in quality. What becomes important to the purchaser, however, is the after-sale service and the shop’s location. All things (or bikes) being equal, it was better to pick a place close to where you live, and which provided great service. Good advice, I thought. And, very customer-focused as opposed to being solely business-centered. This salesguy scored big points with me for his honest advice.  His shop was fairly conveniently located, but unfortunately, they didn’t have the kind of hybrid bike I was looking for at the price I had in mind. I really wanted to do business with this shop, and had even test-driven a decent retro-looking da Vinci hybrid bike. In the end, the bike was not aerodynamic enough and more importantly, it exceeded my budget. I felt bad. The guy was so nice, knowledgeable, and passionate about bikes. On top of the great advice he had given, he even offered me a spare metal pant clip that they had lying around (to protect my trousers when commuting to work) so I wouldn’t have to purchase a set. (Tip: Velcro clips are not a good alternative; they just don’t stay securely fastened.) A small gesture, but again, super customer service. Other businesses could learn a lot from this place. (On a related note, I similarly had a great customer service experience at this store in the winter when I had brought my classic xc-skis in for cleaning after applying an absurd amount of Klister wax — my first time trying this highly tenacious, but effective wax — to my skis to maximize my performance in spring skiing conditions. When I returned to pick up the skis, the technician who had cleaned and re-waxed them actually ran out to my car as I was packing the skis away just to explain exactly what he had done and to reassure me that the ski wax he had applied would be perfect for the weekend’s forecasted conditions. I was impressed. This guy was clearly passionate about his job and obviously took great pride in his work and in delighting his customers. I’d definitely be back.)

My next bike store (#2) — even closer to my ‘hood — had a powerful-looking, slick Stevens hybrid on display, which wasn’t as stylish as the previous store’s candidate with its boring combination of grey, red, and black, but it still looked racy and fell within my budget. I decided to take it out for a (joy) ride.

The problem with this second shop is the history that I have had with its hit-or-miss customer service. It’s weird, because there always seems to be plenty of staff around — young 20-somethings buzzing about the showroom — but every time I visit this place, I almost always have to seek out the staff instead of vice versa. Not cool, especially since I purchased my road bike from this store. I have also found that their mechanical servicing has been a bit hit-or-miss, too, when I’ve had to bring in my decidedly unflashy, cheap commuter bike for some tweaking. We’re not talking catastrophic oversights here, but I have had to come back on several occasions to deal with unresolved little mechanical problems that nonetheless impacted my bike’s performance. It made me wonder if my old Trek bike suffers from a sort of ageism at this store as there seems to be a particular focus on supporting competitive or elite cycling and related bling despite a mixed clientele. There are definitely some pretty flash, upper-end skus in that store. In any event, I liked the way this Stevens hybrid bike rode; it was fast, powerful, and I noticed it seemed to fit me better than my commuter bike, which is a bit small for my long limbs. However, never the one to rush a major decision — especially when a not-so-insignificant amount of cash is involved — I decided to check out one more reputable shop before I made my purchase decision.

Cyclist out enjoying an afternoon ride in the Arboretum, Ottawa

This third and final store has a great vibe to it, much like the first store. As with the first store, I had also previously done business with store #3 when I had purchased a great set of skate skis for xc-skiing. (Subsequently, my sister had also purchased a set of classic skis from this store, on my recommendation, which she continues to be very happy with.) In addition to store # 3’s great ski products and advice, I was given the name of a wonderful xc-ski instructor when I wanted some help improving my classic technique. Given my past success at this place, I was therefore optimistic I would find an appropriate comparator bike here to complete my field study.

Bikes are a popular mode of transportation for completing errands in Ottawa’s trendy Glebe neighborhood.

While this third store caters well to both the hard-core cyclist and the rec rider, the first store is probably more focused on the rec (or intermediate-level) cyclist. Store # 3 is also a well-known shop with a great reputation among the athletic community — both for cycling and cross-country skiing — with knowledgeable, friendly staff, but unfortunately for me on this occasion, a limited selection of hybrid bikes owing to an apparent, recent run on their bike inventory.

As I studied store #3’s  leftovers, an astonishingly handsome young teenage salesguy, who looked like he’d just stepped out of a preppy Tommy Hilfiger magazine shoot approached me. (My reaction immediately made me think of the recent, provocative essays by Globe & Mail writers, Ian Brown and Margaret Wente on the topic of the propriety of admiring and being admired by those much younger than oneself.) Since I could — biologically speaking — have been this boy’s mother, I forced myself to return my focus to quizzing him with my mental set of prepared bike Qs. It was clear he not only knew his stuff, but was charmingly and refreshingly a bit shy. Curious to know where this knowledge came from, I learned he was a competitive xc-skier on the junior international circuit and cross-trained by cycling in the off-season; he similarly loved skiing in Gatineau Park. After asking me about my intended use for the hybrid (e.g., errands vs exercise) and the budget I had in mind, he recommended a white Giant bike. This hybrid bike was the most aggressively styled of the three with its road bike-like aerodynamic design, bullhorn handlebars, and thin tires. I could tell it would be fast, and was assured it would keep pace with the road bikes along the canal paths and parkways. I decided to take it out for a spin. It WAS fast! And, lighter-weight compared with the other two I had tried. However, I was unsure whether it possessed enough stability for me; making turns could be a bit dicey (especially if there was any amount of rain on the road), I noticed, depending on my speed. I returned to the store, still unsure about the ultimate suitability of this bike. Mr. young, chiseled good looks salesguy, although interested in making the sale, wisely did not attempt to pressure me when I indicated I needed to try out the Stevens bike one more time at the other store.

That weekend, I took the Stevens bike out again from store # 2 (with the spotty customer service), racing it all along the canal paths, seeing how fast it would go, how my legs felt on it, and how well it kept up with the sample of road bikes out there. It passed with flying colors. (Pun intended.) Although not quite as fast as the Giant bike from store # 3, it had that little extra bit of stability I wanted. So, I took it back to the store and proceeded with the purchase and selection of accessories (i.e., requisite bell, front and back lights, and fenders to guard against big puddles). The order for the installation work was placed and I left, confident I had made the right choice, though knowing I had made a potential trade-off for a lower-level of customer service.

Bikes parked for the Sunday morning Famers Market, Ottawa

A couple of days later, I returned to store # 2 to collect my new bike and bring it back to its new home. I am now the proud owner of a nuclear family of three bikes: my matriarch Trek commuter mountain bike, my teenage Opus road bike, and now the new baby — the unassuming yet racy, Stevens hybrid bike. Needless to say, I will not be having any more bikes; my two-wheeled family is now complete! 🙂

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