Friday, April 21, 2017

The classic Chateauguay Valley (Haut-St-Laurent) road ride

The Chateauguay Valley southwest of Montreal (aka Haut St-Laurent) has very nice roads for biking. I think the classic ride is this one.

I encourage you to stop and have a scenic break at every bridge across the Chateauguay river.

The ride is triangle shaped. It starts in Ormstown then follows the chateauguay river all the way to the US border. Then it goes straight east along the US border. Then it returns to the chateauguay river on the road LaPresse called the best bike road in Quebec.

First stop is the hamlet of Dewittville (scenic bridge) to Huntingdon (2 scenic bridges) and then the road & river turn south towards USA you'll see mountains in New York State south of Malone.

The map says cross Gilmore bridge. This is a closed-to-cars-bridge and is a great rest stop. Crossing this bridge takes you into the rural municipality of Elgin. The bakery is only open friday until 6 pm/Saturday until 3 pm. (Shortcut: Note that you could go direct to Powerscourt from Gilmore bridge on the road you were on from Huntingdon)

The covered bridge across the Chateauguay river at Powerscourt is Quebec's oldest covered bridge. Nuff said!

You will have noticed that the ride up until to this point (from Ormstown to Powerscourt) was very good bike riding. I would like to make it known that for me, from this point it is bike paradise.

From Powerscourt you go straight east on First Concession road, then you turn left and have a lovely descent (zoomy, then mellow) back to the Chateauguay river through apple orchards, maple forests, and farm/forest mix. (Shortcut: turn north  on Montée Rockburn from the First Concession. However the map version is only a couple miles longer, and adds a heck of lot of good riding into this little corner of the ride.)

You will eventually arrive at Dewittville, turn right and head back for the final leg of the ride to Ormstown along the Chateauguay river. Try to spot the century-old giant cottonwood trees. They are tall!

Tips: a good regional map, washrooms, full retail services and parking are all available at the IGA mall in Ormstown at corner of Routes 138 & 201. There is a hospital in Ormstown with an emergency room. To get to Ormstown take pont mercier/Rt 138 or B) take Autoroute 30 to Rt 138 at Chateauguay, then drive west to Ormstown. You can also come via Valleyfield. (You cannot cross bridges from valleyfield south to Ormstown on bike.)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Springtime - three easy rides near Montreal with smooth clean dry quiet & scenic roads

Springtime is when I ride my favorite easy rides. Too long, too hilly, too far, those are bad things.

Spring means finding rides that are
  • start close to montreal
  • roads are dry not wet
  • roads that are clean not dirty
  • Roads that are smooth and not crapfest
  • Roads that are not full of cars
  • Roads that have lots of scenic variety
For me the first destination is Ormstown. Rides south and west of Ormstown are textbook perfect spring rides (and also perfect for summer and autumn).

The first two rides follow the Chateauguay river to Huntingdon and then upriver south to
 the covered brige at Powerscourt. It's quebec's oldest covered bridge!

You can always just ride the same route back to ormstown, or as on the first ride, take a direct route back. The second ride takes the longer route back, but adds the section along the US border and dewittville sideroad (actually called Monté Rockburn), two of the best roads in Quebec for road bike.

For rides starting in Ormstown, there are maps in the mall at the tourist kiosk located beside the pharmacy & SAQ.

#1 The first ride is the shortest: Ormstown-Powerscourt 55 km

#2 Ormstown>Huntingdon >Powerscourt>Rockburn>Stevensons orchard - it is a bit longer with all the deluxe features including Boulangerie Elgin & Verger Stevensons Orchard downhill.

Same but with direct return shortcut to Ormstown instead of Dewittville sideroad because sometimes buddies are not in shape for the last 1/3 of the ride.

#3 The other ride has an even easier car trip to the starting point at St-Bernard-de-Lacole (exit 11 on Autoroute 15 Sud, starts on bike path and then on country roads.  St-Bernard-de-Lacolle to Franklin

This is a shorter version: Shorter Lacolle-Franklin

Rides 3 and 2 can be combined into a fabulous longer ride. I recommend starting at St-Bernard for this epic length and top-quality road ride.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier Portneuf - start at western terminus at Rivière-à-Pierre

It took a long time but I finally got to ride the western end of the Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier Portneuf which is in the region of Quebec between Troir Rivieres and Quebec City.

I rode a nice out and back ride starting at Granite Capital of Quebec (sorry Stanstead/Rock Island) in Rivière-à-Pierre (River of Rocks, not River of dudes named Pierre)

The western terminus of this bike path is in this little village. I had done the eastern half of the bike path a long time ago and always had planned to return to do the western half. I did not like the eastern half too much - it was a straight line through a relentlessly boring conifer forest with no parks or scenic attractions. And then it rained hard and I u-turned and headed back to the car.

So on friday, about a decade later, I was in Trois Rivieres for the day so I figured I would do a nice ride starting in St-Genevieve-de-Batiscan but when I got here here the Catholic church has a big sign saying park here and we will tow your car. First time EVER I can't park at a rural Quebec Catholic church.  This is not what I call tourism friendly parking. I had even gone to the trouble of finding a paper copy of the bike map of the region MRC des Chenaux region (pdf).

I decided to (was forced to) keep driving.  Lucky for me early October is the best time to enjoy the most amazing fall colours in Quebec. So I drove on, through St-Severin, then through St-Ubalde (how come nobody names their kids Ubalde anymore? It's a great name.) where I stopped for lunch at Pain Pain Pain (which means something completely different in french!) and then on real back roads to Montauban-des-mines and then the super twisty road (popular with motorcycles, maybe too popular to make it fun on regular bicycle) to arrive finally at Rivière-à-Pierre where I knew the bike path started (or ended, depending on your perspective).

The terminus of the bike path here was easy to find and well arranged: it had five 100% solid polished granite picnic tables. These are extremely nice picnic tables.

The bike path was rock-dust, but well-compacted and with no large loose rocks and was very good riding on my 25mm tires (i.e. a good surface to bike on). It went through nice mixed forest with some lakes and changing scenery. I turned around just after the halte municipale pont-au-pierre (Stone bridge park, which is signed and accessible from the bike path) for a nice afternoon ride of not too big distance (for a change). It was more or less one hour out and one hour back with a rest stop at the stone bridge halte-municipale.

I cannot emphasize this enough: the drive from Trois Rivieres through St-Severin, St-Ubalde, and Montauban-des-mines to Rivière-à-Pierre has EXTREMELY SPECTACULAR fall colours.

Here is the website for the bike path:

And here are the granite picnic tables, very classy indeed. Did you know some of the granite for the base of the statue of Liberty in New York comes from here? No you did not, but now you do.

Price Guarantees are useless

I bought an expensive Brooks bike seat.  Did I mention it was expensive?   For a change I had treated myself to a quality product and did not as usual just buy the cheapest one in the store. I felt good about buying this. Then I discovered the store down the street sold it for $35 less. $35 is a lot of money and I had noticed the store where I has bought the seat had prominently posted their price guarantee policy, so back I went to the store to see how they would treat my request to honor their price guarantee and how this transaction would shape my perceptions about their brand. A brand I have been loyal to for 37 years (since 1979!) and was always my first choice when shopping.

Well, it turns out that treating me with respect was not how they train their staff or is the corporate policy.

I returned to ask for the price guarantee but the employee spent 15 minutes upstairs and came back and told me that their price guarantee didn't apply because of the saddle colour at the other store wasn't the same as I had just bought.

Then the clerk, when I asked if I can just return it for a complete refund, she said of course I could return it and get my money back and then go to the other store and buy it at the other store's lower price.

The sales clerk seemed quite happy to have worked hard to find a way OUT of honoring their price guarantee and she was certain she was being a good employee and had done a good job in denying me the price guarantee. But from my perspective as a loyal long-term customer... well my trust in their brand is destroyed.

 Price Guarantee 101: Our rules are designed so that you're screwed so don't even bother asking!

How screwed are you? There are seven ways you can be treated like a piece of shit for loyally and consistently choosing to shop at their store instead of at their competition's store.

Best Price Guarantee

"The store" will match all prices listed by its competitors. If you find it cheaper somewhere else, we will match it.
Certain conditions apply :
  • The reseller must be in Canada and must be an authorized dealer of the targeted product;
  • The product must be in stock at the competing reseller and also at "the store" (no special orders);
  • We must be able to verify the product’s price (flyer, website or by phoning the reseller);
  • The product must be identical (size, colour, season, model number);
  • Our Best Price Guarantee excludes sale items, going out of business blowouts, used items, demo items, and all additional charges apply (assembly or installation, delivery, etc.);
  • Price Match requests must be made within 15 days of the initial purchase date; 
  • This price policy applies on price before taxes only.
"The store" – Generous by nature

That last line about being generous by nature is complete bullshit.

 Conclusion:  The other store is selling the same bike seat at a lower price and this is how you destroy trust in your brand and lose a loyal customer of 37 years.  

Monday, September 19, 2016

3rd return trip to Appalache hills south of Plessisville

Yesterday was my third-week-in-a-row ride in the Appalachian hills south of Plessisville in a region called Les Appalaches and also L'Erable (maple) region.

I took the easiest route into the hills via highway Rt 267.  Going against my preference of quiet roads, this is the easiest road into the hills from the ride start in Plessisville which is in the flattish St-Laurence-valley lowlands.

In Inverness I took a look at some of the many road-side bronze sculptures, which Inverness has because it is Quebec;s bronze sculpture capital. There are several bronze factories, exhibition spaces, and also the delightful Museum of Bronze. It's a national treasure.

From Inverness is is only 20 minutes on Chemin Gosford until the very nice parc de Chutes de Lysander falls. Usually on this ride this is my first sit-down rest stop, but today I kept going another 20 minutes on the same road to the Pont Rouge covered bridge. There is a big regional parc around this river (rivière Palmer) just after the bridge.

Then is over to Leeds, and onto Chemin Craig. Ride up nd over and past Kinnear's Mills and up to the hilltop belvedere Google calls l'Observatiore Craig. Craig Road is one of my top ten bike roads in all of Quebec. From this lookout you can see Quebec city. Mont Ste-Anne and the first of the capes (Caps) of the Charlevoix, Cap Tourement.

From this hilltop highlight-of-the-ride, it is only 100 metrers until another highlight: Carig road continues with a straight-down-the-hill descent at 17%. Woohoo speed is reached immediately. Then is is 13 zoomy minutes until the stop sign in St-Jean-de-Brebeuf.  There is a well-hidden road-side cemetery dating from the early 1800s english colonization days with a sign called "Chapel" although there is no chapel. It is a nice quiet secluded rest stop location.  it is very park-like and has lots of open space once you know where it is.

I continued and bought a big bottle of water in St-Jean-de-Brebeuf. For free water, there is also a natural spring at the side of the road about a kilometre further west on Chemin Craig.

The next section is another favorite section, over a big hill and down down down to Irlande and then Maple Grove. Turn left at the T and you start the climb to St-Julien. Second highest town in Quebec!  Right at the bottom is an historic church, take the church's second (uphill) entrance and find the picnic table under the giant oak tree. It's a perfect rest stop. 

Look around in St-Julien, there are great views (and benches and/or parks) in EVERY direction. Now go back down the road you came up, woohoo!

You can do a quick allez-retour to Vianney for a second hilltop town (easier and shorter than St-Julien with a better road).

Finally the rang St-Sophie is the backroad north to Ste-Sophie d'Halifax and then flats to Plessisville.  This is one last ultimate back road to enjoy, with a nice hill to cross before the descent into and through Ste-Sophie.

And that's the ride. 

And I love it.

Favorite easy ride: Lacolle to Franklin Centre (Verger Stevenson's Orchard)

This is becoming the standard ride, standard easy start version anyway.

Add some extra distance and excellent scenery by going west to Chateauguay River south of Huntingdon to Athelstan & the Powerscourt covered bridge (yellow on map).

This is the short version of what is definitely my favorite easy mid-distance ride.

You can do the ride with just the southern trace on the map also, but then you would miss half the fun.

What I changed this year is making the first half of the ride a bit easier. Following the southern trace for a pure allez-retour ride means the first half is always trending uphill and can be a bit brutal!

Map link here

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cool weather/cold weather cycling clothing

Since cycling is active generally one makes enough heat to stay warm. The key is keeping cold wind off your skin. Then add more insulation/layers as needed (ex for me: hands and feet).

TL;DR: For a little cool (50F/10C to 70F/20C) it is wind chill that gets me cold, so I cover skin. The standard set up is (say it with me: "two way zipper") cycling vest and a fleece neck bandanna and a thin tuque under the helmet. Cooler? Add arm warmers and tights. Hands? Add liner gloves. Feet: booties.

Colder temperatures?
The gear below takes me to 0C/32F no problem and I ride down to -10C/+20F and cross country ski to a bit colder, and with adjustments this gear system works perfectly well.
At all times colder weather means taking shorter rides or taking frequent rest stops somewhere indoors to warm up. I do not treat cold weather cycling as an outdoors all day long activity like in summer time. Also below 15F/-10C the cold gets serious and frostbite and hypothermia become real risks. So pay attention to wind chill charts and remember that cycling itself is adding a lot of extra wind chill.

-Under the helmet: thin wool/merino tuque
-if colder I add a fleece headband/ear warmer thing
-You may prefer a shaped tuque to get better full-head & ears protection, 
-cotton balls (like for makeup etc) stuffed in ears can keep wind out and warmth in, I use them.

Eye protection.
-Being from Montreal Quebec Canada, I see a lot of hard core winter cyclists and some people definitely prefer ski goggles. They offer exceptional wind protection and many models let you wear prescription glasses underneath.
-I use sports/cycling sun glasses.
-However, sometimes sunglasses are too dark, because it is dark outside and and I use my night-time Plan B: clear safety glasses, the cool-looking ones available at very affordable prices at any hardware stores. I use these for night time snowshoeing in the forest. (like I said, I am from Canada)

 -A fleece headband goes great around the neck to seal the top of a vest or jersey from the chilling effect of the cold wind.
-A triangle fleece neck bandanna (i.e. with velcro) (this thing is super versatile) -If much colder, a full knitted neck tube like for skiing.
-I generally do not use a balaclava, however if you are cold and want the full solution, its called a balaclava.

-Cycling jersey + 2-way zip cycling vest. This combined with Arm warmers gives full coverage against the chilling wind. The two-way zipper cycling vest is extremely temperature adjustable and is essential
-if colder, add a zip-turtleneck-neck base layer garment or a full-sleeve wool cycling jersey.
-I used to use cycling jacket but I found too warm when I am fully warmed up. So jersey for colder temperatures and make sure it is designed to vent moisture, this is not a rain jacket.
 -For more core insulation there is a good assortment of base & mid-layers available from everywhere. Avoid cotton always!
-For precip conditions or colder & you want FULL outer coverage layer, consider buying alpine gear!

-It is amazing how well arm warmers cut the wind. The key is to kind one that fits your arms and stays in place and does not slide down the arms. Of three pairs of arm warmers I own, only one really is effective. And it was swag from a race I tied for dead last in.

-Keeping hands warm is one of the big challenges. I have quite a collection of gloves, liner gloves, over gloves, and mittens. For most of the time I use sports-store liner gloves under cycling gloves.
-During warm up I might add fleece over gloves, or three-finger lobster mitts. Sometimes this is obviously too warm, and I adjust down. I often start with over mitts and take them off when warmed up, because it is easy to chill hands at the start and then have to warm your hands back up (misery) vs start to sweat a bit and take off or adjust the outer hand layer.
-Hands are the only body area where I will start off with too much clothing rather than start off a bit underdressed and aiming for perfect once-I am-warmed up set up.
-A wise person once said you should start off riding and be a "little" cold and you are probably perfectly dressed for when you are warmed up 10-15 minutes into the ride. Hands are the exception.

Legs/lower body
-I do not own leg warmers. I wear thin, medium, or heavy tights, if cold I also wear a legs base layer long johns made of stretch synthetic. These come in a variety of thicknesses.
 -Cross-country ski attire works for this pretty good also, and in general the cross-country ski attire parallels the requirements cold weather cycling attire very well.

-De feet wool socks, heavy weight version. I like de feet brand wool cycling sox a lot. Avoid: if your sox and shoes become too tight from jamming too-thick socks into your regular shoes. Winter footwear often allows extra space for thick socks or extra insulation so if you have a pair of shoes that are a big large... perfecto.
 -Shoe covers or over-booties. Wind blocking is crucial to keeping feet, and all parts, warm. I like heavy weight full coverage versions. I would like these to have a little pouch for putting in chemical hand warmers for active heat generation. The human body when chilled will cut off blood flow to feet hands so it is important to keep them well-covered and prevent chills at all costs.
-I never really used cold weather cycling shoes, they look cool-weather and not real winter weather shoes. I use layers instead.

Other factors - venting sweat
-It is really important to vent sweat. Cycling is an active sport and sweat is constantly being produced. You do not want this sweat building up in your garments.
-Therefore: no sweat-absorbing cotton! No well-sealed rain gear.

Other factors: visibility
-Cycling in colder temperatures means car drivers are not looking out for cyclists, also there is more darkness than in summer, so having an outer layer of high-vis clothing is something I use when out on the roads.
-Also, when one is all-bundled up you are not like in summer and able to turn your head as easily to see all around you, so make sure drivers can see you.

My hands and feet are quite susceptible to getting cold and with the garments above I am comfy down to -10C/20 F.

2 rides in the Appalachian (Appalache) hills (keyword: hills!)



More hills.

Followed by a "Would you like some more hills?"

Yes it is late summer and driving to Plessisville to ride in the hills of the "Appalaches" south of town is on the menu.

This season I am investigating different routes into the hills for a clockwise direction ride.

Plessisville is on the flats of the St-Laurence river valley and the Applaches are in the Appalachian hills, going in a clockwise rode direction gives you several choices to enter the hills. Some of these are better (paved roads) than others.  My favorite entry point via Mont Apic ski hill and between St-Pierre-Baptiste and Inverness are still suffering from 4 km of road-reconstruction that remains unpaved (but rideable in a way that subtracts joy), while the big climb out of Lyster has a big dirt section on top of the hill, This is one of those ymmv decision, and some asphalt on these two roads would greatly improve the joy of cyclotourism.

For a counter-clockwise ride the only choice is via Ste-Sophie. There is no "easier version" of this direction's entry point into the hills. I like coming down the Ste-Sophie hill, so I generally ride this area clockwise.

Enough clock talk!

Parking in Plessisville has some advantages. There are good services (non-bike) and discount gourmet cheese (typically because after aging the cheese is slightly underweight) at the Saputo ice cream stand and cheese factory. 

This year I have taken the bike path east for a few Km and explored alternative routes south to the hills vs the traditional route of Rt 165 and Rang 10.  Mainly because I want an easy first 30 minutes to warm up the legs a bit more gradually. I still like Rang 10 and it gets down to business right away and next ride here will be this trad route.

Some things I like about riding here

historic roads Chemins Craig and Gosford were the first roads built between original Canada capital of Quebec City and to the USA for the 7-day stagecoach voyage from Quebec to Boston.
Scenic in a Vermont kind of way.
Most of the ride's roads are of the quiet country road variety.

The first ride last week was more of the traditional quiet country road variety. Yesterday's ride south to Thetford Mines (aka Thetford) was on two numbered highways - not busy ones but still not super quiet. The Rt 265 also had construction at two sections, which sucked but is only temporary and will not be a problem in future years.

So I would say that my traditional ride here through the quiet country roads of Chemins Gosford and Craig roads is my favorite version of the ride by a big margin. Even with the un-paved road between St-Pierre-Baptiste and Inverness (please please pave this road. The road rebuilding was finished two years ago!).

One historical fact going here is that the region was first opened up (aka colonized) by the first wave of immigrants to Canada from the British Isles. This is reflected in the english names of towns and several ghost towns with only now-historical churches and cemeteries remaining. These make great rest stops!

Another fact is that there are hilltop towns. Ok, maybe not towns but villages. Ok, maybe not towns OR villages, but definitely hamlets. I am speaking of St-Julien and Vianney. Both are tiny villages perched on top of hills that we do short out-and-back sections to add some spice to the ride. Also as they are near the end of the ride, we want the fun to continue for as long as possible and these short out-and-backs are great fun, and mandatory!