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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: Merrell Pace Glove 2

I don't like change.

I know this will come as a surprise, since I regularly do big crazy things, like have babies, quit my job and move thousands of miles from home. Change is something that I do, but it always makes me squirmy. This is always hugely evident when I buy new running shoes. When I switched from conventional running shoes to Merrell minimalist gear three years ago, I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching which model to get, finally settling on the Pace Gloves after advice from Jason Robillard and Vanessa Runs. I wore them for hundreds of miles until the the mesh was shredded during a weekend of pacing a runner though 80K at Dirty Girls. The Vibram soles were intact, but with a destroyed upper, the Pace Gloves were no longer comfortable to wear on trails.

By that time, Merrell had come out with the Pace Glove 2, changing many of the features I loved (but many other runners did not).

Updates to the Pace Glove included:
- sportier look and new colourways
- eliminating the elastic heel cup
- changing the lacing system to their new OmniFit system

Now, I really am not concerned about the colour of my shoes (really), but the last two changes had me totally freaked out. I'd come accustomed to wearing my Pace Gloves without socks and I was worried that the changes meant I'd have to wear socks to get a better shoe fit. Would I still wear the same size? I wouldn't be lying if I said these questions kept me awake at night.

I finally took the plunge and ordered a pair of Pace Glove 2 from Merrell.ca, more motivated by the fact that I'd promised to do more pacing at Dirty Girls this year and my shredded Pace Gloves weren't going to cut it.

Straight out of the box, the shoes felt like a dream, just like my old Pace Gloves. I think I actually sighed and hugged them. My first run in them was a short, sock-less 7K, where my feet rubbed quite a bit across the top, resulting in a few small blisters. I think this has more to do with the fact I haven't been wearing any shoes at all, the the tops of my feet are quite soft. The next few runs I wore socks and bandaids and remained blister-free. The new lacing system allowed for a better fit with socks, something that I know I'll appreciate over the winter months. The new lacing system also means thar the fit is a little more generous, allowing for swelling - something my old Pace Gloves did not.

As for the elasticized heel cup - the feature I adored? I don't miss it at all.

Read more thorough reviews of the Merrell Pace Glove 2 on

Disclaimer: I used my own dollar bills to pay for my Merrell Pace Glove 2. Yup, all the opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Long-distance bike touring: 5 tips to get you started

Bike touring is a great way to explore new destinations, but can be daunting for beginners. Use these tips to get off to a safe start, ensuring a happy finish.

1. Get your bike road-ready.
If you haven't taken your bike in for a tune-up in the past year, this is the time to do it! You'd be surprised how much short rides add up - trips to the park, office and farmers' market all contribute to wear and tear on your bike. Trouble shifting gears or brakes that slip are clues your bike needs a tune up.Your bike shop mechanic will check the brakes, cables, wheels and other components to make sure your bike is safe to ride.
Tip: Remember that you don't need a road bike for most cycling holidays. The best bike is the one you own and love to ride.

2. Consider upgrading your saddle.
For most cyclists, the saddle that came with their bicycle is fine for weekend rides or commuting. But if you're planning on a multi-day bike tour or long distance cycling, you may want to buy a different saddle for your bike. I recently bought a new saddle for my road bike, and going through the fitting process was easy and informative. My bike mechanic asked about my riding style, then fit me with a women's specific saddle based on the width of my pelvis. While it might seem awkward to talk about sit bones with a stranger, there is no other part of your bike that needs to fit perfectly. Take the time to get this key component right.
Tip: While it might seem tempting to add a gel seat to your bike seat, the extra padding breaks down overtime and bunches up uncomfortably. If you feel you need a little extra padding, invest in a pair of good quality cycling shorts. I have a pair of mountain bike shorts that are the perfect combination of cushioning and modesty - the extra pockets handy for keys, snacks and money.
I carry my CAA Membership Card with me on all my rides. Did you know that the BikeAssist Program offers the same benefits as their Automotive Program such as mechanical assistance and towing?

3. Gear up
The length of your bike tour will dictate the amount of gear you will need. At a minimum, always carry a simple emergency kit, which includes a pump, tire levers, spare tube, cash and a cell phone. For multi-day tours, invest in panniers for your food, clothing and camping equipment (if you don't plan on staying in a hotel on multi-day trips). Personally, I like to travel light and carry everything I need in my jersey and short pockets and a small bento box attached to the top tube of my bike.
Tip: If you are a CAA Member, carry your membership card with you. The included CAA Bike Assist program offers the same towing and repair benefits as your Auto membership.

4. Pick a route a get training!
When I am picking a cycling route to explore, I keep in mind my fitness level, the terrain of the route and the attractions I want to see along the way. I look for quiet and hilly countryside roads with interesting cafés to stop and have lunch at. A self-guided winery route, like CAA'S Prince Edward County ride is on my must-ride list and I'm hoping to have checked it off my bucket list by the end of the year!

The Internet is full of training plans for long distance cycling. To pick the plan that's best for you, consider the total distance of your bike tour. For example, CAA's Prince Edward County Winery Route is 62 kilometres - a training plan for a 50 kilometre ride would be ideal. Rides like the Chatham/Kent 94 kilometre route are best suited to a 100 kilometer training plan (also called a metric century). Most plans suggest 3 days of saddle time per week. Since my training time is limited, I make a point of making sure I include one ride a week that is at least three hours long. Indoor spins on a wind trainer after the kids go to bed is how I include more saddle time during the week.
Tip: In training, practice eating and drinking while on your bicycle. This can be intimidating, but it's important to drink plenty of water, especially on longer rides and eating on rides over an hour long is crucial. At first, practice reaching for your water bottle while riding on quiet streets or trails. You'll be a pro at snacking in the saddle before you know it!

5. Enjoy the ride.
Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. --John F. Kennedy

Riding your bike on vacation really is a simple pleasure - the chance to sample new foods,  meet new people and my personal favourite, explore new bike routes. Enjoy your bike vacation knowing that all your training and hard work has paid off!

Send CCA a photo of your favourite bike path, nature trail or cycling spot and you could win a cycling prize pack valued at over $1,200! The winner will receive a Montague Crosstown in their size (valued at $855 CAD), a soft carrying bag (valued at $99 CAD) and a three-hour session using the Retul 3D Bike Fitting System (valued at $280 CAD).

Don't forget to follow CAA on Facebook and Twitter for more cycling tips.

Note: This post was generously sponsored by CAA South Central Ontario to help raise awareness about their new Road Trips. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Preparing young kids to cycle longer distances

My son Isaac has been cycling since he was three years old. We started him on a Norco run bike (also called a balance bike). These pedal-less bikes promote strong core muscles and as the name implies, a great sense of balance. I credit the balance bike for skipping the training wheel phase when we bought him his first two-wheeled pedal bike last year.

Now at 7 years old, he is a confident and energetic rider ready to tackle rides longer than our driveway. If your wee cyclist is ready to hit the open road or trail, these tips will help.

1. Take your child's bike for a tune up and fit.
Most kid's bikes are single speed / fixed gears with coaster brakes - in other words pretty simple bikes. But your bike mechanic can double check and tighten handlebars, headsets, seats and pedals, as well as inspect the chain and brakes to make sure your child's bike runs safely  and smoothly.
It's a good idea to take your bike in for a tuneup at the same time!

2. Add these essential accessories.
Bell: notifies people sharing the road with you that you're approaching them. Handy as well if you live in a wooded area with bears- the noise scares them off.
Water bottle cage and water bottle: most kids bikes don't have a bracket to mount a water bottle cage on. Instead, buy a cage that clamps either on the seat post or handlebars.
Bento box: I love these tiny boxes, which are conveniently strapped to your top tube and stem. Ideal for snacks, money or Lego mini figures.
Repair kit: your repair kit should contain at a minimum a patch kit, spare tube, tire levers, pump and a hex wrench set. Yes, you could carry your kid's repair kit, but they should carry it and be responsible for checking it prior to each ride. I also tuck my CAA Membership card into my repair kit, since their Bike Assist program offers the same benefits (towing, flat repairs or repairs) as their automobile membership does.
Upgraded grips: the factory grips that come with most kid's bikes are horrible. Test out a few grips that have more cushioning or invest in a pair of gloves.

3. Find a flat car-free trail - at least to start.
I made the mistake of taking our son out on the hilly side road we live on for his first 6K. He wasn't happy about pushing his bike up the many hills and it put a damper on the achievement. Our next ride was on a flat portion of the Trans-Canada trail about near our house. Even though we only made it 6K again on account of a severe thunderstorm rolling through the area, the ride ride was much more pleasant (by pleasant, I mean there was no whining about hills). By starting out on a smooth and safe trail, your kids will develop endurance and confidence. The hills will be there.

4. Bring snacks and water.
Remember the bento box? I fill mine with Honey Stinger chews and Nuun tablets. Now, on a short ride with your kids it's really not necessary to dig into electrolyte replacement drinks or carbohydrate chews, but my son loves seeing me gear up for a long road ride and having a chew or two is akin to going for ice cream together. Check the ingredients and nutrition labels since most commercially prepared products have way more sodium or sugar than a kid on a short bike ride needs. You can make your own energy balls or bars if commercial sports nutrition is out of your comfort zone.

5. Be patient. I know this is easier said than done, especially when kids are prone to being distracted and it seems like their only intention in a bike rodeo is to either ram your ankles or hit a tree. Practice bike handling skills (cornering, straight lines, braking) before your longer rides so that they're confident when they get on the road. Be patient as well when their energy and interest starts to dip - and suggest games or races to reengage them.

6. Follow the rules of the road. In our house, there's a strict rule that your helmet must be on your head before your butt is in the saddle. Coming to a full stop at stop signs, hand signals and giving pedestrians the right of way are all part of obeying traffic rules and being courteous to people you share the trail with.

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Mountain biking for beginners: 4 things you should know

For my birthday I asked for a somewhat unusual gift: a day up at Sir Sam's Ski and Bike in Haliburton, Ontario. They were hosting a 1-day women's mountain bike clinic, and mountain biking is something I have always wanted to try. Having been a road cyclist for 10 years and a trail runner for 5, mountain biking seemed like the next logical adventure sport. I figured that the skills I had in those sports would transfer easily to the MTB trails.

I learned the hard way that they most certainly aren't.

After a day on the trails (and often off the trails because I lost control of my bike) I have a few hard earned lessons to share.

1. If you've never been on a mountain bike or MTB trails, it's worth investing in a skills clinic. I thought that my hours and hours on a road bike would translate into at least some skill on a MTB. Ha! Everything was totally different - braking, turning, position. And if you're a woman, there is a lot of comfort in taking lessons from another woman. I was lucky to learn from two of the best in the province.

2. Your head space on a mountain bike is different than on a road bike. When I started road cycling, my biggest fear was falling down while clipped in (and I fell over a lot when I started). But after that there weren't too many times I didn't think I wouldn't be able to finish a ride. After all, it's paved roads and at worst, hills. On a mountain bike I was sure that each root, tree, berm and log were out to kill me. It took a lot of mental energy to realize I was tougher than any log or root. Basically, if you can shut off your brain and focus on the trail, you'll be great.

3. Do not assume your non-MTB skills will transfer to mountain biking. I've been on a bike of some sort my entire life. I'm not the fastest nor do I have the best form, but I'm fairly fit and have a high tolerance for pain. I was so shocked to find myself teetering around on a rented mountain bike completely out of my element. Hills were harder, turns nearly impossible and my endurance was sapped. Even my trail running skills were useless.

4. Gear matters. It's no secret that I love gear. I like to have gear that is sport-specific and have a closet full of clothes, bike tools, running shoes and water bottles to prove it. For my day on the trails I wore my new Pearl Izumi Canyon shorts and I am so glad I did! Even though I was only riding for a few hours, the chamois made all the difference. Pick up an inexpensive liner to go under a pair of multisport capris of you don't want to buy a pair of MTB shorts. I wore running shoes but missed my stiff-soled cycling shoes. My rental bike was a Specialized Hardrock with dual suspension - far nice than any entry level bike I'd buy for myself.

What other beginner tips would you add?

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