Staying the same vs. moving (on)

One of the weird things you have to get used to after being abroad for a while is how much your city can change and expand on you. Ottawa is certainly no exception to the rule. When I left, most of the city was contained within the Greenbelt, a swath of federally-protected land that consists of forests, swamps or farms run by the Department of Agriculture. Not now. Like Mr. Creosote, the feasting man from the Monty Python movies, Ottawa has blown its belt and keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

From a biking standpoint, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it’s meant that Ottawa’s biking infrastructure has expanded, as well. For instance, when I was a kid in the 1970s, the area around the Watts Creek Pathway was nothing more than easement going down to the 417, and we used to sled down the existing berm towards the snow fence. (All nine feet of it.) Since then, a second berm has been constructed to separate the pathway from the first berm, leading to a rail trail created from a section of rail line that used to ship supplies out to the military base at Shirley’s Bay.  When I got back to Canada five years ago, I was surprised to find that the trail had also been extended along Stony Swamp, over Timm Road, and down to Robertson Road to join another rail trail that forms part of the Trans-Canada Trail leading out to Stittsville. Urban expansion also means that Stittsville still maintains its charm but has effectively become another western suburb of Ottawa (which, as I’ll argue shortly, isn’t such a bad thing.)

Even though it wasn’t that far from Ottawa, I’d never been to Stittsville. Not that I remember, anyway. I don’t remember us travelling a lot when we were younger; when we lived in Ottawa, my mother told me, we’d travel out to different beaches and places for picnics and the like, but when my parents decided to move to Kemptville, the added stress of building a house and creating a life from nothing in the middle of nowhere effectively curtailed any activity that didn’t have to do with getting the house done. We ended up spending most of the summer of 1977 living out of a Lionel pop-up trailer (I remember sitting in the trailer on a rainy day and watching Elvis’s funeral cortège roll out of Graceland on August 16th of that year), and while we did manage a couple of trips to Toronto to see my Dad’s family, we didn’t really go anywhere. On Saturdays, we went to the dump. (No garbage collection when you’re five miles out of town.) The occasional Sunday, we might go to the United Church in Kemptville, more out a need for social contact rather than any kind of religious conviction. We didn’t really pack up and travel anywhere for the sheer hell of it. And I think that’s where my need for travel — calling it a love of travel over-romanticizes it a bit too much — comes from.

I considered staying in the neighborhood and just riding the new bike up and down the Sir John A. Parkway. It would have been easier. But then I thought, Nah. I’m on my own this weekend, so why not go explore something new? Why not try something new? What happens if I don’t try something new? Admittedly, a coffee run out into the ‘burbs really isn’t the same as biking across Canada, but I’d rather start little and work my way up. And since I like to think of myself as a fan of greenways, it didn’t make much sense not to at least try the stretch of the Trans-Canada Trail (TCT) that uses the old rail bed to Carleton Place. I could even get breakfast at Quitters Coffee while I was at it.

I set out at about 8:30, cleared the Britannia-Carling section of the bike path before a charity walk for Crohn’s got underway (I can just imagine the amount of bad blood and side-eye that’s happening among the cyclists and the walkers!), went down Watts Creek, and up Corkstown Road, rather than using the bike path (the stone path that runs along the rail line was quite washed out the last time I rode it, and I didn’t feel like doing that much bike handling that early on). From Corkstown, I took the path running under the 417, rode the hill up to Stony Swamp, and kept on it until I reached the TCT bridge that goes over Robertson Road, in what used to be Nepean, but is now effectively the central-west suburbs of Ottawa.

There’s not much to report about the trail itself; it’s a stone-dust trail which pitches slightly upward until you get to Eagleson, then levels out on its way to Stittsville. It would be nicer if it were paved, but paving doesn’t come cheap and it might be that there just aren’t the same overall numbers of users along that stretch of the TCT as there are on other parts. Sundays seem to be busy, though, and after about 35 minutes of quiet riding, I got to Stittsville, hung a left, and had coffee and a muffin at Quitters Coffee, which was founded by singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards.

Truth be told, the 22-odd km of today’s ride was the longest ride that I’ve done in a while – probably two years, no kidding – so when I got to Stittsville, I felt overdressed and overheated and in desperate need of some carbs. The seat post also started sinking, and I thought I’d better get home before I ended up kneeing myself in the boobs all the way back. (I had my Allen keys with me, but fixing things on the road never seems to be the best way to fix things.) Thankfully, the 61 bus goes from Stittsville every half-hour on Sundays (one advantage of Stittsville effectively being part of Ottawa), so onto the bike carrier the bike went, and we were home within three hours of starting out.

Not the ride I was expecting for this Sunday of Bike Weekend, not the kilometres I would have liked to put in, but like they say in Spain, something is something. Let’s see what this week brings.


n+1: Giant BeLiv 2 City review

There’s an old joke among cyclists: “What’s the perfect number of bicycles to own?” “N+1: however many bikes you own, there’s always room/need/desire for one more.” When you live in an apartment, you kind of have to keep that in check for obvious reasons, but it also gives you a good reason to update whenever time and money allow you to. I’d been putting off going down to Giant Ottawa to get a new bike, mostly because it wasn’t like the old Giant Escape 2 W wasn’t…bad…it was just long and heavy. Seriously heavy. At first I thought it was me (grad school, combined with working a full-time civil service job, didn’t do any favours to my girth) but then I realized that, no, maybe the Escape was just a little bit more of a flatlander than I needed it to be.  I’m also kind of short through the torso, and found that I was leaning on the flat handlebars more than I had to, which was generating numbness in my hands. (I’ll cop to a case of RSI that pre-dates grad school by about 20 years, but, again, typing a 140-page thesis didn’t help that, either.) Or maybe it was just the pull of the new; leasing, unfortunately, isn’t a thing with bike manufacturers, which means that, inevitably, a changeup always means a purchase. And I’m not one for impulse buys, and certainly not ones of this calibre. I guess that spoke for itself this morning when I went to pick it up, and the salesperson noted that I’d come armed with matching accessories.

So here it stands in my living room: the Giant BeLiv 2 City.


This is the first commuter/cyclocross bike I’ve owned since I bought the Orbea Arama in 2008 to go across Spain. I loved that Arama, but like the Escape, it weighed a ton: the bike took a ton of abuse, but could only do so because of the steel frame and heavy components. I’d been warned by the sales staff at Giant that the BeLiv would weigh about the same as the Escape, but the BeLiv feels about five to seven pounds lighter.  The matte black finish is pretty cool, punctuated by silver and hot pink accents (hubs, headset and wheel rim accents) so it doesn’t look like you’re riding a two-wheeled version of the Stealth Bomber). Here’s what I love, (with one big minus that, really, doesn’t take away from the bike all that much):

Overhand brake levers. God, how I missed those from the days of the Arama!


Shorter frame length: when I’m climbing, my wrists hit my knees. I don’t know if that’s a proper bike fit or not, but it works for me, since that’s what I’ve got on my road bike.

Road handlebars: so many more options for hand position, and a LOT less numbness in my hands.

The step-through frame: Normally I’m not a fan of step-through frames because they scream “girly”, but the older I get (and the harder it gets to swing a leg over the back wheel), the more I can come to peace with them. The one thing I’m not sure about is how low the top tubes are relative to the bottom tube, especially for retrieving the bottle, but that’ll probably come with practice.

Disc brakes. Yeah, I’ll admit to being a little reticent about having disc brakes, especially since I’d gotten pretty good at replacing brake pads on the road bike. The brakes are still a little loose on the new bike (I almost had to Fred Flinstone it today at a four-way stop) but I don’t know anyone who’s regretted making the move to disc brakes.

All of which brings us to the one downer: the rack. Oh, the poor rack.


The side rails on the rack come down about 3″ from the top of the rear tire, which makes it too low to put Arkel panniers on them. There is another tube that sits above the rear wheel, but it’s rounded, which means the clips of the pannier don’t sit cleanly on them. The design might be specific to Axiom panniers; but after paying nearly six hundred dollars for a set of Arkels, I’d rather swap out the old rack that was on the Escape, and buy a new rack for the person who’s buying the Escape.

So that covers the features. The ride is smooth and zippy, even with tires that have a bit more grip on them – not knobby tires, exactly, but they’ve got enough tread to handle gravel and uneven surfaces. The more compact frame makes climbing less of a chore (even with grad school weight!), and a triple chainring means that you’re not going to be out of options before you’re out of gas. I can’t say that I’d ever want to go back to riding mountain passes in southern Spain or the Pyrenees, but if I had to do it, I’d much rather do it on a bike like this: light, well kitted-out and just plain comfortable to ride.