Winter Ride Around Canby, Oregon

For the past several years, I have been drawn south to Canby from my Portland home base for winter cycling.

The Willamette River bends in a sharp s-curve at Canby before heading north toward its confluence with the mighty Columbia River.  Its beauty calls to me.  Fall colors, winter which promises spring, and the mesmerizing quiet of the ride offer a compelling contrast to cycling in Portland.

Today, I followed this little town’s cycling loop, rather accidentally.  I’ve ridden here a lot, and have ventured east of town up onto the plateau that sits above the river, and boasts the best of Oregon farm country – hazelnut groves, vegetable crops, and horses, cattle, sheep, and llamas a-plenty.  The basic route depicted above is a totally flat 11 mile loop.  It’s easy to add side trips to your journey, as there’s lots to explore around this sweet little town.

I’ve recently converted my 1980’s custom Meral 650b bicycle to more upright style handlebars.  On today’s ride one of my goals was to evaluate the bike’s ergonomics with the new Velo-Orange Tourist handlebars.

I wasn’t sure how to think about the brake levers for this bike – I wanted to stay true to its French heritage, and resisted purchasing new brake levers for the upright bar.  I finally settled on these black vintage Mafac levers.  I also removed 3 cm of bar material from each bar end of the V-O tourist bars.  I have found that modern upright style bars are generally too wide and long, and without cutting them down can give your bike an out of balance appearance, not to mention being uncomfortable.

To keep the bars free for additional hand positions I opted for stem mounted shifters.  These SunTour ratcheting shifters performed just fine, but I did have to adjust the position of the rear derailleur on down-shifts, whereas upshifts were near perfect.  I may replace these with some stem mounted Simplex Retrofriction shifters once I have a mounting option identified.

Oregon City Falls

The City of Canby sits along the Willamette River, upstream from the falls and locks at the historic town of Oregon City.  Today, the river was swift moving.  Maybe, I was too.

My 1980’s Meral is built with Reynolds 531 tubing, with a fully chromed fork (and with chromed main tubes underneath the dark lavender paint). That, plus converting the bike to 650b has made it one of my most treasured bicycles.  Happy riding in 2019!

Sunday Ride

My old friend, Katie, is fond of opining that the downfall of our society occurred when stores began to stay open on Sundays.  From there, she says, it’s been a downhill slide.  She might be right.

My childhood Sundays were a mixed bag:  enforced church attendance (faking an illness having been exhausted as an excuse years earlier), my mother’s dutiful Sunday dinner executed with earnestness if lacking in passion and culinary talent, and then the blessed release of the children out into the wild. My Dad would daze himself on TV football, and my Mom retreated for her quiet time.  There was no business to conduct, and there were no tasks to complete other than the usual chores required to run a household and small farm, and these were kept to a minimum on Sundays. God’s day of rest.

With God and parents at rest, my older brother and younger sister were my playmates on Sunday afternoons.  But, as we approached our teenage years, more and more often we chose our own separate pursuits on Sundays.  And that’s when I began what has become a lifelong tradition: a Sunday bike ride.

I don’t quite remember the bike I rode in the mid-1960’s (this was before getting my green sparkle Spyder with banana seat), but I do remember that it had an internal hub. I suspect that it was something like the 1968 Sears Econo model depicted above, but was probably the smaller child’s version.  It was a diamond frame, with upright bars, and definitely sported a battery powered headlamp.  It was challenging to ride, because it had no low gears, and while I understood the basics of derailleur shifting back then, I was confounded by what could possibly be going on inside the internal hub.  My father would attempt to explain that there were gears inside, and something called a planet.  I would stare endlessly at the tiny chain emerging from inside the hub and imagined that it housed a miniature derailleur on the inside.  I could not figure it out.

But that did not stop me from riding that bike.  The countryside around our home was hilly, but along the base of the hills was the Applegate River Valley of Southern Oregon.  The road running through the valley was in no way designed to accommodate a 10 year old on a bicycle.  There are blind curves, no shoulders, and narrow lanes.  That’s another thing that’s changed since then:  today’s parents would never allow their unaccompanied 10 year old to ride these roads.  It was a different time, where the pace was slower and neighbors watched over each other’s kids, at least to some degree.

To prepare for my ride, I would pack up snacks, water, and tools (like a good Girl Scout) into my bike’s front wire basket.  My adventures took me off road, sometimes walking my bike up the steep dirt logging roads in the area.  I cycled past streams, irrigation canals, and small creeks.  Upon return, my basket almost always carried something I hadn’t started with:  a wounded bird, a small turtle, a beautiful stone.

When I lived in Newport, Oregon in the late 1970’s, my Sunday ride was the trip up Yaquina Bay.  That ride was mostly flat, along the Yaquina River estuary, an important waterway and resource for the Siletz tribe who lived in the area, before they were forced out by white invaders in the mid 1800’s. When I visit Newport, I usually plan a ride up Yaquina Bay Road.  Every time I ride this road I am greeted with Nature’s enduring beauty, and I try to imagine this bay as it was hundreds of years ago.

Today’s Sunday ride took me out to Oak’s Bottom where I was treated to a Bald Eagle flying overhead.  On the way through the wetlands I saw Great Blue Herons, Northern Flickers, and a rarely observed Green Heron, among the other wintering birds.  While I didn’t add anything to my “basket”, I brought home instead the images and memories of today’s ride with its bright, low end-of-the-year sunlight, and bone-chilling wind.  A perfect way to end this year and begin anew.

Everything Isn’t Cycling

The 1985 film, Turtle Diary, and the book by Russel Hoban upon which it is based, may not be to everyone’s taste.  The film’s plot, which revolves around freeing captive sea turtles, would likely resonate much more today than it did in 1985.  However, when I viewed the film back then, one of the lines in the movie, spoken by actor Ben Kingsley to his co-star Glenda Jackson – “everything isn’t sex” – was a bit of a shock, both to the characters in the film, as well as to viewers.  The odd syntax and brutal honesty of this simple statement probably destined the film (and book) to our culture’s nether regions.

Western society focuses on extremes:  the longest ride, the highest mountains, the fastest race times.  This focus has a chilling effect on “normal” cyclists, who use their bikes for transportation, exploration, and communing with nature.  When asked by friends and other cyclists about the day’s ride, the most frequent question is “how many miles did you do?” or “what was your average speed?”.  Not “tell me about the ride” or “what wildlife did you see today?”.

Most cyclists enjoy other activities:  hiking, running, walking, birding, gardening, children, cooking, wrenching…the list goes on.  We don’t “live to ride”.  Instead, the bicycle is simply part of our daily lives.  We don’t need to do a century every weekend, nor one-up each other with tales of amazing descents and all-out sprints (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Our bicycles are an amazing tool, allowing us to explore our surroundings while invigorating our bodies and spirits.  Everything isn’t cycling.  But cycling is a transformative experience upon which many good things are based.