For me, one of the rites of spring is to extricate my bicycle out of storage, give it a bit of a tune-up, and then head out for a test ride. I've been spinning my wheels since I was about this high. I pedalled my way through a succession of (now) vintage hand-me-downs: the blue glider is still a legend among my many sisters.
Then in the '70s, the 10-speed racer burst onto the scene and Simpson Sears was the place to get one. I talked to an expert -- a guy who sold vacuum cleaners -- and soon I was away on a white, multi-geared beauty. The bike weighed a ton and the crossbar was crotch-numbingly high, but I looked good. I graduated to better quality 10-speeds, then a mountain bike, then another -- and each time I talked to an expert. Only this year did I learn that none of those bicycles fit me.
So what happened this year you might ask? In the dead of winter, while my two-wheeler gathered dust in the basement, my partner and I participated in a six-week bicycle mechanics course offered by the Natural Cycle Worker Co-op. The shop is buried in an ancient grotto downstairs from Mondragon (a political bookstore and vegan restaurant) on Albert Street in the Exchange district of Winnipeg.
Each class zeroed in on one component of the bike: wheels, brakes, steering, multi or single gear, drive train, saddles and frames. We took bikes apart (which is easy), and put them back together (not so much). We evaluated what components were necessary for every type of riding, (commuting, offroad, road racing, etc.) and considered fashion versus function. The folks at NC demystified the suckers. I won't suggest that in six weeks I morphed into an expert, but I did come away from the course with a solid, basic education.
When I mounted my bike for this spring's inaugural ride, it was running like clockwork. I was pleased with its behaviour; the gears shifted smoothly, the brakes engaged like never before. There are already more than 200 kilometres of cycling trails in Winnipeg and this year, a record-breaking budget has been assigned to the task of connecting existing trails and developing additional ones with an eye on the ultimate goal -- a functioning network.
We have four major rivers running through Winnipeg: the Red, the Assiniboine, the La Salle and the Seine. The city is acquiring land for trails along these waterways as it becomes available and I appreciate that they are choosing a variety of trail surface dressings. But even though there are a lot of choices as to where to ride, for the first outing of the season I usually defer to the tried and true route.
So, off I head down the tree-lined avenue of Wellington Crescent, host to many of Winnipeg's most stately old homes. The street is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays and holidays during the summer, so you can take your time gawking.
At the old railbed near Renfrew Street, I leave the road and cycle along the dedicated path all the way to Assiniboine Park. The park is a destination unto itself and you can tool around the 1,100 acres all day if you want to. I don't -- and instead choose to slip past the hibernating Lyric Theatre, over to the pavilion to check for early arrivals at the duck pond. I give a nod to the busts along the Citizens Hall of Fame, and then take a gander at the frigid-looking nude sculptures hanging around the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden. I backtrack along the riverside trail to the footbridge opposite Overdale Street, turn right at the north end of the bridge, and follow the path to Deer Lodge Place, and a rural-like road affectionately called Fitzgerald's Walk. The walk commemorates the famous artist, Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald who was an auxiliary member of the Group of Seven and lived close by on Lyle Street.
From there I pass through Albany Park, Bourkevale Park, cut up to Portage Avenue, head under the St. James Bridge and re-join Assiniboine Avenue. At Omand's Creek the path takes you across a footbridge to Wolseley -- another street that is closed to vehicles on Sundays and holidays. There are some terrific side streets and back lanes to explore along the way, but once I get to the Maryland Bridge, I cross and head back home.
We all have our spring rituals and that is mine -- but you can plan out your own route and get into touring the streets and trails of Winnipeg by picking up a pocket-sized, 2009 Winnipeg Cycling Map from just about any bicycle store, (or you can download your own at the City of Winnipeg's website).
Jacquie Crone writes a blog for Travel Manitoba and you can read more of her stories at www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/author/jcrone/