4 Oct 2017

Gear: New Balance Vazee Pace v2

New Balance Vazee Pace v2
Earlier this month, I got a new pair of runners. It was time for a couple of reasons. First, my last pair was showing early signs of deterioration (parts of the sole were coming off - I glued them back on for now) and, second, my last pair weren't the right shoes for me. This is mostly why I haven't bothered to review them - I don't have a lot of good things to say about them. But I do acknowledge that I bought them largely because of a pair of runners I had before (Saucony Triumph 10 - read my review HERE) and didn't listen to advice to the contrary, so I do accept responsibility.

In the past, I have bought my shoes from The Running Room, which I highly recommend. However, the store in Richmond (which was in Ironwood) recently closed and I refuse to drive all the way into Vancouver to buy a pair of shoes... or anything really. So I went to Sport Chek instead. The challenge with Sport Chek, I find, is that I have to do my own research - it's hit-or-miss at Sport Chek whether you get a knowledgeable sales associate or not.

My Shoe Profile from the Runner's World Shoe Finder
I used the Runner's World Shoes Finder to find my "Shoe Profile". I found this information invaluable for finding a shoe that fits me.

As my feet, legs, and knees have developed, along with my running, I found that I need less of the cushioning and stability that I previously thought I needed. I also wanted shoes I could easily throw in a suitcase to take with me on my work trips - so they needed to be packable. With my recent travel schedule, I want to be able to fit in a run no matter what city I'm in.

Enter the New Balance Vazee Pace v2. Now these are my first pair New Balance shoes and I was a bit skeptical at first; I had heard some mixed reviews regarding the durability of New Balance shoes - I will update this post if I encounter any durability issues

The New Balance Vazee Pace v2 are a simple, solid, durable runner that I intend to use mostly for road/pavement running (I will save my older, deteriorating shoes for running dirt and gravel trails, like the Richmond dyke, for now). Partly so I can keep these clean for packing in a suitcase as well.

New Balance Vazee Pace v2 profile
One of the things I especially like about the Vazee Pace v2s is that they are a straight forward runner without any bells and whistles and, as a result, they cost just over $100 (Canadian dollars), which is substantially less than my previous runners. I also really like the streamlined/trim look. These shoes are a great, no-frills, back-to-basics shoe that can stand up to daily use.

As part of my research, I compared a couple of reviews such as THIS one from Runner's World, which I compared to my Shoe Profile, and THIS one from Running Shoes Guru and both confirmed my own findings. Both backed up my leanings that these are right for me.

Overall, I am very satisfied with these shoes. I have logged nearly 60 km on them already and, so far, they feel great, look great, and are incredibly comfortable on my feet. They support my feet and arches where they need to and provide just the right amount of cushioning to avoid straining my knees and still give me the push I need.

28 Sep 2017

Time to Train for a Half Marathon?

So here's my confession: I've never entered a race. Neither running nor bicycle. Never. I haven't raced in a competitive event since elementary school track meets. I have registered for a couple, but something has always come up and I have never been able to actually do the race.

Now, part of that is that I have always run for me and for no other reason. With tools like Strava at my disposal, I have a continuous measurement on my performance. So I have felt little need for a sanctioned race to know what my personal bests (PBs) are.

But lately I feel really compelled to enter one. Partly because, as I get older, I worry that I will miss my chance to compete. I think I am still at a point where I could race and finish near the middle of the pack. And I am in solid physical condition and so, able to do so.

So, I am going to commit to entering a race. My initial thought here is to enter a 10 km race this fall and aim for a half marathon next spring (2018). Plenty of time for me to prepare as I feel like I am already in the necessary condition for a 10 km race.

I will post any actual race registrations here. Initially looking at the 10 km at the Fall Classic Run in November. Thankfully there are tools available like the Canadian Race Guide for me to scour and plan.

18 Sep 2017

Route: Arbutus Greenway

Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver opened the current, temporary path along the Arbutus Greenway. The current path is a paved mixed-use trail built along an old rail line that runs nearly the same distance as the Cypress Bike Route from Milton St (off of Granville St near the Arthur Laing Bridge) to Burrard St just north of W 6th Ave (click HERE to read my review of the Cypress Bike Route).

Lane markings along Arbutus Greenway
Because this is a dedicated off-the-road mixed-use pathway, it is much easier to navigate than other on-the-road or shared bike routes. The path is well marked with lots of signage. Further, because it used to be a rail line, there are not nearly as many street crossings compared to other bike routes. That said though, the crossings that are there are big and hairy. And for the most part, because the Arbutus Greenway is still being built (the current state is considered temporary infrastructure while the final design is finalized), the crossings do not yet have the required curb drops, signage, or even crossing lights. At some of the crossings, the path even reroutes to the intersections along West Blvd.

Which brings up an important point here: the current state is temporary. The City of Vancouver is still working on the final design. Fortunately, the temporary path is paved all the way along. And some of the intersection crossings, such as at SW Marine Drive, W Broadway, W 12th, and W 49th are already being improved.

The path is also clearly marked (both on the pavement and with signage) to indicate one side (the west side) as a two-way bicycle path and the other side (the east side) as a two-way pedestrian path. For many areas along the route, the bicycle and pedestrian sides are separated by a dirt trench with wild flowers. This adds a safe amount of separation and, during the spring and summer anyway, provides a welcome burst of colour.

Another perk is that the Arbutus Greenway runs along an old rail line; therefore, the grade is minimal (i.e. it's not nearly as steep as the Cypress or Ontario bike routes). This means that for the less-fitness-capable, such as elderly or kids, this route is much easier to ride.

The Arbutus Greenway is also far more safe to ride (or run or walk for that matter). It runs nearly 20 metres from the roads on either side, and is often lined with community gardens, shrubs, or trees to create further separation between the path and the roads that border it. The result is a relaxed ride that is far more comfortable.

Wild flowers planted along Arbutus Greenway
But there are definitely a few things the City needs to do to make the route safer. One is to make it more clear at each of the roads crossings (predominantly from W 16th through W 6th and at W 64th) who has the right-of-way. At several crossings along this section where the cross-street/motorists have stop signs, drivers still tap their brakes and roll right through. So use caution when crossing at these intersections, even when the Arbutus Greenway has right-of-way. I feel like it is only a matter of time before someone on a bicycle riding through at normal speed gets hit by a careless motorist that failed to stop and recognize the priority of the crossing Arbutus Greenway.

View of the north shore mountains from the Arbutus Greenway
One suggestion I have made to the City of Vancouver is to change the colour of the path, similar to the approach often used in Holland and Denmark. The best way to illustrate this is in a recent tweet from Chris Bruntlett at modacity: click HERE view the tweet. 

Bench along Arbutus Greenway
One other downside (which is really also a massive positive) is that the Arbutus Greenway is already incredibly popular. Even in the early morning hours, there are many folks out enjoy the path. Whether it is people out for a morning walk, or walking and riding their kids to school, the path is busy. During the afternoon commute, you do have to be a bit cautious. Some folks can get distracted and walk onto the bicycle side without noticing. Occasionally dog owners will led the dog out too far and get dart across to the other side of the path. More leisurely bicycle riders, including parents with small kids, can take up the bulk of the path width. So if you like to ride fast, be prepared to have to slow down to navigate around the masses from time-to-time.

Overall, the Arbutus Greenway is amazing. It is a massive step forward in the north-south bicycle infrastructure in the City of Vancouver. It is scenic, with some great vistas to stop and admire the view and sit on one of the benches provided. It has the potential to be a great family-friendly piece of the city's bicycle network and provides a mostly safe, relaxed route for bicycle commuters.

Route: Cypress Bike Route

Up until a the Arbutus Greenway opened earlier this year, I used the Cypress Bike Route as part of my regular bicycle commute to and from work. I was a huge fan of the route, which runs along a traffic-calmed corridor on residential streets.

The route begins at Milton St and runs on SW Marine Dr (off of Granville St near the Arthur Laing Bridge). From there, it goes along Cornish to 68th, over to Adera and up to 64th. From there, it turns onto 64th until East Blvd, then up East Blvd which eventually turns into Angus Dr. The route then stays on Angus for a long time, which is nice because that first southern bit is a lot of zig-zagging for those coming from Richmond or south of 68th. At Matthews (just north of King Edward), the route then cuts over to Cypress St, which the route then follows all the way to Cornwall, for easy access onto the Burrard St Bridge.

The route runs along residential streets with a lot of roundabouts and, at most of the major road crossings, there are barriers to prevent cars from going straight through. The result is a bike route along residential streets, with minimal cars. Because they've made it difficult for cars to go more than a few blocks along the route, there aren't many of them. Not driving anyway, but there are many parked along both sides of the street throughout the route.

One negative is there is a substantial climb to this route and some sections are rather steep. The steep parts are usually only about 100 metres at a time though and then level off a bit. So it is entirely manageable, but definitely requires using some higher gears. This comment will seem trivial to younger, fit, or able-minded folks. However, for those older or less able, these hills may be significant. Queue the e-bike discussion.

My favourite part of this route though is the big, old trees that cover the street. These are most dense at the mid and northern end of the route, but are present all along. It truly is beautiful in spring and summer with the foliage providing complete coverage overhead. Provides good shade from the hot sun as well. I thought it might shield some of the rain but I'm not so sure about that - in my 20 km ride, I get pretty soaked regardless. It does make the early morning commutes quite dark as well, so make sure you have a good set of lights if you're riding before sunrise or after sunset.

Overall, the Cypress Bike Route is great if you're comfortable riding sharrows (sharing the road with cars) on a fairly quiet residential street, don't mind waiting at a few busy crossings, and enjoy lots of foliage and big houses for scenery.

However, with the new Arbutus Greenway only a couple of blocks west, I do question the future viability of maintaining the Cypress Bike Route. Read my review of the Arbutus Greenway HERE.

14 Sep 2017

Back Into the Running Game

It's been a while since I posted anything about running. And there is a reason for that: I haven't been running.

Towards the end of 2015, I had largely lost interest in running. Partly because I had completed what I set out to do - become a competent runner and train myself to complete a 10 km in less than an hour. But the other part, which is hugely significant, is that I kept pushing myself to the point that I had to take a step back and let myself heal. Unfortunately, I avoided exercise through my teenage years and early twenties. So my body has some catching up to do. As a result, the muscles around my knees were growing in such an uneven rate that they were putting a ton of pressure on my knee caps. It was painful. I tried a number of stretches and targeted exercises but, ultimately, it just wore me out. So I decided to take a hiatus from running.

In that time, I focused mostly on riding my bike. I tried to commute to and from work (my commute is 20 km each way) as often as possible. With such a long ride, and two kids to pick up on the way home, that was a significant commitment. The convenient part is that it fit my workout into the time I'd spend commuting anyway. With a demanding career and young family at home, this was an ideal solution for the time being.

But here I am, nearly a year and a half later. Towards the end of spring this year, I found myself craving the run. So I started running again. At first, just once a week and without any particular goal in mind - just running for the pure joy of running. Then I slowly increased to twice a week. Now I am running regularly twice a week, occasionally even three times. And I have no set goal or training plan yet, except to be comfortable running either a 5 km or 10 km race. I have a couple of races that I'd like to do before the end of the year and I want to be able to slot myself in at a moments notice.

Another perk to running is that I have a fairly demanding travel schedule for work at the moment. Awfully difficult to bring my bike with me on an airplane everywhere I go, so I force myself to bring along my running gear so that I can fit in a run no matter what city I happen to be in.

Another reason that I have reinvigorated my love of running stems from the fact that, because I am so comfortable riding my bike, it doesn't get my heart rate up to where I want it for proper cardio training. As I get older, I realize that I need to have some higher-intensity workouts than my regular bicycle commute affords me. I am still riding my bike to and from work as often as I can fit it into my schedule, which is usually two or three times per week, depending on my travel schedule. And for everything in between, I go for a run.

And this casual approach has paid off. While I can't get any where near my personal best 5 km time  of 22:34 - got a 24:11 the other day - I hit a new personal best 10 km time just this morning: 49:54! (I know that screenshot shows a different time - didn't stop it right the second I crossed the 10 km). Pretty pleased with myself at the moment - it's an exhilarating feeling.

18 Nov 2016

Responding to the Death of a Cyclist

Lately, as many of us have, I have been formulating my thoughts surrounding the recent tragedy that occurred on November 6, 2016 along River Road in Richmond. According to reports, a motorist pulled into the oncoming lane and drove into a group of six cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring two others. I do not want to get into the details of the crash (click to read about that from CBC or Richmond News). I want to talk about how the City of Richmond is responding to this tragedy.

Now let me be clear, I am basing this entirely on what is publicly available in the news. I have not interviewed anyone, nor do I intend to. And I fully accept that some media sources have a tendency to make stories more dramatic than they really are.

However, accord to this Richmond News article, the City of Richmond was considering banning cyclists from River Road altogether. Here are a couple of letters to the editor condemning this consideration: November 16 from Graham Taylor, November 17 from George Muenz. I was truly shocked that the City of Richmond would even consider this as a possible solution.

I was relieved this morning to read this November 17 letter to the editor from Coun. Ken Johnston in which he clarifies that he had no intention of banning cyclists and that the use of the word may have been inappropriate and misleading. Ken Johnston writes the following:
"My intent was to have staff investigate all options for cyclists, including  use of a safer alternative route, if one exists. My request was intended to generate more information on cycling use of River Road. In retrospect, my use of the word “banning” in the motion was ill advised, as it has detracted from the important direction of the committee’s motion. But at no time did I say I wanted cyclists banned from River Road." 
With that in mind, that the City does not in fact intend to ban cyclists from River Road, I still want to state my position on this topic.

First, whether a city is or is not invested in building safe infrastructure for bicycles, are rural farm roads not precisely the place that the city would want cyclists to be riding? River Road, for example, is a non-arterial, quiet, residential street that runs along the river. It is outside of the city core and, therefore, out of the way. It bends and curves so most vehicular traffic should be at a moderate speed anyway. Further, aside from the few businesses in the area, most vehicular traffic is local residents. The only exception here is the odd speedy motorist looking to skip heavy traffic along Westminster Hwy or Highway 91.

So banning bicycles from the road altogether seems counter-intuitive to me. How about installing rolling speed bumps to limit speeders, similar to the ones along 0 Ave? Or how about adding more bollards to keep impatient motorists in their own lanes? Or, even better, how about adding a mixed-use (pedestrian and bicycle) trail along the mostly unused waterfront?

Just for arguments sake, let's have this same discussion about vehicles but replace the word vehicle with samurai sword. This may sound like a ridiculous analogy, but allow me to start things off:
In Richmond, we have a lot of people that depend on their samurai swords. However, we also have a growing number of people that have decided to leave their samurai swords at home and go without one. This growing number of people believe that life is better without a samurai sword. Some just for recreation, others as a way of life, and others yet are simply not able to carry a samurai sword any more.
Most people are very responsible with their samurai swords. But some are not. Inevitably, every once in a while, someone gets reckless or careless with their samurai sword and someone dies as a result.
But we always consider it an accident, of course. Sometimes it is an "out of control samurai sword," and other times people die as a result of a "mechanical malfunction" with the samurai sword. 
In order to prevent more deaths, to prevent more people from dying by samurai swords, we will ban the individuals that leave home without a samurai sword. Everyone must now have a samurai sword. That is how we will prevent more people from dying by a samurai sword.
If any municipality or city actually considers banning cyclists from a stretch of road to prevent tragedies, then I strongly believe that they have their priorities backwards. Earlier in the year I wrote about changes needed to Richmond's bicycle infrastructure (click here to read that post). Along with changes to infrastructure, Richmond also needs to prioritize vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicycle riders, etc.) in all areas of our city. Motorists also need to be held accountable for their actions (as far as I am aware, no charges have been laid against the driver in the November 6th tragedy). We need to stop calling these tragedies accidents. And the media needs to stop using language that removes the blame from the motorists and places it on the vehicle or the victim.

15 Jun 2016

Richmond Bike Lanes Still Have a Long Way to Go!

Over the years, the City of Richmond has made great progress building bike lanes. Compared to most of the Metro Vancouver area, Richmond could be considered "ahead of the pack." However, in recent years, progress has stalled dramatically (or even halted altogether). With other cities like North Vancouver building their bicycle infrastructure at a rapid pace, Richmond is at risk of falling far behind.

In my opinion, this is a shame because ridership in Richmond seems to be on the rise. While I do not have any hard data to back this up, I do have my own perception that I see a lot more people riding their bikes than I used to. Mostly, I see a lot more older people and families out for an everyday leisure ride or ride to the store. Rather than cyclists (roadies in Lycra), I see a lot more everyday bicycle riders in the bike lanes.

Every day I see more and more bicycle riders out there - some on sidewalks, some in bike lanes, all of them riding where they feel safe. I see both teenage kids riding to and from school and elderly folks riding to and from their activities or the store. In addition, there is still a growing number of road cyclists. It may be true that a road bike is the new cure for a mid-life crisis. And regardless of why any of them are riding, we need to welcome anyone and everyone who chooses to pedal along on two wheels. The more bicycles there are on the roads,, the safer we all are.

In general, Richmond's bike lanes are great for recreational use, But in order for Richmond to truly embrace bicycle culture and sustainable infrastructure, they need to do more. I always think the perfect gauge on bicycle lane safety is how often I see children or parents riding with young kids. For example, along the Granville Ave bike lanes, you rarely see young kids. The traffic is simply too close and too fast to risk a young kid swerving on a bicycle. The dyke and the Railway Greenway, in comparison, are full of kids riding with their parents, along with couples on dates, and other travelers walking, riding, or running. We need more like this, please. Lots more!

When you consider Richmond's bicycle infrastructure, in the simplest of terms, there is the dyke, two east-west routes: Granville and Williams, and two (or one and a half really) north-south routes: Railway and Garden City.

The dyke is a great place to go for a weekend ride with the family. But if you have a particular destination in mind that isn't Garry Point Park, the Olympic Oval, or Steveston, the dyke won't get you very close. If you want to go for a ride on the dyke, then the dyke is a great place to ride on the dyke. The views are incredible and it is definitely safe from vehicle traffic. But for most bicycle commuters and everyday bicycle riders, the dyke won't get you anywhere near where you want to go.

Consider riding from west Richmond to Richmond Centre. The Granville Ave bike lane gets you to Minoru, which also has bike lanes. But what if you live north of Westminster Hwy? Detouring all the way south to Granville Ave is significant. The dyke runs out past Gilbert Road, but that's as close as it will get you.

In addition, there are plenty of disconnected or incomplete routes. Coming south off the No. 2 Road Bridge, once you get to Westminster Hwy, the bike lane completely fades away. To continue on a bike route, you have to cross three lanes of busy Westminster Hwy traffic to make the left turn lane at Lynas Lane. Then there are the areas around No. 3 Road and Sea Island Way, Garden City between Granville and Francis, and Garden City crossing Sea Island Way and Bridgeport. Each of these areas are part of marked bike routes. The southbound No. 3 Road bike lane runs for 100m between Bridgeport and Sea Island Way then ends, starts again at Alderbridge and ends abruptly at Cook Road rather than connecting to the Granville bike lanes. Awfully disconnected for a major route. I can't determine whether the city is trying to attract bicycle riders or scare them away.

In response to gaps like these, HUB (formerly the Vancouver-area Cycling Coalition) has launched their UnGaptheMap initiative to bring awareness to these gaps in the bicycle network and to work with city planners to remove them.

Another way to evaluate Richmond's bike lanes is to compare them to Vancouver's. In general, bike lanes throughout Richmond tend to be along major arterial roads with a speed limit of 50-60 km/h. The bike lanes are not physically separated but are merely painted lanes on the right-side of the road. In contrast, the City of Vancouver has designed its bike routes through traffic-calmed residential corridors with speed limits around 30 km/h. The result is a far more relaxing ride where one feels much safer. I would take my kids on bike routes in Vancouver, but not in Richmond (the dyke and the Railway Greenway exempt of course).

Overall, Richmond's bike lanes are a great start, but they're not enough. A lot more needs to be done. I hope that the City of Richmond keeps progressing and building more lanes - either physically separated bike lanes on arterial roads or marked routes through traffic-calmed residential routes. Even more so, I hope the City of Richmond takes a more proactive role in the years to come rather than relying solely on developers to build piece-meal sections of bike lanes.