Like most Americans, the cities of the Canadian Prairie haven’t registered much with me in the past. I’m not ignorant to their existence, but I spend more time thinking about burghs like Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal, and Toronto than Regina. Over the last few years this has changed a bit, owing to Mr. Raving Bike Fiend From Edmonton getting engaged to Donna (aka The Girl), who happened to be roommates with April before she co-habitated with moi. And Saskatoon’s got Mr. Tim “Obliviositer” Brown. It’s going to be interesting to meet him because I’m going to find out if the top of his head actually disconnects with his body when he talks.* And Winnipeg? Heck, I’ve even been there, once!
Calgary? The only time I really thought of Calgary was 1988, when it hosted the Winter Olympics.** I had to follow the Olympics as part of a school project. So not only did I learn about sports like curling, but learned tidbits about the city itself via the ABC telecast and USA Today, the paper having the “best” Olympic coverage. (I had to buy a copy each day, a big deal to a seventh-grader). What did I retain? Well, Calgary is an oil and ranching town. They have “The Stampede”, the largest rodeo in the world.
And when did we get to town? During the Stampede, of course. This was by no means intentional, as rodeos don’t hold much interest to a vegetarian and vegan couple. (We had to respond to the “Are you here for Stampede?” query a number of times.) We managed to avoid most of it, though most of downtown was populated by guys in bad cowboy hats and girls in skimpy cutoffs, cowboy boots, and bad cowboy hats. It was The Uniform of Stampede.
Anyways...Calgary is quite the large city these days. Most of this growth is suburban, and unlike most other major cities with varying rings of suburbs, pretty much ALL of suburban Calgary is within its city limits. This made for long and complicated rides in and out of the urban cores. Getting in wasn’t so bad as we used bike paths along the river mostly, but getting out was a lot tougher, as Calgary really likes windy, meandering, cul-de-sacky neighborhood streets divided up by major boulevards sans bikelanes.
It’s easy to see why my initial impressions weren’t that positive. So we had to hunt out the good. And that happened when we visited Bike Bike, an urban transportation shop just south of downtown. Sean, the owner, was quite the gregarious guy and we chatted for a couple hours, even after the store technically closed.
Sean opened Bike Bike over a year ago with the aim of concentrating on transportation bikes, something the other bike shops in town don’t focus on. The shop is stocked with such Euro and pseudo-Euro lines as Linus, Pashley, and Velorbis, and also carry cargo bikes like the Civia Halsted and Christiana Trikes. To our Portland eyes it resembled Clever Cycles in products and spirit.
Sean talked about how the bicycle scene in Calgary is growing. Calgary has something that most North American cities lack: an extensive off-road path network, mostly following the river valleys that bisect the town. The challenge is to now create an on-street network of bicycle routes. There is talk of an ambitious bicycle master plan. He feels the city is up to the task, as the city council becomes more and more bike-friendly. To prove that point, Alderman Gian-Carlo Carra stopped into the shop while we were talking to get some service on a bicycle that he recently purchased from Bike Bike. Carra is making a commitment to bike more and drive less.
But what about bike fun? Well, Calgary just hosted Cyclepalooza, a ten day bicycle festival (June 17-26) based on Pedalpalooza in Portland and Velopalooza in Vancouver. Sean was one of the principal organizers. He said the idea for doing an organized bike fun event had been brewing for a while. Finally during the long, cold winter a group of people decided to make it happen. They chose a name and dates, and borrowed the calendar template from our Pedalpalooza (thanks, Tall Steve Kirkendell for programming that one!) And voila! People populated the calendar with events. Cyclepalooza ended up having almost 60 events, not bad for a first time event!
Sean talked about how social bike rides are a fairly new concept in these parts. Some people couldn’t get out of “racer” mode, so those people would either acclimate to this different style of ride, or not show up again. He hosts a regular full moon ride which sees about 30 riders during the summer months. They use the bike paths to get to a park and have a barbecue.
It was a bummer that we couldn’t make it for Cyclepalooza, as I would have loved to check it out. And Calgary would be hosting the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship this coming weekend (August 4-7) and we'd miss it as well. But them’s the shakes with a long bike tour like this. (If I had known about Cyclepalooza in my initial tour planning, I might have incorporated it into the itinerary. Alas, I did not hear about the fest until right before we left Portland.)
Overall, I didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked to in Calgary. Part of the problem of a multi-day stop during a bike tour is that you lose momentum, and inertia takes over. After so many days of Move-Move-Move, it’s nice to not have to do anything. As it was, we crashed pretty hard when we arrived, exhausted by the ride into town. Dan, Saryn, and Dave were great hosts and made us feel welcome. So it was even hard to get out of town, but leave we finally did. I hope to come back to Calgary someday, hopefully during a Cyclepalooza.
*Old joke. You’ll have to dig out old copies of his comic Obliviositer or his graphic novel Pulpspotting to see what I’m talking about. What, you DIDN’T follow zines and mini-comix in the ‘90‘s?
**Seems that this bike tour has become a tour of “Cities that have hosted World’s Fairs and/or Olympics”: Portland (World’s Fair 1905), Seattle (WF 1909 and 1962), Vancouver (WF 1986, Winter Olympics 2010), Spokane (WF 1974), Calgary (WO 1988)