Thursday, April 8, 2021

Unimpressionable



Unimpressionable.  I’m past the point in my life where I can really impress anyone with my riding.  Strava KOMs are beyond my grasp.  The numbers that I can generate will never be as high as they were 10 or 20 years ago.  On a global level, whatever I can do on a bike from now on is at best impressive “for my age”.  At 52.5 years old, my physical prime days are long gone.  Now don’t get me wrong, this fact doesn’t make me sad.  Quite the contrary.  It’s actually liberating.  It’s now all just about the ride experience.  Me riding for me.  In so many ways I don’t fit the typical cyclist mold.  I don’t live by the numbers.  I don’t care about getting faster.  I ride simply because I love riding.  My focus isn’t on increasing my wattage.  If anything, my focus is on becoming a better rider.  Smoother.  Safer.  Endlessly polishing my skills.  Strengthening the foundation on which I learned to ride a bike a lifetime ago.  Balance.  Stability.  Connection.  Paying attention to the subtle shifts in weight distribution that help my tires stick to the ground below like Velcro.  Sustainable cycling.  At the end of the day, being able to continue to ride longer as I get older is more important to me than riding faster.  Precision above power.  Buttery smooth above blissfully fast.  My reason for riding isn’t to become the best.  It’s more about the experience and less about the outcome.  And even if the outcome may not necessarily be impressive, my hope is that it’s relatable and inspiring.  Unimpressionable. 
 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Shoulder Season


This shoulder season.
  I haven’t been getting out on the bike much these last few weeks.  No guilt.   No regret.  I mean, I’m not training or getting ready for anything.  Crappy weather and a sprained ankle last week have kept me on my couch more than on my saddle.  My foot is better now, but it also made me realize that my body is asking for rest.  Telling me to lay low.  Craving more yoga, more meditation.  Maybe it knows that spring and summer are just around the corner and it understands that it needs to get ready for the usual riding ramp up ahead?  That’s one of the ways that I’m changing as I get older.  I embrace the melancholy more.  I don’t fight the fatigue like I used to.  I feel more attuned to nature’s cyclical rhythm.  Periods of thriving interspersed between periods of sluggishness.  All completely normal.  We suffer when we expect to be on the top of our game all the time.  Learning to slow down purposefully between efforts is an sign of maturity.  I’m in no rush to get my cycling legs back.  Completely comfortable with this very unhurried start.  When I raced, this time of the year was filled with anxiety and panic as I wanted so bad to be fully ready for the fast approaching race season.  Now that I no longer compete, there is no more deadline for things to fall into place.  I finally got out this week.  Ankle feels much better.  Snow is almost all gone.  Even if I’m in no rush, I’m ready for this shoulder season to flourish into a new spring.  Happy Easter long weekend everyone !

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Freewheelers






Late July or early August 1985.  Luc and I drive to Moncton in his dad’s Ford LTD.  The first summer that we have our licenses.  The freedom of driving to the city unaccompanied by our parents.  Music blasting, Vuarnet’s covering our faces, Vans covering our feet, we head over to our friend’s house.  We have never been there before, put Luc has the address.

We had met Mike Plume three years before through BMX.  My very first memory of him is the dude who rode the red Race Inc.  I was blown away by that bike.  Frame built from massive alloy tubes.  Thick clean welds.  It was the very first real BMX bike that I had seen that was in the magazines.  Mike was always very nice to us.  We always felt a bit intimidated by the Moncton crew.  They were city kids and we lived out in the country.  He didn’t speak French and we sometimes struggled with English. He was very cool and never made us feel like BMX outsiders. 

Mike has recently gotten into music and Luc wants to go see his electric guitar.  A beautiful instrument even if I know nothing about guitars, but there is also his GT Pro Performer BMX Freestyle bike.  Recently purchased from Mike’s Bike Shop in Shediac, pretty much the only bike shop around that still carries BMX.  Luc and I are still riding our old race bikes at the time that we have converted to Freestyle.  But Mike’s GT has been designed from the ground up for trick riding.  Pegs, platforms and a curved downtube to clear the front brake when spinning the bars.  The exact same bike that Eddie Fiola rides at the Pipeline Skatepark in California.  Hanging out, Mike also lets us know that his mom has accepted a new teaching job and that they are moving to Calgary in a few weeks.  Not that we spend much time together since he lives in Moncton and we live in Saint-Antoine, but it still feels like the end of a certain era.

Wondering if or when we’ll see Mike again, our conversation now seems different.  It has a certain sense of urgency to it, making the discussion sticky.  Before leaving, Mike tells us that he has come up with a cool name for a BMX Freestyle Trick Team that he wants to start in Alberta.  The Freewheelers.

We leave Mike’s house after saying our goodbyes.  This is before social media.  The only way to stay in touch is expensive long distance phone calls or snail mail.  We don’t exchange phone numbers or addresses.  Probably because Mike likely doesn’t even have this information at this point.  Mike moves out west, sells his GT and really gets into music, eventually making it his life career.  Without realizing it at the time, Luc and I become The Freewheelers.

 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Tipping Point



When we’re young, we don’t have much past. All we have is future. As we age, our past slowly accumulates. Until we eventually reach a tipping point. A time when our past slowly starts overtaking our future. We can’t stop it. It’s just the way life is. Finally, when we’re old, we don’t have much future. All we have is past. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Trying to understand why I have been spending so much time reminiscing. Not by force. Just naturally drawn back. Maybe I’ve reached the tipping point age? It’s not that I’m not excited about the future. I really am. It’s more like a longing to take longer glances at life through my rear view mirror. A therapeutic exercise of sorts that somehow helps make the present and future that much better. A few weeks ago I read that it’s only our bodies that age and grow old. In our minds, we stay young. That’s how revisiting my past makes me feel. It makes me feel young. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel at peace. Working at an old age home during the summers while in university, I was always annoyed with the residents continuously just telling the same old stories. At the time, I thought “what’s the point?”. But now, I’ve reached the age where I’m finally starting to get it. These pics are from the past, almost 3 weeks ago now. My last fat bike ride of the season. And now. After spring solstice. The tipping point time of the year when light slowly starts overtaking darkness. A gentle reminder to start focusing on brighter days ahead. Future.
 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Hauling Heavy Wood Contraptions







We had a date. We had a time. We had a location. We had permission. The only thing that we hadn’t really thought about was actually getting our ramps to the Saint-Antoine Save Easy parking lot on that Sunday afternoon in September of 1984. Our small wedge ramp wasn’t too big or heavy. We could easily transport it in my dad’s small wooden trailer. The distance from my parents’ house to the supermarket was about 1 to 2 kilometers. We loaded it up and my dad drove it to the show venue. That’s one thing with every single BMX Freestyle demo that we ever did. Our parents supported us by helping with what we weren’t able to do. Like ramp transportation before we had driving permits. Everything else was on us. From the beginning, the whole thing was our idea. We booked and set up all of our gigs. We went looking for sponsors. We were the ones driving the dream.
Our first set of ramps were overbuilt. The small wedge ramp was supported by an old pallet underneath additional support boards topped off with a sheet of plywood that stuck out on both sides. We had built it ourselves, in stages with whatever wood we could get our hands on. It flexed when you hopped on it which made it kind of sketchy, but it did the trick (pun intended). We learned how to do kick turns and rollbacks on that ramp. About 4 feet high, we had also launched it a few times. But never on pavement. Even on grass or dirt, the flat landing was brutally hard.
The quarter pipe was another beast altogether. Built the year before by my dad, my uncle and our neighbor, Paul Arsenault’s father. For plans, we followed a rough sketch in a BMX magazine. It weighed a ton. The first version didn’t come out as planned and had a rather bumpy transition leading into the top foot of straight vert. The plywood used was very thick and we had to cut grooves into the underside in order to get the wood to bend. This made the transition noticeably lumpy. After a few months, we fixed it by adding spaced boards and another layer of thinner plywood on top of the first in order to smooth out the transition up to the last few inches of vert. It worked much better for aerials, but like I said, it was a lot of wood and made the ramp very heavy.
My dad’s trailer was fine for the small ramp, but too small for the monster quarter pipe. But, what other choice did we have? We balanced it on top of the trailer laying on its back, the top and bottom sticking out on each side. It wasn’t the safest set-up, but we didn’t have to go far. It was also Sunday, so traffic was very light. My dad would drive really slow and my friends would follow on their bikes watching to make sure that our setup didn’t collapse. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was our only choice other than renting a big flatbed truck. I’m not sure why my father agreed to this? I guess he really didn’t want to disappoint us after putting in so much effort with all the other details.
We leave my parents’ house, turn left after the church. It’s taking forever. My dad is driving so very slow. Everything seems to be going to plan. Until, my dad suddenly starts losing his shit. The engine light on his Chevy S-10 is flashing. I’m sitting in the passenger seat. I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I’m pretty sure, actually I’m quite certain that we were above tow capacity. We stop to let the engine cool down and recover. The light turns off again after a bit. My dad is still very distressed. He tells me that he’s worried that he just wrecked something in the transmission of his truck. I’m sitting there silent with my head down. We can’t leave the ramp there, in the short side street beside the church. So after the break, my dad decides to hope for the best and to keep going. Stopping every minute to let the engine recover. In what seemed like an eternity, we finally make it to the Save Easy parking lot. We setup both ramps and the show happens as planned. All of our families and friends are there to support us. But deep down, I’m sure my dad is wondering how the hell we were going to get the quarter pipe back to our house now that the route back was mostly uphill...

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The first show






The whole BMX racing scene in our area died at the end of the summer in 1984.  We all had our reasons to be done with it, but the reality was that the fad that had started a few years before had simply run its course.  BMX freestyle on the other hand was booming.  Laid back.  No rules.  Complete freedom to ride how and where you wanted.  A liberty of sorts to flaunt your own style.  A fun and flashy two wheeled BMX revolution.  Race coverage was taking up less and less space in the BMX magazines.  This new trick riding trend was taking over at breakneck speed.  Our magazine heroes were RL Osborn and Mike Buff, the BMX Action trick team from California.  They spent their summers touring, traveling to perform shows, introducing the world to this new way of riding BMX bikes.  They were living the dream.  Our dream. 

So very far from the epicenter of this new BMX movement, we also wanted to start our own trick team.  But how could a small bunch of kids living in a tiny Atlantic Canadian rural town like us make that happen?  We didn’t have any money.  We didn’t have our driver’s license.  After carefully contemplating our options, we approached the owner of our local supermarket asking for permission to use his parking lot.  He gave us the go ahead.  Now, all we needed to do was to plan our demonstration and hope that some people would show up to watch.  Luc seems to remember it as being part of the official opening of the new Saint-Antoine Save Easy.  My take is that we followed the BMX Action trick team’s lead and simply made hand written posters and put them up around town, kind of like posted signs announcing a yard sale.

The thing that we both remember for sure is that our very first demo was on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in September of 1984.  Back when stores were closed on the last day of each weekend.  I’m really not sure how many people came to see us because they saw our posters or even from word of mouth.  Save Easy was on Main street and I remember people driving by and simply stopping to see what was going on.  That and the fact that kids actually played outside in those days, naturally migrating to where others were gathered.  Add each of our families and we had a small audience worth performing for.  We were so pumped!

Luc, Paul Arsenault, the late Danny Cormier (RIP my friend) and I rode in that show.  We had practiced our routines and planned out the sequence of our tricks.  A local photographer showed up.  I’m not really sure how he knew about what we were doing.  These pictures were all purchased from him.  In the next year, Paul and Danny would slowly lose interest in BMX.  But for Luc and I, a seed had been planted.  We definitely wanted more of this.  We had become BMX freestyle artists...    


 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Giant Bicycle Canada Ambassador





I was obsessed with motocross as a young kid.  Unable to afford dirt bikes, me and my friends pretended to be our motorcycle heroes on our pedal bikes.  Making the buzzing engine sounds as we rode.  Trying so very hard to kick up dirt as our skinny legs pushed as hard as they could on the pedals.  Searching for trails.  Building dirt jumps.  Getting dirty.  Endlessly exploring.  My cycling passion was born during these times.  Literally cultivated in the same dirt that we rode on every single day.  My dream of racing BMX became my reality in 1982.  From that point on, my entire existence revolved around the bike.  If I wasn’t sleeping, eating or at school, I was riding.  Even through high school, I still rode every day, until I moved for university in 1987.  4 years later, in 1991, really missing bikes, I bought my very first mountain bike.  It felt so good to be back.  I jumped back into racing as the sport boomed in the 90s.  Always fond of the brand, in 2006, I picked up my very first Giant.  The new Anthem with the revolutionary Maestro suspension platform.  I fell madly in love.  Fast forward 15 years to now and I’m still riding Giant bikes.  Road.  Gravel.  And true to my dirt roots, Mountain also.  I don’t race anymore, but carving knobby tires through buff single track still takes me back every single time.  Back to how I felt ripping through the dirt as a kid.  Well, minus making the buzzing engine sounds.  Thank you so very much @GiantBicycleCanada and @MikesBikeShop for supporting me and my addiction.  I am so very honoured and stoked to be a Giant Bicycle Canada Ambassador for 2021.  And what do you think of the new kit?  Do you love it as much as I do?!  See you out on the trails soon…

 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Bridging towards spring





Daylight savings time change this weekend.  Spring in less than 2 weeks.  Winter is almost over.  Almost.  The sun has already changed.  It’s brighter.  It’s stronger.  Even the birds sound different.  Nature slowly re-awakening.  This spring appetizer.  There are maybe 2 or 3 snow fat bike weekends left.  Maybe.  Once the temps get above freezing, I usually ride on the road instead of fat biking through the messy slush and mud.  Winter off road riding is very clean when it’s cold.  Even cleaner than road riding on a dry sunny summer day.  Studded tires floating on the frozen snow base.  Solid H2O asphalt.  Friday was a perfect winter fat bike morning.  Cold enough to keep things firm. -10 Celsius.  Light winds.  I didn’t have a planned route.  I only knew when and where I was starting.  I would let the ride decide.  Up the ATV trail.  I turned left heading east.  I kept riding.  Down to this cool train bridge.  Last time I had been here was 3 years ago.  Deep in the woods.  This eerie vitality.  Graffiti.  Old bridge piers.  As my 53rd winter here on this earth winds up, I feel so very grateful.  For my health.  For my family and friends.  Thank you existence for all of these gifts.  Even if part of me longs for warmer days ahead, when I really am present here and now, there isn’t anywhere else that I’d rather be.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Freewheelers BMX Chronicles





Luc and I met in the summer of 1976 when I moved to Saint-Antoine from the US.  We hit it off immediately.  We were both obsessed with motocross.  Riding our pedal bikes every single day, pretending to be our dirt bike heroes.  In high school, everyone knew us as the BMX guys.  Always on our BMX bikes.  Obsessed with riding and learning new tricks.  We were inseparable.  From 1985 through 1987, we performed BMX Freestyle shows in Atlantic Canada.  Luc Melanson and Mike LeBlanc, the Freewheelers BMX Trick Team.  Sponsored by Mike’s Bike Shop.  Still best friends even today, 45 years later.  And still riding bikes. 

The idea behind this page started on New Year’s day of this year.  Hanging out, rummaging through old photos, telling stories.  I was amazed at how much I remembered.  I was also amazed at how much I had forgotten.  In the end, all that will be left are the stories and the photos.  Documenting them as they come up, in case one day I won’t be able to remember them anymore.  Any volunteers to come read them back to us when we’re at the nursing home?

If you also love BMX, maybe even rode back in the day, or if you just love hearing our BMX stories from the absolute best times of our lives as well as our modern day return back to our BMX roots, like our page…

Thanks

Mike and Luc

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Happiness




Happiness is this life commodity that we just can’t seem to put our finger on.  It may be because it isn’t a thing.  A feeling maybe?  A state of being?  Happiness is very personal.  Society will never be happy.  Only the individual people in it can be happy.  We most often blame the world, other people and our circumstances for our unhappiness.  But in reality, it’s an inside job.  Happiness is always a choice that we continuously need to make.  Now I’m not talking about forced happiness or fake positivity, telling ourselves that we are happy and well even when we can’t feel it.  We will never be able to lie ourselves to happiness.  True happiness is beyond ego.  It has depth.  Not taking things personally.  No expectations.  Existence doesn’t owe us anything.  Simply believing that it does will always rob us of our happiness.  Happiness is our birthright.  It isn’t something that we gain or achieve.  It’s about letting go.  Opening our eyes to the gifts that life keeps giving us each and every day.  Like this taste of spring last Sunday.  Snow melting.  Temp hovering around + 4 Celsius.  A road spin to get out of my head.  A moving meditation inspiring me beyond mind.  Happiness. 

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Winter Peak




I’ve been in my head a whole lot lately.  Not anxious or depressed.  Consumed with personal projects that I am very excited about.  Inspired.  And a bit overwhelmed all at the same time.  I really need this Sunday solo ride.  Perfectly clear morning.  Intense deep blue skies.  The brightest of suns making the snow sparkle like stars on a clear night.  The crisp cold air, so very thin, highlighting every single thing around me.  Impossible to ignore.  Almost as if I’m watching a revolutionary 3D production.  A few inches of fresh snow yesterday, just enough to cover the trail, creating ideal fat bike conditions.  Climactic even.  As far as Canadian winter days go, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Pedaling into this silence, I feel the intoxicated voices in my head slowly calm down.  Not really hushed.  Simply lulled to sleep.  Just the sound of my breath and the crunch of my tires on the packed snow.  Riding back along the riverfront trail, I notice a stamped path leading out towards the lake.  I turn into it.  The vastness of the frozen open space calling me.  I can’t resist.  Last night’s snow has covered this man-made rink.  Too much to play hockey on.  The perfect amount to pedal on.  My fat studded tires digging through the light white fluff, biting into the ice below.  Out in the open, I feel so small.  Insignificant.  In a good way.  My being here showing me my place in this world.  I’m but such a tiny part of it.  Trivial.  Unimportant.  Welcoming the boundless spaciousness surrounding me, my mind suddenly becomes speechless.  Nothing left.  My inner void shining under the strengthening sun gently punching me from up above.  I take a deep breath and salute this winter’s peak.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Empty



Stamina above speed.  I used to ride to get faster.  Now, I simply get out regularly to be able to ride longer.  Into this void.  That’s one of the feelings that I appreciate most after long adventure rides.  The emptiness.  Losing my masks.  Getting my original face back.  Enabling me to see my true self again.  Removing all the garbage that had gotten in the way.  Just like life.  Our intention should be for it to end empty.  Nothing left.  No mind traffic.  No more wanting.  Simple nothingness.  Empty and aware.  Even more than how riding makes my body feel, what I love most is how it cleanses my mind.  

 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Bicycles






Bicycles.  They mean so many different things to different people.  For some, bikes are a means of transportation, comfortably carrying them from point A to point B.  For some, bikes are speed machines, tools that enable them to push and surpass their own limits.  For others, bikes are toys, pieces of art or simply exercise apparatuses.  Bikes have been all of these things for me at different points in my life.  What started as a childhood fascination has ingrained itself into my soul.  That feeling of the human body and machine working together in perfect harmony.  Feet turning these pedals.  Hands hugging these bars.  Buttocks resting on this saddle.  After all these years, why do I still ride?  I’ve thought about this often.  And my reason has definitely evolved as I age.  One thing that hasn’t is how my bike brings me closer to the land.  Inspiring me to feel it.  Smell it.  Hear it.  Taste it.  Even as a kid, ripping around on my BMX, I knew every sidewalk lip, every dirt jump, every hidden landscape gem around town.  My world.  Building jumps.  Getting dirty.  Endlessly exploring.  Grounding.  Re-connecting with mother earth.  These roots run deep.  Even in the dead of winter, these fat studded tires still bring me back home.  What are your reasons to ride?  Bicycles.