Biking in a winter wonderland

Shannon Lee Mannion, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, December 21, 2007

Snow, cold and human cargo don't faze determined two-wheelers

Richard Briggs and Juergen Weichert are splashes of colour as they converge on their bicycles at a small strip mall on Montreal Road. Although it's the coldest day of the year, they have come to pick up their Christmas trees.

They are members of HPVOoO, or Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa, an affiliation started in 2002 of people interested in unique bicycles, including recumbents, work bicycles and homemade human powered vehicles (HPVs).

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Richard arrives towing a bicycle trailer and has a child seat mounted to the top tube of his bike into which his son, Nicolas Briggs-Sauvé, 4 1/2, is securely belted.

Juergen's mountain bike has been modified into a lengthened cargo bike called an Xtracycle. A platform over the rear wheel can be used for passengers or cargo and there are large cargo racks along both sides.

I naively ask: "So, how much weight can you carry?"

This is like throwing a gauntlet in front of an HPV owner. If Richard thought I would have fit in his bike trailer, he would have stuffed me in.

Juergen, meanwhile, looks up from where he has been affixing two hammock-like structures on aluminum tubes to his bike's frame. He pats the cargo deck, grins and says, "Hop on."

"I'm not getting on that," I say defiantly and point at the child. "Put the kid on," I propose.

"That's not a challenging load," Richard asserts.

A couple of summers ago, when Juergen offered to take me for a ride, I successfully refused. However, here we are, at the Christmas tree lot, and about to entrust one of the pivotal symbols of the season to this "LWB" (long-wheel-base) bicycle, so how can I refuse? I must show faith.

I grimace and Juergen counsels: "You straddle it like a horse," indicating the plank behind him. "But don't stand where the cargo goes."

I am now precariously astride. I wonder where I should put my feet but with a lurch, we are mobile and I am too busy hanging on to ask.

I hadn't thought of it as we circled the parking lot, but after dismounting I realize that the drag coefficient must've been something else. Yet there was no slipping of the tires on the snow-packed pavement as Juergen's feet gripped the BMX pedals and he put his weight into moving mine.

"Carbide studs in the tires," he explained with a wink. "This bike has electric assist but we didn't need it."

Our laughter has brought lot attendant Dan Simard from the small house trailer that is his December home. He tells us that this is his ninth year selling Christmas trees.

"Anyone ever come before on a bicycle?" I inquire. "Only him," he says and points at Juergen. Gee, why does that not surprise me?

Richard and Nicolas, meanwhile, have chosen a tall balsam and Richard is securing it upright in the trailer that multi-tasks as a carrier for children, groceries, briefcase, whatever, including, this time, an eight-foot tree.

He explains that there are a number of things that make his bicycle appropriate for the winter. "It has an internal hub, so no dérailleur to get iced up as all gearing is inside and protected. I pedal backwards to brake, so no cable malfunction. My feet are secured to the SPD pedals (clipless pedals) by cleats on the bottom of my shoes." I look. These are similar to ski bindings.


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