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Getting and staying fit in BMW-style

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Two-time Olympian Zach Bell cannot believe what he saw on Metro Vancouver roads this past winter. Cyclists! Lots of them. The 34- year-old 2013 Canadian Road Champion lives and trains in the Lower Mainland and is impressed with the dramatic changes to the local pedal scene “It’s amazing at how fast this activity is growing,” says the athlete who races for North Carolina’s feisty Team Smart Stop on the UCI American Tour.

“When I moved to North Van eight years ago, even on the sunniest days you might not meet more than four riders on a long haul out to Horseshoe Bay. This past January, I was pedaling along Marine Drive through West Van and I counted at least 60 other riders.”

Could it be that Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has failed to kill the sport? And that Vancouver’s gradually evolving cycle network has gone from being a bunch of green lines on a map to a system of usable bike routes? And that a whole generation of middle aged weekend warriors have suddenly embraced the two-wheel conveyance that they ditched during their teens when they discovered girls, cars and rollerblades? Statistics for the trend are scarce, but last year a record number of cyclists used Vancouver’s nascent bike lanes, including over one million trips across the Burrard Bridge.

Mass ride events and charity pedals are exploding in this province, and retailers continue to devote more floor space to road bikes. A desire for improved health seems to be powering the phe – nomenon. Five years ago, when Bruce Barton was looking to slim down, he listened to his gut. As Parts Manager at Brian Jessel BMW, Barton is responsible for tracking all the inventory that flies in and out of the busy dealership.

It is a stressful job and he realized he needed more cardio in his life. The answer turned out to be directly in front of him, across the showroom floor. BMW had just introduced a line of sleek, gorgeous bicycles (see sidebar: The Ultimate Cycling Machine) and Barton promptly test drove them. Flash forward 5,500 pedaled kms to today and his alternative commute method hangs on his office wall. He rides the light, tough, stylish velo to work on non-suit days.

The 24-minute pedal from Kits to Boundary Road carries him along the leafy 10th Avenue bike route before swinging into the shadow of Skytrain and the motor-free Central Valley Greenway.

Barton has dropped 20 lbs since saddling up, but he says that the real benefit is the mindset that comes from the trip. “I arrive at work feeling refreshed from all the endorphins and other natural drugs coursing through the body. I’m focused and invigorated. It’s like, oh, this is how the start of the day is supposed to feel.”

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Barton’s co-worker, Paul Killeen agrees that the health benefits of the sport are a major draw. Weight loss and stoked cardio are fairly immediate rewards, but it is the low-impact nature of cycling that keeps riders on the road.

Killeen, a 45-year old Sales Consultant, used to race sailboats before trading his life jacket for a helmet.

He became a two-wheeler late in life, but as an athletic dude is still surprised to be getting his butt kicked by guys in their 50s. “It’s such a different game from running sports,” says Killeen.

“In soccer, basketball and football, players tend to fall by the wayside after so much impact on their joints, but with cycling, as you get older, you simply adjust your route to Richmond instead of Seymour Mountain. You can easily pedal into your 70s.” He then mentions that last year, a guy rode up and down Cypress Bowl 13 times in a day. (With my 50th birthday looming, I decide not to ask how old he was.) Cycling provides relief and stamina to aging bodies, but that is not the only reason that hard charging management types are donning padded shorts during midlife crisis.

The sport also provides an excellent outlet for rampant competiveness. “People are challenging themselves in BMX, cyclocross and road races,” explains Richard Wooles, Executive Director of Cycling BC, “but by far the biggest growth for the over 30s group are the fondos.” Gran Fondo is Italian for “Big Ride” and these mass participation events, which welcome riders from a variety of skill levels, are largely about the thrill of the chain-cog symphony.

Long routes, steep climbs, no pressure. Technically they are not races, but after the organizers add on chip timing and recognition for top finishers, well, bragging rights can be a powerful incentive. Wooles describes the rise of the fondo in this country as meteoric. “I think there are now around a 100 fondo-style events in Canada,” says Wooles. “Five years ago, there were zero.”

The growth pleases Zach Bell, who hopes to someday ride in the RBC GranFondo Whistler, when his race schedule allows it. He believes that a large part of cycling’s appeal is its accessibility. “I can ride alongside Joe businessman from downtown and we can have a good time chatting and pacing one another. You can’t do that as a pro training for other sports. Even at the races, the riders are right there in the pits. Anyone can talk to them before or after the event, unlike at a hockey or football game. And cycling is portable and instant. You don’t have to book a tee time.

Where to Ride, Learn and Hang with Other Bikers

HUB (formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition) is the first stop on the road to becoming a self-propelled commuter. Their StreetWise Cycling Courses will teach you how to safely share the road. – Cycling BC represents all the spoke stoked disciplines in the province, including road, track, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, BMX and para-cycling. They license riders, coaches, officials and race organizers and provide insurance to members. So even if you intend to be a casual competitor in the local scene, you are going to want to talk to these folk. They can also suggest clinics on how to join the peloton and what that word means. –

The Fondos

Check out for the full list, but local
standouts include:

The Prospera Valley GranFondo – July 19, 2015. The route is flatter than its Howe Sound cousin (a 327-metre climb), but longer (160 km) and just as beautiful. Shorter routes available for beginners.

The RBC GranFondo Whistler – September 12, 2015. When else are you going to get to cycle the gorgeous Sea to Sky Highway in a dedicated car-free lane? Total Distance: 122 km. Total Elevation: 1700 metres.

The Charity Rides

The Cypress Challenge – August 16, 2015. A winding, 14-km grind up a North Shore Mountain is as good symbol as any for the fight that lies ahead to unravel the mystery of pancreatic cancer, oncology’s deadliest tumour. Kudos to Vancouver’s largest road cycling club, Glotman Simpson Cycling, for hosting this annual test and for having raised over a million dollars to reduce suffering and improve patient survival.

The Ride to Conquer Cancer – August 29-30, 2015. Nothing says that you are serious about defeating this disease more than riding to another city in another country.

A scenic 200 km journey through picturesque scenery from Vancouver to Seattle. Pedal Without a Cause Once you have your steed and your training, the next step is to find a posse. Type “cycling” into the search field and you will see that there is a group for every gear set, including those who just want to toodle around town.

Refueling Depot

Musette Caffè is a bike-friendly coffee bar with locations at 1262 Burrard and 75 East Pender. The décor is tres Tour de France and they even organize a weekly group ride.


The City of Vancouver and Translink have great cycle route maps online. Easy Cycling Around Vancouver: Fun Day Trips for All Ages by Jean and Norman Cousins (Greystone Books) is another good way to get oriented.

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The Ultimate Cycling Machine

BMW began tinkering with bicycles in 1945 during the chaotic rebuilding period following WWII. The company pioneered the use of aluminum to create lightweight frames and later played a decisive role in the evolution of mountain bikes when their engineers drew inspiration from a motorbike suspension fork.

Today, BMW’s third generation of bicycles is still breaking barriers.

The entire line won a Red Dot Award at last year’s prestigious international design competition, with judges applauding the collection’s distinctive looks and agile handling. Designed by DesignworksUSA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the BMW Group, the signature feature of the bikes is the bull neck shape at the front of the top tube.

The frame is reminiscent of a motorbike, tracing the outline of a gas tank. Another enhancement is the bikes’ seamless design: the welding lines are smooth and all the cables run inside the frame. The new collection is not just innovative in terms of its design, it also includes a range of new technical features. Alongside innovations by BMW itself, the new models are fitted with components by top manufacturers like Shimano and Suntour.

The hydroformed frame is robust and light, guaranteeing optimal efficiency by ensuring maximum power transfer with minimum effort.

The following models are available at Brian Jessel BMW:

Cruise Bike: Light, dynamic, fast, this BMW is ideal for those who wish to leave zero eco-footprints around the city. Weight: 15 kg. Gears: Shimano Deore 30 gears. Disc brakes: Shimano BR-M395 180mm. Forks: SR Suntour XCT. Rims: Rodi, Airline Plus 4 lacing. Tires: Continental CruiseCONTACT with Kevlar inserts to resist punctures. Saddle: Selle Royal Freccia.

M Bike: Similar to the Cruise, but with a decidely more Gotham look, the M is .2 kg lighter and fronted by more aggressive SR Suntour XCR RL-R forks. The saddle is also a sportier Selle Royal Setta S1. Additional equipment includes a carbon attachment saddlepost/spacer.

Cruise e-Bike: The 250-watt Bosch electric motor provides a boost for the rider when pedalling and a range of up to 100 kilometres. The battery can easily be removed with a key and recharged from any outlet. A full recharge takes 3.5 hours, while 90-minutes in fast-charge mode provides a 50 per cent top-up. Available in medium and large sizes, the e-Bike weighs 22kg.

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