Banff Ride (Alberta, Canada) by Geoff Barrall.

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Banff 2012

Following a meeting with one of my collaborators at the University of Calgary, I had a chance to head up to Banff for a long road ride.  A number of shops rent road bikes in Banff, but only one, Soul Ski and Bike, rents a carbon fiber bike.  In particular, they rent the Cannondale Synapse with a Shimano 105 gruppo.  The shop opened and 10 AM, and I was out of the door with seat adjusted and pedals fitted 15 minutes later.

The ride started from the center of Banff to the East along Buffalo and Tunnel Mountain Roads.  After the first small climb, the road rises well above the Bow River Falls (rapids actually).  The climb continues after this and gets a bit steeper heading up Tunnel Mountain Road.  At this point, I noticed that the cage on the front derailleur was rubbing when I was using low gears.  This was a little irritating, but I figured I would deal with it once I looped back through town before the big climb of the day (Mt Norquay).  Tunnel Mountain Road rolled up and down through the woods and brought me back to Banff Ave.  I then headed north to Lake Minnewaka.  The climb up to the lake is reasonably uniform with a few steep pitches.  The lake is flanked by massive granite peaks fading off into the distance.  Following the lake was a gentle downhill section with ideal road conditions and well banked turns.

I headed back into the town and swung by the bike shop.  The mechanic adjusted the low limiter on the front derailleur and also spent some time adjusting the tension on the rear derailleur.  I was a bit puzzled with the rear derailleur adjustment, since it had been working reasonably well.  I headed off to the main climb of the day.  As the slope began to pitch up a little heading out of town, I noticed the rear derailleur was shifting poorly.  Rather than going back to the shop or attempting a fix on the road, I just adjusted the tension a little from the cable and it began to work a little better.  Soon I was heading up Mt Norquay and encountering the longest sustained pitches of the day.  The shifting was still a bit troublesome, but the views of the Bow River Valley were so amazing that I decided to keep riding.  At one point the slope became steep enough that I was looking for one more gear.  I began to shift to a larger cog on the back, and as I did so I looked down.  Oddly, it looked like I was on the largest cog already, but the shifter was moving.  Before I could react, the chain came off the largest cog and went straight into the wheel.  I stopped pedaling, immediately realizing I was going to be jamming the chain hard between the cassette and the spokes.  Regardless, the chain did jam, and the bike came to a sudden halt, requiring some quick foot work to avoid falling over in the middle of the road.  Safely off the bike, I looked down to see the chain firmly wedged behind the cassette.  This was pretty annoying, since I was making good time up the mountain and hoping I might actually have a chance at a top 10 for the segment (reviewing the climb later, it became obvious I wasn’t even close).  The next 10 minutes were spent getting progressively greasier as I worked to pull the chain out.  The alternative would be to walk back down the mountain, since the rear wheel was not going to do a lot of free wheeling.  The chain finally came free, and I did my best to clean up my hands with dirt and leaves.  After properly adjusting the tension on the rear derailleur cable and
the low limit screw, I headed back up the mountain.

I turned around at the Ski resort on top of Mt Norquay.  After taking a couple pics on the way down, I decided to just hammer down the mountain.  If I went up slow, the least I could do is go down fast.  It turned out to be a great descent – smooth roads, banked turns and long straightaways.  Coincidentally, I made the top 10 on the descent.  Sheehan would have killed it.

For the final leg of the journey I headed along Highway 1 to the Bow Valley Parkway.  It was about 12:45 PM as I turned onto the highway.  Based on the 1.5 hour drive to Calgary and my 7:00 PM flight departure, I figured I should turn around after about 1 hour in order to be heading out of Banff by about 3 PM or so.  With no specific end goal in mind and just a turn-around time, this part of the ride was quite relaxing and a chance to just enjoy the view.  The Parkway runs along the Bow river and provides some excellent views of the surrounding mountains and the river.  Traffic is incredibly light, since anyone in a hurry is on Highway 1.  Bicyclists are reasonably numerous including one guy on a TT bike and a club running a paceline (both going in the opposite direction).  I rode until Johnston Creek and made a slow loop through a heavily wooded campground.  The left brake lever assembly had been loose for most of the ride, so I took a few minutes to tighten it down.  Without an actual ball-end hex, it was almost impossible to get this done properly.  While taking a few pictures at the turn around, I began to notice a steady accumulation of mosquitos.  By the time I had my camera stashed, helmet back on and was away, I had attracted quite a swarm.  Fortunately mosquitoes are slow and I was rid of them in a few pedal strokes.

On the way back I took a slightly different route.  When mapping out the ride, I had noticed a path to the south of the highway that did not appear to run all the way to the Bow Valley Parkway.  Since I had nothing to lose, I looked for a possible connection between this path and my route.  Just as I was getting onto the highway on ramp, a path entrance appeared to the right.  The entrance was gated – likely to keep bears off the path (or maybe on the path – not sure which).  As it turned out, this has to be one of the most scenic bike paths in the world.  Describing the views really does not do them justice, so I have included a few representative pictures.

I headed back into Soul Ski and Bikes at about 2:45PM.  After telling them about my experiences with the rear derailleur and the left shift/brake lever, the manager gave me a 20% discount and pointed me toward the bathroom next to the repair area with a ready supply of hand degreaser.  The discount was more than I had expected – it was a rental bike after all.  Next time I get a rental, however, I will do a more thorough checkout before heading off on the ride.  Overall a fabulous ride with a few, manageable mishaps.


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