Aaron Dennis and his kids exploring urban, rural gravel as part of Bike Doctor’s A Series of Detours event (#BikingStories)
By Greg Basky
When Aaron Dennis snagged a sweet deal on a bike for his son last winter, he had no idea it would be seeing such big mileage this spring.
“It was sort of serendipitous. We were at Bruce’s (Cycle Works) and found a cyclocross bike, a used one, small frame, and the price looked good,” says Dennis. “I thought ‘I guess he’ll probably use it.’ I didn’t expect he’d be using it quite this much.”
Since COVID-19 struck in mid-March, and the snow melted, Aaron, an electrical engineer with Microchip, and his 12-year-old son Evan have logged more than 300 kms of riding together, participating in “A Series of Detours,” the virtual version of Bike Doctor’s Detours adventure cycling club.
Detours spells adventure, community
According to their website, Detours is “a cycling club focused on adventure and community.” They started in 2016 by organizing “gravel rides” on local prairie back roads. When the pandemic forced Detours to suspend the weekly group outings that would have taken place from spring through fall, club organizers quickly pivoted to a new alternative: local rider and all-round biking booster Jeff Hehn plotted then posted a variety of routes to a navigation app called Ride with GPS, which other riders can download to their smartphone or cycle computer*.
Rides range in distance from a very manageable 9 kms to “epics” of up 120 kms, with fun names such as Swale’s Pace, Diefenbaker Salute, and Saskatoon Berry Good Ride. Routes carry riders over a mix of paths, trails, and alleys in town, and gravel grid roads in all directions outside the city.
Since Aaron and Evan rode their first Detours loop — Yorath Island Views — back on May 16th, the father-son team has knocked off 11 of 21 Detours routes; they try to get out for a couple of rides every week. Aaron’s nine-year-old daughter Ruby tags along too, on some of the shorter rides within city limits. “Evan has set a goal to ride all the non-epic (< 60 kms) routes at least once this summer,” says Dennis. “And I’m a willing chaperone. I have ridden in many areas in and around Saskatoon over the years, but must admit with the Detours there are many roads that are proving new and interesting.”
Biking is in their blood
The Dennises are a cycling family. Aaron has been a year-round cycle commuter for the past 20 years and is a member of several other local cycling clubs besides Detours, including Northern Bush Rastas, Horizon 100, BCW Cycling, Cycledelia, and Saskatoon Cycling Club. In the past few years, he’s helped coach the Horizon Youth Cycling Program. He loves all flavors of riding — road, gravel, mountain, and even just running errands around town. Evan is part of the Horizon youth program, NBR Dirt Kids, BCW Cyclocross nights; last summer he completed the Bike Doctor’s Pico-Fondo ride to Moon Lake Golf Course. Father and son had registered as a 2-person team for this summer’s Prince Albert Pine Needles Bike and Music Festival, which was postponed until summer 20201 due to COVID-19.
Favorite Detours routes
For Evan, the best Detours route thus far was the 35-km loop that runs alongside irrigation canals from the Bradwell Reservoir to the northern tip of Blackstrap Lake and back again. It featured good gravel, no cars, and lots of wildlife — including birds nesting under the bridges that “come out and start chasing you,” says Evan.
Ruby’s favorite route? The 28 km-long Zoolandia loop, which skirts the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, where she saw, “Beavers, goats, sheep, cows…”
Daddy Dennis says his most memorable Detour was the Sunday night he crossed paths with a prickly critter while out doing a solo ride of the 44-km Barnes and Noble Alleys route. “I was on some double track and there’s a porcupine on the one side. I went by it. And when I went by, I must have startled it, because its quills stood up.” A little further on, he came to a slough whose water level was so high that it blocked the trail. He was forced to make a choice: Double back and risk meeting up with Mr. Porcupine again, or detour around the prescribed path. Discretion being the better part of valor, he chose the latter.
Give gravel a go
Aaron says riding the Detours routes has been a great alternative to negotiating the Meewasin Valley trails, which have been particularly clogged with pedestrians and cyclists this spring. “It’s been a really good experience,” says Dennis. “You’re surrounded by wildlife and interesting plants and trees. There are a lot of places that I think are pretty accessible for people of all different abilities and you don’t need a fancy bike. It just takes time. Bring some snacks and some water and make it an adventure.”
While he misses getting out with friends on the club rides, Aaron says it’s been great to have eager cycling companions right in his own household. “It’s nice family time, to get out and make an afternoon of it. There’s not much I’d rather be doing,” says Dennis. “Biking with your kids is about as good as it gets.”
*Note that riders need to take out a membership in both Detours and Saskatchewan Cycling Association in order to access the routes in Ride With GPS