On the Road Again

On The Road AgainMe in Last Years Ride

Me in last year's R2CC.

Well, tonight I picked up my bicycle from Speed River Bicycle, where it was in having it’s yearly overhaul, and so today marks the start of my 2012 cycling season. I take it there because; a) that’s where I bought it 5 years ago, and b) they do very good work at a fairly reasonable price.

I usually start riding on the weekend of the change to Daylight Saving Time (which is this weekend by the way) and ride at least until DST ends in the fall, which this year will be November 4th. Sometimes the weather will shorten the season some, but I am hoping this year it will be a long one.

As I rode home after leaving downtown it took mere moments for the activity to have it’s usual affect on my system. With each passing moment I felt better and better as the cycling motion and nearly effortless motion turned back the clock. When I ride I feel 16 instead of nearly 60. Riding a bicycle just makes me feel younger. If it had been any warmer out I might have ridden further taking a more circuitous route home, but the 6 km I did ride was typical for a first time out.

This is the 5th year for the Ride and in celebration of such there are a few extras going on that haven’t happened in previous years. One I’m really looking forward to is that everyone who has participated all five years will receive a special edition Golden Bike Helmet. It won’t be real gold of course but even so, it will be kinda cool. Last year there were only a little over 400 of us who had been in all 4 rides out of 4610 people. So if I get all my funding and make it into the Ride this year I will be in a fairly select group of riders.

Which of course means I’m going to ask you once again to click on the banner to the left and donate to my effort in The Ride this year. If you are planning to help me with this but haven’t yet, then I would ask you to do so this month. You see there is another promotion tied to this years fundraising. During the month of March reaching certain Fundraising goals will earn you a ballot in a draw for a $1000 Voucher towards a new Norco Bike. If I raise $500 this month I get 1 ballot, $750 gets me 2, and $1000 raised between now and March 31 will get 3 ballots. No idea what the odds are, but hey! a new bike would be great and a shot is a shot right? and three shots would be even more so. Details on the promotion are HERE.

So as I said, if you are intending to donate please do so this month and not only help in the fight against cancer, but help me get three shots at a brand new bike as well. Click the banner on the left or HERE to donate.

Till next time…  Shalom.

The War Between Cars and Bicycles is Over!

Well at least that’s what United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood would have us believe. He made the following announcement in his blog yesterday…

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:
  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

(Emphasis mine.  Here’s the link to the rest of the article…  DOT Website)

It’s an impressive list, and one I would heartily endorse. In fact I would love it if Canadian Minister of Transportation John Baird would issue a similar statement. To be fair, he may well have done so, but a search of Transport Canada’s website has yet to reveal a national policy on the integration of human-powered transportation into provincial and municipal infrastructure.  If anyone out there knows where to find it, please send me a link.

In the meantime, if LaHood does succeed in his stated desire to end the conflict between cars, bicycles and pedestrians, it will hold out some hope for a healthier, more environmentally friendly future.

15 Instead of 55

Steve along The Rideau Canal

Steve along The Rideau Canal

I spent this past weekend in Ottawa visiting with my brother Steven and his family. It was a great time and reminded me once again why I love cycling so much.

Bicycle paths and bike lanes criss-cross the entire Ottawa-Carleton region. It is one of the best places to go cycling in all of Ontario. For me the best trails are the ones along the Ottawa River, partly paved, partly gravel, fully treed, the river on one side, urban forest on the other, dotted with history for much of the journey it is simply a great ride.

We took our bikes downtown on the bus (I like their racks a little better than the ones Guelph has just added) and then rode from the university along the canal, looped around Parliament Hill, and then followed the river back to Steve’s place in Orleans. Along we way we watched boats of all kinds sail up and down the Ottawa River, watched biplanes takeoff and land at the Aviation Museum, checked out the horses that perform in the Musical Ride at the RCMP stables, and enjoyed ice cream and frozen yogurt at Rockcliffe Park.

I was using my nephew Bryan’s mountain bike so it was a little small, and a little slow at times, but it didn’t take long for the joy of the ride to settle in and fade the size of the bike into the background. I can’t really nail it down to one specific thing but there is just something about riding a bike that speaks to the kid in me. After a few clicks the creaks and groans of middle-age fade and the teenager re-emerges. The sun, the wind, the freedom – the only words I’ve found for it are in the title of this post – ” I feel 15 instead of 55.”

And with the summer we’ve had I really needed a dose of 15-yer old exuberance. It took till Labour Day Weekend but Saturday felt so much like summer.  No rain, warm breezes, bright sunshine… I wanted it to go on forever. We rode for over 30 km and only had to deal with car traffic about 10% of the way. The rest of the ride was trails designed and installed specifically for cyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters and pedestrians.  It was a great day that I will remember for a very long time.

But it doesn’t have to be a once a year thing. My brother enjoys this commute 2 ot 3 times a week. He has this privilege because the infrastructure in Ottawa has been fashioned with all the road users in mind.  Other cities could easily do this if they had a mind to.  Some, including Guelph, claim they do. They look to Europe and Copenhagen to find the example they need for infrastructure and cycling culture. But they don’t need to look that far away, it exists right in their own back yard.

Is Ottawa a cycling paradise? Hardly! It suffers from all the same conflicts between drivers and cyclists that exist elsewhere.  In many places the two factions continue to get in each other’s way as driver fail to look for bicycles and cyclists behave like the rules of the road don’t apply to them. But Ottawa has gone a long way to keeping the warring factions apart.  Seperated bike lanes and trails make far more sense than adding bike lanes to the busiest streets in our cities. That is just asking for trouble.

But most of all the Ottawa example dispels the myth propagated in Southern Ontario that Canadian climate makes cycling an impractical solution for environment, infrastructure and a healthier population. No one can claim that Ottawa has mild winters or a short season. It simply takes commitment and patience.

It will take time to make the shift from a car centred culture to one of shared roads and services, but when it does happen then maybe instead of road rage a fewmore of us will spend the commute recapturing a little of our childhood.

Here’s the route we took:  Bikemap Route

My Facebook album of the ride:  Ottawa Album

Towards Cycling Culture

As I make my way down the final stretch to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, I find myself pondering the move towards cycle culture in North America and why it isn’t more like Europe?

For the last year or so I’ve been following a blog called Copenhagenize.  Written by an ex-Calgarian now living in Copenhagen, it and it’s sister site Copenhagen Cycle Chic chronicle how Danish cycle-culture is progressing and Copenhagen in particular should be the model the rest of the world uses to shape cycling infrastructure in the big cities. To be fair, there’s a great deal I like about what Mikael has to say, and I certainly would like to see Canada follow more of the Danish example when it comes to cycling infrastructure; separated bike lanes, extensive bicycle parking at malls and public buildings, elimination of helmet laws, etc.  But there is one major difference between Europe and North America that will likely always stand in the way.

Europe moves at a much slower pace.

It’s a mindset thing. Throughout most of Europe things happen when they happen. Deadlines are largely regarded as suggestions, stress relief often involves coffee in a street cafe in the middle of the afternoon, shops will even close in the middle of the day to take in a soccer game or a concert.  The trip to the shop or office is as much an experience as being there.

Not so in North America.  Here it’s all about getting as much done as possible in as short a time as possible.  Fulfillment is found not in relishing every moment of an experience but rather in cramming as many experiences into the moment as possible.  North America has always had a quantity over quality mindset. The daily commute, the trip to the store is a means to an end and nothing more. We get from A to B is as few steps as Google Maps can lay out for us and it better not take one second longer than the estimate.

Even what passes for cycling culture reflects this.   The mainstay of the European bicycle commute is the city-bike.  Ridden by men and women alike it allows one to travel in style; long coats, skirts, pumps and even stilettos are suitable cycling fashion. For families, the bakfeit or cargo bike allows mom or dad to ferry the kids around in safety without ever having to take the eyes of the hope of the future.

In North America however, it’s all Spandex and helmets, 27 speeds and razor thin tires, beat the rush and get to the office in time to grab a shower and wash away the record setting attempt at getting to work.  Kids interrupt air-flow so tuck ’em in back or park ’em in a trailer out of sight so we can focus on the road ahead.  Slow bikes are as much an annoyance as slow drivers and cycle chic is measured in Day-Glo jerseys and the latest high-tech shoe clips.

As long as this is the case I’m afraid that cycling culture in Canada will always be at war with the cars.  Bicycles don’t mesh with North Americas high speed lifestyle. It’s hard to embrace the bicycle when you want to be everywhere 10 minutes before you left and want to take half the house with you in case you need something.

Slow Bike Movement

Slow Bike Movement

If North America is ever going to move towards a vibrant effective bicycle culture the first thing it needs to do is slow down. Not just on the roads but in the way we approach life itself.

“Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.”

See you in Niagara Falls —

First Day out of Das Boot

I know I should have posted this on Saturday, but I’ve been too busy enjoying the freedom. 
Das Boot is History!

I went to see the physio-therapist on Friday and after talking for a while about what my doctor said on Thursday the decision was made to go ahead and loose Das Boot.  She warned me not to over do it, wear really solid footwear, and put the boot back on for a while if I feel the foot getting weary or sore.  Makes sense doesn’t it.

So what’s the first thing you do when your foot is out of a cast for the first time in almost three months?  Go to the Toronto International Bicycle Show of course!

Late Friday night my brother Alex called me and reminded me that the show was on this past weekend.  So Saturday after band rehearsal we headed down to see what there was to see. It was really a great afternoon.  Since both of us have fairly busy schedules we don’t get a lot of time together and so it was definitely good to have the time to spend just talking back and forth, sharing a Tim’s, just hanging together for a while. It’s like the commercial says,

Lunch at Tim Hortons – $10

Tickets to the Bicycle show – $13

Spending time with my brother – Priceless!

That said however, the show itself left me less than fulfilled.  I don’t know where the Toronto show fits on the bicycle equipment manufacturers schedule, but I’m willing to bet it’s a way down the list of “places we have to be”.  I was very disappointed in the low turn out from the big bike and accessories players.  The vast majority of the booths were local bike shops, and while I don’t begrudge them the chance to increase their public face, what I was hoping to see was a showcase of the newest and best innovations in the development of cycling gear. The stuff was there, but you had to worm your way past the bikes they wanted off the shop floor to find it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it was a waste of time or money – it wasn’t. There were a few things that really impressed me.  Shimano had a great display, and Thule was very well presented, but there were few other large manufacturers.  The Trek display was just the local dealer with a large rack of bikes.  I should have suspected it when the event was advertised as being sponsored by Shimano.  So basically, it would appear they were able to buy out the show.  They sponsored the BMX demos and the like so I guess they owned it.  At least, it certainly looked that way to me.

The problem is, it’s not just the bike show.  In Toronto, this is increasingly the case with trade shows aimed at the buying public.  It is no longer about building the dream, pushing the envelope, trying to out perform the competition in who can put on the more impressive display.  It’s only about holding the flea market.  Which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but even in this I saw very little that I could not have acquired for a similar price at my local bike shop.

I realize some will accuse me of being over nostalgic here, but I remember going to these kind of shows when I was younger and the understanding was that the purpose was to inspire me to dream.  I would get a chance to see in person all the great stuff I’d only seen in magazines.  I could touch it, feel it, smell it; it was an experience in of of itself going to these shows.  Not so much anymore.  Now the Toronto shows feel more like a trip to a discount mall, only not as appealing.

I will give credit where it is do however; as usual Gears Bike Shop in Mississauga did a great job.  Their display rivaled even that of Shimano.  But most importantly, unlike many other vendors at the show they didn’t have the elitist air about that that seems to permeate cycling culture here in North America.  I’m happy to report they treated this over-weight, hobbling on a crutch to protect my ankle, 50-something with as much respect and dignity as I could hope to be treated anywhere.  In too many of the booths I was greeted with the usual enthusiastic indifference. Not so at Gears, I felt like they were just as interested in helping me as anyone else, and when the subject of my injury came up they even had a few moments for that as well.  Well Done!

Bicycle-Friendly Guelph makes an appearance at the Toronto International Bicycle Show

Bicycle-Friendly Guelph makes an appearance at the Toronto International Bicycle Show

Another thing that I was surprised to see was not only a number of Guelph venders (WIKE Trailers for example) but also the city of Guelph itself, promoting the Royal City as a bicycle friendly place to live.  They had a great display, right at the entrance, decked out with a European style cargo bike, banners, decals, maps, and plenty of information on the initiatives Guelph has in place to promote increased cycling infrastructure. I felt more than just a little proud.

All in all, it was an acceptable afternoon. Alex picked up a few things for his three-wheeled recumbant, I met a friend or two and had a chance to get out and about for the first time in nearly three months. Spring is in the air, and if my achilles tendon continues to cooperate I hope to be on my bike by the end of April.

So keep a good thought and if you have not already done so, click on the banner at right and sponsor either myself or one of the other members of Team Kortright in the Ride to Conquer Cancer.