Monday, January 10, 2011

We could be heroes.

When I used to ride my bike everywhere in Toronto, I would imagine I was a superhero. Cape and mask, darting through traffic jams, risking life and limb battling the inattentive, the aggressive, and the downright insane drivers in order to liberate my city from smog, the clutter, noise and safety hazards of automobiles everywhere and reclaim the streets for people. Perhaps my imagination is just a little too vivid.

Certainly there was no evidence anyone else saw cyclists as heroes. Did drivers wind down their windows, and say thanks for riding a bicycle - you taking up less space than a car makes my commute easier! No it was more like "What do you think you are? A car?" and other much less kind things not fit to be print. Did acquaintances say "It's cool you ride your bike!"? Usually it seemed to be their chance to rant on about the awful cyclists they see, who don't follow the rules and ride around kamikaze without lights at night. Taking the elevator to the parking garage at work, was it thanks for not using up a parking space? More like "Isn't it too cold? Too wet? Too snowy? Too... " something to be riding a bike.

I thought it would be different when we moved somewhere rather more granola-ey. Still spotting other cyclists in the cool rainy winter season is rather a rare sight indeed. I hear people talk about cutting their carbon emissions but usually their plan is to go out less, rather than find alternative ways of getting around. And just ask a dieter - deprivation is not usually sustainable. People are much more polite but there are still comments, "You picked the wrong weather for riding a bike" on the ferry on a rainy day. No silly people there is no such thing as wrong weather, just wrong clothing. Motorists offering my husband a ride when passing him on a snowy highway, as if his current method was somehow torture rather than enjoyable.

Still not a superhero. Fast forward to yesterday. I badly need to get off the island, and so suggest to Dave "Hey wanna drive somewhere to go hiking?". Drive. Yes the dreaded "D" word. After both being independently car-free for 10+ years moving out to the middle of nowhere caused us to buy one 21-year-old manual shift fuel efficient motorized vehicle for our sanity! But that's a subject for another post! We had just watched No Impact Man's documentary on Netflix the night before. Where his family goes without just about anything that can have an impact on the environment with a year. So I start feeling somewhat guilty about burning gasoline to go for a walk.

Use the google! I find a park to go hiking that seems about 4 km south of the ferry and flat. Easy peasy. Lets go bike and hike! It turned out to be 12 and somewhat hilly but no worries, though I've been hermitting too much and not at all in the shape I was used to. Oh yeah I remember seeing the sign for that place before. How easy it is to forget about local amenities. We hiked about 1.5 hours, but didn't quite make the waterfall we were aiming for, wanting to preserve our daylight. I was happy though getting out into a forest in my carboniferous playground! I heartily approve that we have moved to a temperate rainforest area. So lush.

We make it back just before sunset to a pub not too far from our ferry to have some dinner out. We walk in the pub and the most bizarre thing happens. The whole pub is clapping whilst the performers at the open mike are mentioning something about cycling here in this weather! Mind you I thought the weather was beautiful, it was a rare sunny day, and while most non-cyclists would find it too cold for cycling it was above freezing. Ah a proper heroes welcome at last!

Dinner was slightly bizarre (but with tasty local seafood!) - there was an organization selling raffle tickets, but the weird part was they came around selling table-to-table while displaying the prize. Which might not be so strange except the prizes were shrinkwrapped meat (first steaks, then chicken breasts) and we are pescetarians. On our way out there's more commentary from the smokers while we are getting our bikes ready to go. Hey we applauded you on the way in but we should have applauded you on the way out! I guess they were more impressed now that it was pitch black and significantly more frigid. (I took back mocking Dave for wearing big mitts on a "nice" day) One inquired about my recumbent wondering if that ran all under my own power. Yep! (I neglected to tell him about my secret wish for a battery to get up ferry hill)

Dave mounts one of his two Dinotte headlights on my bike so I can see. I don't usually go out on the highway after dark so my city be-seen lights are not enough to see the condition of the shoulder by. He commutes all the time on the highway after dark, although from the other direction past the ferry. These suckers are 200 lumens each, and they rock. After we cross on the ferry, my imagination that I'm Superman going up the ferry hill is not enough, and I get off and push the bike up the steep hill. I can make it up the same hill on Kona, but with my weight further back on the bent I will need to build up more muscle for this one. With a good eye peeled out for deer (they tend to wander in the road after dark at the bottom of a hill just as it rounds 90 degrees and bikes are flying...) we finish the ride home and reward ourselves with hot chocolate and getting the woodstove going again to warm up.

Help spread the cycling love. Thank your fellow cyclist for riding!

I know its been several months since my last blog entry. I'm hoping to get a new blog started soon to focus on more aspects of living with a lighter footprint, and will write more often! I'll keep you posted, thanks for reading. If you're still here drop me a comment! Thanks!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A different kind of human-powered transport

Moving from a big city where pretty much anything I can possibly dream up is available in a short distance, to a rural island with pretty much four shops: a hardware store, a general store, a bookstore and a craft store, has proved to be somewhat of a challenge. Not that I'm a consumerist, and I also like being free of the constant commercialism of a city. I just like to know if I think it, I can get it. Although my dream is to become self-sufficient for food, since we aren't there yet having just moved in (unless my diet were to solely consist of blackberries), this involves usually going to town once a week for groceries. A 10-minute ferry crossing and then a 50 km round trip ride.

One of the simple pleasures I miss having ready access to is beer in glass bottles. The general store has a limited selection of choices, all in cans. While bottles have the ability for reuse rather than recycle, it still probably comes up earth friendlier on the cans since they are lighter for transport. We can get bottles at the ferry terminal store on the other side, but by the time we return from a long ride with everything under the sun laden on our bicycles, if we even have time to hit the store before racing onto the ferry we pedalled so hard to make (avoiding another 1-1.5 hour wait depending on time of day), the last thing we want is heavy bottles to lug up the 15% hill on the island side.

But wait, there must be a better way! We recently bought a tandem kayak for recreation. Hmm this could also prove useful for getting from A to B! Just like sometimes it takes a lightbulb to go off in people's head that a bicycle can be used for transportation rather than just a toy.

Setting off from the front yard

The waters of Baynes Sound are pretty calm for beginners like us, so even though my instinct is to hug the shore, a crossing to Vancouver Island is pretty easy. The only question marks are being sure to not interfere with the ferry, and where to park when we get to the store. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, just a bit of wake from the ferry where the spray skirt may have come in handy. Actually I think more of my getting wet was splashing myself while paddling. Refreshing on a warm day!

We didn't time it, but it probably took about 20 minutes each direction. Very time efficient considering the time to get to the ferry, wait for it, and load. I have done an out and back on the same ferry before, to buy fresh fish from the seafood store there, so the kayak will also be handy to save ferry fare to buy fish (actually fishing for it myself might throw me over from pescetarian to pure vegetarian land).

Slipstream by Phillips Beer - an apropos choice, no? Almost, but not quite within 100 miles, but at least originating from Vancouver Island.

Actually technically this was not our first kayak for transport trip. We paddled to a nearby social event, Mystery Beach Happy Hour, a couple weeks ago. Although it would probably have been easier to walk, it was that close. We ended up parking the kayak on the beach just a little too close, considering the tide was coming in. While sitting at a picnic table chatting somebody remarked on a red kayak getting away! Fortunately it was not getting away too quickly, but some swimming was involved.

Not sure where the next water destination will be! My arms will need to work up some more strength first. Too bad there is not a good place to secure a kayak, and to secure some bikes for storage on the other side. That way we could really go multimodal.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Operation Tandem

Where to begin? After such a long blogging hiatus where to just jump in and start up again? I think I'll just jump back in with the latest bikey acquisition! As a bit of background to catch you up, Dave and I moved to paradise aka Denman Island, BC less than two months ago. We're planning a really small wedding that's just three weeks away. In the process of moving across the country (sadly not by bike, but with a u-haul truck and two cats) I culled my herd to just three bikes: the Bacchetta, the Kona, and Twenty. Since we've gotten here I've ridden the Bacchetta almost exclusively. Right now I'm working from home, so the riding is infrequent, usually a once a week trip into "town" (Courtenay) for supplies, which is about 50 km round trip. A challenge for sure to remain car-free on a rural island!

We really wanted to have a tandem bicycle for our wedding as the "Just Married" vehicle and associated pictures, and figured we would rent or borrow one for the day. However after asking who the bike enthusiasts were in our new community, and contacting them, and contacting all the area stores that rent bikes, it was determined there were no tandems to be had. On a whim I checked Vancouver craigslist on a Friday night, and found a lovely advertised-as-purple vintage CCM tandem, which looked from the photo the same color as my maid-of-honor's dress.

Want to fly to Vancouver tomorrow? I asked Dave. It seemed like madness to fly somewhere for something off craigslist (having dealt with more than my share of craigslist flakes before). Flying seemed like a saner solution than a bus and a ferry as getting from Denman to Vancouver by vehicle and ferry takes about 4-8 hours (depending on if you are naive enough to show up in a rental vehicle on a summer Sunday afternoon without a reservation figuring 1.5 hours is plenty of time to catch the next ferry, but I digress). First we made enquiries about the condition of the bike. Do you think we can ride it 100+ km to take it home, we basically asked. Oh no said the previous owner, its better for short rides. Without qualifying information, I assumed they were recreational bike path cyclists, and went muuu, this tells me nothing. I'm sure it will be fine.

And with the special Harbour Air was having, the cost of the bicycle worked out the same with the flight as another (albeit overpriced) CCM tandem posted. To boot, Harbour Air is carbon neutral to alleviate any guilt about whimsical bicycle buying. Having never flown in a float plane I thought it would be a fun part to the adventure. But the plane was out of Comox Harbour to downtown Vancouver, and not wanting to leave stranded bicycles about, we decided to take the local transit to get the plane.

Public transit schedules here leave something to be desired. There is no transit on Denman itself (though the locals will pick up thumbers!), and the bus from the other side to Courtenay-Comox only runs 4 times a day. Fortunately we live close to the ferry terminal, and although its about 25 minute walk by the road, we can walk along the beach in about 15 unless its high tide. But with the bus schedule we needed to be on the 9:40 ferry from Denman to catch the 1:30 pm flight. This did not sound much faster than the non-flying option, however it gave us time to explore downtown Comox which we hadn't had a chance to yet.

This was our first trip on the transit, and with a bike rack on the front it seemed awfully convenient to do our shopping trips. I remarked to Dave why don't we time our weekend shop with the 10 a.m. bus and then just ride home? He didn't get it though, why take the bus when you can ride?

While exploring Comox we stopped in at Simon's Cycles, and picked up a new pair of cycling gloves each, as well as a happy honker horn for the tandem. We didn't manage to get out of there without first test riding a Kona Ute, which seems awfully useful for our new rural car-free lifestyle. However something about not buying more than one bicycle a day...

The float plane ride was quite scenic, although a little unnerving being on a small and quite noisy aircraft, and we were in downtown Vancouver before we knew it. (45 minutes to be exact) A hop on the SkyTrain to suburbia later, and we are test riding the beautiful tandem. As we warbled around the parking lot for a minute or two it felt this contraption was a death trap on wheels and I had visions (and fear) of the descent into Horseshoe Bay. However it was very well maintained for its age, and mechanically sound enough to ride away without doing anything. It definitely looked to me more burgundy then purple or mauve, but hey, color coordination isn't everything.

The tandem along with the previous owner

"We'll take it!"

Dave's plan was to take it on the SkyTrain back downtown, but this confused me. Aside from the hassles of stairs and/or escalators with a tandem, and trying not to be a nuisance to other transit passengers - I had to ask the question, why take the SkyTrain when we can ride? First we decided to outfit it for the ride with our own saddles and clipless pedals. We feared the old pedals might be hard to crack, but well greased they came off without any problems with our pedal wrench. Trying however to put the clipless pedals on confusedly, its like, hey are there two diameters for pedal threads? Ah they would not fit. Strike One. We then pull off the ancient saddles to put on our Brooksies already well conformed to our own butts. The clamps however on the old saddles were designed for two rails instead of one. Strike Two. At least the panniers fit onto the rack so we didn't have to carry our stuff! Oh well one out of three.

Halfway downtown I got the distinct feeling of something hard digging into my ass. Dave is similarly unhappy with the vintage saddles.

Once we passed the Bike Doctor, we decided to pick up some parts for some doctoring: 1/2" pedals that could take rat traps and the associated traps, as well as seat post clamps. A bystander by the store asked if we were going to be doing any touring on the tandem, but I mentioned how I prefer doing so with my own bicycle. Ah my ass is going to be so much happier now. We really should have picked up a longer seat post for the stoker position though, as the small seat tube required keeping the seat below full leg extension height. Not much further to go, and we parked the tandem and ourselves on a Kitsilano pub patio for some r&r after the 20 km inaugural tandem ride, and visiting with friends. The tandem seemed to get some curious stares from onlookers, including a nearby bike shop owner, no doubt confused by the juxtaposition of old CCM tandem, less-vintagey Brooks saddles, and the Ortleib panniers.

Doctoring the bike

He came by to chat, and we discussed route options for the next day. Scenic and a fave of roadies Marine Drive to the Vancouver island ferry was ruled out for too many hills for the 3-speed. The Upper Levels highway, while still requiring a significant elevation gain was more one up and down rather than a series of climbs. And besides you can push up Taylor Way he mentioned.

Bright and early Sunday morning fuelled by espresso we set out on our quest. Thankfully for our efficiency, I was stoking, and had a view of Dave's back, instead of letting my fear of bridges take over on the Lion's Gate bridge. (in fairness I think this is particularly due to being forced to ride on a sidewalk) The ascent up the causeway basically felt like the limit of first gear on this bike. On this bike the shifter is unusually in the stoker position, so the captain had to request which gear he wanted. (or I just mentioned hey going to shift now) Being a big finicky, I didn't always get it in the first gear when I meant to and I think we were trying to climb the very steep Taylor Way up to the Upper Levels highway in second. No matter, as we hopped off in short order to push it up the sidewalk until we got there.

I was a bit fearful that the spitting rain would turn into pouring rain just in time for the steep descent into the ferry terminal. Did I mention this bike just has a coaster brake, plus added front brake on steel rims? And all the weight on a tandem means it descends very fast. Fortunately it stayed at the spitting level, and the descent from the upper levels highway was more gradual than Marine Drive which we had cycled before. Although I still panicked when I saw the truck "Brake check" stop.

With the hilliest part of the trip behind us (I think the Upper Levels ascends to a high point of 185m and then we go back to 0 at the ferry) I'm feeling confident about the rest of the trip as we stow the tandem on the vehicle deck of the ferry. I make use of the 1 h and 40 min ferry crossing to catch up on knitting! Theoretically I should be able to knit as the stoker but I still feel I should keep my hands on the handlebars!

The climb from the ferry terminal out to the highway is not too steep but rather long and by the end of it I'm already huffing away and pointing to a bench - Are you sure the rest of the trip is flat I ask? We've done the same route before a couple years ago on our blind date bike trip, but my memory for hills is failing. Yeah its flat, Dave says. Have I ever lied to you about hills before he asks? Hmm something about telling me the Sunshine Coast is gently rolling comes to mind...

The highway through Nanaimo is quite busy and although there is enough shoulder, its still not very pleasant with all the whizzing high speed traffic. We make a special effort to navigate over to the MUP that follows it - normally I don't like sidepath bike paths but there are few intersections. We probably go about 8 km on it before it appears to turn away from the highway. Too risky, (that we get way off route) better get back on the highway. We're trying to make it to Parksville before taking a break, but I'm seriously waning in energy and we stop to snack along busy whizz-land.

In Parksville we pull into a coffee shop for a coffee and a snack. One 3-shot Americano later and I have so much energy Dave notices the big boost in stoker power and comments he should have caffeinated me long ago. We are able to make good progress on the flats, and at one point we encounter one of those "Your speed" signs. We give it some juice in third gear and the sign flashes, 95, 34, 110. (Obviously we were the 34) But we can't really go any faster than that on the flats without spinning out in third. I notice we are slogging up a long ways as we get close to Qualicum Beach and comment hey you said this was flat! Oh yeah Dave comments, I remember now, we descend like bastards into Qualicum Beach. Hmm, and what goes down must come up again, eh? Sigh.

The small beach community is filled with tourists on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I start getting a little mental as a whole slew of recreational cyclists are riding towards us on the wrong side of the highway. We stop again to snack and watch some paddle boarders.

While it seems like a never ending journey, we eventually hit Buckley Bay for the 6 p.m. ferry back home. The ticket taker at the ferry is amused by the tandem, and jokes about what to charge us, but we hand our ferry card over making the point moot (bikes are free with a card, but $2 extra without)

Relaxing on the ferry...

At 15% grade we don't even attempt to cycle up the monster hill out of the ferry, but push it up and then cycle the last small stretch home. One fun adventure, although the low handlebars and low seat have left me a bit achy.

Stay tuned for bikey wedding photos!


Monday, March 30, 2009

What's new

I decided to take a winter break from blogging, but not from biking of course! Through seemingly neverending snow the trusty beater bike slogged its way through. I am happy now that spring has sprung, and the nice bikeys can come out and play without fear of getting corroded by copious amounts of road salt.

The bike fleet has expanded! First this sweet vintage cruiser. I wanted a nice simple ladies frame (to make it easy to ride in a skirt!) with single speed and a coaster brake to be a simple basket bike. The challenge? Finding one that wasn't horribly small as I'm nearly 6 feet tall. This one fits great (Swedes must be tall! This is made by Swedish bike company Crescent) and its a lot of fun to ride, though it takes some getting used to backpedalling to brake, stopping and starting up again. It has a great rack, and a chain guard - awesome for me who seems to manage to always grease my pants despite pant clips. Not recommended though to ride it around all day, then take a different bike out and attempt to backpedal to brake while approaching a busy street from a minor one. Ahem. I still need to find a nice matching basket (and a matching skirt of course!)

And here's a sneak peek at Puck, a work in progress.
Puck will become my first fixie. And a good learning about bikes project. Including painting them. So far I've completely disassembled her. I've figured out that taking a bike apart is much easier than putting one back together. Both of these bikes were finds from Community Bicycle Network (CBN). I built the back wheel for her at a CBN workshop, and quite enjoyed the process.

With this ever expanding fleet of bikes it is handy to have a place to work on them all. While CBN is a great place for that, home can be handier for routine stuff, so I bought a Park PCS-10 repair stand.
On careful observation you will note a Cannondale road bike hanging in the background. What? Not another bike?! Nope not for me.

Which brings us to the most exciting new news of all! I have a new roommate whom I'm madly in love with. Dave, my touring partner from my fun BC bike adventure, has left the beautiful wet coast, and has parked his bikes chez crazybikerchick.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dear Thief

I hope that my Planet Bike superflash taillight helped you not get run over on your way home, because it sure made me nervous riding home without a light. Thank you for not taking the quick release seatpost and seat that it was attached to. (yes I know get a bolt already) And for leaving my headlight, which I usually take with me, although I never bother with the taillight figuring it is not a worthwhile steal. I wonder if my wheels would have vanished as well if I hadn't taken the time to run a cable through them. Or maybe you just needed a light. You probably (because I don't remember) now have two AAA rechargeable batteries now too.

Blinky blinky love,
Crazy biker chick

Friday, October 31, 2008

The view from the broomstick

Hallowe'en is always my favourite time of year to be on a bicycle. Dressed up in costume everyone around smiles, rather than the usual frazzled road moods about. Since my new recumbent looks like a giant broomstick I couldn't resist dressing up like a witch. Here I am in front of Community Bicycle Network:

If you live in Toronto, you should definitely drop by. Now is a great time of year to buy a secondhand bicycle so you don't salt up your pride and joy (oh but it won't snow this winter, no not at all...) You can also pay by the hour to make use of the repair stands and tools and learn how to fix your own bike. There are workshops, and believe me these are amazing if a spatially-challenged type like me can build a really good wheel (more on that later!)

So being that Hallowe'en fell on the last Friday of the month this year, I was a bit conflicted whether to hand out candy to little ghouls and goblins, or one big fun costumed bike parade. Dressed up cyclists won out (sorry kiddies!) Here's a small selection of the many amazing costumes:
Arrr ye mateys, pirate Tammy Thorne, editor of Toronto's new bike magazine, Dandyhorse.
A different kind of pirate: Toronto Cyclist Union assistant coordinator Yvonne Bambrick as a pirated CD collection
The gals of "Critical Sass" dressed up as police officers leading a lovely law-abiding cheer. There were dozens of folks dressed up as police officers on tonight's ride, some kindly blocking traffic to keep the mass together at intersections.
Derek Chadbourne, owner of the Bike Joint can doctor up your broken bicycle!
The postman delivers - rumored to be the last appearance of Martin de la Rue - did you get your telegram?
Thing One and Thing Two
Gerry the human moving pylon
More recumbent love! Fellow randonneur Mike and his skeletal stoker on a Rans Screamer
Tall bikes!
And around and around and around we go! The mass of cyclists entertaining the trick-or-treaters around Walmer Road circle.

I will now cast the spell of velo-love upon you all, and I'll be flying off into the night on my broomstick (much more fun than a car, although I was told "Get a car, witch!" as I flew past a late evening traffic jam)

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Crazy gets lazy

Yes it has been a long time since I have written. Never fear I'm still helplessly bike addicted, but it seemed to me that there wasn't a lot new to write about. Insert rant about crazy driver. Rave about how much fun I'm having on two wheels. Yadda yadda.

Well now there's something new to tell you about! Yet another new bicycle! (much to my cat's disgusted look from me to the bike, you are bringing ANOTHER bicycle-shaped object into the house?!) I finally decided to join the dark side (or the comfy one, depending on your perspective!) and get 'bent!

Really I just wanted to lie down and enjoy the ride while I pedal along. Having several 'bent friends, I was told I would be a speed demon and very aerodynamic. I find it unfair when I see other people coasting up hills I am pedaling furiously. However, the instant speed demon is all an illusion! So far I get passed by every weekend warrior on big squishy tires on the bike path. Apparently it takes time to develop something mysterious called "bent legs".

The bike is great for attracting attention and having people talk to you. However I find the questions and commentary a little odd.

How much did your bike cost? Note, no hi how are you, that's a pretty bike, or other banter, they just cut right to the point of what they want to know.

Can the bike climb? Hmm, you'll have to ask me later, as I just got it a week ago, and I haven't gotten used to climbing on it yet. Read: a masher must learn how to spin! I gleefully discovered I still can mash actually by pressing my back into the seat and pulling on the handlebars, but somehow this method does not seem to be a good thing for my knees.

Struggling to get up a short hill out of the Humber Valley in the granny gear does not bode well for the bike's intended purpose (read touring across the rocky mountains hauling all my camping gear) but I'm hoping that some smaller gears plus acquiring these mysterious "bent legs" will help with that.

Gee you must be really strong! Said while mashing my way up a small incline. Do I look like I'm disabled on this thing? (okay in fairness someone else was pushing bike on said incline)

Are you clipped in on that? Isn't that scary? Why no actually its scarier for you to be clipped in. I can unclip and put my foot on the ground without getting off the seat. Ah I like this being close to the ground thing.

Oh what a Bee-You-tee-ful bicycle!! Yes this commentary is better!

There's all kinds of new things to figure out. Hmm my jerseys have the pockets backwards. When its dusk and the bugs are out they swarm into your eyes much better than on a head-down bike. It feels much more vulnerable to have my face at mirror height in traffic than my shoulder, so I hate anyone passing too close, and am more likely to take the lane. I wonder why some of them turn right around me from the middle lane of the road, and then I figured out maybe they are trying to get a better view of the bike! Gear changing happens more often, my wrists are getting quite the workout from the grip shifters.

I can't wait to take it out in the country and bounce over some real rollers, because this thing is a whole ton of fun going downhill.... Whee!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

State of the Traffic Union

I'm strolling along Richmond Street and bright flashing lights distract me in the distance. As I get closer I notice a motorcycle cop has someone pulled over. The criminal? A responsible-looking helmeted cyclist. The crime? Unknown. He hands her a ticket. Maybe she was endangering the lives of those cocooned in 2-tonne steel cages by not having a ding-a-ling bell to warn them she was there since checking mirrors is becoming passé.

The fine for not having a bicycle bell? $110. Cyclists are getting stopped for this infraction at random as part of the police's plan to make cycling safer entitled Safe Cycling – Share the Responsibility.

The fine for improper opening of a vehicle door? $110. The driver that recently committed that exact offense resulting in the death of a cyclist on Eglinton West? Not ticketed. According to the police ''If she didn't look, would that be negligence? It'd be very hard to label that as negligent,'' said Sgt. Burrows. Share indeed.

Over at I Bike T.O., many cyclists have weighed in with comments on their recent traffic tickets. Sadly, the police campaign is only serving to discourage cycling as a mode of transportation. As one reader points out, after receiving two hefty tickets (one for the bell!) for rolling through an empty four-way stop after deciding to take his bike rather than his car out, he'll think twice in the future.

I admit that my bicycle bell is sometimes useful in waking up drivers about to make a right turn off a side street without looking to their left. But the manic bell ringing seems to do nothing to stop the door flinging without looking. Maybe they do look, and they think whacking cyclists is funny.

Sure its safer to ride outside the door zone. But on narrow downtown streets like Queen, often doors open right out to the cyclist spilling streetcar track rut. Ride between the tracks in the only mixed traffic lane? Often its too congested, and way too slow moving for sanity - filtering next to the parked cars is the only choice. Faster moving? Gee maybe I would feel incredibly self-centered about slowing down a streetcar packed with 70 people on it, something that the SOV motorists making a left turn don't seem to give a second thought to. No streetcars and moving along? Better watch out for Angry Motorist (TM). After about two seconds of ignoring his horn, he will put his vehicle in park to get out and start a fistfight.

More effective than a bicycle bell for a cyclist alerting others to their presence is their voice. Clearly staking out my safe space in the center of a lane too narrow to share, I often find motorists, in particular cabbies, changing lanes right into mine so that if I kept my speed constant we'd collide. Maybe they didn't see me. Maybe they looked right through me. "HEY!!!" I bellow. "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?" replies the cabbie. Maybe he does see me. Maybe he just does not give a shit. Stopped at the next red light seems like a good time to have a discussion to educate him, but you know what, if he doesn't understand what he was doing wrong, no amount of conversation is likely to clue him in. In the interest of road peace I keep my eyes focussed straight ahead and my mouth shut.

Handheld cell phones are still legal while driving in Ontario. The premier might think about. Without fail, every single clued out motorist conflict I have on my bike, has one glued to their ear. Oops. Sorry, one exception. Someone was eating lunch with no hands on the steering wheel.

Clued out drivers it is possible to be defensive against. Actively hostile ones are another matter. And one only gets a split second to judge if someone is just a hurried honker, or may have potentially lost their marbles while in control of a potentially lethal weapon directly behind you. Anger seems to be going in the direction of gas prices.

You would think that downtown SOV traffic would be on the decrease with the higher cost of gas and the excellent alternatives - if pedaling is not for you, it is well served by public transit. 6:30 pm downtown (past prime rush hour) its more logjammed than ever and frustrating on a bicycle. My Kona Dew has pretty wide handlebars, and with the rearview mirror sticking out another couple of inches to the side, filtering through it is tricky.

My rule on filtering? I won't pass anyone that is likely to have to repass me in the next few blocks. Its just rude. But when all the wide vehicles have to merge to get around one parked car, a bicycle can use that dead space to continue right on by. Its frustrating when drivers squeeze up so close to the next stopped car that there's no way to reach the dead space.

I watch as the majority of cyclists squeeze next to one car stopped at a light. There's no room for the motorist to start driving where they are as the cyclist starts riding. I'd almost feel sorry for the motorists having to deal with repeatedly passing these vulnerable cyclists - but I don't. We simply don't have enough room downtown for everyone to be sucking up valuable public space with a wastefully large vehicle. If people do not-so-smart things that cause drivers to have to drive slower (and thus safer for everyone) and with more attention, then that is a Good Thing.

I'm not meaning to sound so gloomy and doomy. Some days though in the traffic madness its easy to lose sight of the bikey love. I give brief thought to trading in the bike for another way. But what better way is there? The speed, the freedom, the virtually zero cost, the familiar motions of legs moving in circles that distract even when sick, low hassle parking, connection to the surroundings, ease of interacting with people, and the smiles.

The whimsy of it all. Zooming along at 30 km/h, but in an instant able to flick up a kickstand and fill a wicker basket or milk crate with goodies from the sidewalk fruit market. Detouring off the road into the canopy of trees on a ravine path. The orange glow of dusk and utter silence except the chirping cormorants or the scurrying of a bunny at Tommy Thompson Park.

Smiling at other cyclists. The fashionista with a red PVC rain coat and flowery messenger bag on a matching red Dahon folding bike. The elderly Chinese woman with a wizened face toodling along a busy street, looking anything but afraid. Staring curiously at the interesting geometry of a Moulton. All kinds of cargo being carried solely by human power - from the precious cargo of a smiling infant, to paddles on cycles heading for the lakefront. A one-legged cyclist who I can barely keep pace with.

Life happens on a bicycle. At a pace we can see and interact with.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Open Road

Since I'm pretty slow in getting my journal of my B.C. adventure online, I'll lead you over to Dave's funny account of the trip the three of us took. What you say? Didn't I mention before this was just a two person trip? Apparently I hadn't accounted for Cycling Mind.

Or you can sift through my snap-happy-ness over on flickr.

Since coming back from the trip I have been dreaming about where my next trip will be. Once bitten by the touring bug its hard to cure the infection. Week long journeys - there are so many possible choices. But then my mind starts thinking of epic journeys. Crossing Canada. Selling my possessions and wandering the world on my bicycle until I get tired of it. The Pan-American highway. So many possibilities.

The other night I went to a screening of the documentary The Long Road North by Vancouverites Gwendal and Tania, heading from the tip of South America to Inuvik. If you have the dream of epic travel on your bicycle, I highly recommend this film. Certainly it highlighted many of the challenges they faced. But challenges are necessary to experience the great reward. (Well that was my theory on all those hills I didn't want to climb out in B.C. anyway..)

Any ideas for some summer adventures? After beauty like Helliwell Park on Hornby Island, or the incredibly scenic highway to Tofino, its hard to not find heading from Toronto to somewhere to camp for a long weekend a bit boring. Where do YOU want to go? Where have YOU been touring? Please leave me comments to inspire!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

West Coast Wonders: The Summary

The route: Vancouver to Tofino, backtrack to Parksville by bus, Denman Island, Hornby Island, along Vancouver Island past Courtenay/Comox and across the ferry to Powell River and return to Vancouver via the Sunshine coast

Distance: 560.8 km over 10 days (a vacation, not a mileage fest!)

Flat tires: zero
Mechanical issues: zero
Most useful bulky item carried: stainless steel French press coffee maker
Dead weight not used: 1 lb of gatorade powder (bring on real food calories!)
Most missed forgotten item: Non-bike shoes
Bear sightings: zero
Cougar sightings: zero
Theft: one loaf of organic sourdough bread
Thief: discriminating raccoon
Weather: Chilly and drizzly to sunshiney scorching hot
Hills: Plenty! Steepest posted grade: 18%
Ferry rides: 8 (I think?)

A few of the many things I learned:
  • What locals call "a hump" is 411 metres tall and a bitch to climb over
  • Ferry terminals always mean screaming descents and tough climbs out
  • However do not get too excited if the screaming descent starts 10 km back of the ferry terminal, because you will have to go up up up again first
  • The sunshine coast is not as I imagined gently rolling
  • Small islands are also not flat
  • The granny gear and I must make friends
  • The rainforest looks so green and lush and beautiful because it rains there
  • Mountains make for tough biking but really soothe the soul
  • Charming touring partners who can kick mountains, carry extra weight, set up camp in the blink of an eye, and cook a camp meal as good as being at home totally rock!

Detailed trip reports coming soon!
day 0: Fly to Vancouver and bike assembly
day 1: 64.0 km ~ Vancouver to Rathtrevor Provincial Park (Parksville)
day 2: 65.1 km ~ Rathtrevor Provincial Park to Sproat Lake Provincial Park (west of Port Alberni)
day 3: 10.7 km ~ Rest day at Sproat Lake
day 4: 95.9 km ~ Sproat Lake to Green Point Campground (Long Beach)
day 5: 24.9 km ~ Green Point to Bella Pacifica Campground (Tofino)
day 6: 53.5 km ~ Tofino to Parksville via bus, Parksville to Denman Island Guest House
day 7: 49.4 km ~ Exploring Denman and Hornby Islands, to Fillongley Provincial Park (Denman Island)
day 8: 52.1 km ~ Fillongley to Garnet Rock RV Park (south of Powell River)
day 9: 75.9 km ~ Garnet Rock to Sargent Bay Provincial Park
day 10: 69.4 km ~ Sargent Bay to Vancouver
More vacation but not loaded down:
day 11: 43.3 km ~ Kayaking at Deep Cove
day 12: 41.3 km ~ Riding along the seawall and random Vancouver exploring
day 13: 30.8 km ~ Random Vancouver exploring
day 14: Farewell to the mountains