Monday, February 04, 2008

My baby girl



For just over a week now, my wife and I are proud, happy and exhausted parents of a little girl. This picture is from the morning after she was born. She was born 8 lbs 8 ounces on Jan 27th.

The first 4 days were the most challenging endurance event I've ever made an attempt at. Sleep was rare. I thought randonneurs were the only people who tried to get by like this, but it turns out millions of others have done it before.

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Darren J 2/04/2008 08:36:00 AM | 15 comments |

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Preoccupation

How to get rich: Do what these guys did. I don't mean "follow their advice". I mean make your own advice. Make up a term that sounds pseudo scientific like "law of attraction" or "law of vibrations" and tell people that their success depends on their understanding of "physics". Man. Even though they have some helpful things to tell people, I got annoyed by the whole message while listening to this CBC news story. I typed "law of" in my browser search box and it auto-completed it with "attraction". They must be doing something right. Their law of attraction is that "likes attract", just like how the north side of a magnet is attracted to another north side. hmmm.

While we're on news items, I give a tip of the toque to Paul Cottle who quit his job to make a point against weapons and war. It's nice to see that a person can make a loud statement this way.

I really didn't mean to end this blog. I think I'll be able to resuscitate it. This isn't the end. It's just been a pause. A rest.

I've been totally preoccupied lately. One of the things keeping me busy is something I was planning to wait a bit longer to announce here. But since you're obviously a dedicated reader (you're on the fourth paragraph, no mention of bikes yet, and no pictures!) I'm going to let you in on it. I'm going to be a dad very soon. My wife's due date is days away.

One of the first gifts I got was a bike trailer from my mother-in-law. It was very sweet of her, especially since I know she doesn't have the safest impression of bicycles. Of course I'm excited about what's to come, and I hope to share some of my experiences here, so this blog will be around a while longer. I know I'm not the first person to transport a kid by bike, but I have a surprising amount of editorial control on this blog.

I should have an update next week. Hopefully sooner!

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Darren J 1/17/2008 10:36:00 PM | 6 comments |

Monday, December 24, 2007

Kensington Festival of Light

I stopped in at the Kensington Festival of Lights on Friday night. I started off with a traditional empanada. (That's just my tradition for when I visit Kensington market.) Finding the action wasn't too difficult. Follow the sound of the drums and look for the pulsing crowd.

I arrived after the parade had already passed. Most people were filling the park, surrounding some action in the centre. I could see people's heads bouncing around. As I wandered around the outside of the circle of people, the action really started to take off in the middle. A fire built up. It got bigger.

The growing fire

The crowd was excited. People were standing on top of a building (a washroom?) on one side of the park. I was really hoping they would not start dancing. They didn't.

Best vantage point

I slowly walked to the north side of the park where I was nearly beamed in the head by a kid on a swing. Who's looking for people on swings in a dark park? I'm not complaining though. I liked the fact that every swing was being used, and kids seemed to be having a good time at this event.

As I reached the street, three tall white creatures came gliding by. At the same time, a man was walking down Augusta beating a huge drum to a good beat. The two groups met at the intersection, which led to an impromptu dance session by the stilt-walkers. Very impressive.

Tall people

Soon afterwards, I found some friends. We stopped in at a crowded cafe for some food, drink and music.

The whole thing was energetic, interesting, colourful, participatory and unpredictable. It was what any good street party strives to be.

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Darren J 12/24/2007 08:06:00 AM | 2 comments |

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Unicycling for Fun

Don't forget to keep your unicycling fun. It doesn't have to be a grind.

Make sure you watch it to the end.

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Darren J 11/20/2007 08:15:00 AM | 2 comments |

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Budgeting for Bicyclists

I know I have a lot of catching up to do around here. It's just one of those things that happens when you have too much going on at once.

Today, Toronto is hearing "presentations" from the public regarding the capital budget for 2008. I would have liked to show up in person but it was impossible. I made an email presentation instead. Right this minute, the public is probably making presentations to city council, so "for the record", as they say on the CBC, here's my email presentation made public.

To Toronto Councillors:

As I am unable to attend the Capital Budget Hearings, please accept this email as my public presentation.

I am deeply concerned about the future of our city. We can build Toronto into one of two cities. We can build a city for people; or we can build a city for respiratory disease deaths, traffic jams, high energy costs, and death and injury of pedestrians and cyclists. If we build the wrong city, we will also bear the burden of responsibility for climate change and its impact.

This is not hyperbole. These are real problems recognized repeatedly in study after study. In fact, Toronto's own Medical Officer of Health recently reported that 440 people die per year from motor vehicle pollution. The International Energy Agency predicts a serious energy crisis by 2012 as oil exporting nations reduce their exports in favour of domestic use. That is only a few years away.

These problems demand a multifaceted solution. Fortunately, we don't need to experiment, as the critical pieces of the solution have been implemented in other cities around the world. Public transit improvements and cycling infrastructure are key. Vancouver, Montreal, Paris, London, Portland, New York and Chicago have all added welcoming bicycle infrastructure in recent years. Even Toronto's mayor and councillors have recognized the importance and value of cycling infrastructure by promising to implement the bike network by 2012. However, the current capital budget contradicts this.

It is Toronto's neglected bicycle infrastructure about which I write today.

To see success with the Bike Plan, at the very least you need to:
1. Move the $38 million for the bicycle plan scheduled for after 2012 back to the 2008 to 2011 plan.
2. Hire additional staff to begin implementing bike lanes, bike paths and highway crossings immediately.
3. Restore the $200K to the Parks, Forestry and Recreation budget for bike paths.
4. Ensure financing for bike paths to be implemented in 2008, including the CN Leaside Spur Bike Path and the Finch Hydro Corridor Bike Path.

Please make these changes to our capital budget, so we can build a Toronto that can handle the great challenges faced by our citizens today and in the future.

Sources:
Pedestrian deaths
Automobile pollution deaths
IEA Energy Crisis
Promises from Toronto Council


If you would like to write a letter, there's still time. You can get some good numbers from TCAT.

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Darren J 11/13/2007 10:19:00 AM | 1 comments |

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Salmon in the Don

My wife and I went for a walk along the Don River last Saturday. (No bikes involved) She heard that there were salmon swimming upstream to spawn. She had been looking forward to this for days.

For anyone familiar with the Don River, especially the section near downtown, the idea of seeing wildlife in the river might seem a little abstract. The water gets murkier and murkier as it heads south. I understand this is caused by the channelization of the river that increases the flow rate of the water, causing more erosion from the river bed. Something like this.

We walked for about 1 kilometre south along the river. "Tramping" as my wife likes to call it. Tramping in the woods. It just doesn't sound good.

Most of the way was along a path made by previous walkers, but in some places the path just ended so we had to push aside some branches. We would walk 20 metres, then move to the river's edge, peer for fish, see none, then move on.

This part of the Don runs under a huge iron bridge that looks almost like it's growing out of the bush.

Bridge

Just when we were about to give up (of course!), we were standing next to the river when we heard a slapping sound.

Salmon in rapids 1

Salmon in rapids 2

This big fish was working its way up a short rocky stretch of the river. My wife started cheering it on, which I think probably freaked it out more than anything. Eventually it made it to the top, so the cheering must have worked. It swam in a few circles, then fell backwards down the other side of the river. No!

Then we saw that the fish had a couple friends. They were moving around in the pool at the bottom of the rapids, usually doing a little synchronized swimming action.

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We waited for a while for them to do something more exciting but they must have been tuckered out.

On the way back, I saw this bit of graffiti. I'm generally not a fan of "tagging". It's the laziest of all graffiti. This one, however, gets extra points for matching the nearby flora.

tag and leaves

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Darren J 10/27/2007 11:48:00 AM | 2 comments |

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Straddling the Ottawa River

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Last weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, I had my bike with me for a visit to Ottawa. I was eager to go for a ride through Gatineau Park, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river.

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For anyone unfamiliar with this part of the world, Gatineau Park is a cyclist's paradise - long winding roads cutting through forest with the occasional rock face on the side. The hills are long but not too steep, and there are a few rewarding look-outs where you can take a break.

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About 500 metres after crossing the river into Quebec, I asked a cyclist who I was following for directions. I asked in English, which seemed to offend him, judging by the look he gave me. I could have been imagining it.

This weekend was a little less ideal since the park roads were packed with cars carrying people interested in seeing the fall leaf colours. It didn't matter. The weather was so good, especially for October, and it was kind of nice to see so many people walking around at the lookouts, looking for hiking trails, taking photographs.

The ride out of the park was faster than the ride in. I didn't realize how much I had been climbing. I decided I would head along the Quebec side of the Ottawa river towards Parliament. Ottawa and Gatineau are filled with impressive buildings. This is the Museum of Civilizations on the right, with the Parliament buildings across the river in the background.

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I always like to see if there are any protests or other events happening. Nothing this time. Just tourists, and kids rolling in the grass. I decided it was time for a coffee, so I headed towards Bridgehead cafe in the west end of Ottawa.

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I took the Ottawa River Parkway bikepath. (This is the path where I really started bike commuting back in my university years. It's in better shape than it was back then.) I happened across this scene of balanced rocks. It was an amazing sight. It reminded me of this Dodgeville story. One of the coolest things was how people seemed to really want to walk around the rocks and pose for photographs with them.

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The artist was hanging around the site to chat with people. He's been at it for many years, and even more seriously since 2001. I asked him what happens when the winter comes. He said, on the first stormy day of winter, pieces of ice get thrown by waves up onto the shore, knocking over the rocks.

I eventually left and found myself a coffee. It was a good day.

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Darren J 10/13/2007 11:37:00 PM | 5 comments |

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Election Day in Ontario


It's election day in Ontario.

We've had a dysfunctional election campaign here. Less than a year ago, the most important issue on our minds was the environment. This is finally recognized as important, urgent, critical to the survival of millions of people and to the economies of the world. What do the Progressive Conservatives decide to campaign on? Religious school funding, of course. Then, somehow it becomes the only issue talked about by the news media for the entire campaign.

The media claims to be blameless, based on the Jerry Springer defense. We're just giving the people what they want. It almost makes me want to believe in a vast left wing media conspiracy to make sure the PC party doesn't get elected.

I didn't shed a tear for the Conservatives. When you watch the Jerry Springer show, do you cry for the man in the tank-top who gets a chair thrown at him by his wife's sister who's pregnant with his child?

In the last four years, the Liberals have given us a few things, like a Greenbelt, the Places to Grow, and Move Ontario. You know what I don't love about these plans? They're plans. Just plans. Coal plants will close down. Trains and streetcar lines will be built. Things don't always go as planned. We're expected to ignore the past. The wife's sister says she'll never see the father of her child again, but you know you'll only believe her when she moves to the other side of the country.

A few people have tried to steer the conversation in a more meaningful direction. They mention the urgent issues of power generation, restricting developers, and transit improvement only to be drowned out by reminders that someone is a hypocrite about religious schools. "Go to Oprah! Go to Oprah!" yells the audience. You know what I'm talking about.

The saddest part of all is that the same thing will happen next time. There's even another trio of stars for tomorrow's episode of Springer, giving us more of what we want.

This system is failing and time is running out. I'll vote "yes" for MMP.

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Darren J 10/10/2007 12:11:00 AM | 2 comments |

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Photos from Bells on Bloor

Superman

I was at the Bells on Bloor ride on Sunday. It was a very fun event. Well organized and amazingly well attended. I've heard numbers all over the place. My original guess was 300 people, but everyone seems to disagree. 500 is probably a better guess. Watch Martino's video and if you have the patience, you can do a count.

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I have a few photos of the event up on flickr.

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Darren J 9/27/2007 12:56:00 PM | 3 comments |

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A soldier

Friday's ride home ...

A young guy, with hip hop blaring, rips past two cyclists, one being me. My friend and I pull up alongside at the red light. The driver's side window is open but he won't look through it. I talk with my friend. The driver has perfected his angry look. He sneaks a glance at us before making his right turn.

Two houses down from a school, a soldier and his sweetheart stand in a driveway beside a car. He's dressed in full camouflage. She's draped over his shoulders, hanging heavily from him. He's standing tall, no emotion in his face.

A boy, 12 or 13 years old, pulls his bike up beside me on the sidewalk as the light turns green. I accelerate. He accelerates. Repeat. He pulls ahead. "OK then, let's go!" I say.

"How long have you been riding?" is his response. We've put the race aside for now. He has a huge smile.

I need clarification, "In my life?"

"No, just now."

"30 or 40 minutes."

"Wow, that's long."

"How about you?" I ask.

"I'm just coming from school."

"It's great that you ride your bike." I speed up.

"See ya," he says, still smiling.

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Darren J 9/25/2007 09:05:00 AM | 1 comments |

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sharing part 2: Reconciliation

This morning, I was in pedestrian mode, walking my bike instead of making a normal left turn. While standing on the sidewalk, starting to cross, a minivan pulled up to the stop line in front of me and started to ease through to make a right turn on red. I yelled "hey!" and pointed at the light. He stopped, albeit in the ped-crosswalk. The guy rolled down his window as I passed in front of his van. He looked a little stunned.

I said, "I'm sorry". I'm getting tired of yelling at people, adding to the anger on the streets.

He said, "I'm sorry too."

Me: "I just face a lot of bad stuff out here and I get a little testy sometimes."

Him: "Don't I know it."

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Darren J 9/20/2007 06:02:00 PM | 3 comments |

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The people we share with

These are some of the responses I got from a driver who passed me less than a foot away while I was going down hill at the speed limit.

“Don’t worry. I knew exactly where you were,” he says smiling.

“You were too far out into the lane anyways.”

-- Me: That lane belongs to me! You have to wait til it’s safe to pass me.

“Oh really? I don’t remember seeing a bike lane.”

-- Me: No, it’s a vehicle lane, and this (pointing at bike) is a vehicle.

There were a few more comments, and the vigorous debate quickly became heated. I called him an asshole and he told me to fuck off. I’m not proud of how it ended. There’s a good argument for avoiding these discussions altogether, but I can’t imagine this guy driving away with the idea that it’s alright to keep passing cyclists less than a foot away, especially if they’re doing 50 km/h.

The kicker: The driver not only had a roof rack with bicycle mounts, he had a bicycle in the back of his station wagon and was wearing his MEC cycling jacket.

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Darren J 9/18/2007 08:28:00 AM | 4 comments |

Friday, September 07, 2007

A New Ride

Last week, I became the owner of a shiny new bicycle. It's a Bianchi Volpe, technically a cyclo-cross bike, but I plan to use it for commuting and fun long rides on the weekend.

Bianchi at the Leslie Spit

I don't buy a bicycle often, so it took me a couple months to decide what to do. The last bicycle I bought was a mountain bike in 2000. I've mentioned here before that the road bike I've been using for commuting and distances was a gift to me from my parents on my 13th birthday. I've made good use of it. I always suspected it was small for my adult self, and now that I've been riding my new full size bike, I can be sure of it.

A cross bike fits my needs well. It has a strong frame that can handle having some weight tied to the rack. It has lots of tire clearance with room for fenders and large tires. It has excellent brakes. Drop handlebars, and their many hand positions, is a feature I didn't want to lose. And I didn't want to shock myself with the price, but I was willing to spend enough that my car driving friends would be shocked. ("I could have told you where to get a nice bike for $300!") This bike is cheaper than any good touring bike I saw, probably because of the component selection. Overall, the bike has a good reputation.

Things I like on the Volpe: The brakes - I can actually skid on dry pavement now. The steering - The large handlebars and brake hoods give me very comfortable places to put my hands. The feel - I don't know why, but I feel like I have a lot of control. I wish I could explain that better. The gear shifting - some cyclo-cross bikes have bar end shifters. This one has indexed brake lever shifters. It's been pretty nice climbing hills and coming up to stop lights, shifting quickly without even moving my hands.

As for negatives: What I've conveniently left unclear in my photograph is the saddle. The bike has a leopard print saddle that seems to attract a lot of attention from anyone looking at the bike. Personally, I find it's strangeness slightly attractive, much like the "gang green" paint job. On this 2007 model, the wheels have 32 spokes, as opposed to last year's model with 36 spokes. I'll see how that plays out after I drop off a curb with some weight on the back. The tires are knobby 700x32's, so there's a bit of a hum as I ride. I had planned on swapping out the tires with my smooth 700x28's, but after riding for a week, I'm finding I really like these tires. The extra girth makes riding over the cracked road very comfortable. I think I'll wait until I have a long ride planned before I swap the tires. There's no rack on the bike. I'll take care of that soon enough.

All in all, I'm a very happy cyclist. As someone used to riding a bike from the late 80's, I might have enjoyed any new bike, but I really feel like I made a good choice. The bike has a smooth ride and solid feel that I really like. I'm looking forward to seeing how it handles with some weight on the back going down those big rolling hills in the country.

Check back with me in 2025 for my next road bike review.

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Darren J 9/07/2007 05:40:00 PM | 8 comments |

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Crossing Canada for Children

This Labour Day, while biking around the city, I stopped in at HTO park where I met Bertrand Lemeunier, a cyclist passing through Toronto on a cross Canada trip. He was relaxing on one of the teletubby hills with a conspicuously loaded bicycle.



Bertrand is doing the full edition, cycling from St. John’s to Vancouver, plus side trips along the way. This means he’ll complete the trip at the end of the year, by his estimate. Being full of good news, I pointed out that he’ll probably be facing some winter weather and a head wind. (Just call me if you need a pep talk.) He was unfazed. He was already aware of the Viking Biker, and had, in fact, stayed at the same place as him when they crossed paths in the Maritimes. "You just have to wear the right clothing," he said casually.

A photographer from Lyon, France, Bertrand is using his skills to raise money for a Canadian charity while he crosses the country. Thus far, he has brought in $5797 for the Children’s Wish Foundation. As well as donations, Bertrand is giving the larger part of the sale of his photographs to the Children’s Wish Foundation. Plenty of information is available on his site, Enfants O Canada, in French and English.

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Darren J 9/04/2007 12:40:00 PM | 1 comments |