Monday, January 30, 2006

Free money for everyone (who owns an oil well)

In the meantime, oil prices are approaching $70 per barrel again. Exxon is turning record profits, and not a record just for the oil industry, but for any company ever in North American history. It wasn't that long ago that Microsoft and Cisco were fighting it out for the company with the biggest market capitalization.

(Did anyone hear about a conference last week in Ottawa, involving Ottawa Mayor Chiarelli, regarding a future energy crisis and how it would affect home heating, transportation, and just about everything? I heard it mentioned on CBC radio news on Saturday, but nothing is showing up on the web since. In fact there is no longer any record of the reporter ever existing. Just kidding, about the reporter, not about the future energy problems)

The Alberta Oil Sands are going to solve all of the United States' energy problems. (Warning, article linked contains cliches about Canada. What? There's somewhere even further north than Montana?) The article includes discussion with T. Boone Pickens, an energy expert (ie. oil expert) from Texas who was quoted about 2 years ago saying that Saudi Arabia's oil fields are on the decline, regardless of what the royal family is announcing.

The article ended with an ironic twist, whether intentional or not, by comparing traditional oil wells to the locomotive.

"The wells are still pumping but they belong to the past, like the iron horse that once rode across these prairies."

Train transportation may not be so antiquated after all.

Darren J 1/30/2006 05:18:00 p.m. | 4 comments |

Budget meetings!

For Toronto cyclists out there (which must mean more than half of all Torontonians), if you can make time in your schedule to attend one of the upcoming budget meetings, you may be able to help "the cause" of getting the Toronto Bike Plan moving. Fortunately, the meetings are spread around the city and at times that should be convenient for people with weekday work hours. If you're the kind of person who thinks these meetings might be a bit dry (what?), think of it as witnessing the very democracy people around the world dream of in action. It's just like when Simon says "no", but Paula and Randy say "yes", and because of what we know is right, in the core of our beings, that person gets to go to Hollywood.

I'm thinking of attending the North York meeting, but I don't know if I'll work myself up to saying anything. Maybe a well timed clap or a groan. Even though I know I should try to speak up for suburban cyclists, the idea of speaking in front of hundreds of people isn't something I look forward to. At the very least, I'll be able to report to you what happens, and write another letter to my councillor.

The priorities that I see for cyclists outside of the downtown core are:
1. Installation of the bike paths planned in the Toronto Bike Plan. (Bike lanes are important too, but if they are on major streets, they aren't going to attract the inexperienced cyclists like bike paths do).
2. Promotion of motor vehicle safety related to passing cyclists, right of way for cyclists and pedestrians, along with reducing aggressive driving in general. (Included in the Bike Plan)
3. Coordination of practical North-South and East-West cycling routes with surrounding regions. (mentioned in the Bike Plan)

I really hope a few cyclists show up and speak out, for everyone's benefit.

Cyclists and pedestrians could benefit from changes to traffic laws also, which I see as more of the domain of the provincial government. Martino has a comprehensive list of ideas from Levi Waldron that would make life better for cyclists and pedestrians. Many of challenges cyclists and pedestrians face every day could be improved without major infrastructure projects, but just through changes to laws (along with advertising campaigns). This is assuming there is enforcement of new and existing laws.

Darren J 1/30/2006 04:37:00 p.m. | 7 comments |

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Sunny Saturday on the Leslie Spit

Darren J 1/28/2006 11:59:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Some unbelievable photography captured this sadly believable event in Kensington Market.

I don't know the whole story here, although I can be pretty sure who's side I would have taken if I was standing there during this event. Or should I say "alleged" event, like a professional reporter? Something I'm very sure about is that protecting your personal property and protecting your person are very different things.

(I happened across this through Technorati and Say it with Pie)

Darren J 1/26/2006 07:50:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Salt intake ... check

The first step I need to take is to learn how to keep my mouth closed while I ride down wet salty streets. The second step is to figure out how to install fenders on the front fork of my mountain bike. The problem is that it has a suspension fork with no grommets (eyelets?) for the fenders to attach to near the hub. I've seen some fenders in stores that are made for this type of fork, but the last set I bought was total garbage and wouldn't install well. I might try to work some magic with tie wraps, but I'd always be concerned about the front fender snapping off and jamming in my front wheel. I'd like to avoid that. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

In the meantime, the cycling will keep my blood pressure down on average, and the high salt diet will cause it to increase. A perfect balance. God works in mysterious ways. (note that "God" was at the start of that sentence keeping capitalization vague, and therefore inclusive). Unfortunately, I don't think they use regular table salt on the roads, so I doubt this morning's ride was so healthy.

As for the election: it could have been worse.

Darren J 1/25/2006 12:56:00 p.m. | 5 comments |

Monday, January 23, 2006

Gas prices

I hope everyone with a car keeps gas prices in mind today so next summer when some reporter walks up to him or her at a gas pump and asks "what are you doing about high gas prices?", we don't hear "Not much. I have no choice. I have to drive. Those darn oil companies!"

Today is the day we choose which services our government will be providing for us. Even at the federal level, those services can include public transit. The services can also include bicycle infrastructure, promotion or safety programs. It's all about quality of life.

Happy Election Day! (I hope tomorrow is just as happy!)

Darren J 1/23/2006 05:36:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Last Sunday's Chilly Tour

Last Sunday, when it was minus something or other for the first time in a while, I did a half metric century around Toronto (really it was 47 km). It was at a leisurely pace with no set route. I had had a couple days busy inside and just wanted to get outside and do something.

I followed the Don River south as usual. This is my favorite way to head to the lakeshore if I'm not in a rush. The Don River was trying hard to freeze over, but all that effort would be proven pointless by the middle of the week.

My main destination was the Leslie Spit: an artificial peninsula made of demolished buildings and the like, which is still growing, and has been turned into a park. (Feel free to correct me if I'm off on that). I hadn't been there in a while, and I thought it would be good to see if its rocks and shrubbery looked any different in January from how they look in September. Since all the snow has melted, I probably should have been able to predict the answer to that one.

I had in mind a show I saw on Ontario's public television broadcaster, TVO (you get three guesses what that stands for). The show was featuring a bird watcher who talked about how the Leslie Spit is a unique bird watching site with some of the greatest variety of bird species in North America. I saw some evidence of this, but it was only in the form of people with binoculars. There was even a group of men in winter grey hunting fatigues carrying cameras with two foot long zoom lenses.

With my naked eye, I managed to spot some ducks and seagulls in this large pond that sits in the middle of the spit.

There were bird houses of simple construction all around the spit. They looked similar to a bird house I made for wrens when I was a kid, but I imagine many types of bird could live in them. Mine ended up giving shelter to a few thousand wasps.

I wanted to get to somewhere with a little less wind, so I took off west to downtown for some poutine, coffee and skating (just watching). The rink at Nathan Phillips Square was busy but open enough that some serious skaters could weave their way through the flow of people.

Darren J 1/21/2006 11:23:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sweating in January

This winter cycling is turning out to be so easy. I don't know what everyone was worrying me about. The roads are clear and the windchill is minimal. Well actually they should probably be reporting the humidex. Today I had my jacket undone and was begging for a breeze on my back. My trip home could be in a t-shirt with the expected high to be 11 C (52 F)! This may not be because of global climate change, but, at the very least, it's a damn strange January.

For the drive in today, I treated myself to my skinny tire bike (skinny being relative, since I have comfortable 28C and 26C tires). Weeks of riding on soft fat tires, really makes me appreciate the sweet ease with which I can crank myself up to 28 km/h on this bike. It felt great.

The worst thing about this weather is what it's doing for my street cred. I wanted to be a winter bike commuter!

Darren J 1/20/2006 02:00:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cyclist killed in Newmarket

I wish I didn't need to write this again. This time a cyclist was killed in Newmarket. There aren't many details in the news right now.

For anyone familiar with Newmarket, you'll know that this is a newer intersection, quite expansive. Mulock Drive has fast moving traffic that bypasses the slower moving older parts of town just to the north, although the speed limit is probably 60 km/h at the intersection. That's all I can tell you from memory.

Darren J 1/19/2006 02:45:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Viva Update

With the freezing rain coming, I decided cycling would be a bad idea today. My last experience in freezing rain was terrifying, mainly because I was concerned about the cars tailgating me. Even though I now have studded tires and would feel much more confident in my own ability to control my vehicle, I am not so confident in others' ability.

Also, I didn't think I wanted to be one of those "others" today, attempting to control my car on an icy road, so I decided to give the TTC and York Region Viva public transit a go again.

There have been two very good developments since my last time using Viva. One is that the new express route has been added that allows me to ride a single "rapid transit vehicle" from the TTC Finch Station to my office. The other change is that my office has moved by about 1.5 km closer to a Viva stop, making it possible for me to easily walk from Viva to my office. It was urban intensification on a personal level. This is a big deal.

Updated Total Travel Times
Walking time + TTC + Viva = 47 minutes
Biking time (winter conditions) = 1 hour
Motoring time (typical rush hour) = 30 to 40 minutes

If you compare this to my past experience, the improvement is huge. In the fall, TTC + Viva took me about 90 minutes to get to work. Now with it at less than 50 minutes, it's a perfect option for me on a day like today.

If Viva continues on its successful path, it'll be interesting to see York Region change in the way it is being developed. It may not look like much to someone living downtown, but there is already some intensification going on in the area around Hwy 7 and Leslie. Condo towers have been built in the past 2 years that are a short walk to nearby shopping plazas. And during the past year, a number of office towers have been built in the area, all within walking distance of Viva, with sidewalks up to the front doors. I assume that zoning requirements must have been changed in the years since the low rise buildings were built. (By the way, all the most intense development has taken place on the Thornhill side of Hwy 7. Is Richmond Hill managed separately in this respect?)

Back on topic: I'll declare TTC + Viva a realistic transportation option for me now. I have to say though, I'd rather be on my bike (I'm so predictable).

Darren J 1/17/2006 03:48:00 p.m. | 1 comments |

The Tuque

The tuque is a wonderful invention. Everyone who lives somewhere where it drops below 2 degrees Celsius should own one.

On Sunday, I think it was -9 C with a north wind. I had been riding around the city for a couple hours when I stopped at City Hall for some refueling in the form of poutine. I had heard the blue poutine truck has the best in the city. Although I haven't tried poutine anywhere else in Toronto, I thought I'd see if the claim was true. Anyways, it was good poutine, but that's not my point. This guy buying hot dogs for himself and his kids tells me that he can't believe that I'm out on my bike in this kind of cold. He wasn't preachy or anything (like I'm being now!). He just stood there shivering and commented on my choice to be outside on my bike. The thing was (as you've already guessed) he wasn't wearing any kind of hat!

Admittedly, the guy did have much more well coiffed hair then I ever try for. A tuque would have ruined that. I'm just amazed at all the people who think cycling in the winter is silly, but letting the surface of their head cool down to -9 C is a good idea. (he wasn't the only one I saw out there without a hat. Some other guy in a car yelled at me, calling me an idiot for no apparent reason).

I'm starting to sound like an old man and probably annoying at least one of my readers. I better move on.

Darren J 1/17/2006 03:45:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Looking Elsewhere

The NY Times ran an article about the change in communities over recent decades and the lack of spontaneous game playing by children now-a-days. Maybe it’s because of the way the NY Times selects its letters to publish, but the number of responses that discuss car free neighbourhoods or bike friendly communities is surprisingly high.

In case you missed it, Jacob Allderdice wrote an articulate letter to The Toronto Star about cyclist safety with regards to potential improvements to our right of way laws. It was very similar to this post. He included statistics and detailed information. The response that was selected to be printed came from a motorist from Brampton (?) who has the unusual fortune of being surrounded by cyclists every day.

In "cycling weather," not a day goes by when, at a four-way stop and it is my turn as a motorist to go, that a cyclist doesn't come barrelling through, without even stopping, forcing me to take evasive action to avoid hitting the cyclist.

I only recently discovered The Fat Cyclist (apparently it’s a very popular blog). He has a great post on lies cyclists tell themselves (and others). Make sure you read the bit about biking to work. My casual conversations with people at work are getting way too close to being one-dimensional, but that’s just because I have so many interesting things to say about cycling.

Darren J 1/15/2006 10:39:00 a.m. | 1 comments |

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Driving my bike

I've heard a few cyclists refering to themselves as "driving" lately, as in "I was driving my bike to work". The first time I heard this was at the Winter Bike Clinic I went to a couple months ago. At first this sounded very awkward to me, almost like an attempt to make a bike sound more like a car. After some reflection (I like reflecting), I've decided it is the most appropriate term for travelling by bicycle, and, on top of that, far more appropriate than for car travellers.

When I'm travelling on my bike, I am actually powering the bike. I make it go. I am the driving force that makes it move forward. I drive my bike.

In contrast, when I travel by car, the engine drives the car forward or backwards. I merely steer it and choose when the engine should drive the car in some direction. I ride my car.

So, to use a real life example: this morning while I was driving my bike up Leslie Street, a major arterial, a guy riding in his car behind me honked as he passed. There's a small chance he was honking at the guy riding in the van next to him, but it looked like he was honking at me for driving my bike on the road. I'm all in favour of a major advertizing campaign to inform everyone about cycling and how to safely pass a cyclist when you're operating a motor vehicle, and the provincial government is one that should do it (I'm looking at you, Dalton).

Darren J 1/12/2006 10:51:00 a.m. | 4 comments |

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Daily Energy Use

I was thinking about how much energy I use to ride my bike to work and in other daily activities. When I ride my bike to work, I use roughly 450 calories (one way), which is really 450 kilocalories if you're talking about anything other than food and exercise. (The nutritional 'calorie' actually equals 1000 real calories. Genius system.) This happens to be equivalent to the energy in 1 litre of apple juice (about 4 cups). I want a single unit of energy to use for comparing my daily activities, and this 1 litre of apple juice just works out so well compared to my bike ride that I have to use it. One litre of apple juice also equals about 3 tablespoons of gasoline in terms of energy, but it isn't as tasty, so let's stick with apple juice.

Like I said, riding my bike to work uses 1 litre of apple juice.

If I look at other daily activities, there are the ones that aren't exactly optional, especially if you're riding a bike places, like taking a shower. Heating the water takes about 2.2 L of apple juice, but varies widely depending on how sleepy you are in the morning, how much you drank the night before, or if you like to combine your morning activities so as many as possible take place in the shower.

Using more rough numbers, if my apartment has 8 light bulbs, and all are old fashioned 60 W incandescent light bulbs on for say 8 hours per day, this uses 7 L of apple juice per day.

If I switch all my light bulbs to compact fluorescent, I use 1.8 L of apple juice per day.

Of course there's home heating and cooling. I'll have to leave that for another day. There are so many variables there.

If I decide to drive my car to work instead of cycle, it takes 62 L of apple juice.

Some numbers:
1 BTU = 1055 joules
1 kCal = 4186 joules
1 shower = 4000 BTU = 2.2 Litres of apple juice
My commute distance = 19 km one way

Darren J 1/08/2006 09:26:00 p.m. | 7 comments |

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Slow start to the new year

With lots of Christmas cheer from the last 2 weeks (and a goodly dose from Tuesday night), the cycling is starting at slow speed this pseudo spring (aka January). I don't usually like to talk about speed too much around here because I feel like it's relatively unimportant (compared to whether or not I'm getting on my bike), but these last couple days have seen my average speed fall below 20 km/h, which gives me just a bit too much time to take in the scenery. This morning there was an evil headwind from the north also, which helped blow muddy droplets in my face (having no front fender on my mountain bike is starting to matter).

Speaking of evil, I was pedaling through the Willowdale riding yesterday morning and saw some evidence of potentially sinister goings on going on. It could have been nothing. In a short stretch of street, I saw three Liberal Party signs loose in the snow banks and two houses with both a Liberal and a Conservative sign in the front yard. On the way in today there were a couple Conservative signs laying on the ground. There are also Conservative signs along the edge of a park I ride by, which I think is not allowed, or shouldn't be.

The Conservatives have supposedly taken the lead according to the latest polls. As much as the Liberals annoy me, I'm still able to be more annoyed by the Conservatives. Are people actually listening to all the proposals being made? Government programs are expensive but just giving out cash to every single child in Canada sounds like a failed attempt to buy votes. Do the Conservatives know those kids are under 18? (ok, dumb joke. Developing my sense of humour from CBC radio isn't working).

Back to the real blog topic. My bike made a strange noise for the first few kilometres of my ride this morning. It sounded like the brakes, but I couldn't make it stop by wiggling them. Then it went away. I hope it wasn't the hub having salt problems.

Darren J 1/05/2006 01:00:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Weather and energy

It's turning out to be quite a mild winter. We've had a good run of days below freezing, but not much below -5 C (low 20s F). And now we're in this warm spell of +2C I can't use the weather as an excuse for not being out there on two wheels. My excuse today is a hectic schedule, but in the end it all comes down to priorities. It makes me sympathisize more with people who say they couldn't get around by bicycle because they have to do so much to take care of their children; something I haven't had to face yet.

Some worthwhile news stories

A Minnesotan magazine called Pulse of the Twin Cities has given a good how-to on winter cycling. It covers all the important issues like clothing, rust, tires, routes, and then gives this important bit of information:

"Perhaps the biggest barrier to biking in the winter, however, isn't meteorological, physiological or logistical. It's psychological. Langley says people think it's simply too difficult, and having a car in the driveway makes it seem like it isn't an option."

SUVs aren't any safer than cars for kids. Plus, these people might not like you anymore.

PEI is moving towards 50% of its energy from wind, and 100% renewable sources. If you're reading this, and you're about to go on a debate show like Crossfire and sit across from someone who will say "but PEI is so small, so it's as easy as pie for them to make a switch"; to them, you can say "don't forget that you may live in a big province or state, but you probably live in a region or county or town that is small enough to take on such a project and set such aggressive goals." What's more important is density, and, as the article points out, PEI is the most densely populated province in Canada.

Darren J 1/03/2006 02:26:00 p.m. | 1 comments |