Saturday, September 30, 2006


Due to a variety of things going on, I’ve driven my car more than half the days to work this past 2 weeks. Just like anyone else, I don’t get any joy or pleasure through my drive to work other than possibly hearing something interesting on the radio. Driving the car is a chore, and one that gets even more draining when you’re stuck staring at the car in front of you. Traffic jams are an inevitability of driving a car in a city with too many cars, and they're a huge motivator to return to my bike.

Compared to the spring, the time spent stopped in my car has gotten much longer. My car drive home is now consistently the same duration as my bike commute. Both routes are also approximately the same distance, since I often don’t use the expressways, which usually take even longer in the evening. So even though I manage to get my car up to 60 km/h on some stretches, my average car speed is really the same as an average bike speed of about 23 km/h.

Even when traffic is a bit lighter in the mornings and I can take the expressways (401 and 404), the average car speed is 40 km/h. But because I take the expressways, my route is actually 3 km longer. If you adjust for the inefficiency of having to drive out of the way to get to the faster route, my real average speed is 34 km/h.

If you told most of the car driving public that their average speed was 23 km/h, they’d be pretty disappointed. In all the recent talk about tearing down the Gardiner Expressway, the statistics say that the average speed along the full length of the highway is currently 36 to 43 km/h (see report in pdf). This isn’t accounting for entering and exiting the highway, and speeds for the entire trip. It’s not hard to extrapolate from those numbers that the average speed for a trip from Etobicoke to downtown by car has an average speed in the 30’s km/h at best, especially since my trips in the north of the city average in the 20’s km/h.

Here's a quick look at the average speeds (blue) compared to the top speed limits (red) along the various trips.

All this information was coming to light at the same time that Martino posted a document that has been distributed to European city governments. The document, a technical guide, describes how to modify a city’s streets to be more welcoming to cyclists. One of the changes that is emphasized in the document is the reduction in speed limits on city streets. This can be done through laws and changing the street layout.

The guide talks about 30 km/h being a speed at which cyclists and pedestrians can comfortably share the road with cars. Drivers are able to see cyclists and pedestrians better, and respond to them better. Cyclists are traveling at closer to the same speed as the cars, so are able to interact better with the cars.

Most drivers in Toronto would be offended by the mere suggestion that 30 km/h be the speed limit. However, looking at the Gardiner report, and my recent (highly scientific) car speed studies, 30 km/h isn’t such a stretch for the major streets in our city. Once drivers get over the shock that they never went faster than 30 km/h anyway, the result would be calmer, more people-friendly streets.

Darren J 9/30/2006 09:21:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fighting Power with Power in Brockville

This power-assist bicycle was spotted on the suburban outskirt of Brockville. Yes, Brockville, a town of 22000, has a suburban outskirt, a modern style suburban development, with biggie sized store-fronts, biggie sized parking lots and biggie sized roadways, circa 2005.

It looks a lot like the town of Brockville received a provincial government grant for traffic lights, as there is one every 100 metres on the stretch of road we took. Many of the parking lot entranceways don’t line up, so there is a separate set of lights for each one.

This isn’t the real Brockville though. I used to live in Brockville, back in the mid-90's for one long winter. The town itself has a walkable historic center with friendly people and views of the St. Lawrence River. (I like the story on Wikipedia about how Brockville got named. It sounds a lot like how Cheney became the VP candidate. You can start reading that CNN article at "the governor has settled on Dick")

Back then I engaged in active transportation, motivated by finance and common sense. The idea of owning a car was a luxury I couldn't consider as a student. And, while the town had a bus system, I never successfully figured out the schedule and transfers necessary such that it could be faster than walking. So walk was what I did.

For nostalgia's sake, I mapped out my walking route. It was definitely longer than most people would like, and it was longer than I often liked. It would have made an ideal bike commute, but Brockville can get big loads of snow and I didn't know about studded tires.

The map shows my normal weekday walking route. On Friday nights, it was another matter, especially after the Walmart opened up. Along with one or two other students in town, we would walk from work north to the Walmart, where we would marvel at the low price of music magazines. I'm sure there were low-priced small appliances there too, but if the appliance wasn't a toaster, it might as well have been an industrial pizza oven.

After Walmart, we'd walk the length of the town down to a bar on the waterfront. I never felt like I was held back by my lack of car, except when I got the urge to leave town. By foot we could cover the whole old part of town, plus a little extra.

With a power-assist bike, most people can get themselves from one edge of the Greater Brockville Area to the other.

Darren J 9/28/2006 10:36:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

The Next Generation

Last week, on a late commute home: I'm all decked out in reflective gear with my lights on. Two kids are in the back seat of an SUV driven by a woman who is in the process of running a red light. They're waving frantically, but I wasn't sure they were interested in me until they yelled "Hey Mister Biker! You rule!" A block later, I pass some kids in a park: "Cool bike."

So often, kids give me this look from the back seat of the car like: I wish I was doing something fun too.

Tomorrow is Bike Friday. Recall what you used to know so well: that riding a bike is fun and can get you places. Join me and others all over the city!

(I know if you're reading this, you're probably already riding a bike. I'm just practicing my rallying cry for the day someone accidentally puts a bullhorn in my hands.)

Darren J 9/28/2006 09:43:00 a.m. | 0 comments |

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The most valuable resource

Time has been scarce lately. I have been much too busy to relax and write stuff down lately. Instead, I'll pass on some things to read elsewhere.

A cyclist writes to motorists. This should be published in the Wheels section of the Toronto Star and other major newspapers.

God Bless America, and its wonderful system of lawsuits. Previously protecting us from hot coffee, it may now help stop the flooding of many of the world's coastal cities. I hear the defendants have some money and a few friends in high places, so we'll have to wait to see how it plays out.

I like the look of this recumbent. I could see myself cruising around town on it. I wonder what happens when you hit a bump though. You don't have rear suspension, and you can't really stand up for a second. Does it hurt the tailbone, or is the cushy seat enough?

Darren J 9/26/2006 03:33:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Joy Ride Tomorrow

Graphic by Janet Attard

The Toronto Joy Ride is tomorrow. Don't worry about the chance of rain. Bringing a rain coat is a good idea, but getting wet ain't so bad, especially if you're with a bunch of friendly people. See you there!
Meet at 7:30 AM
Leave at 8:00 AM
Nathan Phillips Square
100 Queen Street West
at Bay Street
Toronto, ON

Darren J 9/23/2006 09:09:00 a.m. | 2 comments |

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Politicians making a difference - really

Two nights ago on the news, I saw Jack Layton and Olivia Chow arrive at Parliament on bicycles. I've never been one to throw myself behind a political party, and the NDP quite often don't represent my views, but I really liked this sight. We hear people talking all the time about all the problems that come from pollution and car use. It's refreshing to see the people addressing the cause of the illness instead of talking about the symptoms all the time, especially when those people are the ones with the voices we hear.

It was a photo-op in the most positive sense, in that it may inspire people to act and not just vote a certain way. It'll be interesting to see how long it lasts, or if it catches on.

I don't expect to see Rona Ambrose, our current environment minister, commuting by bicycle. Maybe Peter McKay would be a good representative, especially with the recent praise of his sex appeal. What about Stephane Dion? He is running for leadership of the Liberal Party, and trying to play the environment card after his run as environment minister.

Here's a sample from a Q&A on the Globe and Mail (warning: reading the following quote may require patience):

Stephen Mayor, Canada: Mr. Dion, The environment has deservingly emerged as a central issue for Liberals and Canadians. How will you distinguish between Liberal environmental policies and those of the Green party, from whom some ideas (carbon tax) seem borrowed, and the NDP, who ride to Parliament on bicycles? Considering greenhouse gas emissions rose when you were environment minister, what would you do differently as our prime minister to ensure they are reduced so that we meet our Kyoto targets? Lastly, apart from Kyoto, how will you save our environment?

Stéphane Dion: Through my three-pillar approach, which is bringing together economic vitality, environmental sustainability and social justice. My action plan is to create a virtuous circle between the three pillars. Because I am proposing sound environmental policies, Canada will become more energy efficient and competitive in the new industrial revolution; double column the sustainable economy. Then we will have more capacity to improve social justice in Canada, and because of that Canadians will be more educated, healthier, better equipped and more confident as players in the economy. And in this way, you will have a virtuous circle between the three pillars.

Pillars do remind me of Rome, and Rome was powerful and stable (for a while at least). And I gotta say, a virtuous circle does sound good. (I should really shut up, since I know I've written some rambling stuff here). I was almost ready to vote for Stephen Mayor, after reading that. Come on Stephane. Make a difference; ride a bike and be seen doing it!

In all fairness, Dion does go on to make some more specific statements that you may be interested in reading. It's just difficult to get excited about any of it, when so little progress was made under Liberal rule. When I see a federal government that forces changes to land use and pushes money at transit and bicycle infrastructure, along with cycling education, I'll consider that government to be making progress. When people can conveniently live in our cities without owning a car, I'll count it as success.

On a more local level, I was looking around at the web sites of candidates running in my ward in the upcoming municipal election. A lot of the talk is about property taxes, council pay raises, budget mismanagement, and police. The only topics over which provoking fear appears acceptable are raising taxes and a break and enter. When it comes to fumigating ourselves, it's a matter for reporters to get worked up about. So let's call ourselves environmentally concerned and promote recycling! It's really not something worth being cynical about since the politician who promotes recycling as the cornerstone of his environmental platform is basically admitting he doesn't care.

I'll end by passing on an encouraging message seen on one of the campaign web sites - a quote from Margaret Mead, an anthropologist:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Darren J 9/20/2006 12:10:00 p.m. | 5 comments |

Monday, September 18, 2006

Tandem in the Gatineau Hills

Instructions to add a little spice to your cycling experience:

Step 1: Find someone who you'd like to spend some time with.
Step 2: Get yourself a tandem bike.

You can probably follow the steps in reverse by pulling up on your half-full tandem bike in front of a crowd at a bus stop.

The photos are of two of my friends who rented a tandem on the weekend for a ride through Ottawa and Gatineau. I borrowed one of their "single-person bikes" and went with them on a big loop to Champlain Lookout and to Chelsea, Quebec, the town I mentioned a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful ride through the hills of the Gatineau Park, where the leaves are just starting to change, and cyclists abound.

If you had any doubt, the tandems can have you flying downhill. My friends took some time to get used to it and were cautious at first. After some time going up and down the hills, their comfort level must have gone way up. The bike I borrowed was much more like a racer than my usual bike. It was lighter, firmer and faster, and with brake lever shifters had me constantly adjusting my cadence. On the downhills, I saw them make a few strokes of the pedal, stop pedalling, then pull away from me, as I pushed through the gears attempting to keep up.

Later in the day, my wife and I borrowed the tandem for a spin. I rode it across Ottawa alone to get it to my wife's family home. I kept expecting someone to run up behind me and hop on. We took it for an hour long ride along the street and bike paths. The great thing about these bikes is that both people can be pushing with relaxed effort, while you move at a good clip. It leaves you free to talk and enjoy the ride. And of course there's the advantage that it's excedingly difficult to leave anyone behind. Both of us had a lot of fun, and will definitely figure out how we can try a tandem again.

Towards the end of our ride, in the car dominated suburbs of Ottawa, we pulled up to red light beside a guy on a unicycle. (I couldn't make that up.) "One wheel for each person!" he said.

Darren J 9/18/2006 12:35:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Memorial Ride - Monday Evening

From the ARC site:


Memorial to be held at Eglinton and Leslie at 7:30 PM Monday Sept 18

Bring flowers. Bring candles. Bring reflective clothing/cycle lights

Mass ride to the site leaving from two departure points:

1. Spadina/Bloor at 6:15

2. Danforth/Pape at 7:00

All cyclists welcome: Meet for a group ride to the crash site at 6:15 pm, Bloor and Spadina, and at 7:00 pm, Danforth and Pape, to ride to Eglinton and Leslie for 7:30 pm, Monday, September 18, 2006.

more info

Darren J 9/17/2006 10:25:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Thursday, September 14, 2006


This is perfect weather to be outside. I was disappointed this morning when I looked out the window and thought it looked like winter. And the weather reports this week keep saying how the week looks bad, but it'll shape up to be a nice weekend. It turns out to be just right for a wool t-shirt, pants and a bicycle. I'm glad my week has a full seven days to enjoy.

Two weeks ago, my wife gave me a new wool t-shirt. She knew how much I liked my other one and thought it would be good to have more than one shirt to wear and sweat in for 6 months straight. The wool shirts are a bit pricey, but are comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

I picked one in a strong orange colour. Orange is the new black for men apparently, like pink is the new black for women. Although I heard pink is no longer the new black for women, so maybe orange has lost its status also. Either way, the orange stands out on the road, and it helps with getting noticed and looking cool in front of a school bus full of children, who are all potential future bike commuters. (I passed four school buses stuck in a traffic jam this morning while slowly making my way up a hill. I felt every eye on me.)

If you're thinking of buying a stylin' wool jersey, I noticed Jun is looking for people to go in with on designing and purchasing a batch of wool shirts. Now's your chance to be an artist.

Darren J 9/14/2006 01:37:00 p.m. | 7 comments |

Monday, September 11, 2006

Real Change

Inch after inch of ink is etched into paper and myriads of minutes of radio waves are modulated with messages of urgent concern over pollution, traffic congestion, climate change and traffic deaths. No matter what part of the country you're in, these problems are on the top of so many people's minds. Real action and change are rarely seen.

Yesterday's Toronto Star outlines a plan for transit in the greater Toronto area to make transit a priority over car traffic. I hope people take it seriously and keep it in mind at election time.

The writer had an interesting take on bicycle traffic. He viewed cyclists as a sort of valuable nuisance, slowing down drivers and creating traffic slow downs. This is ignoring the fact that all those cyclists could be in cars, creating even better traffic jams. Still, the writer pushes for better cycling facilities.

"One of the best things that's happened in recent years is the number
of bicycles," says Greenberg. "It's starting to look almost like a
European city, but again, we're not nearly aggressive enough."

I see cycling more as something that goes hand in hand with a good transit system. Even though I ride my bike as much as I do, I still keep my car for the odd times I need to get somewhere that transit is not practical.

Another point the article makes is regarding dedicated bus and streetcar lanes. I don't know why everyone who drives a car isn't jumping up and down for this to happen. Two weeks ago, in the evening rush hour, I rode my bike through the north-west part of the older neighbourhoods in Toronto. For Torontonians, I went along St. Clair, Davenport and Keele. This is the part of the city where the subway is not nearby, so options are limited to the bus, car, bicycle or foot. The congestion was so bad along most parts of those streets that the bus and car were easily the slowest modes of transportation. I moved slowly down the right side of the cars, then at one point had to walk my bike on the sidewalk and was still moving faster than the gridlocked larger vehicles. (And that was before labour day. Imagine now with full traffic volumes!) I was waiting to see a real life Michael Douglas impression. Wouldn't life be a lot better if at least one of the car or the bus became useful? The dedicated bus lane would be such an obvious and immediate solution.

That's enough preaching for one day. Here are some foreign bicycle-related articles. One is about helmets and their questionable value. I started wearing a reflective vest on a regular basis as a bit of an experiment, and I wonder if it has a similar effect on drivers. It's only been one week, so I'll let you know how it goes. And here's a nice positive take on bicycle commuting in Washington D.C.

Darren J 9/11/2006 12:41:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Toronto Joy Ride

On September 24th, you'll have the chance to ride in the Toronto Joy Ride, a century ride (100 km) with a unique style. The idea is to have fun, ride at your own pace, and even take shortcuts! Looks like a good time. I'm pretty sure I'll be giving it a go. (Not sure what to do: one-speed it?)

The goal is to raise money for the Community Bicycle Network and the Cycling Cog. Hope you can make it! Send me a message if you want to meet up.

Start: Sep 24 2006 - 8:00am
End: Sep 24 2006 - 4:00pm

It's a joy to ride a bike in Toronto!

The Toronto Joy Ride is a 100km (or shorter with shortcuts) ride that brings you through some of the best areas of the city: through tree-lined ravines, along trails, lake shore and urban streets. You get to see a lot of new parts of Toronto, enjoy the company of other great cyclists, and get some exercise along the way - all the while supporting cycling advocacy in Toronto.

The Joy Ride is as challenging or relaxing as you'd like. The main route is 100km but for those who'd only like to do a portion of the route there will options of where people can take a shortcut with their bike, or by subway. The great thing about city riding is that you're never to far away from amenities and transit!

Updated registration info: Registration is free. There is a suggested donation of $30 to help cover the costs of producing the guide, providing refreshments, and to support cycling advocacy. To register please contact the Cycling Cog. If you are willing to volunteer at the event or leading up to the event send an email.

Darren J 9/07/2006 11:32:00 p.m. | 1 comments |

The suburban bicycle commute

This past weekend, a story ran in the Globe and Mail about the bike commute in the suburbs. The title really annoyed me, so I didn't mention the article here. It was my own 5 day protest that I'm sure really hit the Globe and Mail in the pocketbook.

Since I was quoted with such a negative statement, I'll point out that I talked to the reporter for quite a long time and mentioned two or three negative experiences. I was under the impression that I was painting a pretty positive picture of riding in the suburbs. There are definitely some challenges, but the experience is by far an enjoyable one and the reward is huge.

When I said that riding a bike on Yonge at the 401 can be terrifying, I finished the thought with: and that's why I found another route to take. Sure there's much more our various governments can do to make a difference, but I wanted other people to know that riding a bike to work is very possible.

Ah well. It's all part of my free media training program. Next time, I'll come up with some quotable quotes on the positive side.

Fortunately, many others had lots of good things to say that were mentioned towards the end of the article.

"When I drive, I get home mentally tired," says Dr. Levine, who often spends 12 hours on the job. "As long as I'm able to ride, I'll keep riding."

Andrew, another cyclist I know who rides in York Region, was also quoted in the article. You can see his comments here.

Darren J 9/07/2006 12:58:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Mean Streets

The Brevet is a mysterious beast. Everyone else competing is on your team and the only opponent is yourself. This Sunday, I gave the sport of randonneuring a try and completed the 200 km Mean Streets of Toronto Brevet ride with Tanya and four other randonneurs.

For anyone totally unfamiliar with the concept, as I was until about two months ago, the brevet is a ride on a specified route of a certain distance, like 200, 300, 600 or 1200 km, and it'’s done within an allotted time period. A 200 km Brevet must be done in 13.5 hours. A person who completes a brevet is a randonneur. People complete unbelievable feats for this sport like riding 600 km on little or no sleep.

This ride was what the randonneurs consider a short event. If you've already crossed the province without any sleep, what's a loop around the city? For me, and I'm pretty sure I can speak for Tanya on this, this ride was a big deal.

The ride started in the middle of the city and headed south to the lake. Since it was early on a Sunday, the roads were empty and fast (other than some red lights). We then headed west and started a clockwise loop of the city. Much of the ride followed bike paths and suburban roads.

The stretches in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough showed off some beautiful parts of the city where you'’re reminded that the city you live in is on a lake. Properties were fairly large there, even though the neighbourhoods were old. The surprise for me was in north-eastern Scarborough where the scenery is as rural as anywhere in King Township.

Whoever chose the route must have liked some pain. The second half of the ride was packed with steep downhills and uphills, including the Rouge Park hill and the Bluffers Park hill. I had ridden Bluffers Park before, but not Rouge Park. Rouge is a beautiful park with a deep valley and curving road. Unfortunately, the curving road was a thoroughfare for too many people in cars. I bet it would be much nicer there early in the morning.

The meanest street was Kingston Road. This was towards the end of the ride and late in the day. Traffic was heavy, fast and changing lanes often. It was also where we had to contend with leap-frogging with a bus, something I never enjoy.

At the three quarter point, I opened my bag to find my cell phone covered in water. This would have seemed like an obvious outcome of a rainy day and a non-waterproof handlebar bag, but for whatever reason it didn't dawn on me to put my phone in a plastic bag. Right now only half the buttons work, so don't be offended if I don't phone you and your phone number includes a 2, 3, 5 or 6.

Food: I assumed we would stop for rests at places where we'd get buy sandwiches and some coffee, maybe some gatorade. Maybe we'd sit down have a chat and read the newspaper. It turns out the locations for the rests weren't chosen based on their cuisine or ambiance. I ended up fueling myself on pastries, chocolate bars, energy bars and energy gels for the day. It was a really good thing I had a big breakfast before leaving.

Overall it was an enjoyable ride around the city with a good bunch of people. Thanks to Tanya for getting me to do the ride and keeping me company. I'd do another brevet, most likely a 200 km route and definitely in the country.

Since I try to keep things open here, I'll give you the blister status. As recommended by ggdub here after my last painful ride, I had a look around for chamois butter while I was preparing for this ride. I know it's nothing to be embarrassed about and it's just an issue of blisters that are basically on my legs, but I figure if you're looking for anything that's used under your shorts, there's usually some discretion exercised. I learned on Saturday that people in bike shops do not go through the same training that people at pharmacies go through. The two employees seemed to enjoy having a loud conversation about their "ass-cream" stock and how low it is. (It was pretty funny, so I won't file a complaint.) Since they were out of ass cream, one of the employees recommended vaseline. I tried it, and it was better than nothing. No blisters this time, but I think the real solution is to buy some decent bike shorts.

Nitty gritty details:

Stuff I packed:
3 tubes (I don'’t like using patches)
2 patches
1 brake cable (didn'’t use it but it's only 2 dollars)
3 energy gels (used 1, Note: when they seem empty, they may not be and may in fact be able to create a huge mess of your clothing and bike seat.)
3 clif bars (ate 1)
Large bike water bottle (drank about 2 bottles)

Bike and equipment:
Le vieux Peugeot (trying out some french terminology)
Rear rack
One Pannier
Handlebar bag
Headlight, tail light
Reflective safety vest (required by the rules)
helmet, glasses

Distance: 205 km
Time: 13 hours 18 minutes (we could have spent 11 more minutes relaxing at a rest stop!)

Darren J 9/05/2006 08:00:00 a.m. | 13 comments |