Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Lane taking

This morning I took the lane on Yonge Street in front of an H2 Hummer. I had to do it, because of an even larger truck in the neighbouring lane that I was pacing. I made a difference! I had an impact on society and the environment by reminding that guy what a real sport utility vehicle is! Just kidding. I know that guy couldn't have cared less.

Speaking of Hummers, on most days I ride past one that sits idling warming up in its driveway for what must be at least 5 minutes based on all the variation in my schedule.

I rode in 15 minutes later this morning, and passed three other cyclists just in my short ride through Thornhill and Richmond Hill. I wonder if they're out there all the time. At -10 C, -19 C with the windchill, today wasn't exactly warm by this winter's standards.

Darren J 2/28/2006 12:27:00 PM | 6 comments |

Monday, February 27, 2006

Critical Mass Games

I didn't go to Critical Mass on Friday. The mass did flow past me while I stood on the sidewalk though, and I was happy to see it. (This fits with my ongoing brushes with Critical Mass). It was a small but vocal group. I was outside the Bloor Cinema, waiting to go watch "A State of Mind".

A State of Mind is the story of two girls and their families as the girls train for performing in a massive dance or gymnastics show, known as Mass Games. As well as enjoying the fun and social aspects, the girls are inspired by the possibility that their leader, Kim Jung Il, will be appreciating the beauty of their collective dance. (Surprise, surprise, he turns out to be a real jerk, and doesn't show up to watch). The girls are talented and perform some unbelieveable moves, creating a scene of human movement that is unlike anything else. If they were cheering for a Texas high school football team, they would kick ass in a cheer-off competition. This is a fascinating movie. There were times when it was a bit slow (not enough car chase scenes), but for the chance to have a view inside North Korea and hear conversations, albeit from carefully chosen citizens, the movie is well worth spending time watching.

Keeping with the theme, the next day I watched Team America: World Police with one of my friends. This film gives another unique view inside North Korea. More time well spent.

Completing the circle: back to the heart of America where I expect Team America Member Sarah would say, "I'm sensing some hostility in New York City." Apparently the number of arrests at NYC Critical Mass is down, and things are calming slightly, but that doesn't mean the situation is good there.

The photos on Sucka Pants do not paint a rosey picture. With the cyclists bundled up for a cold February bike ride, the image of hundreds of people gathered in the streets with their faces partially covered looks intimidating, until you see the army of police on motorcycles lined up to control them. Didn't anyone tell those officers that motorcycles are required to ride single file?

Darren J 2/27/2006 01:23:00 PM | 1 comments |

Saturday, February 25, 2006

City Bike Map

Choosing the right route can make or break a bike commuter. When just starting out, it might take just one perceived close call to discourage a cyclist from trying to use his or her bike for getting around town. This would be very sad and should never happen.

Dave Dash, a cyclist in Minnesota, has created a powerful tool for cyclists all over North America. It uses Google Maps to allow cyclists to create maps of our cities from a cyclist’s point of view. By sharing what we consider to be safe cycling routes, we can help more people with using their bikes and enjoying themselves outside every day.

The way I see this site is not as a replacement of the official city bike path maps. It’s a way to share a safe route that isn’t necessarily obvious to someone who is new to cycling or new to the city. Riding straight down a major street is of course a viable option for an experienced cyclist, but if there’s a fast alternative that avoids lots of turning or fast moving vehicles, then it could be very useful to let others know about it.

Spring is quickly approaching, and with spring will be lots of first time bike commuters. I’m hoping this city bike map site, along with the other project Joe just mentioned, will make a difference for people starting out on their bikes in the next month or two. This is your chance to share your experience and the research you’ve put into the streets of your city.

A couple technical notes: the site is in a state of development, so I’m pretty sure Dave would like to hear if you have particular problems entering routes or using the site. And apparently there are some troubles if you use Internet Explorer as your web browser. If you’re interested in upgrading, you can get Mozilla Firefox here.

Darren J 2/25/2006 01:59:00 PM | 4 comments |

Friday, February 24, 2006

Birds


Birds
Originally uploaded by Shawna S.
And once again, a fabulous fiet photo from my friend Shawna! This one is in Vietnam, and features fowl folded ... (too much!) Click on through.

Darren J 2/24/2006 08:17:00 AM | 0 comments |

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Promote!

Something I like to think about when I'm biking is that the people who see me on my bike might think "Hey, that guy is getting where he wants to go. And his legs are smaller than those found on Lance Armstrong and Curt Harnett. I do that on the weekend. I could probably handle it on a weekday." It's the little reminder, a small promotion for this fine mode of transport.

Let's say you're puttering around some shops looking for some quality vegetables. You've already locked up your bike, so the average stranger would have no idea how you got there. There's no chance of this stranger asking what the best biking streets are in the area.

Or maybe you're playing guitar in your rock band. The lead singer has the microphone. He never gives the mic to you even though you were supposed to get to do some of the between song banter. How will your fans know that you prefer two pedals and two wheels to get you from Yonge Street to Keele?

Or you're busy coordinating the merger of Bank of Montreal with the Royal Bank, and have no time to remind your CFO and the whole finance department that there is no better way to get yourself to King and Bay.

Ideas man Joe over at Biking Toronto has solved these problems by designing a line of t-shirts and buttons to help you let everyone around you know about your favorite way to get around Toronto. He hasn't added any mark-up yet, but is considering adding something to be donated to a bike-related cause like the CBN. They are downright cheap, although the shipping costs make it more attractive to buy more than one shirt. Why not buy one for everyone in your family?

Check them out!

I'll be modeling mine here very soon.

Darren J 2/23/2006 12:21:00 PM | 5 comments |

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The stresses of winter cycling

The wise people at the winter bike clinic with the CBN back in the fall told us that winter cycling would be more stressful on our bodies. In the past couple days, I've been finding out about this. It's nothing disastrous; don't worry. It's just a little dose of reality.

After my weekend bike ride, then commuting on Monday, I've been feeling pretty tired and achey. I've taken a break for a couple days allowing me to sleep in an extra 45 minutes. Today would have been a beautiful day to be pushing my pedals through our urban forest, but I'll have to hope for good weather Thursday and Friday.

The feeling after getting home from a ride in the cold is similar to when I first started commuting to work. Fortunately, the morning ride always gets me feeling good and awake. After the ride home though, I usually want to lay down on the couch and eat as much food as I can find. It can be completely draining, especially since the food always seems to be in the kitchen and the couch in the living room.

As surprising as it is to non-cyclists, the cold doesn't bother me in the least once I actually start riding (as I've said many times). As long as I'm not getting frostbite or hypothermia, I don't really care if some cold air is blowing on my ankles or my knees. Exercising in the cold just seems to take more energy, although after looking at this article on winter nutrition, it's not as simple as having a higher metabolism to warm myself up. What this doctor says makes sense. To paraphrase her: unless you're shivering, the main difference from warm weather exercise is that warmth and moisture are expelled through your lungs instead of your sweating skin. The reason for the hunger has more to do with your brain's demand for food since it expects to need it for fuel in the near future.

The other stress I've been faced with is dry skin. I was thinking of posting a macroscopic photograph of my dried out knuckles, but I like it better if you come and read here again. On Monday night, I banged my knuckle and it started bleeding way too easily. I bought a big bottle of moisturizer to keep at work to try to change this. I've been reapplying liberally, so now my mouse and keyboard are developing a nice shine that should discourage others from interfering with my work.

My skin's shine, however, doesn't seem to last very long. There must be a better way. I like inside-out solutions better. Maybe I need to start having shots of olive oil.

Darren J 2/22/2006 01:30:00 PM | 3 comments |

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Scarborough Mission

Three things I’ve learned in the past fortnight:

1. Broccoslaw tastes about as good as the name sounds.
2. When getting an eight dollar hair cut, keep in mind that you’re getting an eight dollar hair cut. (I’ve heard four dollar hair cuts exist in Kensington or Chinatown, but haven’t tried them, so I’ll avoid passing judgment right now)
3. Traveling by bicycle on the major streets in Scarborough is something I don’t wish on anyone. Never do it again unless bike lanes are installed.

I had an errand to take care of in Scarborough yesterday. I looked at a map and saw that I could get most of the way there on the Don Valley and Taylor Creek bike paths. My trip there and back would be about 44 km, with 8 km on roads, and only 7 km on major arteries.

You can see the route I took.

The Don Valley path was almost ideal to ride on. There was a small amount of ice. A few runners, dog walkers and bird watchers were out. The Taylor Creek path had huge sections covered in ice. I found out quickly that my 100 studs on my tires are nowhere near enough to grip on sheer ice, unless I deflated my tires, which I didn’t feel like doing. I just rode along the hard packed snow over the grass. There’s something very eerie about riding along listening to the comforting sound of snow crunching away under my tires, then suddenly total silence as I find myself overtop of a big patch of ice and nothing I can do about it. I hope everyone at the ice bike race yesterday had at least the 300 stud tires.


When I reached Victoria Park Avenue, the trail ends. I rode through some of the grid of residential streets which worked very well. This is my usual choice when riding in York Region, and I was very happy that this technique worked just as well in Scarborough. (Strange observation: about 4 out of 5 cars I saw in this area were driver education cars.)

Eventually I was forced onto St. Clair Ave. I was mostly winging it and wasn’t sure this was my only way to go, but, looking at a map now, I had few choices. The problem with St. Clair Avenue out here is that cars are moving fast, the right hand lane is very narrow (I noticed they are almost exactly one “TTC bus width plus a foot” wide), and drivers seem to resent being slowed down at all by a cyclist (possibly not unique to Scarborough). In the six kilometres I rode yesterday on St. Clair, I was buzzed by at least five vehicles.

One was a huge Dodge pick-up truck that decided to accelerate while passing between me and a car in the left lane. Freaked me right out. The man and his son stared at me like they wanted to fight when I arrived beside them at the stop light (the red light was visible while they passed me). I gave them a dirty look and mouthed some words at them, then the light turned green and they gunned their engine in case I doubted that their vehicle was able to make more noise than mine.

Another was a guy who passed me after a light turned green squeezing between me and the car in the left lane. There was almost no room, so I had been using the full lane. As I pulled to the right to let him pass, he squeezed past me before I was all the way over. So I gave him a wave of my arm to indicate he needed to give me more room. He gave me a middle finger, pumping it for emphasis, for as long as he could see me. He almost hits me, and he gives me the finger. Does he realize that the first move was far more offensive than his second?


I ended up riding on the sidewalk after both of those guys. I was extra cautious at intersections and driveways, of course. I saw other cyclists and quite a few pedestrians in the area. All the cyclists were on the sidewalk. I wonder about the statistics on sidewalk cycling. The common message seems to be: “most cyclists in Toronto are hit by cars while riding on the sidewalk. Sidewalk cycling is very popular in the suburbs. More people are hit in the suburbs on sidewalks. So sidewalk cycling is bad.” It seems to me that the key factor there is the suburban one rather than the sidewalk one. The problem has more to do with the way people drive cars in the suburbs, with no account for the narrow older lanes found in Scarborough (York Region has much wider right lanes), and no consideration that there could be anything other than a car near them. Even though those near misses for me yesterday were scary, most people are hit at intersections. This is also possibly where misleading statistics come in. Most people may be hit at intersections because they aren’t going to get hit while they’re riding on the sidewalk because of the curb. There is something to be said for the common wisdom in Scarborough. Please correct me if you think I’m way off here.

The real solution comes through defining or creating bike-friendly routes that avoid major streets altogether. The Toronto Bike Plan makes some attempt at making this happen but a lot of it could be done today with only small additions of connecting paths between neighbourhoods, or crossovers of train tracks.


After returning to the sanity of the bike trails, I calmed down and enjoyed riding through the snow and ice again. Even though it was -12 or so, without accounting for the strong north wind, people I passed were in a good mood. Runners were waving hello to me or saying a couple friendly words as I passed. The city is filled with so much contrast.

Darren J 2/19/2006 02:47:00 PM | 9 comments |

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New Warning Label

Warning: the beverage you are about to enjoy throwing at a cyclist may cause stains on your own sleeve or your car's interior.

Check out Steve's encounter over in Halifax.

Darren J 2/16/2006 05:06:00 PM | 3 comments |

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

T-Shirt Weather

Environment Canada was predicting today's high at 4 C when I checked this morning, but the temperature was already at 5 C. That's OK though because they're still the best source for weather information. I'm very forgiving. They've now increased the high to 9 C, so my trip home could be nearly subtropical, or subsubtropical.

This morning, with 2 km left in my trip, I stood on the sidewalk at a major intersection and, as if song two was abruptly coming to an end, I tore off my upper layers of clothing. I packed my fleece and jacket away and finished driving my bike to work in just a t-shirt. (And pants, long johns, gloves and a hat. I like to be comfortable.)

I'm back on my road bike again. It feels like spring is around the corner. I passed three other happy cyclists this morning (only 2 were smiling but I think the third was smiling on the inside). This is about half as many cyclists as in warmer weather, which isn't bad at all.

Make sure you keep an eye on how Jill is doing. She's taking off on the Susitna 100 in a couple days. Very cool.

Darren J 2/15/2006 03:51:00 PM | 5 comments |

Monday, February 13, 2006

Competition is good, right?

There's an essay going around that paints an unfortunate picture for the future of Iran (and elsewhere). The dollar risks major devaluation if a euro based oil bourse is started up. We all know what happened to the last country that did this.

This is a complicated situation with too many players to predict the outcome. Still, it's all too disturbing to see everything lining up so badly.

Darren J 2/13/2006 05:29:00 PM | 1 comments |

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Inspiration

This man from India, Avijit Chakraborty, is cycling around the world to encourage people ride their bicycles more and reduce pollution. I wish I would have crossed paths with him, but he's already in London, Ontario and heading to Detroit.

He's been through New York City already, which sounded like a challenge. Maybe for him it wasn't much compared to Iran and Afganistan. (in case you don't feel like practicing your French, here's the last link translated to English)

Darren J 2/11/2006 11:18:00 AM | 0 comments |

Friday, February 10, 2006

Nothing can stop me now

The trip in felt great today. The air was fresh. The snow was flying. My heart was thumping.

There was just enough snow on the road so it looked like I was a hero for riding my bike, but really I was as well connected to the asphalt as on any clear day. I have to admit I kind of like all the attention I get when I'm pedalling along through the snow. I can see the heads of all the people at the bus stop turn and follow me as I ride past. I don't know what they're thinking so I'll assume the best.

Darren J 2/10/2006 12:26:00 PM | 1 comments |

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Clean and wonderful

I thought I kept up to date on this kind of stuff. A friend of mine told me a couple days ago that we Ontarians (as Dalton would say) can choose to buy our electricity from this company called Bullfrog Power that ensures that you support renewable energy sources. You pay a 30% premium on your electricity for it to come from wind or "low impact hydro". I've heard of similar ideas in the US, but didn't know anything like this existed here yet.

I'm pretty sure I'll sign up for this service, but I'd like to know first what happens when more people are buying power from them than they can supply. I assume my local electricity company does not continue to buy power from them on my behalf if they can not supply it. Then the local company (ie. Toronto Hydro) must buy power from somewhere else, which I guess would be Hydro One. Is the additional 2 cents per kilowatt-hour used at least for developing more wind turbine locations? I'll have to do some more research.

Here are a couple discussions I found.
Treehugger
Energy Sustainability Community

And something else related and interesting, in case you are thinking about how the wind doesn't blow 24 hours a day.

Darren J 2/09/2006 03:54:00 PM | 1 comments |

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One part of my lighting system

Darren J 2/08/2006 07:49:00 AM | 7 comments |

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My first city budget meeting

Here's how the North York Civic Centre public consultation went.

The meeting starts out with a talk from Mayor David Miller and Budget Chair David Soknacki. They emphasize that the city is doing a good job with the money they have, but will have budget problems in 2006 unless they get various downloaded programs funded by the Ontario government.

Then everyone gets a chance to engage in a group discussion. People are organized in groups of 10 or so, and we were to talk about balancing the budget. Accounting isn't exactly my specialty, but I quickly discovered that I wasn't alone. Fortunately there were a few people there who kept the discussion relevant and moving.

The organizers must have been concerned that everyone would just show up and ask for money for whatever issue they care about. The group talk was heavily directed towards:
1. How can the city increase revenue to balance the budget?
2. How can the city change the budget in order to balance the budget?

While I was worrying about how I could fit cycling into the discussion within that framework, another person in my group brought cycling up and related it to the city's priorities for the 2003-2006 term, which are:
1. Make Toronto a Clean and Beautiful City
2. Make Progress on the Waterfront
3. Improve the Business Climate
4. Improve Public Services
5. Strengthen Our Neighbourhoods
6. Improve the Planning Process
7. Get the Powers and Funding Needed for Toronto to Succeed (New Deal)
8. Ensure Housing is Affordable
9. Increase Public Involvement in Civic Affairs

You can imagine how improving cycling facilities easily fits in well with Priorities 1 and 5, which was the point made by the other person in my group. She made the point that even though these are priorities, the city has turned down the relatively small requests for cycling education programs.

After the small group talks, the format changed back to involving the whole room. People were given a chance to present the better ideas (as they saw it) from their small group. The mediator worked hard to keep the conversation linear, and attack one topic at a time, but when we turned to transportation and pedestrian issues, someone else brought up graffiti then social housing, then something else. It was almost like a joke. So the mediator changed the format to force people to make shorter points and counter-points which worked surprisingly well to keep people on track (it was almost magical).

I wondered how much of the point of the talk was to get new ideas, and how much was to satiate people who have specific concerns that probably aren't going to be met in the upcoming year. If the council wanted to know what moves are going to get them re-elected, a city wide poll would be a much more accurate means. Raising taxes might be very unpopular, but you wouldn't have guessed it from the crowd in the room. On a related note, Mayor Miller mentioned that the New Deal for Cities gives the city much more flexibility to raise money in “progressive” ways that do not involve raising property taxes. (Something like a local sales tax doesn't seem like a bad thing to me, especially if it's coordinated with neighbouring regions and the federal sales tax is reduced). There were a few people there who were interested in things like reducing the number of traffic tickets given (!), getting rid of the city council, and so on.

I should wrap this post up. In case I'm giving the wrong impression the meeting was worth going to, even if we didn't talk about bikes as much as I would have liked. The two and a half hours flew by.

Just one more thing: if you're thinking of going to the meetings later this week, keep in mind that if you get bored with the finance details, you can try to learn sign language! They had two people signing for the whole first part of the talk. I can’t think of a time I've watched anyone signing other than on TV. The signs were much more animated and dramatic than I would have expected, but maybe that’s just the style of these signers. For example, when Soknacki said something about provincial downloading, the signer gave a motion with one of her hands stepping downwards, along with a sad, burdened look about her. It couldn't have been more appropriate.

Darren J 2/05/2006 09:16:00 PM | 4 comments |

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Uniform

In the warmer months, I wear clothing while biking that make me look like I could be a regular guy walking down the street, except my shirts have a bit too much colour, and my pants have a bit too much grease.

In the winter months, I'm an unmistakable cyclist. I wear a bright yellow jacket with reflective stripes, a helmet with lights going in every direction, a balaclava, yellow low-light sunglasses and double-layered puffy knit gloves. I could call this outfit my MEC-iform (I know, I should go into marketing) after the popular Mountain Equipment Co-op store that supplies 90% of this cycling outfit to me and countless other Toronto cyclists.

This week I made a new addition to my winter gear. I've replaced my cotton t-shirt base layer, apparently a big no-no, with a fine merino wool t-shirt. I picked this shirt because I've heard about merino wool's comfort and wicking ability. More importantly, it was on sale, and it has a bit of style to it in the form a stripe on the shoulder. I wanted something that didn't look like an undershirt, so I would be able to walk around the office in it before changing and not look too silly.

After a few tests, the merino wool t-shirt has been very comfortable to ride in. I've been halfway unzipping my outer shell and fleece to let the wind blow against my chest. The wool is keeping me warm, but allowing a small amount of airflow so I don't get too hot.

The key with wicking moisture, however, is that the moisture must have somewhere to go. Wicking ability means nothing if you're wearing a waterproof shell. There is almost no airflow across my back under my shell. This puts some limits on how much of a difference wool or any synthetic will make in the winter. Since my bike rides to work are non-stop, the wicking doesn't make much difference because I never rest in my wet clothes and cool down. The only time I'm feeling any cold is at the start of my ride when I'm dry.

Another feature I noticed on the tag when I picked out the shirt is that it does not "retain odour". They must have consulted a lawyer on the wording of this claim. It may not retain the sweaty odour, but when it's wet, it definitely creates its own odour. With the lack of wicking under my shell, the back of my shirt gets absolutely soaked by the time I arrive at work. On the first day, I was resting in my office before changing, and I was sure a wet dog must have followed me in. No. I checked my shoes. No. It was coming from me. I have a pretty refined routine for keeping myself clean when cycling in, since my office doesn't have a shower. I started to think my odour free system had broken down. After cleaning up and changing, I realized that the smell was coming directly from my shirt. Fortunately it didn't linger on my skin (as far I could tell), so all was well. I rinsed the shirt in some water and hung it to dry for my ride home.

After a few days of wearing and rinsing, either the smell is waning or I'm getting used to it. So the wool shirt is a welcome change in my outfit. I think it'll be ideal once it's a few degrees warmer when I'll cycle without my shell.

Darren J 2/03/2006 01:03:00 PM | 7 comments |