Thursday, August 31, 2006

New Post and Ring!

It was another fun and interesting ride around Toronto last night, organized through the Cycling Cog. Herb led us on a tour of the smells of western Toronto. Along with the smells, Herb gave us a little history about each location; something that really adds to the whole experience.

Coincidentally, we happened across two of Toronto's newest posts and rings. And I'm not talking about the double reinforced rings. These ones were created, designed and built by a community organization on Queen Street West. (Demonstrating my amateur status as a reporter, I can't tell you which organization or where on Queen West.)

While we were admiring the "posts and rings", a few people in our group started talking to a couple women who were involved in the whole project! It's amazing how much a big city can feel like a small town.

Maybe we'll see posts and rings like this spreading through the city.





Darren J 8/31/2006 11:33:00 PM | 2 comments |

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Life on the Sidewalk

One way to surprise a suburban driver? Remind them that life might actually exist on the sidewalk. I do it regularly when I'm walking to get my lunch. So do a lot of people. (Why is it still surprising then, you ask?)

I've been doing more than my share of sidewalk cycling lately. I don't like it for a bunch of reasons. One: there are all those statistics that say it's more dangerous (I do suspect though that sidewalk cycling becomes many times safer if you actually stop at every intersection and look left and right, then wait for cars to pass, but sometimes they never finish passing). Two: slowing at every intersection so I can yield to turning cars is really annoying and slow. Three: seeing cars turn in front of me who don't see me at all is unnerving, just like when I'm doing the pedestrian thing. Four: bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang....

I usually only use the sidewalk in two places on my commute. It's along short stretches with no intersections and few pedestrians. It lets me avoid some serious high speed traffic.

Right now, one of my favorite residential streets is under construction. The top layer of asphalt has been scraped off, leaving deep ridges and cracks that are even more painful than the sidewalk. Instead of riding on the sidewalk through the residential neighbourhood, I tried riding on the sidewalk along Highway 7 (a highway that's about 2 stoplights away from being an expressway).

Beside the sidewalk, Highway 7 has an asphalt boulevard along each side that looks quite inviting to the cyclist, but at every shopping plaza entrance the cyclist is reminded that he isn't meant to exist. The cyclist is forced to drop down over the curb, then negotiate a traffic island designed to help create mini on/off ramps in and out of the plazas. Then the cyclist has to lift the bike back up over the curb to get on the next sidewalk.

It's slow and difficult. It's suburban cycling at its worst.

Today, I need to go fast. I'm going to suck it up, take some major roads, stay off the sidewalk and fly downtown so I can get to the Cycling Cog group ride before everyone takes off.

Darren J 8/30/2006 04:26:00 PM | 3 comments |

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wintery Perfection

For the bike commuters like me who were quite proud of riding a bicycle all winter, yet were rewarded with: "well, it was a really warm winter" from various motorists, there is good news ahead!

According to the Farmer's Almanac, this upcoming winter is going to be perfect for getting frozen knuckles and well deserved props.

The cold will be impressive in the northern plains and the north-east of the United States. The nation will also have a frigid midsection (stop giggling). I wonder if this will have the disastrous impact on natural gas supply that Kunstler (see Nov 28) and others talked about last autumn. We'll soon find out.

While I'm on the topic, Kunstler will be speaking in Ottawa in a few weeks. He may not have given the most pleasant interview on Bikescape, but he always has an opinion and interesting predictions to make.

So we have a fun winter to look forward to. Get your studded tires before MEC sells out!

Darren J 8/28/2006 12:45:00 PM | 2 comments |

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fishing


That's a photo of me fishing in Quebec a couple weeks ago. My wife was to my left. Good times.

It was a fun day yesterday too, with the Bike Friday commute and finishing the day off with a ride downtown with Andrew to Critical Mass. It's always a fun exprerience to ride with so many cyclists. Martino has photos that capture the excitement.

Darren J 8/26/2006 08:46:00 PM | 4 comments |

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bike Friday Arrives

It looks like I'll be riding with at least one other person. This being the first time for the event, I'm already ready to declare Bike Friday a success.

Joe has done an impressive job with Bike Friday. Coverage in the Star has been very positive. The mayor and Adam Giambrone are aware of the event. CFRB will be covering the whole thing as well. It'll be really interesting to see what happens on the last Friday of September.

Speaking of news coverage, I'm pretty sure there will be an article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday (maybe just the Toronto edition) about cycling in the suburbs. There's a chance I'll be quoted. The article was postponed twice, so this time I'll check inside before buying fifteen copies.

Darren J 8/24/2006 09:55:00 PM | 2 comments |

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Infrastructural creativity

I have an enjoyable ride to work, and find it achievable with the current set of roads. "Achievable" isn't exactly a great goal however, especially considering there are lots of people who haven't ridden a bike as much as me. I have some difficult parts of my ride where I've used some creativity to find safe crossings. And I'm convinced that more people would commute by bike if the infrastructure was more inviting to cyclists, and lacked the Great Walls of on-ramps and speeding cars that we're forced into.

Education on how to deal with cars is valuable, and so are creative methods for getting around problem intersections. Creativity at the asphalt and concrete level would make a much bigger difference.

Yesterday morning, Kevin Sylvester on CBC Toronto radio brought up Vancouver's designated "Bike Routes", as he called them. (Vancouver refers to them as "Bikeways", but that term is ambiguous.) These are roads that have been designed to be efficient for the cyclist, and, at the same time, passable but not fast for a person in a car. The road might have some type of traffic calming devices like traffic circles that tend to slow down cars more than bikes. There are no stop signs along the road so a cyclist isn't standing on the pedals half the time. Cars are around, but are forced to travel about the same speed as a cyclist, so the threat level is much lower. I've heard this type of route called a Bicycle Boulevard in California, when it was described on the Cycle Ontario mail list.

During my university years, I spent a summer living in Vancouver. I lived on the eastern edge of downtown (anyone who knows Vancouver probably just shuddered at the sound of that, and rightfully so) and commuted by bike to Burnaby (a Vancouver suburb). This was when I was honing my skills on the bike mainly out of necessity, since owning a car as a student was impossible and taking the bus to a part of Burnaby that was off the grid would have cost me hundreds of dollars in paperback novels.

I followed some of these bike routes, and I took some roads that were similar in style, but not officially bike routes. Roads chosen for Bicycle Boulevards are probably the same roads I would choose on my own, but have been modified with the cyclist in mind. The key is that the routes are direct, have low car traffic, no stop signs, and safe crossings of major streets. Imagine, no stop signs or red lights for 2 kilometres! If these types of routes are done well, they can be an ideal way to cross a city. Cities with a grid road system can easily implement Bicycle Boulevards, but it means some of the minor cross streets in residential areas will no longer be ideal for cars.

Another bicycle infrastructure feature that seems worth bringing up while I'm on this thread is the barrier between the bicycle lane and the "other" lane. I think a lot of cyclists don't like the idea of a wall running down the street that's too high to hop, and makes turning or crossing difficult. The type of barrier I saw in Quebec was something new to me. It was a series of rigid plastic or rubber flat poles that are bolted into the bike lane line. The poles are separated by more than ten metres, so there's nothing stopping a cyclist from leaving or entering the bike lane. They create a visual barrier for the driver of a car. If the driver doesn't want to knick the right mirror on these, the driver will keep to the left. This helps ensure the cyclist has enough room, and avoids the common problem on winding roads of drivers cutting corners in the bike lanes. The down side is that they don't look that nice.

What's best? I'm not the person to answer that question. (I pretend to be an expert on too many other things.) From what I see, a combination of solutions can contribute to making a city more bike friendly.

Thanks for reading through my recent wordiness. Comments and disagreements are welcome as usual. Actually, if you live in Toronto and have experience with Vancouver's bike roads, it would probably help to get a discussion going on CBC radio. They're always eager to hear from listeners.

Darren J 8/23/2006 09:00:00 AM | 2 comments |

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Road Vermin and His Girl

I've been reading a blog called Road Vermin and His Girl lately. It is the story of a couple traveling in Europe, and features some very honest writing. Right now they're in Lyon, France and have just reunited after some time apart.

Darren J 8/22/2006 11:31:00 PM | 0 comments |

Monday, August 21, 2006

La Route Verte, la route à l'avenir

A couple weeks ago, I was a passenger in a car heading through rural Quebec. We went through Gatineau Park and spent some time driving beside (or along) La Route Verte. La Route Verte is a network of bike routes that span the province of Quebec. The route consists of bike lanes, bike trails, and roads with wide paved shoulders.

I have never knowingly cycled on La Route, but I did ride in Gatineau Park many years ago when I didn't know about the route. Everyone in Ottawa just knows that if you want to go for a nice recreational ride, with low traffic, beautiful surroundings and impressive views, you cross the river and ride the hills of Gatineau Park.

Quebec is doing a good job of creating a reputation as somewhere that wants to attract day cyclists and touring cyclists. La Route Verte even provides information on places to eat dinner and stay overnight, and the list isn't limited to camp sites (or cornfields). You can see how it would play directly into that oft-begged-for tourism dollar.

There's a town on the edge of Gatineau Park called Chelsea that attracts people from Ottawa to its restaurant patios and ice cream shop. Lots of people come by car, but there's also a steady stream of cyclists flowing into and out of the village. The roads in this small town have wide bike lanes on each side. In Toronto, bike lanes are almost assumed to be an urban or downtown feature, but their benefit to a small town are obvious in the example of Chelsea. The bike lanes provide a comfortable link between urban Ottawa and a rural Quebec getaway.

Some neighbourhoods of Toronto have similar qualities that attract people. These are places where wide sidewalks are interrupted by fruit and vegetable stands, restaurant patios, or crowds from an ice cream shop. People visit because there's something a little bit more interesting about the wilds outside the shopping mall. They arrive using many modes of transport, and often the bicycle is used by people just beyond walking distance. With the help of a real network of bike paths, people from further away within our city could be local bike tourists.

Chelsea, Quebec acts as a better example of what could be done for some of the smaller towns that surround Toronto. Packs of cyclists on racing bikes already sweep through York Region on weekends, attracted by natural beauty and few traffic lights. Why not try to attract the people who aren't comfortable riding on fast moving streets by installing bike lanes to connect Scarborough with Unionville and Unionville with Stouffeville and Stouffeville with Aurora and Aurora with Richmond Hill. Some of these town centres are working hard to create some interest, remain a destination and fight off the lure of low low prices that are just a parking lot away.

I know Toronto and York Region both have plans for a bike network. Neither municipality has one right now. The benefits of such a network are to the cyclist and the small business. A future Green Route opens up the options provided by the bicycle to many of our neighbours who are currently uncomfortable cycling beyond their quiet street. And, rather than leave our old town centres with an inferiority complex trying to keep up with shopping malls and power centers, a Green Route takes advantage of the unique characteristics that can make our town centres friendly to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Darren J 8/21/2006 10:28:00 PM | 2 comments |

Friday, August 18, 2006

BikeFriday!

Joe at Biking Toronto is always working hard to make the world a better place. Now he's working at organizing people to ride together to work. I like the idea since I think it's a helpful way to be introduced to bike commuting. The name for the event is BikeFriday and it'll happen on the last Friday of every month. The inaugural bike rides will take place one week from today.

I gave him my route, slightly modified so it passes by more places of employment. I'm heading to Richmond Hill and Thornhill, but it'll work well for someone heading up to North York City Centre also. Anyone is welcome to join me at 8:00 AM.

I'll be at the Yonge and Lawrence start point, but I'll be heading north. It looks like it would help a lot to have another "ride leader" there who's heading south. So send an email to bikefriday@bikingtoronto.com if you want to help out. I'm sure it wouldn't be very difficult.

I can't offer lots of free stuff, but if it looks like there'll be a good sized bunch of us, I'll pick up some donuts like I did for the Unofficial Group Commute North earlier in the year.

Darren J 8/18/2006 12:47:00 PM | 5 comments |

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bike with friends

Tonight there's a bunch of people getting together for a bike ride again. We'll be riding up around the park near Sunnybrook, then heading out on the Taylor Creek path. You can see the ride details here if you'd like to join us. If you read the discussion on Cycling Cog, you'll see there are alternate meeting locations, since I picked a convoluted one!

Start: Aug 16 2006 - 7:00pm
End: Aug 16 2006 - 10:00pm
Description:


Meet at 7:00 PM near the Thorncliffe Park Dr entrance to the Don Valley Trail.
We be just west (north) of the bridge that crosses the railroad tracks.

This map points to the starting point


We'll ride north to Sunnybrook, explore, then head down to Taylor Creek path, eventually stopping somewhere for food and drinks.



And word is spreading about a moonlight ride this Saturday night. It starts at 10 PM in the Bloor and Bathurst area. I hope I can make it.

Details are on their poster and on Cycling Cog event listing.



Thanks for the poster photo, Martino.

Darren J 8/16/2006 02:07:00 PM | 0 comments |

Bike path in South Korea





Thanks for the photos, Michelle.

(I was out of town, but not in Korea. I went to another different nation, although slightly less different, known as Quebec. More on Quebec bike facilities later.)

Darren J 8/16/2006 07:43:00 AM | 0 comments |

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sensible cyclist (and other redundancies)

"It's nice to see a sensible cyclist."

This was the comment I got from a driver in Thornhill a couple days ago. I laughed and said thanks and rode on.

At the time, I took his comment to mean: it's nice to see someone who is sensible enough to be cycling. When I'm busy pedaling my bike, my frame of mind is a bit different or maybe I'm a bit slow witted (it's just temporary of course).

After a few more strokes of the pedals, I realized what he was saying. He was complaining to me about the cyclists that "aren't sensible". I don't know if he means the ones on the sidewalk or the ones who don't signal. But this was in Thornhill, a part of York Region where a car is appended to each person's bum after they reach 16. Bicycles are for teenagers to ride into the forest carrying their beer. Whatever his complaint, I didn't know there were enough of us in Thornhill to light the anti-cyclist flame.

Maybe this is a sign of success, proof that cycling in York Region has crossed a threshold. We're starting to get noticed.

Darren J 8/04/2006 04:18:00 PM | 3 comments |

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Test pilot

Living life on the edge, I test piloted the one speed last night.

There are a few things to work out. First off, I need to do some wheel truing. This is no big deal. I was kind of lazy and eager at the same time, so I took it out without finishing the truing.

The pedals feel funny. I think the axles are bent, so I may need to buy new pedals. I'd like to have pedals that let me ride in any shoes, so I might stick with regular pedals with toe-clips.

Comfort: this is the biggest problem with the bike right now. It just feels all-round uncomfortable to ride on. The seat is amazingly uncomfortable. It is made of hard plastic and it feels like hard plastic. I'm hoping some readjustments can improve things. I'm used to drop handle-bars, but something with this bike is off. I may need to raise the handle bars. Maybe I should get some big moustache bars. And I need to move the seat forward or back. I'm not sure yet. I should do some studying.

Darren J 8/02/2006 02:10:00 PM | 2 comments |

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Handling heat

It wasn't that long ago that I was a resident of southern Florida. People there like to call it South Florida, like it's an entirely different state from North Florida, which it probably would be if it weren't for the evil conspiracy to keep down the people of Palm Beach County. There were some serious problems there, but I'm getting off topic... So, I lived there for a few years, and South Florida and I got along smashingly.

When I first arrived, I was working with a Vietnam-era soldier from Tennessee who had lots of stories to tell and advice for a young Canadian trying out life in the USA. We would go for runs in the morning in the middle of the summer, then stop by Dunkin' Donuts and get a dozen donuts to split between us and another ex-soldier that liked to run. We were getting in shape.

One of the first things he told me was to beware of the heat. "Just like you'd stop me from running around without a coat in the middle of the winter up there in Canada, I gotta stop you from doing something stupid in the heat here. The heat is dangerous."

It was a stern enough warning that after a few more severe headaches and afternoons where I didn't want to get up off the ceramic floor, I started to listen.

After I learned a few things, and went through an adjustment period, I was pretty comfortable in the heat. Playing sports in the low 90's F (33 or 34 C) became pretty commonplace for me, like it is for a lot of Floridians.

All this preamble is to pass on the most important thing I learned down there to handle the heat well: drink a lot of water! And do it well before you exercise in the heat, as in hours before. Obvious isn't it? But it's not something you can forget, and it's not something you can leave until the last minute. The best thing to do is to drink quite a bit of water the night before you expect to exercise. If you accidentally drink a lot of alcohol the night before, then you'll feel it. I found that just about every headache I had was because I hadn't drank enough water.

Just to be clear, I'm not a nurse, or a doctor, and I only took biology up to grade 11. We're all different and maybe you need to avoid the heat altogether. I don't know. I'm writing this here because it made a huge difference for me.

The electrolyte issue is another thing to keep in mind if you're exercising a lot and drinking a lot of fluids. Here's some Texan advice, probably a much better source than me. There have been a couple stories in the news lately about people running marathons and dying because of hyponatremia (new word!). The news can blow things out of proportion, but it's still worth being careful, even if it is just to avoid a splitting late-afternoon headache.

One more lesson I learned: if you're sweating, it's a very good thing.

Darren J 8/01/2006 01:04:00 PM | 5 comments |

One gear on its way



I've been making slow progress on setting up an old bike to make it road worthy. I've saved as much work as possible for myself, but I let a bike shop take care of re-dishing the rear wheel and installing the new cog on the wheel.

I nearly made it a fixed gear, but ended up going for a freewheeling single speed. Actually I think the guy at the bike shop directed me to it by receiving the freewheel in stock before the fixed cog, even though he didn't admit it. I think it was a sort of professional responsibility. He kept slipping in comments about fixies being dangerous in the city. I considered that a lot of people who don't ride bikes would probably tell you bikes are too dangerous to use in the city. However, I couldn't argue, especially since he had ridden fixed gear, and I wasn't sold on making it a fixie anyways. I get enough exercise.

Now I a have a casual one-speed city-bike. I put a chain on last night and haven't had a chance to take it for a spin. It looks stripped down and raw. I'm pretty excited about taking it out for a ride.

I'm going to take a few minutes to true the wheels again, then I'll be rolling around the neighbourhood on a sweet new ride.

Darren J 8/01/2006 12:36:00 AM | 7 comments |