Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring.Bike.Ottawa

Sure, it was the first day of spring, and today was the day of Spring.Bike.Ottawa. That, of course, meant the view out my window was this:

And after I just cleaned my drive train and replaced my brakes.
But I think I actually kind of enjoy riding in adverse weather. On a Saturday, a little warm slushy snow isn't a big deal. So I hopped on the bike. It was a bit sploshy, but not bad riding, and the receding snowbanks are such a joy.

Spring.Bike.Ottawa is an annual event put on by Citizens for Safe Cycling to present some bike talks and information (and encourage advocacy, naturally). I hadn't been before, but I knew about it from the Winter Bike Parade.

There were a series of talks: Councillor McKenney said a few words (apparently there are as many active cyclists on city council as there are women: unfortunately, that means there are four, only one of them - McKenney - being both.)

The first half of the event was a panel discussion covering local and provincial advocacy updates and legal issues. I thought that last topic was particularly interesting: Nicole Laviolette, who's a law professor at U of O, talked authoritatively about the laws around cycling, and gave some sense of how, if a law doesn't actually make sense, you might go about trying to change it. (She has a book - Every Cyclist's Guide to Canadian Law - that I think I'm going to have to look for next time I'm at MEC.)

It was a packed room with a few familiar faces: people I've run into before around other bike events mostly. I wound up sitting next to Councillor David Chernushenko (he may not remember it, but once I played Puck against his Titania in a semi-staged reading of the first act of A Midsummer Night's Dream in a basement bar in Centretown, hosted by a reading series I once worked with. I didn't mention this to him this afternoon).

The funny thing is, though, that a lot of the people there were people I know - and who know me - from Twitter handles and blogs. So I don't always have faces to attach to the names that I have fairly robust relationships with online.

At the break I wandered over to where a big map of the city was getting festooned with radiating strings of different colours: there were instructions to match how you got there - car, transit, walk, bike - to a string colour, then pin the string between the McNabb Centre and where you'd come from.

I pinned my string, and for a brief moment I was the longest green (bike) string. Didn't last, of course.

I also got to talk to someone from the EcoDistrict, trying to create a more sustainable downtown, and a representative from BikeMaps.org, an initiative to map bike hazards, accidents and near misses in order to collect data for planners and bike advocates, and to help people plan around dangerous stretches of road.

After the break there was a really interesting talk by Glen Gobuyan, a designer who had some fascinating (to me anyway) things to say about wayfinding: what makes sense to people and helps them find their way around, how Ottawa's bike signage was planned, and how it could be improved (big hint: stop assuming that cycling is tourist-destination oriented and start telling people how to get to various neighbourhoods instead of landmarks. And tell people where the routes go: I've always wondered, coming up on those ambiguous green signs that say "Bike Route" and have an arrow. . . bike route to what? To where? Will it take me where I'm going? Am I not supposed to take this other street right here?)

His slide with possible neighbourhood-oriented signage actually got a couple of pleased, oh-my-god-of course murmurs out of the crowd.


After his talk, Trevor Haché gave an update on what's been happening with the Healthy Transportation Coalition, which is a wide-ranging organization he started last year to tie together a number of different interests - anti-poverty organizations, seniors, community health centres, supported housing, cyclists, etc.

And then there were some updates about other CfSC events coming up, and then it was time to promise the nice volunteer at the CfSC table that yes, I really was going to sign up as a member when I got home (I did: it's about time), pull my damp rain gear back on, and head back out into the alternating rain and snow and sleet to head home.

There are days where you feel more like you belong on the road, and days where you feel less secure. Days where you've been around a lot of other dedicated cyclists tend to make you feel more like you belong. I took up my space and flowed with traffic on the way home. I had the "swoosh."

Somewhere near Lansdowne, I was caught up to by someone who'd arrived at the event at the same time as me: we'd spoken briefly inside the event as well. He said hello and grinned as he caught up to me. "Hey, hi!" I said, and waved as he passed, and headed off southward ahead of me, tail light flashing in the light rain.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An email I just wrote to RITE ON Driving School

I just wrote this. I'm still a bit pissed. More than a bit, really. Bad drivers is one thing. Bad driving being tacitly inculcated by driving instructors? Whoa nelly. 

Hello -

I wanted to bring your attention to something that just happened this afternoon on Heron Road. I was riding my bike eastward on Heron in front of the Heron Community Centre when I was passed by one of your cars at a dangerously close distance. It was a light yellow sedan driven by a student with an instructor in the passenger seat. In case you can identify the instructor, it was around 4:10 pm: the student was a woman, and the instructor was a man who looked to be middle-aged with curly black hair and a mustache.

The car passed less than a foot from the end of my handlebars, and I was already riding uncomfortably close to the curb due to rush hour traffic. The car was running two abreast with another car in the inside lane, so had no room to avoid me if I had struck a pothole. That stretch of Heron Road is full of deep potholes at this time of year, and I often have to move out to avoid them. This car did in fact roll over a set of them just ahead of me. I screamed out loud as they passed (it's been at least twenty minutes: my throat is still sore).

I then followed the car as it turned right onto Baycrest, chased it along Baycrest, and caught up as they were waiting to turn left at the light. I pulled up beside the car, on the left, and signalled that I wanted to talk to them: the instructor looked up and saw me, but ignored me and they continued onto Walkley Road. I gave chase but lost them on Heatherington.

I understand that the one-metre rule hasn't been legislated in yet, but I am concerned that your instructor is not teaching students reasonable safe behaviour around cyclists. No one should pass a cyclist that close, especially not on bad pavement and on a high-speed road. If students don't learn how to share the road safely with cyclists during driver training, when will they?

I'm an experienced cyclist and I'm accustomed to riding on high speed roads, as I live in the area. This wasn't a case of spring jitters either - I ride year-round. I'm angry about this because it was a student driver accompanied by one of your instructors, who should have known better.

I'm also angry that, after I had chased them down to talk to them, your instructor chose to ignore me. Perhaps he didn't hear my scream, but he must have noticed that the woman on a bike in a bright pink jacket who they passed on Heron was chasing them down.

I hope someone can speak to this instructor, or maybe remind your instructors in general that safe driving includes sharing the road with cyclists. Driving schools have a responsibility to train new drivers to be as safe and respectful as they can, of all road users. Let me know if there is any other information you need from me.

Thank you -
Kathryn Hunt
[contact info so they can get back in touch if they're going to]

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring has sploshed!


Monday, the canal skateway closed. Yesterday, the temperature went soaring up above zero, and when I went downtown, I didn't wear gloves, or a hat. The dirty snowbanks were dissolving into the pothole puddles, and my front tire kicked up a pinwheel of greyish droplets, and that was all okay, because I was flying.

Welcome to the season of squelch: the truly dirty, bike-punishing season, where you're so glad to be going faster and not wearing four layers that you don't mind at all showing up at your destination splattered with gritty, salty water.

My pants, after the ride to the office, looked like this (they're supposed to be black):


I did see one woman downtown with a clean bike, wearing a lovely blue wool coat and some nice high boots, and wondered how she'd managed it: there were a few spatters on her boots but I looked like a 4WD in a truck commercial. A few blocks on, when I got caught up in a traffic jam in Old Ottawa South, she breezed by me on the sidewalk and I realized that was probably how she stayed so clean. . .


Meanwhile, us riding in the street are going to have to pack wet wipes and find places to shake grit off our pants when we get where we're going - it's the dirtiest time of the year. But I don't complain much, because I go so much faster. All winter, I've been going about 5 km/h slower than I went yesterday.

I also stopped on the way home for new brake pads, a new chain, a chain cleaning kit, and fenders for the second bike, because it's on days like this that you hear the pads grinding down every time you brake. You can actually hear the damage happening to your bike. And you get the urge to grab a radio and get out on the balcony and scrub all the dirt and crap and gunk of the winter off.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The thing I get tired of

Prepared - I hope - for anything.
Riding through the winter eventually does start to wear on you. But the thing I get tired of isn't the narrower streets (though that's a pain) or my running nose (though constantly sniffling through my commute isn't fun) or the increase in focus you need to watch for patches of ice, snow or sludge.

The thing I get tired of is the constant need to analyse the weather. And plan for the weather. And prepare for the weather. And dress for the weather and all its moods. And anticipate what the weather's going to do, not just in terms of the temperature going up and down, but in terms of where I will be, whether the humidity will change, what I will have been doing, whether I'm likely to be delayed, and how far I'll need to go to get home.

Today was practically balmy by Winter-of-2014/2015 standards: wind chill above -20, temperatures in the single digits (-9 or so). So I decided around noon that I would go down for a skate on the canal to break up the workday ('cause I was working from home and I can do that kind of thing). There was a snowstorm predicted to start around 4:00 pm, but I figured I could be out and back before that. So I jumped on the bike.

I considered, because it was only -9, only dressing in a base layer and my down jacket, but decided against it because I thought I might stop off downtown to take some photos at a construction site I'm planning to write about, and maybe stop at my office, and if I did that, the down jacket would cool down pretty quick when I stopped exerting myself. Also, it's only early March: who am I kidding with my down jacket?

So eventually, I headed out in the usual: t-shirt, fleece pullover, ski jacket, waterproof pants over some light cargos. And the Toque of Sending, under my helmet. I have been losing gloves all winter, and was down to a pair of those stretchy knit ones you can get for $3 at the grocery store, but it was warm ("warm" is relative, in The Winter Of The Day After Tomorrow, you know).

I was comfortable. However, by the time I'd done 12 km on the canal, I'd gotten myself sweaty - T-shirt and fleece not a good combo, under the jacket. I was starting to get chilled. Taking off my skates I could sense the shutdown, like the Terminator when it gets hit with liquid nitrogen. Still, it was okay, I thought, I would just get on the bike and keep the core temperature up.

But I hadn't remembered the snowstorm. And the fact that, just before a snowstorm, the temperature dips, the wind picks up, and the humidity screams upward, rendering a nice comfortable -10 bitterly cold. Especially if you're already a bit sweaty (and tired) from 12 km of skating. And if your thin knit gloves are also sweaty. And your hat. And basically everything that's supposed to be keeping you warm.

So, let's just say that one hazard of winter riding is the amount of mental concentration taken up by your fingers screaming at you in pain. Seriously, it's exhausting. Freezing cold fingers will make your core muscles clench up, your neck, your back. They'll make you nauseated.

Did you know there's nowhere in the Billings Bridge Mall you can buy mittens? I didn't.

Early in the winter, I am religious about listening to the weather forecasts. I check the Weather Network and Environment Canada, I stop what I'm doing and turn the radio up when the weather comes on, and I stop before heading out and think through what's going to happen and what I need to pack. And I attune myself to all that crap about what the humidity and wind are going to do before the 10 cm of snow comes whirling down. These are not really things most city people need to know. Cyclists, though. . . it's good to remember them all.

But I am tired of the responsibility. I want to ignore the weather report. I don't want to have to interpret it all the time, in terms of what those words mean for my actual senses. In the summer, if they say it might rain, you decide whether you're worried about being damp when you get where you're going. In the winter, every little change in the weather is going to have some major impact on your comfort.

That? That, I'm tired of. Otherwise, I might be a sick puppy, but I've been enjoying the Fimbulwinter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sooner or later, Monty Python becomes reality. It's only a matter of time.

I had almost forgotten about this sketch from Monty Python:



Almost forgotten, that is, until I discovered, thanks to Bike Snob NYC, that reality has once again gone ahead and imitated art.

I give you: Bicycle Repair (Wo)Man 2015. The darker, grittier remake.


Locating Kerbi Agents from Kerbi on Vimeo.

You're welcome.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Biking's normally less of a hassle. . .

I think I'm doing it wrong. At least, today and tomorrow.

I signed up for Winter Bike to Work Day tomorrow. For one thing, whoever's managing their website and social media is just so endearing about it. They've created a sense of friendly competition between cities and countries, and the interactive map with a snowflake for each rider has been a lot of fun.



I've been cheerleading it online (Come on, Ottawa! Montreal's still kicking our butts! Are we just going to take that?), and then my friend Ian, in London, ON, told me I'd convinced him and he was going to take the bike to work even though he normally doesn't ride in the winter. At that, I realized that for me not to ride to work that day would be downright weird.

Here's the catch. If I was working at my office downtown it wouldn't be a problem - about half an hour, depending on conditions. I do it a lot anyway.

But my life being what it is, I have a couple of different gigs. One of them is way out in the back woods of Gatineau, on the other side of the river in Quebec. And lucky, lucky me, the guy I work for wants to work tomorrow.

That would make my route to work look something like this:


Yup, that's 34.7 km, 2:17 in good (read: summer) conditions. Also note: that bit on the Quebec side where it hugs the river is the Voyageurs Pathway, which is part of the Route Verte - a lovely, fairly widely renowned cycling network - and one that I'm willing to bet isn't cleared in winter. Not enough to actually ride on anyway.

So I bemoaned my fate on Twitter:
To which @WinterBike2Work replied:
Okay, so this will take some doing, I thought, but I can do it. Today I had to drive out to Quebec. So this morning I wrestled my bags and my bike, with my travel mug in one semi-free hand, down to the parking garage, then spent a swear-inducing several minutes trying to get the front tire off and the (utterly filthy) bike loaded into the back of the car, while attempting not to get salt stains on my clothing. (I failed at that last bit rather spectacularly). And dreading having to put the front tire back on in the cold.

I'm working in Quebec till 5:00. Then I have to do a radio program tonight until 7:00, at which point I will leave my car. . . somewhere. . . and get on the bike to ride home.

And then I'll be committed, because I will only have the option of the bike come tomorrow morning, so I'll get up, get on the bike, ride to the car, wrestle the bike back into the back of the car (this time covered in all-new, fresh slush and salt and grit), and drive the rest of the way to work - and time it so I'm not late. So far so good. Now to figure out where I can leave the car overnight without getting a ticket, or towed, or plowed in, or . . .

So here's what's been reinforced here. Biking is really easy. Driving is less easy (and more expensive), because you have to actually put the car somewhere. And a bastard hybrid of biking and driving is a royal pain in the butt.

And a cheerful, friendly, fun social media presence will make me do things that are a royal pain in the butt for no good reason. Dangit, Winter Bike to Work Day.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I'm always glad I took the bike

It's 11:00 or so at night: I surface from the noisy downstairs space of House of TARG, where I've been for a friend's birthday party, to discover that the damp air I noticed on the way there from the office has done the inevitable and turned into a cold overnight snow, one of those ones with the tiny flakes turning all the streets white. There's a thin layer of churned up snow on the streets, with thin black tire tracks worn through it, in spots. The air is filled with whirling miniscule ice flakes. And I realize I'm happy about that.

I get the bike unlocked and brushed off, I get the lights snapped into place and turned on, and I'm a little sad that the battery on my GoPro is dead so I can't get video of this, because I know it's going to be a good ride. Even if it's down the worst stretch of my usual route - Bank Street beyond Old Ottawa South. But this is going to be great.

I get on the bike and start down the street, riding in the streak of bare pavement left by the cars or, sometimes, in the slightly thinner snow that's accumulated. The cold air makes me blink a lot and the snowflakes get in my eyes, so I have to focus on the road ahead of me: patches of thicker snow where I'll have to watch my balance, searching for the thinnest covering. My fingers are burning cold for the first several minutes, and at red lights I stop and pull my hands into fists inside my gloves to try and warm them. I resist breathing on them, which will only make my gloves damper, and colder.

And sure enough, by the time I'm climbing past the Billings Bridge Mall, the familiar fiery rush moves out through my fingers, and soon they're not just comfortable, they're warm, as if I was holding them to a fire.

The cars on the street are slowed by the snow, and they move way out to pass me, because where I have to ride is just where their right tire would be, if the driver were to pretend I wasn't there, which she of course is not going to do. So the drivers have to slow down and move over into the thin layer of snow to pass, and they give me a wide berth.

I can watch my breath steam out in big clouds. Sometimes it blows back into my face and the edges of my glasses steam up. At the intersection of Bank and Heron - an intersection I usually hate - I ride across, then turn to head east on Heron, and plant my tires firmly in the  track left by the cars. Someone pulls up behind me in a sedan, waiting for the light. I stay where I am, and though my back tire slips a couple of inches before catching when I start off, I climb the hill out of the intersection without ever once cringing out of the way of passing cars. I stick to the clearest pavement.

My home street is as snowy as the rest. I angle the left turn into my driveway, and stop for a moment after my lights are turned off and I've hefted the bike up with one hand, to look up at the swirling snow and the greyish-yellow sky with the city lights reflecting off it.

I kind of don't want to go inside yet.