Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Nutcracker... on Bike Parts

My friend Paul (who sends me awesome bike links) just sent me this, and I had to share. Especially since Mike is a Specialized, and that's who commissioned this little bit of cheerful lunacy: The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies, played entirely on bicycle parts.



Click here for a complete explanation of where this came from and why: San Francisco composer Flip Baber says, of the process: "I recorded hours of bike sounds and edited the best chunks in BIAS Peak. After that, most of the spokes, cables and disc brakes were fed into the EXS24 Sampler within Logic Pro. It was super tricky since most of these metallic sounds have a pretty warped (no pun intended) overtone series. I interpreted the score by ear from a random mp3 I Limewired for reference. From there it was all about re-arranging the score in my head to compensate for the strange overtones. The source sounds were kept pretty raw besides some mild pitch shifting from keymapping & a touch of impulse response reverb to match the acoustical space of the orchestral reference recording. Between the road and mountain bike, there were octaves of difference (maybe I should get my wheels trued?) and they yielded some great sounds, most of which didn’t even get used…although they will end up on something eventually. Other than that, there were some automated volume swells and plenty of panning since you would associate a bike sounds with stereo movement. I hope this exposes my journey from bike to mixdown!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I've got my wool to keep me warm...

For Christmas, my parents, who want me to stay warm, gave me a base layer set - an undershirt and leggings - from Icebreaker, a New Zealand company that makes Merino wool clothing. I got the mid-range base layer (200) - which should stand me in good stead through most Ontario winter days, especially if I'm on the move. We'll see: can't wait to test it out on the bike. I've already worn it cross-country skiing and it performed just fine.

Merino's pretty nifty stuff - it insulates, it breathes like crazy, it's super lightweight (you'd never know this stuff was made from wool: it feels almost like cotton, just warmer), and when it does wear out, which won't be for quite some time, you can compost it. This stuff is really thin, and it's surprisingly soft. In our family we listen, every Christmas Eve, to A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, and the narrator talks about "aunts who always wore wool next to the skin" and who give "mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all." This is not that wool. Far from it. I wore it out skiing on Christmas Day and most of the day on Boxing Day. So stretchy, so soft, so warm.

So, I'll have to try it out on the roads, when I get back to Ottawa and Mike. I'm really looking forward to having the leggings to wear under my jeans - what is it that makes denim so very very cold?

I found a tag on the shirt that gave me a unique "BAAcode" that, presumably, allows me to trace the wool in my item to the sheep stations it was grown on in New Zealand. I don't know if I believe that or not, but I did go check it out on their site, entered my code, and found out where my shirt was when it was on the hoof. And then I spent a while just clicking around reading about merino, checking out videos of the station owners, looking at pictures of herds of wooly sheep. Great website design. I was totally sucked in.

Now... I get to find out if a New Zealand sheep can grow wool that can hack an Ottawa winter. Hah!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Savage's

I'm visiting my family in Fredericton for Christmas: back in the hometown wandering around the same downtown streets doing the last of my Christmas shopping. And this morning I was walking past Savage's Bike Centre and decided to drop in and see what I could expect to pay for studded tires (if anyone in town would be carrying them, I thought, it would be Savage's.) Plus, I really wanted to go in and check out the shop, which has seriously expanded since I was a kid and wheeled my first mountain bike in there for a look at the brakes.

The counter is most of the way toward the front of the shop and a couple of the guys were standing at it and said hi as my friend and I came in. Including Matt Savage, who I went to high school with. Actually, Matt is one-half of a set of identical twins that I went to high school with: I think they're a year older than me. I think Matt was already working at the shop at the time, and maybe his brother was too.

The thing about Savage's that I didn't know until this visit is that it's been there, and in the same family, for more than 110 years. One hundred and thirteen, to be exact. This is the oldest established bike shop in Canada. It was begun here in Fredericton in 1897 and the Savages have been selling and fixing bikes ever since, right down to Matt, who manages the store now. I mean, you think of bike shops as being run by the latest crop of 25-year-olds. Not this one. This one has been selling and repairing bicycles for more than a century, father to son. And in a town that really isn't particularly cyclist-heavy.

So I had to go in and have a look around. I asked about tires - Matt told me he didn't have any studded tires in, and that they sold out fast in the winter. "I wouldn't pay more than eighty or a hundred dollars though," he said. "When you get back to Ottawa." I looked longingly at some of the skater-style helmets they had stacked by the door, walked to the back to check out the bikes (my friend and I both really admired one of the Specialized single-speed city bikes - big thick frame but with those bladelike skinny tires and light enough to pick up easily), chatted to one of the staff in the back about winter biking, and then we headed back out to go on with the Christmas shopping.

I think I'm weirdly proud that Fredericton's greatest bike shop is also the country's oldest. It's a strange thing to be happy about, but I think I am. It's nice to think about that kind of long-term passion, I guess. A hundred years of fixing gears and repairing brakes and straightening handlebars and replacing bike chain.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You know it's winter when...

Mike has left a possibly-permanent set of salt stains on the carpet outside my apartment, right underneath where the rear tire and the front set of gears are when I stand him in the hallway to thaw after I get in. The one under the derailleur is the worst: chain lube plus salt plus road grime plus slush is not kind to carpet.

Well, I'm not about to bring him in to thaw and drip all over my hardwood floor, right?... I leave him out there for a half hour or so to drip dry, then open the door and allow him in. A little like a dog that's in disgrace.

It's amazing how much snow he brings in with him. The tires throw slush back against the underside of the frame and up into the rear set of gears, where it sticks and clogs around the gearshift cables. It almost feels futile to clear it off, since I'll just get the bike coated again the next time I go out, but I know I should. It's also true that I go through lubricant like a fiend when the weather's bad. Not that you tend to notice a sticky gear or a grinding in the pedals while you're teetering along at three-quarters speed, keeping an eye out for patches of ice or ridges left by the plow, but in the back of my mind I'm always aware that I'm putting the bike through really, really unkind conditions, and if I don't want to replace most of the drive train in the spring I should probably be wiping it down, lubricating absolutely everything, and probably trying to protect the paint job while I'm at it.

I see some debate out there in the blogosphere over using fixed-gear bikes for the winter; the sort of single-speeder that you usually find in either older style bikes, or seriously heavy-duty ones. The idea is that winter is so hard on your gears, and you're so unlikely to be traveling fast or hard enough to need more than one gear, that you're saving yourself a lot of replacement parts and headache by switching to a simpler bike with fewer working parts. The only downside is having to work a lot harder on hills (and you really don't want to stand up on the pedals on a slick, icy hill.) It's a moot point for me: even if I wanted to get a second bike, I don't have anywhere to keep it. As it is, Mike is dripping on the floor inside my apartment because there's no bike parking downstairs.

So, I have to do what I can to protect my bike's delicate bits. MEC (bless their hardcore little hearts) posted a great set of tips for winterizing your bike. New Years Resolution: get that midwinter tuneup, some studded tires, a can of WD-40, and a gallon or so of all-purpose lubricant.

And a rubber mat for the hallway. Sooner or later my landlord's going to complain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stranded


I couldn't resist snapping a shot of this bike, which was sitting on the Transitway bridge this morning at Mackenzie King, just outside the Rideau Centre. Looks like someone locked it up sometime around, oh, last Wednesday when the snow came down, and hasn't come back for it. And I don't think that bike's going anywhere till spring...

It reminds me of another bike - a brown commuter - that I passed every evening on the River Path, just past the bridge to Algonquin College. It was locked to a tree, near a little clearing that led down to the water where people often sit, and it stayed there for at least two months. Every time I passed it I had to wonder how it got there, who locked it up and left it there, and why they never came back to pick it up. As time went on, I also kept wondering why the front tire hadn't been stolen yet.

And then one day the tire was gone. I was surprised it had taken as long as it did: not really the bike-theft capital of anywhere, Ottawa.

Those abandoned bikes, though: every time I see one I have to wonder why and how they got left where they are. If anyone's coming back for them. What the policy is on abandoned bicycles. Does the city have to come and cut the locks when no one comes for them? When do they leave those spots, and how?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Early Riders


I was just skimming around and spotted these: Early Rider balance bikes, for children roughly 2-6 years old. No training wheels. No pedals. Big fatboy back tires. Made out of wood. And utterly cool-looking.

I know a couple of 4-year-olds, and it's nearly Christmas, so this caught my eye, although I think they're only available in the US so far and I don't have $180 to spend on my friends' children. But these are really interesting. I always defaulted to the idea that training wheels were pretty much it as far as interim, "learning" bikes went. (And I admit it: I was jealous of the other kids in my neighbourhood that had training wheels. It didn't make much sense, because I had already learned to ride my bike, but there it is, training wheels, Kangaroo sneakers and Zoodles - all things I mistakenly thought I desperately wanted when I was a kid.)

But it's true that training wheels give you a false sense of balance: once they come off you still have to learn to balance on two wheels - while pedaling. This is cooler. Besides, I've also seen pedalless mountain bikes for adults, and they're totally cool. (If a little limited - you can basically only use them to go very fast down the sides of mountains. Like snowboarding, but on a bike.)

And I do remember learning to ride a bike. I think I was 6 or so, and I got a red bike - I think it was a Schwinn - for my birthday. It was a full-on pedal bike, single-speed, with backpedal brakes. My parents basically showed me the bare-bones method of learning to bike: Start at the top of the back lawn, which ended in a field full of tall grass. Roll down the slope until you smash into the tall grass and tip over. Pick self up, push bike back up to the top of the lawn. Repeat. Which I did.

And I remember getting up really early the next day to go out there and do that some more. Somehow, it seems, I managed to get the hang of the whole balance thing that way. Then I graduated to rolling up and down the driveway. In my memory, at any rate, it really didn't take long to figure the bike thing out. So training wheels? Who needed them?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What the...?

I've just been watching the periphery of this, but this is what I think has been happening in New York. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

1. City workers remove a bike lane in Williamsburg after complaints from the Hasidic community living in the area (They object to seeing women in bike shorts.)

2. Get that? The city sandblasts the bike lane off the street because a religious group complains. About what female cyclists are wearing.

3. A group of hipsters put the bike lane back in the middle of the night. (Wicked video, too.)

4. They get stopped by the Shomrim Patrol, a neighbourhood watch group, and eventually two of the activists are arrested.

5. The street is sandblasted clean again.

6. Now Mayor Bloomberg is in Copenhagen, and being confronted by bike activists from Brooklyn about this at the climate change conference.

7. And the activists are having a mock New-Orleans-style funeral for the bike lanes tomorrow.

I say again. What the... ? New York. Removed the bike lane. Because of women in shorts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Epic

"Epic," I'm given to understand, in climber/boarder/general-extreme-sport-enthusiast parlance, means something that's not really a whole hell of a lot of fun (to put it lightly) while you're in it, but which makes a good story afterward, or at least something you can look back on with more... perspective. Usually something that is pretty long and sloggish, with an increasing number of frustrating and "well-at-least-it-can't-get-any-worse; wait-yes-it-can" scenarios along the way.

By those lights my ride home today was pretty epic.

Now, remember, this is the first day that I've biked to work since the snow came down like a greasy, slushy, wet, smooshy hammer on Wednesday. The ride to work this morning was relatively fine. A little slippery, a little slower than usual, but more or less okay. I went straight down Bank Street to downtown, then hopped over the bridge to Vanier. Easy.

And usually, when there's no snow to contend with, I hop on the path at the bridge on the way home, and take the tree-lined, paved, quiet, peaceful bike path as far as Billings Bridge, where I get back on Bank and contend with traffic for less than a mile or so. Easy.

The problem is that between work and home, there's a great bloody highway. The 417, otherwise known as the Queensway, otherwise known as the main freeway running east to west through Ottawa. The bike path passes quietly, almost surreptitiously, underneath it and you barely notice it. But with the bike path gone, whatever I do has to get around the 417. You can't ride on the 417, of course, and you really don't want to be anywhere near the on/off ramps for it either. Around the on/off ramps the sidewalks vanish, the buildings get sparse and hideous, and all human (and cycle) life is dwarfed, diminished, and made to cower before the almighty and all-privileged automobile. There are only so many points, too - passes, fords - where you can get across the freeway conveniently.

So I had to find a way home that got me past the 417 and didn't take me too far out of my way. I pulled up Mapmyride.com at work and looked for a way to avoid the Vanier Parkway/Riverside Drive - a busy artery that parallels the bike path. It's fast and ugly and I didn't want to be there. So, I plotted a route that took me along the much quieter Old River Road, then hopped onto Riverside long enough to go past all the 417 ramps - which I thought would be nasty, but I could take the sidewalks if I had to - and got me to Alta Vista, which I discovered on Tuesday is a fairly nice street, all told. Would have been about 5 3/4 miles. It looked like this:


That was the plan.

I discovered that the sides of Riverside Drive were treacherously thick with slush, so I hopped onto the sidewalk. What the hell, no jury in the world and all that. But then the sidewalk vanished just after Coventry. I know there's a sidewalk there: I've taken it before. But it's not plowed. This makes a major difference.

So I stopped. Pondered. Turned back, went back to Coventry. Thought, briefly, of the moment when I turned onto River Road and thought, 'maybe I should just keep going on Montreal and go through downtown.' Not for the last time.

I vaguely remembered that Coventry and Industrial somehow connected, and that Industrial ends at the intersection where I would normally get on Alta Vista. So, I took Coventry. And wound up in the living hell of Cyrville Industrial Park. I thought it would be quieter, less busy. Somehow I also thought that would mean slower cars and less slush-encroachment into the tiny space afforded me by most drivers.

In brief, the path I wound up taking was more than 2 1/2 miles longer, and looked more like this:

It was, of course, dark at this point, and the wind started up (coming from the west of course) and the windchill took temperatures down to about -18. Every so often I would stop, and look around, and try to locate the apartment buildings that I knew stood near Hurdman. Try to remember the last time I was in the industrial park (this spring, when I got lost there trying to find a quicker route to work one morning.) And try to picture what direction Alta Vista lay in. Oh, and at mile 3, where I backtrack? There were no sidewalks there, either, and I panicked near the train station when I hit a huge patch of two-inch-deep slush and lost control of the bike, then turned around and headed back to Belfast. Which took me to St-Laurent, a nasty long street, but one I'm very familiar with, and which does have paved sidewalks so I didn't have to be in traffic; because at that point I was swearing out loud at all the cars that clipped close to me. But then I spotted Belfast again (the other end of it this time) and recognized it and remembered I could find Alta Vista from Belfast, and I was hell-bent on getting to Alta Vista where there was a bike lane, so I turned onto that.

All of these streets go through long, blank, faceless stretches of road, with big-box stores or trainyards lining them, no real pedestrian space, and drifts sliding into the road. The sidewalks appear and disappear. The snow slumps five feet out into the road in places. And people in cars can gun through them as fast as they like. Sometimes there isn't even a crosswalk, like some kind of crude joke. And the side of the road is slushy and untrustworthy. Where driveways empty onto the street, the plows have left wide trails of snow.

And when I finally made it to Alta Vista, I realized that the bike lane that was there on Tuesday night was occluded by slush. It was still better, though, than the industrial park - more travelled, slower, easier to navigate. And I knew where I was for sure. Which helped, although I had one more scary slide in a patch of slush on Heron before I finally got home, shaken and freezing. But by the time I got home it was already not so bad: I wanted to scream at everything when I had to screech to a halt and try to figure out how to get through the intersection of Belfast and Trainyards ... and almost did ... but by the time I was fumbling my key into the door of my apartment I knew I was home, and it was all a lot easier, all retrospect by now.

I think I still think like a driver sometimes. I think that the shortest distance between two points is actually the shortest distance between two points. It's not. And I keep forgetting that. Next time, I'm heading through downtown. Hell with wayfinding in industrial parks.

One Righteous Man

I was going to be peopling my Wall of Shame today with drivers. I headed out earlier than usual, in actual rush hour traffic (8:00) down Bank Street, because I needed to get downtown to the A Channel studio to sing for the breakfast show with my choir. And it's still pretty icky out there. -16 with the wind chill, and the right-hand side of the road still lying under a couple centimeters of slush.

And the going was rough. It took me nearly an hour to get from my place to the Market, and the first thing to happen to me was having some jerk edge out around me while I was waiting to turn left off my home street - as though he was going to turn right - only to then turn left, cutting me off, on the way through the light. I'm sure that saved him all of a half second.

And there were others: the massive pickup that stopped eight inches off my back tire at a light, the guy in the minivan that edged up behind me as I pulled forward waiting for a green, trying to get a little ahead of him and avoid the slush at the corner, and then gunned it past me with a foot of clearance. The drivers just don't seem to realize how slippery and spooky that layer of slush can be, and how much further into their lane it drives me. I'm sure some of them bitch to themselves about "road warriors" and "menacing cyclists" (I'm quoting real people here) as they honk their horns and squeal past me.

But... I left the A Channel station and headed out through the Market, and across the Saint Patrick bridge toward work. And heading along Beechwood things got a little easier, so I got sloppy, and when I found myself rolling up to a stoplight that had just turned yellow, I hit the brakes. And skidded, and slipped, and the back tire went sideways, and I got a foot down in time to not fall over, but I wound up canted across the right lane. The guy standing at the corner made an "oh!" noise as I pulled the bike over to the side of the lane again. Thank god there wasn't anyone right behind or beside me when I skidded.

And then a guy in a truck pulled up and rolled his window down. "Got a little clogged up there," he said.

"Yeah," I said, "that's what I get for trying to stop at the red light, like a car. Shoulda just gone straight through, it's safer."

"Well, you wouldn't get a ticket," he said.

"Not sure about that, they ticket cyclists now. And they should," I said.

"They'd never give you a ticket." He shook his head. "Not in this weather."

"Maybe not." Then the light turned green and I got ready to head out again.

"I'll let you go ahead," he said, and I called out a thanks and pulled out ahead of him. He waited, then started up, and passed me a couple of seconds later, and I waved at him as he drove off. One nice driver. I was smiling when I got to my coffee shop to pick up a cup for work. All he had to do was roll down the window, and engage a cyclist like a human being. May he be blessed with a non-skid winter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Bus Strike Retrospective


The 51-day OC Transpo bus strike began a year ago today.

A year ago today a massive snowstorm dumped half a foot of snow overnight, just like today. A year ago today I woke up feeling like I was under house arrest. Listening to the startling silence where there used to be engine roar from the bus stop below my apartment. Isolated off in the South End, an hour's walk from the nearest of my usual activities. Unable to get to work.

At least, I thought so at the time.

This morning I skipped the bike ride to work because there was still a lot of snow in the gutters, and deep slush; I figured I'd take the bus and wait on the city getting the streets cleared. And tomorrow I might be getting a ride with a friend downtown in the morning to sing with my choir on the A Channel, so I may not be riding tomorrow. But I will be riding over the weekend, and I'm going to give it a shot on Monday for sure. That's the difference between last year, and this year. Now, I've discovered I can choose not to use the bus.

It seems a lot of people are: this article from CBC.ca suggests that a year on, ridership is down. No wonder: with routes getting slashed right and left, and fare hikes looming (it's already $3.00 a ride, which is just ridiculous) who wouldn't want to find another way around?

And besides, I took the bus for the first time in a long time yesterday, only to discover that it took nearly two hours for me to get home from the office. Nearly two hours. It's a 40 minute run on the bike. Make that an hour to make up for bad riding conditions.

It's amazing how trapped I felt last year. How un-trapped I feel now. Just for having spent a little under a year riding in all weather, and learning to be comfortable on the streets.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I admit...

... I didn't bike to work this morning.

60km/h winds and driving snow? And beleaguered snow clearance workers? And half the drivers out there having been taken by surprise (again) without snow tires?

Yes, I took the bus.

There are more storm photos here, at the Ottawa Citizen site.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mike Meets Ice

The temperature skidded downward while I was at work. I didn't really realize how much until I got out and onto the path, and didn't realize how treacherous the path was going to be until I started sliding around, and decided now was as good a time as any to figure out alternatives to my usual route.

Plus: not having to wait at a crowded snowy bus stop.
Minus: those first few minutes when your hands get really cold in your gloves.

Plus: the air being cold enough that you don't get slush all over your butt.
Minus: finding out that what was slush this morning is now glare ice.

Plus: discovering whole new routes between work and home.
Minus: having to figure out whole new routes between work and home.

Plus: getting to see your city from a whole bunch of new angles.
Minus: constantly second-guessing where you actually are.

Plus: still being out there in the fresh air.
Minus: shoulder tension from trying to maintain balance on patches of ice.

Plus: your inner superhero factor goes up by a few points.
Minus: your risk of injury also goes up by a few points.

Minus: having to take Alta Vista, which is a couple of miles of uphill grade.
Plus: working up enough of a sweat as a result that your fingers aren't cold anymore.

Plus: zipping past slowed up traffic in the bike lane.
Minus: the bike lane being where the ice lives.

Plus: playing leapfrog with the #8 bus.
Minus: playing leapfrog with the #8 bus.

Minus: not seeing the patches of slush till you hit them.
Plus: seeing your breath when you pull up at a light.

Plus: BOOYAH!

Snow down

Yesterday it snowed most of the day: little flakes. I had to leave Mike at home, though, not because of the snow, but because the day's plans involved me catching a lift to Barrhaven with a friend at the end of the day and I didn't want to have to leave him at the office. So I didn't have to try and navigate the roads with new snow down (and possibly a large number of drivers who didn't have winter tires yet.)

But this morning I woke up to the radio telling me that it was -6 out and there was a predicted low of -8, and the sidewalks were all white. And I discovered: I want some kind of formula to apply so I know what to wear in the morning. Something like this:

Temp > -5: jacket/sweater combination A
Temp > -5(R) where (R) = rain: jacket/sweater combination B (including rain pants);
Temp < -5(S) where (S) = slush ... you get the idea.

As it was, I overdressed, in my puffy winter coat and a sweater, and wound up with an overly warm torso, chilly fingers, and a cold breeze running down my neck. (My new Writers Festival toque does, however, fit under the helmet, so my ears were fine.) But the ride wasn't that bad. And it was bright! The sun on all that snow absolutely lifted my spirits.

Once I got to the pathway I started to realize that I won't be able to take that route much longer. It was white from Hurdman to the Queensway underpass. Then it was clear - someone had actually put salt down - as far as River Road in Overbrook: and then suddenly the path was white again - a thin flat layer of snow. My treads are pretty good, so I had traction, but any deeper and I could have been sliding. And I definitely concentrated more as it was.

I had a momentary fantasy on the way of inventing some kind of trailer I could pull behind me that would spread road salt as I biked, like a sort of vigilante path groomer. Of recruiting the mothers with strollers and the photographers that hang out by the river into a small private army of pathkeepers. I wonder if that's even legal. Are there laws against spreading salt on paths in public parks? Who put the salt down between the Queensway and River Road anyway?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wolcum Yole: or, Winter's Here...


I happened to be up in the wee hours of the morning this morning (like, at about 4:30 AM) and so I saw the snow starting to fall, and I wasn't surprised when, after I went back to bed and got some more sleep, the roofs outside were all white. Last day of November, and there's finally snow.

But, it had pretty much melted by the time I made it to work. It was a tough slog, but maybe because of the lack of sleep, or maybe because the rainpants drag a little on my legs, or maybe because Mike's gearshifts really need a tune-up. Still, my eyes watered and I had to churn into the wind, but I stayed more or less toasty. When I bought my coffee, though, the girl behind the counter exclaimed at how cold the coins were. (Yeah, I said, I just spent 40 minutes on a bike with them in my jacket pocket, so it's not surprising they're cold.) It's cold and bright outside - heading down to -4 this afternoon, so I'm bracing for the ride home. And yet, remembering that you don't have to bike is sometimes just what you need to get in the saddle. I try to bring bus fare with me. That way I know I have an option, and somehow that makes me decide to bike.

I think it's related to the trick my ex-climbing partners used to use on me when I was about to give up on a particularly tough problem. "It's okay," they'd say, "you don't have to do it, you can come down if you want and try again later." It was the surest way to keep me up there trying the problem over and over until I finally got it or my muscles gave out on me.

My other sign of the season? The weekend's wind knocked down little chunks of dead branches all over the bike path, and they haven't been cleaned up. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, the maintenance teams' drawbridge is drawn and it's going to stay drawn till spring thaw, or a little thereafter.

Here goes, for real.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Illuminated!

A couple of days ago a co-worker said that she was heading to MEC, and did I want her to pick up a new headlight for me? I had been mentioning that I needed one, if only so I didn't have to leave work at 4:00 in order to catch the light, but it's hard to find the time to get all the way across town. So I said, yeah, sure, and went online to figure out which one to send her off to get.

I used to have a Planet Bike Beamer. A little LED that could be quick-removed from the mounting on the handlebars and double as a flashlight. But I discovered that it didn't really throw enough light to make the trip home along the path very comfortable. I remember midnight runs home, peering into the darkness, with a faint little circle of light on the pavement, failing to show me the potholes, rocks, and branches until I was basically on top of them.

I needed something that would provide light to see by, not just visibility to cars, like a Turtle light, but you can spend upwards of $90 on a commuting headlight, and MEC had one - "for 24-hour races and competitive night riding" the catalogue said - for about $400.

Then I spotted these (MEC brand "Sharks"), and the catalogue suggested that for $12.50 each, you could get two and double up. Well, of course! So, I did. They're super-bright: the day I got them I headed home around 9:30 PM from an after-work meeting, and was astonished. They cover the whole path. They're bright enough to light up the ceiling of the highway underpass. And it was actually quite beautiful, getting on the bike path with the city lights across the river all shining on the water, and putting on my headphones and zipping along in the dark cold, listening to "Ideas" on CBC as I pedaled.

It was even better last night, when I went out for a drink with some friends after a reading in the Market, and we suddenly looked up to realize it was 2:30 AM. It wasn't raining anymore - it had been earlier in the day - so I packed my rainpants into the pannier, flicked on my lights, and headed off for the canal. I had the whole canal path to myself, and it was still warm enough out that I didn't even need to wear my mittens, and at that hour of the night there's no stress. The streets are all yours. And I had plenty of light to see by on the pathways, and I knew that the cars that were out could see me. Freedom! I no longer have to scurry home before dark like some sort of small diurnal scavenger!

And come on, doesn't it look like Mike's got beady little eyes? Aren't they cute? Doesn't he look like WALL-E?
(The friends I was with last night think I should get four or six more and line them up along the handlebars like deerjackers. I'm half tempted. It would make Mike look like the low-tech version of a truck from a post-apocalypse movie. Which would be awesome.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kodak moment

I was meeting friends for breakfast at the Elgin Street Diner before the Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Ottawa when I spotted this bike, locked a foot off the pavement on the rail outside a bar strip. I had to stop and take the picture. I know, I know, my cell phone camera sucks. I still like this shot for some reason.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

... more style!

A friend sent me this link, to a blog on academic style (or stylish academia?) called Academichic.com - a post on cycling style. Right now going through these pictures causes more jealousy than inspiration - hard to be stylish on a bike in Ottawa in November. I'm living in a daily uniform of jeans (one leg tucked into a sock) and three layers, the top layer being the zip-out fleece lining of a light winter jacket. Sure, I could bundle up in a nice coat, but I don't want all my nice winter coats to wind up with a spattered stripe up the back, and that's what happens. Ditto the Victorian walking boots I just picked up from Clockwork Couture - they'll just get soaked. And do heels fit inside the shoe covers I got at MEC? (Actually, they might. Would look hilarious.)

I guess I feel like there are certain limitations connected to the kind of cycling you do. I'm a couple of miles away from downtown by any estimation, and the roads I take to get there are big, loud, dirty, and busy. Mike is as burly and gutsy as he needs to be to get me from place to place, but he's not really conducive (as I've mentioned before) to pretty clothes. More than Mike, though, the roads aren't. You just don't see women like the one in this picture beyond the confines of the true urban. Heading out to the suburbs you see the folks in Spandex and clip-toe shoes, with the mirrors on their helmets, or you see people like me in jeans and hoodies, but you're less likely to run into a sundress and heels on the way down, say, Conroy or West Hunt Club. On the pathways, maybe: once the pathways run out, someone dressed like that starts to look a little like a Minnesota tourist family that's just wandered into the wrong part of Amsterdam.

But, for the kind of objective pleasure that flipping through magazines, or gourmet cookbooks, or watching Fashion Television affords, this post is just great. So are:

Girls and Bicycles
Copenhagen Cycle Chic
Let's Go Ride a Bike
Chic Cyclist (and I love the current post "You Don't Have to Ride Your Bike" because it states perfectly something I didn't even realize I wanted to say!)

And just to plug Clockwork Couture, because I loves me my steampunk (although watch out for their shipping department, they can be a pain in the ass): their "casual cycling capris" are want-inducing. Although they don't make them in my size I guarantees ya.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fellow Travellers

I was having a terrible ride home today. It was raining, and by the time I was climbing Bank Street it was dark. I don't know why it is that people seem to be worse drivers in the rain - maybe it's a matter of my perception, maybe not. It's true that in the rain, the cars are louder. They seem to cut closer to you, and to be more impatient. I swore out loud at someone in a black truck that passed me with about a foot of clearance, and then again when a minivan nearly made a left turn right into me. I was bitching out loud at them all, and at the unfairness of having to worry about being critically injured or killed by my goddamn commute. (Once again, the thought crossed my mind that it's very strange how people who find out I enjoy rock climbing think I'm some kind of crazy daredevil, but don't bat an eye at my biking to work every day.)

And the traffic was just awful - backed up all the way down Bank. I was dodging around the cars trying to angle in off side streets and keeping an eye out for anyone that might be cutting in through the lines and turning left, and I got stopped up behind a bus that was trying to merge back into traffic, so had left no space for me to get between it and the curb. So I stopped, waiting for the bus to budge, and then I heard, "It's awful today, isn't it?"

There was a guy behind me on a commuter bike in a yellow rainjacket - older than me; I'm fairly certain he had grey hair under the helmet. I said something like, "Yeah, and they always seem to drive worse in the rain," and he nodded.

"Well, it's all clogged up," he said. "I haven't seen it this bad in a long while."

And then the bus moved a little, so I slipped between it and the curb and pedalled on up to the intersection. The light was red, so I pulled up. The guy was still behind me.

"How long are you going to keep riding?" he asked me.

"Long as I can," I told him, and mentioned that I use the River Path, so when the snow gets deep I'll have to find a streetside route. I also told him about the rumor I'd heard from the NCC about keeping part of the western path clear this year.

"Does that help you?" he asked me, and I said no, not really. "But it's a start, right?" I said.

"Yeah, it's a start." And then the light turned green and he said, "Have a good night," and I said, "Yeah, you too."

Biking on up the hill to my place, I felt a lot better. Something about the question: "How long are you going to keep riding?" There was a companionability about that question, and a sense that we both knew anyone out there in the cold mid-November drizzle in their rain gear was probably a committed cyclist. Still riding at this time of year, and in weather like that? The question isn't whether you're going to be riding in the snow - the question is how much snow you're going to try to handle.

Sometimes a little smidgin of esprit de corps can really improve your day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turning Signals!

...now come standard on almost all cars! No, really!

Black Mercedes-Benz, plate #AZNZ 999

(written, as a Facebook note, by Katie Malkovsky and reposted here for the edification of the populace. This incident happened in Toronto.)

If you should happen to pass said car, and you're carrying your keys in your hands, and a single key inadvertantly slips out from between your fingers, and as you walk by - oops! - you realize you've scratched said car with your key, rest assured: the owner is an asshole.

This driver felt that a cyclist had cut him off, so he honked. So far so good. Then, he sped up and drove the cyclist all the way over to the side of the road, and continued behind, a few inches away from the cyclist, forcing the poor guy on the bike to go speeding down the street in order to not be run over by the car directly behind him. When the person you're tailing is in a car, that shit is intimidating. When the person you're chasing is on a bike, that shit is murderous.

So the car goes back to the middle of the road and stops, and the driver gets out. He starts yelling at the cyclist. A car in the next lane stops to yell at the first driver. Now both lanes are blocked, cars are honking, and this psycho driver is still yelling and cursing at the cyclist. I walk by, pull out my phone, and say, "so, I'll just call the police then, unless you're just about done?" At this point the cyclist speeds off. Fuck. I meant to scare the driver, not the cyclist.

Driver 1 and Driver 2 continue to yell at each other. Driver 2 speeds away, Driver 1 pulls over and just sits there. I dunno why.

Sorry for the crappy photo quality. Cell phone cam. I was also trying to be discreet, so as no to anger the psycho.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ah, larceny.

So I commented a couple of posts ago about the whole "U-lock Bic pen thing," and a friend's response sent me off onto YouTube looking for the truth. And the truth is, yes you can pick a U-lock with a Bic pen. But, not a straightforward key lock - in this example anyway, it's the tubular lock. The one you get with the circular key (which you can fit a pen body into, once the ink cartridge has been removed, twist, and voilá.) Which isn't to say you can't pick the regular key-lock kind either.

The YouTube click-trance, however, just delivered me directly to the land of the paranoid. From the loud and amateur movie insisting that all you have to do is spraypaint the bike, because a sprayed bike already looks stolen, to the British high-quality film advising, essentially, that you spend 20% of the value of your bike on locks, and even then lock and pin everything before leaving your bike even for a second... well... I started getting pretty freaked about leaving Mike unattended anywhere. I went to catch a movie screening downtown this evening, and outside the main branch of the public library, on a major, well-lit street, in Ottawa of all ridiculously safe cities, I made a point of running my cable (which has a safety rating, according to Kryptonite, of about 1 on a scale of 1 to 14... basically it's a deterrent, the equivalent of tying a length of rope around the bike, as far as any serious bike thieves are concerned) through the frame and both tires.

But I think I'm a victim of the availability heuristic. And a lot of the really paranoid videos were also assuming that your bike costs a couple of thousand dollars. (And the people writing comments were laughing at that fact because, like me, they got their bikes for $20-$50 dollars.)* And that you live somewhere where bike theft is rampant. And that you leave your bike in dark, secluded, out-of-the-way areas. Oh, and did I mention they assume your bike is worth a couple of thousand dollars?

Who even has a bike that costs that much? Other than Lance Armstrong?

Sure - that tubular U-lock trick is a bit of an eye-opener. Although... any lock can be picked. But someone's bound to notice someone sitting near my bike, even in the late evening, on a main street, with a lockpick set. Or someone trying to listen to the tumblers on the combination lock I've got now. Or hauling out the industrial shears to get through the cable. You figure? So as long as he's not all alone in a back alley or an industrial park parking lot, at three A.M., I think my paranoia's a bit unjustified.

*In fact, if memory serves, I got Mike for $50 and a Dave Brubeck ticket.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self-destructive Rodents


Why is it, anyway, that squirrels, when they suddenly make a dash into the path and freeze, inevitably then dart right back in front of, rather than away from, the oncoming bicycle? (Causing me to slam on the brakes so as not to find out what it feels like to run over a squirrel on 2-inch tires.)

Is it related to the four neurons in a moth that just randomly fire, telling it to drop, rise, swerve right or swerve left, when it's pinged by a bat's sonar? What, exactly, is going on in their furry little minds?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chilly Morning

There were frost stripes on the way to work this morning: lines of frost on the grass that matched up with the shadows of the trees. That's one of the things I think I like about November. It was probably hovering around freezing, bright and sunny. Where the sun hit my black jeans was warm, but I had wool mittens on to keep my hands from getting too cold. And where the sun hit the ground the frost just vanished: on the east side of the street, though, in the shadows of the houses, the grass was dusty-white.

The weather and the daylight are getting more tyrannical as winter comes on. They dictate more. It's interesting, in a way. My headlight died back in September or sometime, and until I get a new one, I have to stick to lit streets or get myself off the pathway before dark actually falls. With sunset falling at 4:35 (as of today), I need to get on the road by at least 4:20 in order to make the main streets by the time it gets too dark to see. It sets a real, cosmos-induced limit on my schedule - not something we're used to in the 21st-century West.

And I have to check the weather before I head out, too - is it cold in the morning? Will it get warmer through the day? Should I pack the raingear? It makes a bigger difference than in the summer, when getting rained on doesn't really inconvenience you much. Now, I'm starting to think I should just have my raingear with me, at all times, in case of snow or sleet or rain. I got caught a couple of weeks ago. When I got home with soaked clothing, after a terrifying ride through the dark along a major street in the rain, I was completely surprised when I started trembling in the elevator to my apartment. I hadn't thought it was that bad, until I got home, and got the shakes.

So I stick to the daylight when I can (I biked in the dark to my rock gym last night, but it's a well-lit, wide street. Had it been raining, I might have opted to bus it just that once.) And I have to plan ahead more. It helps, though, with some of what I find hard about winter. We're usually disconnected from the seasons, and so we wind up, in winter, working through the day, arriving in the dark and leaving in the dark, and wondering why we're depressed; standing shivering waiting for the bus with the wrong jacket on a damp night and wondering why we're sick. Biking is actually forcing me to pay a little more attention, and that makes the season a lot easier to live with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Separation Anxiety

It's the strangest thing. I had to leave Mike behind at the office today. It was a combination of things: I was starting to get a bit sick; there was a meeting at the office that ran until after dark, and my headlight broke down not long ago, so I've been trying to avoid the bike path when it gets dark; and I needed to stop for some errands on the way home, but I left my bike lock in a friend's car last weekend, so I couldn't exactly stop at the mall and leave Mike unattended in the parking lot. (I know, I know, it's paranoia. But how stupid would I feel if I left him in the parking lot of Billings Bridge Mall to run in for a new alarm clock and some coconut milk, and came out to find him gone?)

I did, actually, leave him in the lot yesterday, to run in and do some banking and grab a bottle of wine. And I spent the whole time I was inside the mall half distracted by knowing he was out there, unsecured. It was such a relief to see the reflective patches on his panniers glowing away at me when I got out.

So, I had to stop today for a new lock and some groceries and an alarm clock. And, all told, I thought it made more sense for me to leave Mike at the office - I bring him inside and park him in the storage area - and catch a bus home.

And I feel just ever so slightly silly that when I went into the storage area to take the pannier off his rack so I could take it home with me, I ... felt bad. Leaving him there. All ... parked and waiting for me to carry him outside and put him on the road. With my helmet slung on one of his handlebars. I kept wanting to apologize for leaving him behind.

I blame the fever. I was in a strange emotional spot. That must be it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bank Street Bike Racks

I missed it, because I had a meeting (and because I had the date wrong) but yesterday was the official unveiling of the new Bank Street North bike racks.

I meant to go, even though I'm conflicted about them. While I applaud the idea...

This is one of the bike rack designs. Artists were asked to create a line graphic that could be used as the template for a bike rack, to be installed along Bank Street. Note, this whole project was called the Bank Street North Rehabilitation Project. So clearly, it's a city beautification project, meant to try and build a sense of community on Ottawa's major downtown street. Bike racks make a street feel like a community, right? And public art makes a street feel like a community, right? And David Byrne's New York bike racks were a terrific idea, right?

The problem is this: Byrne's racks were designed by a guy who has been cycling, in New York and around the world, for 25 years or something like that. And his racks are useable. Big, open, steel frames that you could probably get a few bikes onto if you didn't mind sharing. But look at this one, from the City of Ottawa project. Where, exactly, are you supposed to thread the lock? Especially if, like me, you have a U-lock?

The panels are, to be fair, set up in frames that are lockable. But still awkward, and the space between the panels and the frames is pretty narrow. Not a lot of space to negotiate a long U lock and actually get it through the frame and wheel. Especially with a metal panel blocking where you can settle your handlebars and pedals to get in close to the frame. They're awkward.

I've already caught myself getting frustrated trying to use the racks that previously stood on Bank, which consist of short poles with shallow metal semicircles on either side - again, they look fine, but with a U-lock I usually find myself giving up and locking my bike to one of the metal tree cages nearby instead. A couple of months ago I really wished I had a camera so I could post a picture to this blog, of the bike rack standing empty and my bike and two others chained up to the trees nearby. Ah, city - it's the thought that counts, huh?

I also heard an interview on CBC Radio a month or two ago, when the racks started going in, in which the interviewer, talking to one of the artists, actually asked him whether he objected to seeing bikes chained up to his art. Whether he was annoyed by the design actually being used. And he did say that it was a little disconcerting for him to see the bikes parked up against his design.

Wasn't that what it was for?

I have to admit, though, that I do like this one - partly because the design allows you to lock through the frame or through the panel. It's spacious. There's room for my bike in this one.

And maybe I should just get a chain and ditch the U lock. Even though the city recommends U locks as the safest ones. (You can pick them with a Bic pen cap, though, apparently, so maybe I should be getting a combination chain anyway...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ottawa: An Inextinguishable Hunger for Public Forums

I knew I wasn't going to have time to review David Byrne's book The Bicycle Diaries (what I have read is lovely: must continue reading and post review) before the Fall Festival descended. Which it did, last Wednesday. But, on Friday night, I did get to meet Mr. Byrne, and I got to sit in on the session he coordinated, a panel on "Cycling and the Livable City."

Byrne is the kind of celebrity that still thinks he needs to show his name tag to the bartender to get his free drinks. (My friend Terry, who was tending the bar, was amused when he tried.) And he structured the panel so that it was completely not about him, not about his fame, not about the Talking Heads or anything else like that. He made it feel like he was really just there to facilitate putting all these minds together and having a town hall meeting.

He lucked out with Ottawa. There's nothing this town likes more than a good town hall meeting. Unless it's a chance to cross-examine a representative of the National Capital Commission. Oh, wait - they got both! Heaven!

The panel consisted of Byrne; Jeb Brugmann, the urban theorist; a representative from BIXI (I've sadly forgotten his name: he was warmly received, did a presentation about BIXI, and then got no questions directed at him for the rest of the session) and Marie Lemay, who's now the CEO of the NCC.

Most of the questions got directed at Lemay, naturally. And it was clear that the 400+ people that were in the room were almost all cyclists. There were questions about whether the paths would ever be clear for winter biking - I thanked the woman that asked that one - and the answer was, they're hoping to run a pilot project this winter where they'll keep one path maintained through the winter. I cornered Lemay in the green room afterward and asked her which one. She told me, but I don't think I can actually say, since she doesn't want to start any rumors, and the pilot project itself isn't a given yet. I'll just say it's a popular path... but sadly not part of my commute. There were a lot of questions about what the city was ever likely to do to bring street cycling up to the levels of the bike paths. Lemay couldn't answer that one, since she doesn't speak for the city: it seems clear though that most cyclists in Ottawa think that the city doesn't actually care about cycling as an option. There was some hostility towards City Hall apparent.

And there was at least one left-field question where a woman asked about whether Ottawa was going to start "importing" "the kinds of bikes they have in Europe" that you can ride wearing your business clothes. I refer her to my second ever post on this blog, about biking in a dress. You can get those bikes at any bike shop, darling. This afternoon I passed a gorgeous red Raleigh bike - swoopy and with lovely big chrome fenders and a squooshy seat - chained outside a Bridgehead. Which I'm sure you would have looked lovely on in your heels and work skirt.

Anyway, the biggest issue that came up in the session was probably the fact that while we have great paths here, the street biking can be ... dicey at times. The NCC, and Marie Lemay, seem to be really committed to making Ottawa a cycling-friendly city, and BIXI seems to have had a really good test run here. But then you get off the paths and onto streets with little or no space for bikes.

Just found an interview on All In A Day with Roger Geller, the cycling coordinator from Portland, Oregon - who was a guest speaker at Citizens for Safe Cycling on the 20th - that talks about some of the same issues too. One of the neat things about having David Byrne here for this panel was that it was a chance to see which issues are constants around the world and how different places deal with them.

And I picked up a copy of the Citizens for Safe Cycling's "Chain Mail" newsletter... I may have to join up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

-5 and counting


I haven't had a whole lot of time for writing lately - the Writers Festival is next week (starts Wednesday) and frankly, the panic began setting in about two weeks ago. But I've been wanting to.

See, last week was another jarring step down on the temperature scale. When I last posted, I was wearing a t-shirt and hoodie. Now, I've upgraded. T-shirt, thick sweater, and bigger hoodie. (Thanks to a clothing swap at a party I went to last weekend I have more of the aforementioned, not to mention a huge hoodie that a friend of mine bought to stay warm while she was pregnant, and which is now way too big for her. Just right for me with my sweater on under it though.)

Each time the temperature does this, I go through a moment of adjustment. I think, ah, damn, it's 5 degrees out, this is going to suck... and then I pull on the gloves and get on the road and it isn't so bad. Then, this week, I started thinking, ah, damn, there's frost on the cars and it's -5 with the windchill factor. But I pull on the extra layers and haul the bike out the door anyway, and to be honest I'm actually, um.... enjoying it. For one thing, you don't have to dodge nearly as many people on the paths. And for another thing, you get that chilly slap in the face from the wind and your cheeks feel alive for a good long while after you get where you're going.

And let's be totally honest... it's kind of good for the ego. Even if you're not really all that rugged, it makes you feel all tough and cool to bash along through the gorgeous cool fall wind with your gloves on. It's like bringing your high-tech hiking gear for a 3km loop through the woodlot.

When it hits -10, and then -20, and the snow flies, the cool factor may well wear off. Or, I might just get even more obstinate. Either way I'll have to remind myself that the transition doesn't really take all that long. I'll probably also have to get some long johns though. Jeans. Brr.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reasons I Need More Money

After I posted the site for Yakkay, I sent the link off to Miss Scarlett's owner, knowing she would probably go into transports over the pink tweed "Tokyo" helmet. Which she did. And then, while I was busy lamenting the fact that they didn't seem to have an online store, she put her googling skills to work and found the following places in the UK and France that carry them, and sell online. Now I just have to lament the fact that the Yakkay helmets are about £95 from all of them... and that I'm now looking at the beautiful capes and messenger bags and ... are those reflective spats? The side of me that sighs over anything steampunk must, for the good of my wallet, be suppressed!

London Cyclechic
Bobbin Bicycles
50cycles
And Cycledélic in France.

Now it's true that Mike and I are anything but fashion leaders. And I might look a little silly in some of this wonderfully Eurochic gear, bashing along Bank Street on Mike, who is a bit of a thug really and wouldn't know what to do with a cravat (other than maybe tuck it into a back pocket á la James Dean or something.) These clothes are more suited to a five-speed city cruiser like most of the bikes on these sites. And those are bikes designed for the cobblestones and paved pathways and small streets in Europe. I lived in Bonn, Germany, when I was eighteen, and biked to high school. It was great - and I still have flashbacks, in the fall, when the air gets cooler and damper and you can smell the fallen leaves starting to turn to mould, of the trip to school on the white bike I borrowed from my host family, the autumn streets and the paving-stone yard of the school I went to.

It was much more civilized than my seven-mile crank to work. It involved better posture, and a little bell, and crosswalks and side streets that cars couldn't fit on, and the ability to pedal along and have a conversation with your companion. And you could be well dressed, nay, even stylish. (And man, were my classmates stylish: even the goths were immaculate.)

And maybe there's a smidge of nostalgia in my longing for stylin' bike clothes. I was never into Spandex, and MEC is more my usual comfort zone, but sometimes I get all romantic over the idea of being... so gosh darn European. Mike, however, feels differently. I get the feeling if I got him a wicker basket or an embellished chainguard he might rebel.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Helmetty awesomeness

Going through the comments tonight, I came across my friend Paul's link to these ... what else can I call them? Saviours from helmet dorkiness. Yakkay make a fedora-style pinstripe helmet, a mailboy style helmet, a furry Russian-looking helmet. What else can I say but hooray?

Every so often, in the past, I have thought I was, weirdly, sidelong, envious of the people with helmet covers with devil horns or dragon spines or whatever. But something in me also said, yeah, what else do they make in that mode? Toddler hats. Toddlers and cyclists wear things with stuffed kitty ears or dragon tails attached to them. People keep making helmet covers that look like - face it - like novelty tea cosies. Cute, yes, but would I feel silly biking to work wearing them? Uh... yes.

This, though, is a whole new level of helmet cover. This is pretty damn cool. I so want one.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Draggy Ass

... That's how I've been feeling for the last week or so. I've checked Mike over a half-dozen times to see if brakes are touching rims, if gears are grinding, if anything's misaligned or misconnected. If the tires are losing air (which they are a little, but that's apparently not the cause.) I've checked everything. And yet every day it's been getting a little bit harder to move. Every day it's been feeling more and more like I'm just working harder for less result. Like I've been switching my gears lower and lower, and still feeling leaden. Like my back tire's stuck in mud. It's infuriating (a couple of times I've lost patience, and, swearing out loud, have stood up on the pedals and cranked angrily forward to try and get some speed, only to drop back into the saddle and go back to slogging along the road with aching thighs.)

Why? No idea. It could be the fall wind (persistent, cold, pushy in a way summer winds usually aren't.) It could be that slightly flabby back tire (which I'll fix tonight as soon as I can unearth the pump from my closet.) It could be whatever's making that unhappy grinding noise in Mike's drive train (he so needs a checkup before winter...) It could be stress. It's been a long, long couple of weeks marked with a certain level of mental pressure. That kind of thing can have a draining effect.

But then I got on the road this morning to go to a four-year-old friend's birthday party. And the glide was back. I felt strong again. It was grey and drizzly, not enough to warrant raingear, and warm enough to be comfortable in the wet, and I sailed along the pathway making a ssssssshhhhhhtttt noise over the wet fallen leaves, back in my usual gear range (5 and 6, not the sad and pathetic 3 and 4 I'd been working in for days.)

What had changed? No idea. I don't hear that grinding noise anymore, so maybe that's something. Or maybe it was all mental: and therefore the evening I spent last night making a nice dinner, doing some T-shirt refashioning and watching movies, and the morning of coffee, guitar, and new SF novel on the couch, were all I really needed to get my swoosh back.

I don't care how it happened, though, I'm just glad it did. I was starting to feel so ... weak. Sluggish. (Imagine me saying this in a melodramatic superhero voice) My powers! They... they're... back! At last. Now, off to defeat Doctor Despondence and his sidekick Mr. Grumpy!

Monday, September 21, 2009

More *sigh* than *grr*

A brief vignette from my day:

Remember how I said that the bridge on Saint Patrick at River Road was deceptive because the bike lane forces you to go straight through, whereas if you want to turn right onto the bike path you ought to be in the right-hand-turn lane, not the bike lane?

Well, that's where I was about 3:00 this afternoon when a guy in a large white pickup blared his horn at me from behind (causing me to slam on the brakes thinking something was wrong) and gestured confusingly with a large arm out the window as he blasted past. I think the gesture was meant to convey something like "get the hell on the sidewalk, you stupid bitch!" Or maybe "The bike lane is right there!' or something.

I slammed on the brakes, as I said, because that's the sort of thing I do when horns are honked around me. Drivers note: the only thing you will achieve by leaning on the horn is to scare and startle the cyclist, thus possibly causing them to do something even more unpredictable than whatever it is they were doing that made you want to honk the horn. It's not smart. Or helpful.

An older woman, on her bike on the sidewalk, called out to me as she passed, "That's why I'm on the sidewalk."

I could have taken that as a reproof, but I didn't. I shook my head, and said, "Because of the jerks in cars?" and added that I was exactly where I legally ought to be. We both had a moment of shrugging resignation, and I kept along in the right hand turn lane, so I could turn right, onto the path. Where no one bothered me but the congregating, pre-migratory geese.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another one.

I would have written something about this yesterday, except that my life was pretty hectic that day - two days ago a cyclist was killed on Sussex Drive when she was hit by a bus. As far as anyone can tell, she left the bike lane and wound up in the bus lane, and then got hit and dragged. She died at the scene. The CTV short video here has a few details, but not much.

I don't know which is worse, that this is just one more in a series of horrible bike/vehicle accidents in this town this year, or that it's the second time in a matter of months that an STO bus has killed someone. Or that in this case the bike lane may have contributed to the accident. (When there's a bike lane, people tend to assume that the bikes will stay in it: which isn't always the case. Sometimes you need to merge out of the bike lane in order to make a turn or avoid an obstacle. The bike lane can generate a false sense of predictability. Just today I found myself staying in the bike lane going over the bridge toward Saint Patrick and Crichton, when I should have ignored the bike lane and stayed in the right-turn lane so I could get onto the bike path - effectively, the bike lane caused me to get in a more dangerous position than ignoring it would have.) Or is it just the basic awful thought that friends of mine, on hearing the news, automatically thought to themselves, "Is there any reason Kate would have been on that street then?" Automatically worried for a moment that it could have been me. She was the same age as me after all.

What is going on? Why have we had so many fatal collisions this year? Are there more bikes on the road? It's irrational to feel as though motorists actively hate us (although some certainly do: I've seen evidence enough for that on the comment pages of most online articles about the subject.) But it's hard not to feel beseiged.

In this case though, it was a bus. That's even scarier. Buses are big, and their drivers are supposed to be professional drivers. But by that very token, they're also likely to be tired, or pulling an extra shift, or worn down by routine to the point where they're working on autopilot. And you might survive a collision with a Yaris. Not with a full-size city bus. If there should be separation between car traffic and bikes, all the more should there be separation between buses and bikes. I'm all for public transport, but I'm scared of some buses. Not all, mind you: there are drivers that hold up, give cyclists space, pull out and make sure they give you a couple of meters of clearance. But the ones that don't, well... we saw two days ago what happens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Helmets in Toronto

So they want to make helmets mandatory in Toronto. . . and I find myself in a weird state of double-think about it.

Partly because I can't really think of a reason to disagree. I wear a helmet: on the extremely rare occasions that I get outside and realize that I don't have my helmet with me, and I don't feel like going back up to my apartment to get it, I feel naked, exposed and vulnerable. In fact, as I'm biking along I have mental images (don't read this part, Mom) of my head hitting concrete and squelching like a watermelon. I do. These mental images are very distracting. I usually go back for the helmet, unless I'm only cutting through my complex to the grocery store.

But something about forcing adults to wear them bothers me for no good reason. Maybe because it feels like a cash grab, and maybe because I feel like cyclists should be given credit for looking after themselves. There's enough of a subtext in the media hinting that cyclists are reckless, dangerous, careless, irresponsible. And legislating safety equipment on us caters to that impression. Like the government needs to do this for our own good.

I know it's no different from making seatbelts mandatory. And I have no sensible reason to object to it. Logic dictates that helmets are just smart to wear. But . . . in the back of my head a little, irrational resister paints herself blue and yells 'freedom!'

Meanwhile my better angel lusts after this Bern Watts helmet and counts pennies to save up for it:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bad roads and good intersections

I just discovered that the CAA has developed a site where you can vote for the worst roads in Ontario. While I'm sure I don't have roads anywhere near as bad as they probably have in, say, Kenora, I have been keeping a tally of the worst roads in Ottawa, back in a bottom drawer of my mental filing cabinet. Some of the worst offenders:

Somerset where it turns into Wellington, just on the west side of the train overpass. You know, down in front of the Giant Tiger. Bone-jarring, that.

Bank, anywhere south of Billings Bridge. I know because I travel it every day. It's big, it's fast, and there are unexplained long gouges in the pavement that seem placed so that they'll grab your tire and yank it sideways. I am thankful, every day, for Mike's burly 2" tires. What kind of crazy person relies on 3/4" racing tires in the real world?

The same goes for Heron Road, also part of my commute. The potholes on Heron are easily an average of two inches deep, and they appear and disappear like mushrooms, overnight. The drain covers are surrounded by them. You feel like maybe the entire road around the drain will suddenly crumble away, leaving only the metal cover and whatever cartoon physics is left holding it up.

And, construction or no construction, burning summer heat or driving nasty autumn grit, the snarl of crap at the bottom of the escarpment where Albert Street turns into Scott, near Lebreton Flats, is unnavigable, unpleasant, unfriendly, and full of buses and trucks and chuckholes and gravel and misery... oh, and it's also apparently a posted, city-approved bike route.

My least favorite pothole in all of Creation is the one on Heron, heading up the hill from Bank. It's exactly at the point where the right-turn lane fades into the street itself. It's at least three inches deep. And it's right where, if you're pedaling up the hill, you have to move out into the actual traffic lane, where people accustomed to the Parkway are accelerating away from the light and up the hill. So you're pushed by the curb into traffic. The road is narrow. It's popular with trucks. And just as you have to get close to the cars whizzing by you, your wheel rattles over a chuckhole the size of a salad plate. Not fun. I'm tempted to go down there late one night with a bucket of filler and fix it my own damn self.

However ... I do have a surprising favorite intersection.


I know, it looks kind of hellish, doesn't it? But it's actually, once you get to know it, one of the sanest intersections I know.

Coming up from bottom right is Alta Vista, which is pretty and residential and has a bike lane down its entire length. (Cue angelic choirs here.) The big road is Riverside Drive: ignore it, we just have to cross it. You come in along Alta Vista. Merge left across two lanes once your bike lane runs out. Now you're in the innermost of a double left turn lane. You stay to the left, because the lane you're in becomes a through lane, and slip into the outermost of another double left turn lane onto Riverside... but then you don't quite turn left, you make half the turn and then swing right onto (hooray!) the paved bike path. Then you just have to cross Hurdman Transitway Station (the big parking lot at left) and you're on the Eastern River Path, and it's all joggers, wildlife, and senior citizens feeding the ducks from there on in.

It seems like any intersection that involves a bicycle and double turn lanes should be scary and senseless - but somehow once I got the flow of it, it became almost dancelike. And the traffic stays out of your way, and it's pretty calm. Only once did I have a driver go into some sort of weird fit, banging on his horn and swearing at me for taking up the lane... before then turning right onto Riverside, which confuses me. Since that means I wasn't in his way at all. But I figure he was probably just having a really, really bad morning.

For one thing, he wasn't just about to turn onto a pathway lined with Michaelmas daisies and people out walking their basset hounds. Poor man.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Admiration...

... to the woman I saw in Old Ottawa South this evening in mid-calf-high burgundy suede boots with four-inch spike heels. She was standing outside one of the pubs near Billings Bridge, in a lovely warm September night around 10:30 or so, talking on her cell phone and straddling a serviceable-looking street bike at the edge of the sidewalk. Respect.

Me, I'd rolled up one leg of my pinstripe pants so I could keep the wide leg out of my bike chain. Maybe less flashy. But then Mike and I aren't so much about flashy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Miss Scarlett in Sackville

Some of you were introduced to Miss Scarlett in my second ever post on this blog.


Mike met her outside Maxwells on Elgin, and according to me and Miss Scarlett's owner Shelly, it was love at first sight. Sadly, Miss Scarlett and Mike were cruelly parted when she moved to Sackville at the end of August.

But, we've just had a report! For those of you on Facebook, you may be able to click here for the ever-increasing photo-and-commentary album documenting Shelly and Miss Scarlett's adventures - from trips to the grocery store to gruelling treks into Gatineau Park to their latest challenge: turning left in traffic in a small New Brunswick town...

And if you're not on Facebook, I'll try and collect some of the photos to post here sometime.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bloor and Bay

Just about the first thing I heard this morning was the radio telling me that a cyclist had been killed in Toronto. All day I've been unable to escape the news, and every time I heard more detail I got more . . . depressed, frightened. Filled with a sort of vague apprehension and sense of horror. Partly because the descriptions of what happened were so gruesome.

You've probably heard the news stories. Here's one of them.

Note: I would not have known about this, in Ottawa, had a major politician (former Attorney General Michael Bryant) not been involved. Had it not happened at Bloor and Bay. Had it not been an expensive luxury convertible. And that's hard to think about. This wouldn't have made the news outside Toronto if he hadn't been 'important.'

Okay, I don't know what happened, I wasn't there. I heard horrific reports this morning, about the driver trying to knock the cyclist free of the car, then finally running over him with the back tires before driving away. The cyclist died later in the hospital. All day, I've been hearing news items and seeing things flash by on the web about the accident. There was an altercation between the cyclist and Bryant, and then he was knocked down, dragged around, and run over. But you know? It wasn't until tonight that I saw anyone print the name of the cyclist. His name was Darcy Allan Sheppard. He was 33, a bike courier and an amateur comedian. Apparently a bit of a hothead (and he did get into a fight with Bryant over the collision.)

I talked to my brother on the phone this evening and he said there's already a shrine at the intersection. People have left flowers and signs, stuck bikes to the telephone poles, unleashed some of their grief. There's a memorial planned for tomorrow, at 5:00 PM: people will gather at the intersection, lay their bikes down, and have a moment of silence. I wish I could be there. My brother said he will be.

We (and there is a 'we') really feel it when something like this happens. There is nothing connecting me and Al Sheppard except that we both rode bicycles. But that means a lot, because we all know that we face the same risks every morning when we go out there. It's hard not to feel an us-versus-them mentality about motorists, because we are threatened out there. And for most of us, it won't be a prominent politician in a luxury car that hits us, it'll be some commuter in a Toyota Tercel, and our injuries will be a minor incident in the business of the day.

If you're in Toronto, consider going down to Bloor and Bay for the memorial tomorrow. I wish I could.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Diva In Car

It's a gorgeous day for biking: enough of a cool breeze that I cool off when stopped, enough sun that I have to squint, and just the right temperature to be wearing my favorite brown hoodie with the ninja on it and my favorite biking capris from MEC. And I have completely lucked out in that most of my 7.5 mile trip home from work is along the Rideau River pathway and I can just zip along and enjoy the sunshine. Made the whole trip in 35 minutes today. I counted.

But, the last mile or so is up the hill on Bank Street between Riverside and Heron. And past Billings Bridge Mall. Where traffic loves to turn. And today I was just about cut off by someone turning right, in front of me, driving a sedan with one of those novelty warning signs - you know, the yellow diamond that used to read "Baby on Board" - that said, "Diva in Car."

Isn't that the problem? Divas in cars?

I guess it bothered me today because my brother was hit by a car last weekend. He was heading south at the intersection of Jane and Dundas in Toronto when someone blew through the light and caught his handlebars with his rearview mirror. Luckily, that was all the contact there was between bike and car - it could have been a lot worse - but he's still pretty banged up: went over the handlebars and apparently hit the curb back-first. Yowch.

Proof that the biking gods are kind, though - there was a cop car on the same block, and the guy got written up for running the light. And, I fervently hope, for reckless endangerment. I have yet (knock on beech-appearance foil from IKEA) to be hit by a car on Mike. I was hit, once, back in college when I was riding an eighties-pink-and-white beast I owned as a teenager, and that time I was the one blowing through the intersection, in Old Ottawa South at the bottom of Cameron on my way into Brewer Park, just outside Carleton campus. The poor middle-aged couple that hit me were horrified, and to tell the truth I was more embarassed than injured. The bike wobbled for a bit, and I think I wheeled it most of the way to Philosophy class, but I was fine. Ditto for the time I had a car door opened on me on my way down Bank two years ago. The woman who did it tried to buy me a Booster Juice to apologize.

But I remembered, when I heard about what happened to my brother, that I'd seen a listing in an article from the Citizen, of bike/car incidents and what's going on, statistically, when two wheels conflicts with four. According to the article, one in three accidents happen when the car is turning right. "Most motorists don't see the cyclists .... their brain is not looking for [them]," is the comment from Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Stuart Feldman.

Then again, looking at the raw numbers, and remembering the rate at which Ottawa drivers blow through red lights:

Collision statistics

Apparent driver manoeuvres in 2008 collisions involving motor vehicles and cyclists in Ottawa.

Going ahead: 101

Turning right: 91

Turning left: 48

Stopped: 24

Other: 28

Apparent cyclist manoeuvres in 2008 in collisions involving motor vehicles and cyclists.

Going ahead: 255

Turning left: 22

Other: 34

Source: City of Ottawa 2008 Annual Collision Report


(Update: My friend Sari read this post and sent me stats for Toronto, from the Montreal Gazette bike blog... 10% of car/bike accidents in Toronto, apparently, are the fault of the cyclist. Not all that surprising. We tend to be on our guards, heads up, eyes open - cause if we get hit things go badly. If cars hit us, they only have to worry about a scratched paint job. For the most part.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Biking in High Park and elsewhere

My brother lives in Toronto and gets around by bike most of the time (and transit the rest of the time.) He loves it; and we're in the middle of an ongoing conversation about the differences between cycling in Ottawa and cycling in Toronto. This video playlist illustrates one of the major differences, which I think is just a matter of the size of the cities: if I want to get downtown from where I live in Ottawa South, I'm shunted onto major roads like Bank or Bronson. Alta Vista, which has its own bike lane, is the least uncomfortable street, and it is a little less direct.

In fact I talked to a friend who also lives in South Keys about this last night - to get anywhere from Ottawa South you have to cross the train tracks, and the river, and the only way to do that is on the main traffic roads. Toronto seems to have a lot of smaller streets and neighbourhoods that you can take instead of having to be on arteries.

And it's awfully pretty.

I'll add that I'm also impressed at how much you can see in this video: it beats the hell out of the visibility in Giacomo Panico's frightening video, taken for CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, of a ride down Albert Street in Ottawa. Which is listed as a 'posted bike route' on the City of Ottawa bike map. And is also part of the Transitway, meaning it's a major bus route. Anyway, Giacomo seems to have been looking down a lot more: understandable given the completely different atmosphere on Albert, but it means you see a lot of pavement and not a whole lot else.

Compare and contrast, kids. Compare and contrast. I'm pretty happy my morning commute takes me along the River Pathway in peace and quiet. (Except for the families feeding the ducks, pigeons, seagulls and Canada Geese in the middle of the path at Parc Riverain. One of these days I'll arrive at work with a goose I've hit slung over the handlebars, ready to be barbecued.)