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.)

The Sword of Damocles

When I woke up this morning it was chilly. There was a breeze coming in through my bedroom window that felt like September. The radio said something about temperatures in the single digits. Now, I know we've had a pretty good month or so, although I have to admit that July pretty much sucked, but it was still a little harsh to have to pull on the hoodie for my ride to work.

I refused to wear sneakers instead of my sandals, though. And yes, I still have pretty painted toes (see the post on style from earlier.) Although they were a little chilly coming down Alta Vista.

I spent part of my trip to work thinking about planning for fall. Getting gloves. Finding one of those dorky reflective straps to keep my pant legs from getting covered in chain grease. Wearing *shudder* shoes. (Aw, Kermit, do you have to talk about it?) Figuring out whether I have the guts to take Riverside Drive instead of the pathway once there's snow. Coming to the realization that my ears were starting to ache from the wind. Getting into autumn-biking mode.

But it's got its own appeal. The sun's bright in the fall, and the cooler air wakes you up. For the next month or so I'll be heading out in a jacket and coming home in a T-shirt, and arriving wherever I go much warmer than when I set off. And the ride will feel cleaner somehow, more bracing, less sludgy. The cooler air in your lungs feels like it's cleaning them out. And the real hammer's not going to fall for another month or so. . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Armstrong stops traffic

So apparently Lance Armstrong, who is in Ireland for a global cancer summit, Twittered this morning and invited Dublin to go for a bike ride with him in Phoenix Park this afternoon at 5:30 (Irish time).

More than a thousand people showed up on bikes to ride with him. Rush hour traffic was completely blocked, and the bike hire shop in the park was booked out of its 190 bikes within two hours of the Twitter announcement. (They then donated all their profits for the day to Livestrong.)

It's things like this that make me smile.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Unfair, and again unfair.

Just when I'd gotten myself set up to head out (I'd invented some errands I need to run, so as to have an excuse to bike all over Ottawa running them in the gorgeous sunny weather we're having today.) I was thinking maybe I needed to go to Westboro and the MEC to shop for, oh, say, a headlamp.

I thought, as I was about to hit the road, that maybe I should just pump up the tires a little before I go. So I got the front tire. Then as I was unscrewing the cap from the back tire, I heard a hissing burbling noise. The valve had cracked away from the rest of the tube and now Mike's sitting there hissing at me and slowly sinking on his back tire. That's a valve crack, that's not patchable. Crap.

Okay, okay, so I shouldn't have bought the things at Canadian Tire, and maybe I should be way more meticulous about replacing inner tubes so I don't stress the rubber around the valves. Lesson learned. So now, it's off to my neighbourhood bike shop on Alta Vista... on foot, of all ungodly things... for an inner tube.

And I may have to ask the guys at the shop: What is that foul-smelling gunky liquid that builds up inside your inner tubes? It's just gross. It's like... bike snot. Ew ew ew.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bixi takes Manhattan

Montreal's Bixi bikes take Manhattan

Man, they're popping up everywhere! Like mushrooms! (Or daisies, to use a more cheerful analogy.) Go Quebec!

I believe next on the list is Berlin...?

Shared via AddThis

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chasing Cars (by Katie Malkovsky)

(Kate says: I was told I could use this for my zine. I had to share - this is not only a really crazy story, but it's really well written. Everyone should get treated at some point to one of Katie's open letters on Facebook. They're always a good read. And this one, well, it's an object lesson.)

Toronto drivers, we need to talk.

You are all insane. But I suppose that's a generalization. Rather, a few of you are insane, which gives the rest of you a bad name. But those few who are insane are completely off their rocker.

If you decide to make a U-Turn directly in front of a "no U-Turn" sign, and almost hit me on my bike, I think it a little strange to blame me for being in the way. I think it's even more strange to yell out the window about what a stupid bitch I am for not having a light on my bike. I thought I was set with my flashing red LED, my reflectors, and my helmet with reflective stripes, yet apparently all of these things only work to make me invisible. I'm sorry. I hadn't realized.

Ah, but you didn't leave it there, Toronto Driver. I'm not sure exactly what you hoped to accomplish by following me and intentionally cutting me off and trying to run me off the road, all the while screaming about my missing light. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you weren't trying to look like a complete psycho, so I suppose I should commend you for making psychosis look effortless. Three cheers for you, T.D.

Though you proved yourself to be unquestionably crazy when you pulled up ahead and over to the side of the road, waited for me to pass you, and then opened your door, hoping to hit me with it.

I have to admit, I was relieved when you finally stopped following me and just drove away, but not before you leaned out the window and screamed that I'm a "stupid fucking cunt." I think you should know that I found this insulting, though not for the reasons you may think.

I don't mind being called a cunt. I do mind that you immediately reached for a gendered insult. I couldn't just be the annoying cyclist, could I? No, I had to be the annoying *female* cyclist; the "stupid-fucking-cunt." You seem to have a deep hatred of women, Toronto Driver.

And at the end of the day, T.D., you have to know you really blew it. I'm a pretty damn responsible cyclist; one of the few who doesn't run red lights or stop signs, and I actually signal when I turn. I cause no inconvenience to you as you drive, and I like to think that my pollution-free cycling makes you breathe a little easier in this smog-filled city. As for what you can do for me, Toronto Driver? I know I'll breathe easier once you've had your license suspended, though I know this will probably happen after you hit or kill someone with your car. You're on a dangerous path, T.D.

And, just for you:

- Katie Malkovsky (check her out on MySpace, here)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's true! I have proof!

Here you go, conclusive proof - BIXI's here in Ottawa! I was on my way downtown to pick up a Vrtucar this morning and came across this station at the corner of York and Dalhousie in the Market, right outside Pub 101. I had to stop and whip out the camera phone to get a couple of shots.

It seems to me that this idea is just perfect for tourists, and I really hope the city makes a point of letting visitors know they can do this. I imagine a future in which people show up in a Canadian city and the first thing they ask is, "So where's the bike share?" Where that's just a part of the plan. Where they have a stand like this right next to where the taxis line up in front of the hotels.

Apparently BIXI is a trial run in Ottawa, so spread the word - people need to use the service in order for it to stay here.

My other nifty sighting was last weekend, when I spotted a small school of Toronto's "Eco-Cabs" rounding a corner near the Distillery District. These are small, enclosed bike-powered taxis - a little like a Thai tuktuk or a rickshaw - that are apparently free in Toronto. They're sponsored by various companies, so the rides are free (although people often do tip the driver anyway.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Last Christmas, my parents gave me freedom, in the form of a full set of rain gear from MEC. Of course, I didn't really know it was freedom at the time. I knew that it was a parently gift: it came with a card saying, "Happy, dry trails - Mom and Dad," and like the gift certificate I got for my birthday when I first started biking (the one that I knew, although it wasn't stated, was given in the hopes it would be used on a helmet, which it was) it made me smile. Sure, I'm a grown woman, but my mom and dad still worry about me out there, on the roads, in the rain.

I didn't know how much it was going to change things for me. It was the middle of winter, and although Ottawa was in the middle of a horrific transit strike, I wasn't biking too far, and even when I did, I was wearing a parka. But then spring rolled around. And as soon as the snow was (mostly) off the Riverside Path, I was out there, with my gloves and warm sweaters on, skidding and slaloming my way through the ice and slush on my way to work (because the bus strike had also taught me that I could bike in pretty much anything if I had to.)

And spring brought rain (and freezing rain, and wet snow, and snizzle.) And I discovered that what I thought was a bright red rain jacket, black rain pants and boot covers was, in fact, freedom. The first morning that I woke up and saw there was cold, needling rain coming down, I bundled up in all my rain gear, and feeling a little like an astronaut - the boot covers in particular made me feel that way; they're dorky as hell, but do they ever do the trick in keeping rain from running down your legs and into your shoes - I wheeled Mike out and into the elevator, and proudly smiled at anyone riding down with me. Yup, that's me, heading out into that, on my bike. I'm hardcore.

It was liberating. I got on the bike, wrapped up my Velcro wristbands and stuck my mp3 player in the little zip pocket (I know, we'll get into the ethics of the mp3 player later) and regardless of the downpour, off I went. Not even avoiding the puddles. I think I actually enjoyed blasting right through them, with the cascade of water thrown off my front tire and onto my legs. I was a force of nature. I was a duck. I was a cyclist in the rain.

I thought of that today because it was another hot, oppressive day when I left for work this morning, and it was obviously going to rain. I brought a change of clothes for the office, and when I felt the first sprinklings on my way out of my apartment, I didn't blink. When I left work today and there was a full-on rainstorm in progress, I didn't blink. I biked home. I loved it. Of course, it's the middle of summer and the rain is warm. I don't mind getting soaked. But it used to be that I would think twice and take the bus if it was pouring out. Leave Mike at the office and pick him up the next day. Maybe in fall, when it's cold out there, if I've forgotten the raincoat, I'll do that. But right now, I will bike in the rain and I will love it.

There's a lot fewer people on the trails when it rains, and you can just skim along. The river is beautiful in the rain. The puddles are warm when you splash through them and douse your feet. The breaks in the clouds (because these summer storms come and go in fifteen minutes) let through sparkling sunshine that catches in the beads of water on your arms. And once when I was coming home I watched the front edge of a rainstorm actually make its way up the path toward me - one moment it was clear, the next I was watching a wall of rain come toward me, the next it was driving into my skin so hard I think I said, "Oh!" When it's hammering down rain, you just push on through it, and as soon as you're soaked it becomes like swimming in your clothes - freeing. The grit on your feet and ankles is even lovely. And today I came out of the rain into a patch of sun and the pavement on the trail was smoking in the sudden heat, and I slashed through a patch of steam that smelled like earth. And you start wondering what the hell it was you were thinking when you dashed from sheltered area to sheltered area in the rain.

I think I might have continued to think you can only bike when it's dry, though, if it hadn't been for those freezing mornings in my full-body rain gear this spring, when I watched the rain roll right off me and realized I can go anywhere, in any weather.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A couple of things I've learned...

One: Bixi operates in Ottawa/Gatineau! How long has this been going on, and why didn't I know about it?

If you don't know Bixi, it's a public bike-share system, where you pay by credit card to sign out one of their beautifully-designed bikes. I discovered this when a woman I work with arrived at our venue for a reading tonight on one of their bikes; there's a stand near where she lives in Gatineau. They're hard to miss. Distinctive. Sturdy but not, somehow, unlovely.
The idea is that you get a membership, or you pay by the hour, to take one of their bikes from a self-serve, solar-powered stand. Then you truck around doing whatever you need to do, and drop it off at any of their locations (doesn't even have to be the one you left from.) How cool is that?

The other thing I've learned is: if you're heading south along the canal after dark, you have two choices: Queen Elizabeth on the west side of the canal, or Colonel By Drive on the east side.

Take Colonel By. I had never before realized how much of a difference it makes to be travelling beside a road and going in the same direction as the cars in the nearest lane. If you're heading in the opposite direction, those buggers are blinding. Then you can't see the pedestrians in front of you because of the glaring retina-burning headlights, and you run a nasty risk of hitting them. Plus, for some reason, there are more joggers and pedestrians on the Queen Elizabeth side. Or at least there were tonight, when it was still about 35 degrees Celsius at 9:30 PM.

Oh, and thanks to Sari for this link, which she sent me after the last post about skirts and bikes... I spent the weekend in Toronto, and damn if there aren't a lot of gorgeous people on bikes in that city. Including a great many well-dressed women in skirts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

...with style!

It's strange to admit it, but in the two years since I started getting around by bike, I have never ridden in a dress. I did, for the first time, tonight.

I mean, what's more deliciously urban, more Continental, more bohemian-beauty than a woman riding a bicycle in a dress? There's something about it, and for some reason riding in a dress has become, for me, a visual symbol of true bikesmanship. Forget relegating your bike to your grubby clothes and your leisure time, riding in style means that your bike really has become part of your life. And let's face it, it's damn sexy.

Yes? We agree?

Now the problem is that Mike's not really a girl's bike. He's a chunky, leggy, inelegant mountain bike. He's gauche. Brusque. Not high society at all. And me and Mike don't go at the sorts of speeds that are conducive to wearing a dress. But the thing is, it was 30 degrees or more out this afternoon when I left work to go to my friend Marie's book launch (for her book Warrior of Darkness, Hades Publications, go look it up and get the first book too) and I'd switched into the dress I brought to wear to the launch while I was at work, to stay cool.

Now, those who know me know that I don't wear dresses often. So this was weird enough. But then I was running late from work and needed to get to the event, and I hate coming into an event, saying hello to everyone, then running to the washrooms to get changed in a bathroom stall because I need to be wearing the pretty shoes. So I just pulled on my (mid-calf) biking shorts under the dress and headed over.

Yup. There really is something about biking in a dress. Something that says, "yes, world, I really am that artsy, independent, urban, and not only that, I get around without all that silly worrying about smudging makeup - and why? Because no matter what, I will look fantastic when I get there!"

Even if you do arrive sweaty, smudgy, and with helmet hair and wrinkles in the back of your dress. It's all worth it, just to change lanes on the way off the Laurier bridge over the canal and halt in three-lane traffic with your pretty painted toes touching down next to your bike. I know it's all selfrighteousness. But you still feel sexy biking in a dress, you do!

So on the way out of the book launch, and its ensuing dinner and drinks, I opted to leave the biking shorts off. It was dark, which made me bolder. The dress is a cotton sundress that comes down to a little above my knees. Once you're biking, and there's a breeze, that 'little above' becomes a lot above. But I know that generally, physics are kind, and I'm never as exposed as I feel like I am. (And if I am, really, who cares?) I had to go a little slower than I normally do, but not by much, and at every stop light the dress fell back down to a more comfortable level.

I certainly felt more urban-chic while I was still downtown: once I passed Lansdowne Park on the way south on Bank Street, and things started getting more... outer-city... my mental image of myself as one of those lovely Italian damsels you see in sepia-toned prints did kind of fade, but by then there was no one on the sidewalks anyway. And I still had pretty painted toes, and if anyone had a problem with seeing more of my legs than usual (I'm the first to admit, there can be way too much of my legs visible) it didn't matter to me!

Admittedly, on my morning hyperdriven commute to work down the River Pathway, I'm still not likely to wear a dress. But I now know I could, if I wanted to. Ha!

(Incidentally, Mike's not the most dress-compatible bike. I like the way his guy-ish frame and 2-inch tires jar with anything feminine, and with the distances I need to cover with him I wouldn't have him any other way ... but he does lack some of the grace of one of those gorgeous, long-lined, single-speed, pedal-braking beauties you see on downtown streets. You know, the ones with the wicker baskets and the arching handlebars. One of which he met this evening: they were locked at adjacent parking meters while her owner and I were at the book launch. Her name is Miss Scarlet. She's devastatingly lovely, and apparently has stories to tell...)

By way of introduction

Lately, I find myself talking about biking. A lot.

So much so, that I started having plans hatch in my mind for a zine about biking: nothing huge, just something I could contribute to on a regular basis, a side project, an outlet for my frequent commentary on what it's like to be someone who's woken up one morning to discover she's mutated into ... a cyclist. An enthusiast. Someone who does double-takes to ogle particularly lovely street bikes, and fondles bits of obscure gear in Mountain Equipment Co-op (okay, I already did that, only it was climbing gear: now it's toolkits, saddlebags, headlamps.)

This blog is step one, really. Assembling a zine takes more table space than I have, but posting stuff here, then selecting from it for the zine, that I think I can do! And creating a zine seems like I'd have to set up a time to do it. Whereas a blog is just... there.

And maybe I'll stop annoying everyone on Facebook with my forwarding of links about cycling to all and sundry.

So, without further ado: The Incidental Cyclist. Ta da!