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


... 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.