Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Black Boxes for Bikes

I stumbled across this blog post a couple of days ago: by a cyclist who happened to have a GPS system on him when he was hit by a car. And not just a GPS system - a fancy-shmantsy cycling training GPS system that measures every little thing, from altitude to speed to your heart rate and vital signs. This one (check it out in the post) was sensitive enough to record when the bike was hit. When it was moved to the side of the road. When he moved it to repair it afterward. It registered his heartrate spike on impact.

Okay, yeah. That's cool. I really can't see myself ever wanting something like this, or forking out the (fairly substantial) cash for it. Seems like the sort of equipment you'd only need if you were a pro cyclist (which this guy is.) Or competitive. Or a really, truly obsessive gearhead. But in this case, it turned out to be worth it, just for insurance purposes. Maybe they ought to install black boxes like this in cars too.

Because what really interested - and scared - me about this post was the blatant way the driver tried to lie her way out of her culpability: telling the police she didn't even hit the guy ... until they pointed out the dent he'd made in her hood. Then telling them that he'd been crossing the street illegally (until they mentioned that if she could see what direction he was crossing the street, then she could have seen him and stopped in time.) And it's also disturbing how little recourse anyone has, without eyewitnesses. It all become a case of 'your story against mine.' Until, in this case, he gets home and realizes he's got a record of the whole accident on his GPS device.

And what if he'd been killed? That GPS record would have made a huge difference in how the driver was prosecuted in that case.

Almost. Almost reason to get one.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The First Enforced Bus Ride

I suppose I could have ridden to work today.

Yeah, I could have, to be totally honest.

But man. I woke up to fine, blowing, falling snow, and the spectacle of car after car fishtailing it down the street below my apartment building. After watching a bus slide to a halt at the stop sign - and after agonizing about whether or not to get the bike packed up for entirely too long - I decided that although I really did actually want to ride to work, it was probably not the safest or smartest thing to do. Especially since I was completely unsure about what route would be best to take: did I want to try the path? How deep was the snow out there? Would I find myself trapped at Hurdman Station, like last year? How clear was Bank Street? What about the Rideau Canal path? Had it been cleared? How bad was it out there anyway? And was it likely to keep snowing all day?

I remember this... the winter-morning decision making. Funny, that all the rest of the year I just don't work "bus" into my list of options. But a couple of centimeters of greasy, new slush and unploughed roads does make a bit of a difference, and I have to start remembering to keep bus change around the house. Raiding my piggy bank on bad mornings.

But I'm sort of regretting not riding. After all, there isn't really much reason not to be on the bike: it's slippery, sure. I'll get used to that. I'd have had to ride way out in the street and piss off a few impatient drivers, yeah. I'll have to resign myself to using my winter route (more roads, longer, less pretty) sooner or later. And dammit, it would have been a rough slog, but it would have been fresh air, blood pumping, the kind of wake-up call that I really need on grey December mornings.

I'll ride tomorrow. It'll feel good.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Near Misses

I feel really bad.

I didn't get out of the office till well after sunset this afternoon. One of the advantages of winter is that although the recreational paths aren't lit, exactly, they are rendered a little easier to see in the dark by the absence of leaves in the trees overhead, and the general reflectiveness of the snow. (I'm still taking the paths, because so far my usual route is still clear, with the wind sweeping the pavement free of what snow there is.)

But, it's still pretty dark out there. My headlights cut the shadows a little, but not really that much. So any pedestrians on the path show up mostly as dark shadows until I'm pretty close. As I was making my way along the path, near the river, before the highway underpass, I noticed a figure standing in the grass at the edge of the path. I swung a little to the left to get out of her way, and was distracted by the glow of a smartphone screen reflecting off her jacket (which I hadn't noticed before.)

When I looked back at the path, there was a small terrier practically underneath my front tire. I yelped. So did the dog's owner (which is how I know she was a woman) and the dog skittered out of the way only just in time to avoid my hitting it. I didn't have time to hit my brakes. I barely had time to register that the dog was there. And for a few moments afterward, I just kept pedalling, trying to process what had just nearly hapened, and being very glad that I hadn't hit the dog. Would I have killed it? Or just hurt it badly? I would have gone flying in either case. I was glad I'd had my helmet on.

And then I realized that I really should have stopped and gone back to talk to the woman. Not necessarily to apologize, although I probably would have - really, no one was at fault in this. The dog could have had a light on it, or a leash. She could have been watching instead of texting. But I could have been paying better attention to the path ahead of me. And she couldn't have been expected to be on the alert for cyclists after dark in early December - there aren't that many of us on the paths. And I really, really, should have stopped to make sure she and her dog were okay. Now there's a good chance that in her mind, I'm one of those reckless cyclists with no regard for pedestrians, zipping along unaware and unconcerned, a danger to myself and others (and others' dogs.) But the longer I thought about going back, and the more space stretched out between me and her, the more awkward it felt to turn around and go back. After all, no one was hurt. The dog is fine.

But I feel really bad. So if you know anyone whose dog was nearly run down by a cyclist this evening, tell her I'm sorry.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don Valley Update

More news on the sabotaged bike bridges in the Don Valley: the police are looking into it. (Thanks to my friend Frank for sending me this update, by the way.) Cyclists have taken down the damaged bridges and are watching the area - they think it's one particular person doing it, and it's ongoing: the same bridges were targeted last year.

I'm still trying to get my head around what would cause someone to do something like this: do they have some kind of grudge against cyclists using the trails, the way some drivers have a problem with cyclists using the roads? Do they just think this is funny? The fact that it's been going on for more than a year is disturbing: too methodical and deliberate to be a prank. What could they possibly be thinking?

Cyclists took this bridge down for safety reasons.

Google Bike Directions Go Live

It's official! You can now get bike route directions on Google Maps by clicking the bike icon. There's a warning that they're in beta, and a link to report missing bike routes or unsafe streets, but it's up and running. I decided to plug in a couple of addresses and see what Google has to say about how to get around.

Popping in my home address and my workplace got me a very similar route to what I normally take: Hm, I thought as I scanned it, I don't normally take Pleasant Park, but that would keep me off the intersection at Riverside and Industrial... I may have to give it a try. Although, there is a bike lane all the way down Alta Vista, and not, as far as I know, down Pleasant Park. I also don't know what the proportion of stop signs is like on Pleasant Park, something else that may not have been factored in to the routing software (and really, it would be hard to do that. Although, if they can come up with an algorithm to figure out the most boring day in history, you'd think they could come up with a way to factor bike lanes and four-way stops into the route plotter...)

The site will, eventually, have different coloured routes for bike-only trails, but for now they look just like all the other streets. Except, notably, that they don't have names. Which works awkwardly in the directions text (note steps 4 and 5):

3. Turn right at Alta Vista Dr

1.6 km
4. Turn left at Pleasant Park Rd

950 m
5. Turn right

3.3 km
6. Turn left

400 m
7. Slight left toward Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

1.8 km
8. Turn right at Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

You also don't get Google Street View to help you out at these intersections. Ah well, this will probably improve. Fire back your input, cyclists: let Google's programmers know what you need!

Another note: year-round cyclists are going to have to remember that Google Maps will be marking routes as viable even if they're not cleared of snow and ice. This route sends you down the bike trail alongside the river, which has had a marvellously slippery, inch-thick coating of ice since the freezing rain last week. I'm still riding it, precariously: but come snowfall this won't be a possibility. I'm willing to bet Google Maps will still list it as a route, though. You can't expect them to have programmed for weather.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Malicious, and dangerous... if it's true

I came across a link to this warning on Twitter this afternoon - I know I don't live in Toronto, so the state of the Don Valley mountain bike trail isn't really high on my radar, but this struck me as a particularly infuriating class of assholery. Apparently someone decided to walk in and sabotage the wooden bridges by sawing through the support beams. According to the person who posted this, that entails a nine- to sixteen-foot fall if the bridge were to break. (He - or she - posts a few more pictures of the sabotage as well.)



It just strikes me, if this is true, as a really malicious thing to do. What reason could they possibly have? And does anyone have any idea if this is true... or if it's one of those razors-in-the-apple stories?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting around

The City of Ottawa has a cycling newsletter? When did this happen?

Yesterday, I got an e-newsletter from the city, with an announcement that a new bike lane's been opened on Lyon Street - another step toward developing an official, workable cycling system downtown. It runs down Lyon, from Wellington (which is pretty much the northernmost edge of the downtown map) to Arlington, with sharrows marking off where the bikes are suggested to be from Wellington to Queen, and then a full painted bike lane from there on.


I haven't given it a try yet, but I'll have to go down and have a look. It looks from the pictures as though the lane is only on the southbound side: so it's only good for getting you south. But I seem to remember Lyon being one-way anyway, and I have a problem with contra-flow bike lanes, so that's okay.

And kudos to the city for moving forward on this bike infrastructure project. There's a presentation planned for tomorrow night, 6:30-8:30, in the City Hall Rotunda, to present what's happened so far, since the East-West Segregated Lane Pilot Project was announced earlier this year. They've chosen Laurier Ave W. for the lane, and this meeting will involve consultation with the community about things like design and construction (i.e., will the lane be separated by parked cars, a concrete barrier, posts, flowerpots, what?)

My question, which I would pose if I could be there (I can't: prior commitments) would be: is any thought going to go into making it more comfortable for bikes to get over the bridge and across Elgin? All I'm asking for, I think, is a marked, painted bike lane that continues past the ramp from Queen Elizabeth and gives a cyclist some breathing room at the lights, where we have to stand between the traffic coming through and the right-turn lane. In fact, what I want there is a bike box, so if we are turning left we can get over to the left. As it is, there is no way to turn left down Elgin without feeling like you're taking your life in your hands. Not to mention it's one of those intersections where you're only allowed to turn left between certain hours, which information is posted on a sign that's too small to read. Gah.

Oh, yeah, and my other question would be - how much does it cost to add a bike lane, versus how much it costs to keep the bike paths clear through the winter? And are there any plans to do so? The Canal path gets plowed (which is the major reason I can bike year-round) but if the others were cleared too it would help get cyclists out of the way - and out of harm's way - in winter, when real estate at the edge of the streets is at a serious premium due to snow buildup.

But, again - thanks to the city for taking cycling seriously. Seriously enough that Ottawa just hosted the announcement that Canadian cities will now be getting Google's Bike Directions, and is one of the first seven pilot cities. Awesome! The feature will be launched later this week, apparently, and will allow cities to include designated bike lanes, bike paths, and roads that are safer for cycling, as well as allowing you to plot for things like shortcuts and topography (you can pick the least hilly route, if that's the sort of thing that excites you: it's not so much for me.) It's user-contributed, too: so cyclists will be able to flag and suggest routes. Can't wait to give it a spin once it's live! Nice to know Ottawa will be among the first cities to get this service.

Slowly but surely, it's getting easier to get around.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seven Things Evan Thornton Learned About Ottawa

Spacing Ottawa is one year old, and Evan Thornton, the editor, posted a piece about the things he's learned about his city since the site's inception - and my story on abandoned bikes from last winter got a mention! Have a look and click around - there are some neat little bits of information about what rob mclennan calls "Ottawa: The Hidden City..."

Friday, November 19, 2010

It begins...

This picture was snapped for me by my friend Marie (who has a cell phone camera with a flash incidentally, how cool is that?) as we left the Barley Mow Pub last night around 11:00. Yup, that's snow. And this morning it was -8 out. Here we go . . .

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bikes on Bronson - the impossible dream?

I just came across a wonderfully detailed and thought-out blog post on the blog Images of Centretown, outlining where and how Bronson Avenue fails as a bike route, and what could be done to fix it. The author is involved in the Rescue Bronson project: and to be sure, Bronson is in need of rescue.

I often find myself on Bronson because it's a direct route to Chinatown and the west end of downtown: one of my regular climbing partners lives on Bronson, and if I'm heading to Sushi 88, Raw Sugar, Umi Cafe or the Shanghai Restaurant, it makes sense - given that I'm not that squeamish about major roads - to take Heron down to Bronson, cross the river above Carleton, and then brave Bronson the rest of the way downtown. It's also a good place to hook up with Carling if I'm on the way to Westboro or Hintonburg.

But I understand that my tendency to stick to major automobile routes is a strange one. If I had any actual sense, I'd work out ways to get north/south in Ottawa without being stuck on Bank or Bronson. In particular, trying to take Bronson downtown is a terrifying experience: there's a bike lane past Carleton where the traffic often hits speeds of 100 km/h, but it vanishes as you enter the Glebe, depositing you on a narrow, fast road with some of the most abysmal pavement in the city. From there on in, it's a nightmare, the worst point of which is probably the underpass at the Queensway, where you're stuck in a dark, rotten-asphalt corridor underneath the highway, hemmed in by concrete and a little too close to the highway on-ramp.

The suggestions and observations in this blog post make a lot of sense to me. Putting Bronson on a 'road diet' might be step one: decent pavement might be another: but making it more intuitive, and easier, to take one of the side roads, such as Percy, should also be a serious consideration.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bright? I think it's brilliant.

Out of the soup of information online that I'm usually semi-immersed in (honestly, it's part of my job) comes this link from Bicycles 4 Humanity, to a Ghanaian organization called the Bright Generation Foundation.

I found a picture of a bamboo bike a while back and posted it here: at the time I thought of it as a high-end, performance bike sort of thing. It looked cool, and certainly lightweight, and all I had was the picture, with no back story or anything. I hadn't seen anything about where the bamboo frame had come from: turns out it was one of these, produced in Ghana. The Bright Generation Foundation runs a project that manufactures bamboo bicycles because bamboo is much more abundant and cheap to use than any other materials, and there is a lot of bamboo in Ghana. It grows fast, is cheap to grow, is renewable, and produces tough, inexpensive bikes for use on Ghanaian roads (and I've already written about the advantage of bikes for people in rural parts of Africa.) Production of the bikes promotes bamboo growing as a cottage industry and provides employment as well as affordable transportation. Plus, they're looking into exporting the frames to North America, through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and reinvesting the proceeds into anti-poverty and environmental groups back in Ghana. How awesome is that?



The organization also provides organized sports for social change among youth, trains women in organic farming, and runs a women's microfinance project.

Ah, it's things like this that remind me how much bigger bikes can be than just a form of transportation. There are so many groups out there using bikes to do so much more than get people from place to place.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More on the downtown segregated lane


I wrote a while back about going to the public consultation on where to put the proposed downtown east-west segregated lane; looks like they've gone with Laurier Avenue for the pilot project. Thinking about it, I suppose I do use Laurier most often as a way across town, and it could stand with being a little more bike-friendly. I just got the following email, and I thought I'd pass it along:

Public Meeting #2

 

East-West Downtown Segregated Bike Lane

Pilot Project

 

Thursday November 25, 2010

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Presentation at 7 p.m.)

City Hall – Rotunda

110 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa
What is this meeting about?
The City of Ottawa is finalizing a study for an east-west segregated bike lane through the downtown. A segregated bike lane is an on-street bicycle lane that is separated from motor vehicle traffic through the use of physical buffers (curbs, planter boxes, parked cars, etc.).  This second public meeting is to POH2_study_area_english_Nov4gather feedback on the preferred route (Laurier Avenue West) and functional designs. 
Why attend?
The purpose of this meeting is to:
·         Present the route evaluation criteria and analysis;
·         Present the preferred route (Laurier Avenue West) and
functional designs;
·         Provide opportunities for you to become involved in the identification of local issues and
the development of the facility.
 
Need more information?
If you are not available to attend the meeting or would like additional information, please visit the project website at www.ottawa.ca/bikelane or direct your comments and questions to the project manager listed below.  The presentation material for the meeting will be available on the project website after November 25, 2010.
Colin Simpson MCIP RPP
110 Laurier Avenue West, 4th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 1J1
Tel: 613-580-2424, ext. 27881
Fax: 613-580-2578
E-mail: colin.simpson@ottawa.ca

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rush Hour

Encountered a bit of a traffic jam on the way to work this morning. I thought they'd all have been gone by now: by the time I need to buy a toque for under the helmet and break out the gloves, I sort of expect the migratory birds to have left. But, apparently, no.


These folks are just one of the road hazards of November. There's their poop - it's gross - and the fact that a bird this size feels no need to flee before an oncoming bike. They just gaze at you sideways, like they're daring you to violate their personal space. But there are other hazards on the roads this time of year. . . for one thing, I also notice more roadkill in the late fall. I'm not sure why: maybe animals like squirrels are slower at this time of year. And it's mostly squirrels. (There are more disgusting things to accidentally roll over with your tires than one of those sad flattened patches of fur in the bike lane, but not many.) But it's also birds - seagulls, mostly, although there are pigeons too.

Then there's the pack of wet fallen leaves. The undercarriage of my bike gets plastered with shredded leaves on wet days: and I have to remember to clean and oil the gears more often. I start worrying about the drive train, and whether it'll make it through the winter. (And if not, is it worth replacing it now, or waiting till spring so I don't have to worry about destroying a new set of parts over the winter?)

Ah, the hazards of fall cycling. It's not all grim, though. The bite in the air feels great in the mornings - cleaner in my lungs. I get wide open stretches of the path with no one else on them. As I get warmed up, I can feel the heat flushing through my chilly fingers. And the tingle in my face when I get to work is great, and flying along the bike paths by the grey river over carpets of yellow leaves makes my afternoon.

Now, shove off southwards, geese. Get out of my way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How cool is this?


This here is the H√∂vding. Just when I think I've found the most extreme, most ridiculous-yet-somehow admirable example of bike-innovation design (I still kinda lust after the handlebar-mounted flamethrower and deployable front ski of the BOND Bike) I get something like this brought to my attention (thanks, Shelly!) and the bar is raised once again. 

This thing is, essentially, an airbag for your head. When you're involved in a collision, gyroscopes and accelerometers in the collar determine that it is in fact a collision, and trigger the helium that inflates the collar. All before you hit the ground. 

(Listen for the stifled snicker when the bike flips end-for-end in the last test. It's cute.)

Yeah, you may say, but that's a bit iffy, isn't it? You can do lots of things while you're wearing this collar that might look to the sensors like you were in an accident. Like suddenly looking over your shoulder - POW! Airbag! Or leaning over to check your panniers - POW! Airbag! Bending over to tie your shoe - POW! Plus, what if you just weave into the curb and topple over (I've done it: I'm not proud of it, but I've done it, back when I was first on the road and got between a bus and the curb)? That's a pretty gentle accident, but you could still whack your head - would the sensors know in time to deploy?

Apparently, though, they've tested for all that, the two Swedish industrial design students - Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin - who designed this as a masters thesis. They've run it through tons of variations, using both dummies and (very brave) stunt people. Plus, this thing learns. It connects by USB to a "black box" that saves the last ten seconds of data before your crash and stores it for later prediction. (It also uses the USB port to recharge.) No, really. Come on, how nifty is that?

And what I admire about it is how much effort and talent and thought went into making something only because it looks cooler than the existing technology. I don't know if I'd go to that much trouble, just to not need to wear a traditional helmet. Not even sure I'd trust a helium-filled bubble more than my good old-fashioned foam-and-casing helmet. But someone did, and that's pretty cool. That's a whole lot of engineering in order to be bleeding-edge stylish and still ride a bike. Trust the Swedes. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It happened AGAIN.

So, I was having a pretty lazy day at home, having just finished with the busiest part of my season (Writers Festival wrapped up last Wednesday) and it's miserable out there today - hovering a little above zero and drizzling. But I needed to get some groceries, so I gambled that it wasn't really raining that hard and headed out, without my rain pants, which often make it a little hard to shop.

It was cold. Pretty awful, actually, and I don't have gloves yet this year so my hands were freezing. But I bumped into a friend by complete accident, which was cool, and decided on the way home to swing by the LCBO for a bottle of wine. I parked outside, went in, spent a grand total of maybe ten minutes, most of that standing in the Hallowe'en-party lineup.

And when I came out, my headlights were gone. Again. I left the bike for ten minutes, in broad daylight, in the pouring rain, way the hell out on the south end of Bank Street, and someone took my headlights.

Interesting that my reaction was the same as the last time this happened: I went back into the building it happened outside, to tell someone. I don't think I had any idea that anyone would be able to help, or would even care, but I wanted to tell someone, rather than just get on my bike and pedal away from the scene with the headlights gone. And true, no one in the LCBO cared. They told me I couldn't leave my bike in the entranceway and shrugged when I told them what had happened. Which was no help at all.

I used to sometimes just pull the bike up and park it at the rack, without locking it up. (Catch me ever doing that again.) But that I can't leave Mike alone for five minutes without taking the lights off and bringing them in with me? That's so damn depressing.

Who does that? What earthly good could those headlights do them? What makes them walk past a parked bicycle and simply stop, take something off it, and walk away? Who does that?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

All Hail the Goop!

I admit: I was skeptical. I might still be, a little. But when I got my flat tire last weekend, and went out looking for an inner tube on Tuesday - not having time to hit an actual bike shop, I stopped at the Zellers in Billings Bridge Mall - I discovered that the bike 'section' in the Zellers only had one 26" inner tube left, and it was a "Mongoose" self-healing inner tube. Claimed to be puncture proof. Filled with liquid goop that would, if the tube was punctured, seal the hole.

Here's a description of the sort of thing I mean: essentially the tube is filled with a sealant that flows around inside it, until it's exposed to the air because of a puncture. Then it sets and self-creates a patch on the inside of the inner tube.

It sounds like sorcery to me.

But I bought the tube, brought it home, and put it in. Then rode it to work, unfortunately with the nail still in the tire; with the result previously described. And had to leave my bike overnight at work, again, with a sadly deflated tire. So today, I stopped on my way in and bought a new tube, but I did harbour some nagging little hope that maybe, just maybe, the magical and mysterious goop that was supposed to be in the tube I'd already purchased and installed would have done its thing. After all, I did manage to ride my bike to work with a nail through the back tire, without noticing.

And I'm still not sure I believe what happened. I got to work, and started working, so naturally it wasn't until about 1:30 PM that I decided to try pumping up my sad deflated tire. I did, and then left it for a bit to see if it would leak air (and if it did, I was going to have to replace the tube, in time to make it to a poetry show I was covering at 4:00.)

It didn't. In fact, I then rode the bike 5k downtown, parked it outside the show for a couple of hours, then rode it the rest of the way home, with no discernible loss of air. I kept pausing at red lights to look back at my back tire and bounce a little on the seat, trying to see if it had sunk any. It hadn't. So I pulled an inch-long nail out of my tire yesterday, then let it sit, immobile, for nearly 24 hours - not really giving the goop a chance to slosh around in there and find the hole - and then simply inflated it and rode off.

I'm in awe. All hail the goop.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More lessons

This isn’t so much about biking as it is about me, I suppose. Why is it that whatever lessons I learn, I seem to have to learn them the hard way? Things that, in hindsight, make perfect sense, somehow only occur to me when I’ve come face to face with the cold hard consequence of not thinking of them.

Take, for example, a flat tire. In retrospect, it seems like it should be second nature to check the tire, while replacing the destroyed inner tube with a new one, for whatever object might have caused the flat in the first place. You know, cause it might, like, still be there.




And it might, you know, rip yet another hole in your brand new inner tube, but in such a way as to leak slowly while you're at work, until you discover the damage a couple of blocks after you leave the office. On a day when you need to be somewhere.

At least this way I get to test out whether the inner tube I bought is, in fact, “puncture-proof.” It’s supposed to be full of some kind of liquid that self-seals holes. I’ll find out tomorrow when I try to inflate the tire: I had to hop the bus again tonight, though, because I needed to be at the Mayfair for an event and didn’t have time to repair the flat and get there, especially if I couldn’t be certain the tire would hold.

And yeah, I feel pretty dumb right now.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lessons (hopefully) learned

One thing about flat tires: they are never convenient. Somehow, they manage to happen when you're as far from home as you can be, when you're as far from a bus route as possible, and if they can contrive to happen so as to derail your evening plans, they'll do that too.

I was leaving the office this evening with every intention of joining some friends for a pint at the Royal Oak on the Canal. I wheeled Mike out of the garage, into the driveway, got on, and actually pedalled out to the street before realizing that something felt funny. Lo and behold, I looked down to see the dreaded floppy back tire. I got off, and the slow realization dawned. This was going to kind of suck.

I work out of a home office in Vanier, and I live in Ottawa South. The nearest bus routes to the office are the #5, #7, and #1. The nearest bike shop is on Saint-Laurent near Hemlock - a bit far to walk a bike that's rolling along on its rim - and it was 5:30 (and most bike shops close up at 6:00.) And - of course - I didn't have my toolkit with me, which still does contain a patch kit.

Lesson one, kids: always pack your toolkit. The day you don't will be the day you need it.

I called my boss (whose house it is) to ask where the nearest bike shop was. He told me. I realized I wouldn't get there in time. I asked if he was likely to be using his bike this weekend (I didn't think it was all that likely) and he said he wasn't, and if I needed to cannibalize it for the inner tube I could. I went back in the garage, pulled off his front wheel (hooray for quick release) and got it out to the driveway, only to wrestle with the beads for a while and realize that without my toolkit, I couldn't get the tire off to extract the inner tube. Dang.

So, I put his wheel back in the garage, put my rear wheel back on, and started wheeling the bike the four or five blocks to the bus stop, in hopes of finding a bus with a bike rack. A couple of blocks down, I gave up on trying to wheel it, worried I was further damaging the tire, and hefted it onto my shoulder (on the wrong side, as it turned out: my jacket now has a large swatch of chain grease smeared on the left flank.) When I got there, I called OC Transpo to ask if the #1 or #7 had bike racks. "Very few," said the guy at OC Transpo. "The next 7 with a bike rack will be passing at 10:30 PM."

It was a bit after 5:30. Yeah. That's a five hour wait.

"What about the #9? I could walk to Crichton," I said.

"The #9.... next one with a bike rack is at 9:40."

I almost said, "You have to be kidding." But I knew he wasn't. So, I realized that if I wanted to get my bike home, to where I have tools and a patch kit, I would either have to wait four hours, or walk it downtown to the Transitway.

Lesson two, kids: the Rack and Roll program is not for use in case of emergency. (Of course, I learned that last year on a cold March evening, when I got a flat on Montreal Road and wound up walking the bike all the way to Bank Street, only to find that the Rack and Roll program hadn't started yet and I couldn't expect racks on any buses.)

Giving up, I walked the bike back to my office, stashed it there, and headed back to the bus stop to ride home without it, hauling my unwieldy pannier with me. I'll have to go back tomorrow with my tools and patch kit to get it back on the road. (And put Sean's front wheel back on properly. I couldn't be arsed at that point.)

Lesson three? Learn that it's okay to leave the bike behind sometimes. I was so determined to bring it home with me. It was like the idea of going somewhere without it was just unimaginable. Which is kind of funny, and kind of cool. Even the idea of taking the bus, with or without the bike, felt like a last resort to me (and it was interesting how foreign the bus felt: they've changed things since I've been on one. Like that automated stop-call system. And the fare, again.)

Oh, yeah, and lesson one, again, just because it seems important - always pack your toolkit.

Bike Boxes in Toronto

My friend Frank just brought this post on BlogTO to my attention: Toronto is giving a new kind of bike infrastructure a try - the bike box.

I saw one of these in Edinburgh when I was there this summer. It was painted red with a white bike icon in the middle, and I didn't know what it was. I asked my sister, who's been living in Scotland for nearly two years, and she explained. I thought it was brilliant (and it went into the mental file of reasons Edinburgh came across to me as a particularly bike-friendly place, along with bike lockers in the parking lots, actual bike lanes - unlike the half-lanes I saw in Aberdeen - and bike parking all over the streets.)

What bike boxes do is provide a clear space for bikes at intersections so they're more visible, and allow them to go first when the light turns green. Bikes stop at the forward stop line, while cars stop about ten feet back at a secondary line. Yeah, this does assume that cars obey stop lines. And if you watch any intersection long enough you'll see cars pulled up across the crosswalk, with the stop line somewhere under their back end: they're one of the least obeyed traffic signals. But assuming the drivers know what the bike box is (which they'll learn, given time and enough exposure) and obey the lines, the system works. Bikes get a little protective air around them to stop, wait, and start again, and the boundaries are that little bit clearer.

This is especially welcome to me in the case of left turns. I do merge across lanes to turn left, when and where I can do it safely, but in some cases it just can't be done and I wind up using the pedestrian crosswalk, which is technically illegal. With a bike box, I could bike up along the right side, cross to the left in the bike box while the light is red, and be all set to make my left turn when the light changes. It also gives bikes a little more space and time to accelerate, which I find a little uncomfortable in traffic at times - on a hill, or when space is tight, it's unnerving. If you're going to wobble at all you're going to do it while starting up and gathering speed.

So far there's only one bike box in Toronto: I think it won't be easy to tell how well they work until more are put in and people learn how to use them. A public information campaign would also be fantastic: but then, I think a public information campaign on cycling and cars in general would be a great idea. And I can think of a few intersections in Ottawa that could really use a bike box: Elgin and Catherine for one. Alta Vista (which is an official bike route) and Heron. That insane intersection just below the war memorial (although, maybe it doesn't need to be any more confusing than it already is.) I'd love to see this tried out here: I'll keep an eye on the Toronto boxes and see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

They're talking about me! Or are they?

Somehow, even though I know it's been a growing focus for the local media, I'm still pleasantly surprised when I hear a story on cycling pop up on the radio or in the paper. Hey, I think, they're talking about me! Which is what I thought when I heard Kathleen Petty talking to an urban planning expert from Copenhagen this morning on CBC's Ottawa Morning about bike facilities in the city.

Not that either of them said much that I didn't already know. "Your bike paths are beautiful," said the woman from Copenhagen, "but crossing the Portage Bridge was the scariest thing I've done in my life." There was the usual conversation about how healthy biking is - every dollar spent on cycling infrastructure gains back something like $1.80 in saved health care expenses, or so they claim - and how good for the city, with businesses along bike routes gaining something like 10% profits (tell that to the Somerset Street BIA, who put the kibosh on the proposed test route that would have run east/west along Somerset.)

And there were the usual observations about the state of cycling in Ottawa: which is improving, I have to say, but could still use work compared to some other places (cue the golden light, quick audio clip of a choir, and the word "Copenhagen.") Sure, the infrastructure here is still clunky, since most of our facilities were built for recreation, not for getting around town on errands. And sure, in Copenhagen over a third of the population commutes by bike, while here, apparently, only 2% do. (I'd heard 5% a while back - but the fact that I'm quibbling over 3 percent tells you something.) And that observation came with the refreshing sound of dialogue that did NOT assume that because only 2% of the population uses bike facilities, there's no point in building them. No, instead the underlying assumption of the conversation was that the city needed to figure out how to raise that number; and of course raising that number can only be done by making cycling more convenient, safer, and more comfortable.

All this is stuff I know. So it was kind of gratifying to hear this piece on the radio as I munched my breakfast and got ready to pedal off to work. But in retrospect, maybe they weren't really talking about me. Sometimes these media spots make me wonder if I'm more unusual than I feel I am: they talked about how to change people's perspectives on cycling so that it wasn't assumed to be for "people who already lead a very active lifestyle (i.e., young men in Spandex)," how to get more women on bikes, how to make it easier to get from point A to Point B, with the usual female-cyclist benchmarks of picking up kids and doing the groceries. They talked about how cycling year round was only for "the truly dedicated." 

Sidebar: As I stare down the ugly face of winter, remembering what it's like, feeling that chill in the pit of my stomach, that was a point that particularly drew my attention. But then I thought about it a bit more. Whenever I hear someone say, "Well, in Europe people cycle year-round because in Europe it doesn't snow six months of the year" I get annoyed. It does in Denmark, people. Take a look at the relative latitudes of Ottawa and Copenhagen. And in fact, last year the snow didn't actually stay down, or cause any real biking problems, till December 9th, and I was back on the River Path (which was once again passable) by Saint Patrick's Day. Three months, folks. Three months. But in Denmark, they don't think of biking as a recreational activity: and when people here are talking about cycling, there's usually this underlying assumption that it's "healthier" or "an alternative" or "nice to do when the weather cooperates."

Not an alternative for me, any more... it's just how I get around. And as for the claim that "right now the majority of people cycling are young men in Spandex," I actually have to disagree. Out on the long-haul rec paths, and some of the major streets like the arteries running in from the suburbs, there may be more men. But in the main, the people I see biking around are male, female, young, old, families. I see 50-year-olds on recumbents, parents and children on tandem bikes (those tandem-seat extensions are catching on.) I see, especially downtown, young women in skirts, men in their forties in suits. There's a wide range of people out on bikes. Apparently they're not all carrying a change of clothes and requiring shower facilities at their offices.

Am I - a female cyclist who travels a bit over seven miles to work and bikes year-round, rain or shine, and does it in jeans and a T-shirt - that unusual? I don't think so. That's not to say that I don't agree with what they said in the interview - cycling needs to be made more convenient and more comfortable to get more people doing it. And it seems pretty clear that more people doing it is a good thing, for the city (although it'll clutter up my commute, but sacrifices must, I suppose, be made.) I'm still glad to see cycling issues getting covered, and things have, generally, been getting better around here. But the cycling community is already a lot more diverse than the news pieces will have you think.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bike Song

My sister sent the link for this video to me today: unfortunately the link didn't work because I'm in Canada and "this video contains content that belongs to Sony Music Entertainment and is not available in your country."

Not one to be discouraged, I went off in search of the video somewhere else. I tried getting to YouTube via Anonymouse.org, which a friend helpfully pointed out to me as I complained to my sister (on Facebook) that I couldn't see the video. That also got me the same warning (but in German.) So, I Googled the keywords and found the video posted on another site entirely: which, lo and behold, also provided embed code. Take that, YouTube.

And it's true what my sister said, this is bike nerd cuteness. I post it here for the edification of my Canadian readership (who can't get the video on YouTube, probably because someone decided Canadians are pirates.) Here's a happy bike song for a Monday. Enjoy!


The Bike Song
Uploaded by rockohoward. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

I was on my way out of the Royal Oak on the Canal on Friday night with some friends, and saw this beauty parked against the rail of the patio. My friends are, by now, used to me stopping to take pictures of bikes, so they were fairly understanding, but we were also all on our way to another party and they wanted to organize drives and cabs, so I didn't really have time to stop and truly admire. But I did take this picture.

I should have stopped to get detail shots: the tooled leather seat (one of those wide touring seats.) The muted, brown-and-blue biker flames painted on the chain guard, the fenders, and the down tube. The cup holder. Yeah, the cup holder - a plain metal ring, attached to the left handlebar. The chrome front fork. The smooth, 2-inch street tires. This gorgeous creature was like the bicycle equivalent of a Bentley. Sadly, it was dark, and late, and it was hard to get any details in the picture. But I hope this photo at least gives some sense of the lovely lines of this bike. I have no idea what make or model it is. But it's gorgeous.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Innovations: the good, the bad, and the just plain silly...

Once again, I am pointed at something that is beyond awesome in bike-dom by my friend Katie Malkovsky. She just posted a link to this bike: the B.O.N.D. Bike (Built Of Notorious Deterrents) takes those fantasies all cyclists have at some point (my personal fantasy being the quick-release ballpeen hammer on the handlebars for judicious driver-punishing: scythes on the wheels are another) and, well, just exceeds them. Totally. Check this out:


Wow... Okay, so it's not really for sale. To be fair, the flamethrower might make it a bit too risky to put on the open market. But it's just so much awesome. There are more details about the bike here, including some notes on the building of the thing: it was constructed as a stunt, basically, by a bicycle insurer in the UK, ilovemybike.co.uk - apparently they took a poll of cyclists, asked what annoys them most about cycling, and invented the ultimate response.

On another note, and also from Katie: she spotted someone in Toronto actually using an ElliptiGo. Her comment was that it looked "totally dorky, and totally fun." I'd have to agree: of all the modifications and alterations from your standard bike shape and mechanics, this one actually looks like it might work, and might be really fun. If, admittedly, dorky.


Not nearly as dorky as the Yike Bike, which strikes me as a strange crossbreed of a bike and a Segway (but cuter, with a sort of cartoon-robot aesthetic. Makes me think of one of the more endearing Transformers):


Granted, you can't fold a Segway. And the way it folds up is really quite slick. Not slick enough to get me on one though. I just wouldn't be able to do it with a straight face.

The ElliptiGo, though, has a certain swooshy grace. And there are things about it that make sense. It has the advantage of not having a seat: anyone who's been on a long run, or gotten on a bike for the first ride of the season, knows that sitting on a bike seat is probably the most painful part. All those folks who use recumbents could use an ElliptiGo for the same reasons: back pain, shoulder pain. But it's certainly not intended to carry any cargo. I know that it's not really being proposed as a replacement for the traditional bike, it's being sold as a cross-training device for marathoners: you run hard, then follow up the run with something that's still cardio but low-impact, without having to give up being outdoors. I don't think the novelty quite justifies the $2200 USD, though: but then I'm not a runner.

And I can't help being reminded of this hilarious video I discovered a little while ago, just to round off this "Captain Video" installment of The Incidental Cyclist:



But you know? I still haven't seen an improvement on the construction of a standard bike. Recumbents kind of scare me (I like being high up enough for cars to see me.) Tricycles are great for stability and cargo, but they're bigger and harder to get through city streets, and I wouldn't take one off the pavement. The spokeless wheels I've seen seem like engineering challenges rather than practicalities (the instant any grit or dirt got into the gears the bike would be out of commission.) There really is a simple rationality to the standard bike. A triangle for strength. Two wheels the same size. The physics are as simple as possible, which is why most people can learn to maintain and repair their own bikes. It all works.

A flamethrower and ejector seat would still rock, though.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Someone stole my name!

Well, okay, they were actually here first. I've known about this for a while, but was reminded when once again today I typed only "the incidental cyclist" into my browser bar and got (just below me on the hit list, which is new) a blog based in North Carolina, also called The Incidental Cyclist. And here I thought I was being so clever.

I remember cyclists in North Carolina. The ones I saw traveled in packs (I know, they're called pelotons or something like that), wore a lot of Spandex, and were just desperately courageous as far as I could tell - none of the roads I saw in NC had much space for bikes, I saw no bike lanes, and everyone else (and I mean everyone else) was in a car. Public transportation was baffling and scarce in Raleigh, where I was staying, and there were no sidewalks anywhere. It was drive in your airconditioned car, or stay home in your airconditioned house. I also recall all the roads being separated from the subdivisions by stands of trees, so that you never really knew where you were: all you could see was forest on either side, and the occasional brick gate announcing the entrance to "Peachtree Heights" or whatever the subdivision was called: no houses. It was actually pretty disconcerting.

And in the midst of all that, these not-so-huge roads with not much shoulder and certainly no bike lane managed to also support packs of cyclists. The friends I was staying with called them "the Spandex Menace" because they held up traffic, and also, I think, because it unnerved them to have to manoeuver around the bikes. At the time I wasn't a regular cyclist, so I didn't think much of it, but looking back, I think they must have been pretty committed, to be out there in that heat, that humidity, and on those roads.

Which reminds me of a set of other observations I made this summer, about Aberdeen, Edinburgh, cobblestones, and blue paint: but that's another post entirely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thanks, NCC...

(I'm still mad at you about climbing access to Gatineau Park, but I do have to admit, you make my cycling life easier.)


This sign just went up at Parc Riverain, just off Montreal Road. Note that not only does it say "Don't feed the birds," but the bird pictured is ... yup indeed ... a Canada goose. 

I can't count the number of times I've come swinging down the little slope from Montreal Road on the bike path, happy to have cleared the awkward crosswalk and dodged the riders waiting at the bus stop and the random skaters or bladers or other bikes that tend to behave erratically at that intersection, only to have to come to a screeching halt because there's a flock of goddamn Canada geese wandering across the path, being fed by some well-meaning family, usually with small children who are also wandering across the path. I know it's not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but between dodging goose droppings (which are large, green, and disgusting, and litter the path throughout the summer) and worrying that one of these days a goose will duck the wrong way and I'll hit it, and worrying that one of these days someone's kid will dart out into the path unexpectedly and I'll hit her, a cyclist can start to get a bit frustrated. 

How many times have I thought to myself, if you must feed the ducks or the geese or the pigeons or the seagulls, can you at least not do it standing on the heavily traveled bike path?

I note that there are no Canada geese on the path these days anyway: think they've already headed out. Funny how you can have them all over the place one day, moving in great landbound flocks all over the grass looking a lot like a herd of dinosaurs, and the next the whole park is empty. And this sign went up just as the geese left - to give people a chance to get used to the new rule? Maybe. Will it be enforced or obeyed? Maybe.

It made me happy to see the sign, though, and I stopped and came back to take a picture. Here's hoping this will eventually discourage the geese, and I'll have to worry less about who would come out best in a collision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Car Free Day!

Photo from Time: European Car Free Day. Whoa.
It's that time again: World Car Free Day! Now somehow, I remember Ottawa doing more for Car Free Day a few years back: I remember having a booth at an all-afternoon info fair on Marion Dewar Plaza, where I was selling the jewelry I used to make out of bits of broken windshield. (Really.) And I remember seeing advertising around town. I even got a Car Free Day T-shirt (it was ugly, but it was.) But this year, it's been pretty quiet. I didn't really know if there was anything going on in Ottawa, which I suppose is a bit of a surprise: what with the NCC's focus on cycling, and the Ottawa Citizen's new policy that 'no cycling story is too small' you'd think more people were thinking bikes, whatever the tone is in City Hall itself. But I didn't know if there was anything planned until a quick Google this morning got me a listing on Planetfriendly.net for a series of events, including a couple of presentations, a parking lot something-or-other at U of O, and a celebratory ride into downtown at - get this - 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Hi, organizers? Just because I ride a bike doesn't mean I want to get on the bike at 6:30 in the morning to meet up with you ten miles from my house at Tunney's Pasture. (And once again I run into the assumption that people who bike are like people who jog: joyful to be up at the crack of dawn and 'pumping that adrenaline.' Remember, cycling is also for us roll-groggily-out-of-bed, stumble-around-looking-for-coffee, hit-the-road-feeling-sloggish-at-nine people too!)

Ah well. It's Car Free Day, and it's a chance to think about how awesome it would be if there were more bike lanes, more and better public transit, and fewer cars. It would be nice if this was a day when you'd actually notice a drop in traffic because people were choosing some other means of transportation, but I didn't really: things seemed pretty much the same as usual. You can't expect miracles, I suppose. In fact, I had the bike path pretty much entirely to myself, maybe because of the misty rainy morning. Have to admit, I enjoyed that. Zipping along over the wet pavement and flattened leaves and dodging puddles, all by myself. Why wouldn't you be car free, when you can?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Whoever Stole Mike's Eyes

To whoever stole my headlights from outside the Mayfair Theatre last night:

Seriously, what the hell? They were worth $12.50 each when they were brand new more than a year ago. I'm trying to imagine you as some desperate, shaking junkie for whom those headlights would mean the difference between spending a night in racking DT agony and getting through the next day. But I know that's probably not the case (especially since I can't imagine there's a huge trade in black-market ten-dollar LED headlights.) Chances are, you were just being opportunistic. 

Because the bike was still there, and the back tire was still there, even though it's a quick-release and wasn't locked to the frame like the front tire. Even the seat was still there. But what really gets me is it wasn't just a whim. A couple of months ago I was coming out of my writing group at Mother Tongue Books and a passing guy, with some of his friends, reached out and switched my headlights on as he passed. I guess he thought it was funny. I called out something like "Gee, thanks for switching those on for me, it saves me so much effort," just to let him know that the bike's owner had watched him do it. It didn't seem to have much effect. But at least I called him on it.

But this isn't that kind of whim. Because you didn't just take the headlights off; slide them out of their housings and walk off with them, the way you might if you were a little drunk and saw the opportunity and thought it was a good joke. Nope. The mountings were gone, too: so you actually had to use a screwdriver to get them loose and remove them.

And you had to stand on Bank Street, in front of a movie theatre, in the streetlights, to do it. And wasn't there anyone walking by? It was (I think) something like 10:00 at night. So that means you actually thought, well, if anyone sees me they'll just assume it's my bike if I'm taking the headlights off - if I take anything else they'll realize I'm a thief. So at least I know that you know what you are.

What does it take to stand on a sidewalk and blithely remove something from someone's bike? With a screwdriver? I know, I'm lucky it wasn't a set of bolt cutters and I still have my bike. I'm lucky you didn't decide to pop off the seat, or take the back tire, while you were roaming Bank Street looking for random bike parts to steal. I still have Mike and I'm very grateful for that. But this, and you, are still so petty. So damn small.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stolen Bike in TO!

I know, there's other tragedies in the world. But here's the back story - part of my job at the Writers Festival is to be their Social Media person: I manage the Festival's Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and all that stuff. I'm still not sure I 'get' Twitter, but there are some people that I usually enjoy reading in their 140-character bursts, and "the Walrus tweeter" is one of them: the Walrus Magazine has useful and fun and entertaining things to say.

And this morning I see that the Walrus tweeter (Stacey May Fowles) has had her bike stolen. So. If you're in Toronto, and you see this beautiful bubblegum pink Simple Seven cruiser, get in touch with her mom.


Within moments, of course, she was getting responses: the message was forwarded with comments like "have you seen @MissStaceyMay's bike? help find it: http://bit.ly/aJE7hC"@bikerevolution posted back to tell her "here are 10 things you can do to get your bike back."

And I'm passing the word on as well! She's a fellow literary cyclist, after all. It seems so strange that my brother lived for about a year near Jane and Dundas with a gorgeous hybrid that he parked, unlocked, in the yard behind his house, and never had it taken: it's like a tornado, I suppose. There are higher risk zones (I wouldn't sink a lot of money into trailer parks in Kansas and I wouldn't leave my bike unlocked in the Market at 3 a.m.), but in the end you really have no idea if you're in the path or not.

(Added September 22: Stacey is now doing a piece on bike theft - you can contact her at begood@staceymayfowles.com and let her know what your bike means to you, and tell her your bike theft stories if, sadly, you have them.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Impervius!

Days like today I wish I had Harry Potter magic. You know. There's the sort of rain coming down that Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams once, wonderfully, named 'blatter' - heavy, cold, big, surly rain. It's windy, and the wind is chilly. And the cars going by you on the road are amplified by a factor of about 300% by the hishing of their tires on the wet pavement. And I just wish I had one good Impervius charm. The one Hermione uses so the rain will stay off Harry's glasses. Impervius. Impervius! Damn you, Impervius!

The rest of me is fine, actually. Now that it's really fall, I can pack my rain gear (which I wrote about glowingly back when I first discovered its true awesomeness a year ago) and suit up before heading home, if it happens to be blattering out. My feet stay dry. My ass stays dry. My clothes stay dry. Okay, my hands are a little cold, but we aren't quite to gloves weather yet. I haven't caved that far to the approach of winter.

But I wear glasses. And even if I didn't wear glasses, the rain splattering into my face would be making me blink and squint anyway. Maybe the glasses help with the blinking - at the expense of having my field of vision blocked by the droplets of water clinging to the lenses.

There are things I always find myself wishing drivers knew when it rains like this, too. I wish they knew that I'm blinking and squinting (and often pursing my lips up like a hooting chimpanzee: don't ask why, I don't know, it's a reflexive thing, probably to keep the rain from bouncing up under my glasses, or up my nose) and so my vision is rather significantly impaired. I wish they knew that I would love to be able to swerve out further into the road to avoid the puddles that will spray water up into my face (thus further impairing my vision.) I wish that they knew that I will also swerve to avoid the puddles because you can't see the pavement through the puddles, and so can't see whatever potholes might be lurking beneath them. And I wish they knew how damn loud and scary they are in the rain.

But I don't suppose they need to know how smug I felt this afternoon coming up Alta Vista, when I just kept on rolling past all the cars that were crawling along: I got up that street faster than any of the folks that were high and dry... and busy stepping on the brake, then backing off, then stepping on the brake again. So okay, the Impervius charm doesn't work on the rain. But it does seem to work on gridlock.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

KENK: The Animated Graphic Novel

As I was posting the Writers Festival schedule, I spotted this co-production we're doing with the Ottawa Animation Festival: a screening of the film based on the graphic novel Kenk. I have to say I'm interested, and kind of bummed that I'll be working that night at the Festival, so won't be able to go. I've been hearing, off and on, about the graphic novel, and I'd love to check out the film.

Who or what is Kenk, I hear some people (who probably don't live in Ontario) asking? Igor Kenk is, or was, according to the New York Times, "the world's most prolific bicycle thief." He worked out of The Bicycle Clinic on Queen St. W. in Toronto for years until eventually he was raided in 2008 and almost 3,000 bikes were confiscated by the police. Since then he's sort of become something of a legend. I don't live in Toronto, so I don't feel the same kind of visceral reaction to his very existence that I gather some Torontonian cyclists do. But I do remember a piece on CBC Radio dating from when he was raided: the documentary followed cyclists walking through the yard full of confiscated bikes looking for something they recognized, like survivors walking around a battlefield looking for their loved ones. And the graphic novel, which apparently reads like a documentary, draws heavily on extensive interviews with Kenk himself.

I'm fascinated. With luck, the book, at least, will be available at the Festival. If not, I suppose there's always the option of ordering it in through my favorite bookstore... And if I do get a chance to see the film, I'll let you know what I think!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do The Test

Two separate people in the last couple of days have either posted this video on Facebook and mentioned me, or sent it to me as a message. I love that my friends think about me. (And I did have the video somewhat ruined for me by my younger sister's profession. But I'll say no more, cause, you know, spoilers and that.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Want.

A friend just posted me a link to these wall clocks on Etsy.com... oh, if I had the cash (does anyone out there want to make a humble blogger very, very happy?) Or, alternatively, if I had a spare gear crank and one of those clock kits you get at Michaels... wait a minute... All I need is the part and, well, you know, no one's claimed that green Bonelli that's been sitting at the Billings Bridge Mall for six months or more...

The lower one is probably the coolest, what with the attached crank arm and all. Looks more like a bike part. But I also kinda like the one that has the Mac OSX CD in it too. Since I bike to work, and work on a Mac.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Mystery of the 3iCycle

One night, months ago now, I was in the Market and spotted a large glass storefront-style window that opened on a mostly empty shop floor with several of these yellow bike cabs parked in it. I couldn't tell through the window what the logo on them was, or if I could, "3i" meant so little to me that the information slipped right out of my head. I thought I'd look it up later, and figure out what they were about, since I'd never actually seen one in use.

That was quite a while back, and I didn't see the cabs, or think about them again, until I was on my way to work a few mornings ago and found myself behind this one, near Overbrook:


So I took a picture. It turned off the path shortly afterward. And I was still curious - I've only seen one of these so far, but there was a fleet in that strange shop space in the Market, so what's the deal? (I know that Toronto has bike cabs that are paid for by the city, so you can just hop in one, go wherever you want, and hop back out. I think it's brilliant. But as I'd never seen these yellow creatures beetling around Ottawa, I wasn't sure if that's what they were, back when I first saw them. In fact, I wasn't sure if they actually worked or were some kind of mockup.)

And since here I am now with a picture featuring the URL staring me in the face, I looked up the 3i Summit. Turns out it's run by Leadership Ottawa, which I've come across before. And after a little digging, I came across an article from last November about them - with the perhaps overly optimistic title "Green Transportation Comes to Ottawa." They're 3iCycles, and they are, I guess, something along the lines of Toronto's bike cabs. And they apparently hit the streets in spring of 2010, although this is the first one I've actually seen in action. Maybe I just haven't been downtown so much? Or maybe they're not catching on? Has anyone else seen one? What's the deal? Maybe this one is being driven around now because the summit is coming up on November 27th and so it's really more of a moving billboard than an actual working cab?

Maybe I'm being too cynical about them. Here. Have a picture of one with a baby in it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bike Lane Fail #3

This one crosses my mind every morning, on my way to work down Alta Vista. Is there any logic behind having a four-way stop on a street that has a bike lane? Particularly a busy street like Alta Vista?

Generally, I'll obey the rules at a four-way stop when I come across it on a small residential street or country road (I'll pull up, and if I arrive at the same time as a car, the vehicle on the right goes first. Or, to be honest, all the cars go and then I go, because it's just safer and I don't want to hold anyone up, and stopped bikes seem to confuse some drivers.) But you wouldn't put a four-way stop on a multi-lane street. Would you? Just picture it. You arrive at the intersection beside another car, and there's a third car on the cross street. What would you do?

And that's exactly what happens to a bike. Except that you also add the fact that a bike takes much longer to accelerate away from the stop (hence our tendency to treat stop signs like 'yields' - slowing up and looking for oncoming traffic, and stopping fully only if there are other vehicles involved. Now you know.) And if you pull away from the stop at the same time as a car, you're hidden from half the traffic at the intersection... until the car speeds up, at which point you're  now an unexpected bike in the middle of an intersection.

Plus, as far as I know there is no rule governing which vehicle has the right of way at a stop sign if it's on a four-lane street.

What I usually do is go at the same time as the car next to me (making sure, of course, that they're not turning right - don't get me started on the guy that turned right, yesterday, at this very intersection, without signalling. I noticed the car's rightward drift and guessed that he was going to turn, so hit the brakes. But might not have, if he hadn't been clearly edging toward the corner.) I figure it acts as shelter if nothing else. But one day when I did that - slowed up, admittedly without fully stopping, and then cruised through the intersection beside a car that was crossing at the same time as me -  a driver who had been behind me pulled up alongside as I was continuing down the road, to roll his window down and tell me I should have stopped: "a car nearly hit you back there," he said, although I doubt it. Think I would have noticed nearly being hit by a car.

I don't know if there's a solution. But if you think of bikes as traffic, and bike lanes as traffic lanes, there is definitely something awkward and strange about putting a four-way stop in an intersection that amounts to a four-lane road crossing a two-lane. At this particular one, I'd say leave the stop signs up on the generally quiet cross street, and remove the stop signs from Alta Vista. Replace them with yield signs, maybe. Or a traffic circle; seeing as how that stop sign seems, in all honesty, just to be there as a traffic calming measure anyway.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Things that make me smile...

I just came across this entry in one of the blogs I follow, ThumbShift, and I had to pass it along. Not only is the "Mario Kart" bike lane in Portland a heartwarmingly happy example of urban guerilla art, but most of the pictures collected in the post also made me smile. This might be the most obvious example of cyclists owning the space they're given and the space they inhabit. Making their mark on their landscape.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Opposite of Instructive

Last week, as I was attempting to tighten up my brakes (they were starting to bottom out on the handlebars a bit too much for my liking) I discovered a couple of things. One was that the living room of an apartment is never really the most convenient place to work on a bike. I had to prop it up against a doorframe, and then kneel on hardwood to try and get close to the brakes, or stand and lean over the bike awkwardly. The other thing I discovered was that the repair manual I had, which I picked up a while back and found fairly unreadable, but assumed would turn out to be useful when I needed it, was near useless. "Roadside Bicycle Repair" my ass: not sure you can call a book that, if it tells you that shortening your brake cable can only properly be done with (and I quote) "special pliers known as the "fourth hand," a solitary monk among tools serving few other purposes. Only the most devout mechanics take one on the road."

Well, thank you. Nice to know that to do what I want to do, I'll need a tool that, you assure me, I don't have.

The instructions to go on to say, "Lacking such salvation, your best hope toward redemption arrives with the barrel adjusters, which intervene along the cable's path to lengthen or shorten its housing, effectively decreasing or increasing the distance a cable must travel to execute decisions."

The style goes on like that, incidentally. The slightly-off verbs and prepositions alone are enough to make my little editor's heart want to scream.

I picked the book in question - Roadside Bicycle Repair: A Pocket Manifesto - up in a little indie bookstore because the author, Sam Tracy, had written another, much bigger, book, that the staff in the bookstore said was good. But this one was smaller, cheaper, and easier to include in the bike bag. And it had a very nifty neo-retro-Soviet red-and-black cover. So I picked it up, got it home, and sat down to take a look at it. I got about half a page before I found myself flipping on to another section, due to the prose style mostly, and the lack of comprehensible pictures, and then I decided that I'd just keep it around, and the next time I wanted to work on the bike, I'd break it out and find the section I needed, and then maybe the book would prove to be useful.

So I found the section I needed. How to shorten the brake cable (or, apparently, its 'housing.') I've been biking steadily for three years or so now. I can change and patch my tires, adjust my seat, tighten bolts, install racks and other accessories, swap out pedals, all that sort of thing. But I'm not exactly familiar with all types of bike, or brake. And naming a thing does not mean I will know what it is, or looks like. So, having just mentioned the barrel adjusters, Tracy goes on to say:

"We may find a barrel perched atop the brake itself or riding the lever's tip, but really they show up anywhere along the cable's length."

(Okay, but what do they look like? And where is the tip of the brake lever anyway?)

"We need to wind the barrel adjuster up and out of its base in order to increase the cable's tension and tighten the brakes, and vice versa."

(Vice versa? What? My internal editor is crying.)

"The barrel adjusters governng brake cables wear small nuts or knurled collars around their necks, which are spun all the way down to finalize a given adjustment."

Okay. I'm now officially lost. And there are no pictures. The pictures that there are in this book aren't really all that informative: they show you, in this section, a couple of different styles of brake, but don't identify any of the parts. I'm left wondering who this book is meant for. Not me, apparently, since he only manages to baffle me. But then, people who already know what all of the bits are called and where to find them on their bike probably also already know how they work, and warnings about having your brakes positioned too high (accidentally gouging your sidewalls), or about not riding a bike with a loose wheel, are probably a little beneath them. And dear god, someone should have stopped his prose style before it got as far as "There opens a Pandora's box of loose, loud, and less-effective brakes, against which we set the course of our mechanical energies."

To be fair, there were three pages that seemed pretty clear to me: on patching a tire. It was nice to know how long the liquid rubber needs to set before you put on the patch. An actually useful piece of information, and there was a photograph that illustrated what needed to be done. The initial "flight check" section seemed promising, too, but somewhere between checking to make sure the handlebars aren't loose or wobbling, and "keep an eye out for any tight chain links," he makes another one of those huge leaps over a knowledge gap. Perhaps, Sam, you could tell me how to identify whether a chain link is tight or not? No? Okay, then.

Putting the book down, I went online. It wasn't much more help, but I at least thought I knew where to start. But then, as I was testing the tension on the front brake, I felt the cable give, and the brake handle bottomed out completely. I could hold both brakes down full strength and roll the bike back and forth with no resistance. And when I looked, the front brake's cable looked unpleasantly thin, as though it had frayed down to one small, delicate line. So I swore to myself, packed up my tools, and resigned myself to taking the bus to work the next day, and to taking the bike over to the local bike shop in the afternoon to get someone a little more qualified to replace the cable.

And promised myself I'd find a better repair book.