Sunday, February 28, 2010


So, I felt a bit draggy on the way home from the rock gym this afternoon, and stopped outside my building in the parking lot to check the back tire, and see if it had deflated or something. And realized that the wobble I've been noticing, where my tire's a bit oddly lumpy, is the result of a rupture in the tire. Like, the inner tube is peeking out through a little diagonal slit in the rubber.


I think I even know when it happened - coming down Bank Street a couple of weeks ago I remember hitting a small rock and hearing it just 'ping' out from under the tire. That almost metallic sound that means your tire has really delivered some force in a tangential kind of direction. I should remember to work harder on avoiding those small bits of junk that wind up at the edge of the road, but there are just so darn many of them... 

You'd think I'd also have learned after last year's multiple-flat-tires-in-one-week debacle that anything wonky with your tire will probably, if left unchecked, turn into something that will just shoot down your whole day. So, this afternoon it's time for fun with duct tape to try and reinforce the inside of the tire (I love duct tape: as I said to a friend this afternoon, it's like the Force: it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together... and the Force is strong with Mike.) With luck, I'll feel secure enough to take Mike out to the show I'm supposed to be seeing tonight. And tomorrow I think I should probably find time to stop at a bike shop and replace the tire. Sigh. I'll be waiting for the inevitable *pop*hissssss...... otherwise.

Bamboo Bike

Well, pretty much yeah. The title says it all. (Actually, it looks kinda Ghost Riderish-cool... and while I'm looking at various forms of bike innovation, I gotta say this one I can get behind, if it works. It must weigh nothing.) I know nothing more: the photo just drifted up onto my beach out of the vasty ocean of the web. Time to go off looking for more information!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


That's the only word for it. Snizzle. It deposits an unbelievable layer of slush, glop, and slooshy icewater in piles (yes, this is the only way I know of for water to 'pile,' outside of laboratory conditions) all over the edges of the road, and leaps up and away from the tires of passing traffic (and directly at your face.) Sometimes it's snowing, sometimes it's raining, sometimes it is, incredibly, doing both at the same time. And it's been coming down for three days.

As my grandfather would have said, "Yack."

I'll admit, it's keeping me off the bike, although I keep thinking that if I was truly as hardcore as I'd like to think I am I'd be forging my fearless way out into it anyway, armed with my waterproof gear. But, then I look at the 4- and 5-inch piles of crap lining the roads and I think better of it. At least until cabin fever drives me out there.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much: it's been a very dry winter, with days on days of clean cycling weather. This is just February being February: and I bet March decides to be March too.

And this all serves to convince me that although reinventing the wheel may be a nifty intellectual challenge, it's probably just a good rule for engineers to let ancient, fully functional designs well enough alone: a class of engineers at Yale have come up with a spokeless bicycle wheel that would almost certainly gack and die if faced with the crap lying around on Ottawa's streets right now.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shoulda done this a while back...

... why haven't I posted this before? I don't know. 

My friend Katie, who has contributed stuff to this blog in the past (and who is the only other woman I know whose bike has a boy's name: her bike's name is Stephen), is going to be riding from Toronto to Montreal this summer in support of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation. Toronto to Montreal. That's one seriously long ride for an urban cyclist. I may be posting a link over on the sidebar to her sponsorship page: for now, click here to donate. Any amount helps, and it goes to a truly good cause.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dutchmen in Istanbul

This morning I stumbled across this article from a Turkish online newspaper: about a stalwart group of Dutch ex-pats who, against all odds and in defiance of self-preservation and rationality, are cycling around in Istanbul. They go on cycling tours to the Black Sea and organize early morning city trips so they can avoid the worst of the traffic. It makes me smile. 

"Except for de Carrasco, the members of the group are Dutch and they are determined to lead lives loyal to their own culture. How? by riding bikes, of course.

They challenge the chaos of the metropolis and its intensive traffic. Obstacles created by the municipality, aggressive taxi drivers, crowds in the streets, people screaming, “What the hell are you doing?” and people looking at them in weird ways don’t bother them a bit."

Something about the mental image of a bunch of Dutch guys, placidly cycling along in the face of honking horns and people yelling, "you're too fat, you should drive," just makes me happy. I like to think of them as unflappable. Maybe with little Mona Lisa smiles on their faces as they pedal along. It's such a comforting image somehow. These guys are my new heroes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I want this on a T-shirt...

... for those days when "Share the Road" just doesn't quite cut it.
Like it? I threw it together today after being buzzed by a few too many trucks. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Abandoned (in Toronto)

I just got a nice comment from the author of ThumbShift, a new cycling blog out of Toronto, on my piece in Spacing Ottawa about abandoned bikes. She (I will assume she) also details what happens to these bikes in Toronto on her own blog, at least as far as "held 30 days and then disposed of." What "disposed of" means she doesn't know, and I'm not going to guess. Although it's possible that Crown Assets Distribution gets them there too, or something similar. I doubt they're just piled up into containers and shipped off to China to end their existences in recycling mountains. At least, I certainly hope not.

And I'll take the smidgin of Ottawa envy, too. With the faintest of smiles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greased up

This is a visual approximation of Mike, yesterday afternoon, after I took him out into the hallway with a rag and a bucket, washed him off, scraped gunk out of all his gears, and applied liberal amounts of oil. (The part of Mike, obviously, is played by C3P0: but I insist that I am NOT Luke.)

("Thank the Maker!")

Did it ever make a difference. I had no idea how much crap had built up - grit, grime, general gunk. Not only does Mike just look better now that you can actually see the colour of the tubes, I headed downtown this evening for my dance class and was blown away. So much less work, so much smoother. Smooth enough that I noticed the funny little bump my back tire has picked up (and the slight wobble in the pedals, which will need to be fixed come spring, or I'll have a crank arm pop off in the middle of the street the way I did a couple of years ago when I got one of those wobbles.) But wow. Let this be a lesson to me: it's winter. Buy bucketloads of lubricant, and use 'em. 

It's also only about -1 tonight. I'm slowly starting to believe in that whole 'summer' thing again.

Outside the MEC

Spotted this bike a couple of weeks ago locked to the racks outside the MEC in Westboro. The note reads: "Please remove this bike if yours. We will have to remove the lock and recycle if not moved. Thanks."

Again: this is a not-half-bad bike. It's clearly been left locked there for long enough that the MEC staff have noticed and put this note (laminated, and written on both sides, so it will survive the weather and be noticed from any angle... all very helpful of them.) What happened to the owner? It's not a junker, and it's not like it was joyridden there by a bike thief - because it's locked up. So... what happened to the owner? Who forgets a bike? The seat's gone... stolen, or removed? Did the seat get stolen and the owner decided to write off the whole bike? Doesn't seem so likely though, does it?

Luckily, the folks at MEC can probably find a use for it, so it won't just rot away like most abandoned bikes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Okay, what's up, Bank Street?

I went through downtown this afternoon on my way home from work - had some errands to run. And I don't know why I hadn't noticed it before, in the summer, say, when the pavement was still bare. But it suddenly occurred to me. The recently reconstructed part of Bank Street (which was blocked off for what felt like years) is still fairly devoid of traffic - it's my theory that people learned alternate routes while the construction was going on and haven't trickled back yet. So, it's refreshingly easy to bike along even at rush hour, except for one strange thing. All along the edge of the new pavement, through the entire rebuilt section, there's an extra layer of asphalt a bit over a foot wide, lumpy and a bit irregular, next to the curb. It looks like the layer of ice and slush that hardens at the edge of the road where the plow's blade doesn't reach, but it's permanent - there all year around.

And it forces a bike further out into the road. Not that I mind much: I should probably be further from the curb than I usually am anyway, just to ensure I have room to dodge debris and manholes. But it's strange that it's there, and it's right where you have to keep paying attention to it so as not to catch your wheel on it (and it must be mildly annoying for people trying to parallel park, too.) It's laid right down, the whole way along the street, and I have to wonder. What's it doing there? Does it have some intended purpose, or was it a mistake when they were laying the road? Seems unlikely that it was a mistake, since there's a good mile of it. It's a small, confusing little thing that didn't really occur to me until I was navigating around it tonight on my way home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pop quiz

Okay, motorists: what do you do when you get to a four-way stop and there is another car there?

Yup. You let the car that got there first do what it's going to do, and then you go on.

What happens if you get there at the exact same time?

Yup. Whoever's on the right does whatever she's going to do, and thus onward.

Now, I know that as a cyclist, I'm expected to obey all the same rules of the road as you motorists. I'm expected to stop for red lights and stop signs, signal my turns, pull over for emergency vehicles, all that stuff.

Where the problem lies is that I have no idea if you know that, or if you know that I know that, and then we have these awkward little standoffs at the intersection, where I stop for you, you hesitate, I wait, then decide you must be letting me go, kick the pedals into position and start up, only to brake again because you've decided that I was waiting for you and started through yourself, and then there's a herky-jerky little Keystone Cops moment, which usually only irritates both of us.

This is partly due to the fact that there are a lot of cyclists around who blow off whatever rules don't work for them, or who don't know that those rules apply to cyclists - either way, all they're doing is telling motorists that there is no way to know what to expect from someone on a bicycle - brazen alleycatism? Nervous jitters? A dash through that red light, or a sudden brake? Moving into the left lane to turn, or hopping onto the pedestrian crosswalk?  I will admit that when it comes to stop signs, if there are no cars anywhere near the stop sign, I do often just slow down, look both ways, and keep rolling. It's got to do with how much energy it takes to start up again once you've stopped. But if there are any cars involved, I try, really hard, to act just like one of them. And sometimes that confuses the hell out of them.

Not that I think there should be standard cycling tests before you're allowed to ride on the road or anything. (God, no.) I don't know how to fix this unpredictability issue. Education? Maybe. Maybe a PSA ad campaign, just to let people know about things like that four-way-stop thing. (Hey, there are drivers who don't know what you're supposed to do at a stop sign either: you're killing two birds with one stone that way.) 

Because that weird little dance you and I do, motorists, at the intersection? It annoys you too, right? Wouldn't you like to know that I know (that you know) what I'm doing?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Heard back from OC Transpo...

I got this email this afternoon:

LEDGER 691979

Thank you Ms. Hunt for your e-mail and bringing this concern to our attention.

In order that we may properly identify the operator in question and proceed with further actions, we require the direction of travel. Please contact the undersigned or forward this information which will allow us to initiate an investigation.

Rest assured that safety bulletins from managerial staff are issued regularly reminding operators of proper procedures when sharing the road.

Once again, we appreciate your valuable feedback and hope to soon hear from you.


Customer Relations Officer
Transit Services, City of Ottawa
(613) 842-3600

Machismo - The Vital Winter Accessory

I wrote this piece, posted in Spacing Ottawa today, as a response to one of my readers: it's about learning to get braver as a survival mechanism. And the editor at Spacing managed to find this marvelous video, which he used to intro my article... and which I had to share. I, however, am not a bike messenger and so am NOT usually out there in this kind of weather doing what this admirably lunatic guy is doing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Ups and Downs

It's been an uneven cycling day, all told. Leave aside the damp, -20 windchill this morning, which made it a slightly unpleasant slog at times on the way to work. That's okay, I can deal with that. In fact... I think it's been established I'm a bit of a glutton for punishment.

But it was the ride home that was such a roller coaster.

Here's the note I just wrote to the "feedback" people at OC Transpo. (Mom: you might want to skip this bit.)

I don't know if this falls under "personnel," but there was no category provided for "safety." At pretty much exactly 5:00 this evening I was on my bike crossing the Montreal Road bridge over the Rideau River. There's a bike lane there (although it's half buried under ice at this time of year.)

An articulated bus, route #12, passed me. I'm used to biking in traffic, I've been doing it for two years now, and I'm used to being passed with little space to spare. But this bus had overlapped the bike lane. It did not slow down as it went by me, and even allowing for the under-estimation of clearance that happens when a cyclist is terrified, this bus had to have passed within a foot and a half of my handlebars. I instinctively slammed on my brakes. Good thing there was no ice under my tires. It was frightening, and one thing I've figured out in my time on the streets is that it's when cyclists get scared that accidents happen. I didn't catch the bus number. I was too busy trying to collect myself.

Don't get me wrong - for the most part I have had a great experience sharing the roads with OC Transpo buses. Usually, the drivers slow up around me, give me room, wait for me to pass before pulling out, even go above and beyond and get over into the other lane on four-lane streets, and generally behave very well. That's why I felt I had to report this one. It was frightening.

Thank you for the drivers that do understand how scary it is to share the road with something the size of a bus - and please, please, try to educate the ones that don't.

Thanks -

Kathryn Hunt
Bike commuter and OC Transpo rider.

I actually had to stop a pedestrian as I was waiting to cross at Charlotte to double check the bus number. "Was that bus a 12?" I asked him, and he nodded. "Okay," I said. "Cause he just nearly hit me back there and I'm calling it in." I'm a big proponent of calling this kind of thing in, too. Nothing gets done by generally bitching about it... but call and ask to speak to a supervisor and at least someone will sweat a little. I ticked "Response Requested" on that note, by the way. I'll post whatever I hear back from them.

But, I continued on my way. Past the spot on Laurier where I spotted someone's lost agenda notebook on the street on Friday (nice thing about biking, you go slower and notice things like that; I stopped, stuffed it in my bag, and called the guy when I got home. Returned it to him today, and that was cool.) And on down the street, meshing with the rest of the traffic. By this time "Stadium Love" was playing in my right ear and I was over the jitters from the bus encounter. Pulled up at a red light somewhere near King Edward and a guy sitting on a park bench, with a Labrador retriever, said, "Hey, good for you. Biking through the winter."

I grinned. "Thanks," I said. "It's not as hard to do as people think it is."

"Yeah. People say things like 'how do you do that?' ... I say," and he made little pedalling motions with his hands, "you pedal."

"Exactly," I said. "You put on some gloves, and a hat, and you go." And he laughed, and said, "well, good for you," again, and the light turned green and I took off toward the canal, smiling.

So the fact that I was skimmed by a sedan on Heron, or that just outside my building some idiot in a car decided that just because there was a bike in the middle of the intersection was no reason not to blow through a stop sign, gunning it into a right turn and nearly hitting me ... that was just more ups and downs on the run home.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Decisions, decisions...

Fenders... or panniers? A clean dry butt ... or cargo space? Crap.

I went out to MEC last week to get a new helmet. The old one was shedding bits of plastic shell all over the place, banged up and dented, and the chinstrap finally popped out of its moorings at the back, rendering it more or less pointless. So, I headed to the store for a new one (and was quite happy with the one I picked up - smaller profile, less... racer-looking, and at least on appearances more sturdily built. And since wearing it - admittedly over a hat for the moment - it also feels safer. More coverage of the back of my head. Slightly more of a skater design than those tall, top-of-the-head aerodynamic numbers from Bell that the Spandex crowd seem to favour.)

Anyway, that's not the point. I also picked up some fenders from Planet Bike (all my accessories seem to come from Planet Bike - they're inexpensive, and a percentage of the profits goes to bike advocacy) - wide plastic mudflaps, basically, that they said would install on any bike with 26" wheels.

Sadly, it looks as though the rack I already installed for my panniers... gets in the way of the fenders. Damn. Why oh why should I have to choose between the two? My panniers and rack are already salt- and grime-encrusted. . . and I'm not giving up cargo space. Sigh. Guess I'll have to head back to MEC and ask one of the staff there if they've got any ideas. I don't want, in the middle of winter, to have to hose down the whole frame of my bike in order to remove the rack, install the fenders, and then (maybe) get the rack back on again. At the very least, I want to wait until spring before taking a wrench to the nuts - they're so gritty right now I shudder at the prospect of trying to free them up until I can take a bucket of water to them first.

And this, along with the ergonomic grips I bought last summer that I found didn't fit on my handlebars (I think because of the placement of my gearshifts), ought to teach me that not all bike parts are created standard, and maybe I should ask the folks at the shop before buying them, getting them home, breaking out the toolkit, and running headlong into compatibility issues. Double sigh.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The NCC bubble

In connection, I suppose, with the uncomfortable 'failure to get it together' of the intersection I just posted about, I was surprised to discover today, via a blog post by the Citizen's David Reevely, that it was the NCC that originally decided to build roads along all the city's waterways, which cut them off to non-motorized traffic. And here I've been singing their praises for the path network that runs along those same waterways... until you need to get off and get back onto the streets. (According to the history I can find on the NCC website, though, that was all back in the fifties and sixties. When cars really did rule the earth.)

But this explains so much! The NCC has control of all the waterways (which is where the recreational paths are.) This makes the parkways - all 90 kilometres of them - kind of like the skin around the outside of the NCC bubble. Their network, in itself, is great. Contained and maintained. And if you're driving to one of the parking lots off the parkways, with your inline skates or bike or running shoes, to spend your time within the bubble, that's one thing. If you're ducking into the bubble for a bit on your way from one end of town to the other, that's another entirely.

But it was, after all, the sixties. When the automobile ruled the earth.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Whose bright idea was this?

... Or; why the NCC's paths, and the city's paths, are a little like starcrossed lovers kept horribly apart by circumstance and fate.

Witness: the intersection of (according to the street signs) Queen Elizabeth Drive and Queen Elizabeth Drive.

I've been using this intersection every day since I switched to the canal path this December. Coming down Bank Street from the south, I have to cross the Lansdowne Bridge, merge left into the middle of Bank Street to turn onto Wilton Crescent, and then swing round onto what the street signs assure me is Queen Elizabeth. It's posted: "Bike Route," with one of those eternally confusing green signs. (I don't object to the signs on principle, but I'm never sure what they are pointing me toward: the last time I used one as a guide without knowing where exactly it led, I wound up in the middle of an industrial park, thoroughly lost and trying to generally make my way northeast looking for familiar ground.)

At the T-intersection at the bottom of this short little slope is a green sign announcing "Bike Route Ends." Beyond that sign: Queen Elizabeth Drive. Which, for anyone not familiar with Ottawa, is a long parkway that runs beside the Rideau Canal from the heart of downtown southwest past Carleton University. It's scenic, two-lane, fairly well traveled (especially at rush hour), and doesn't have much in the way of stop signs, traffic lights, or intersections. To the right, you can pretty much spot oncoming traffic: to the left, the parkway curves beneath Lansdowne Bridge, making it hard to see what's coming. But clearly, as the sign says: Bike Route Ends, at an unmarked, unposted crossing. On the other side of Queen Elizabeth, the canal path has a helpfully suggestive paved bit showing you that you're meant to cross the street and turn onto the path there.

Every time I get to this intersection in the evening (usually between about 5:00 and 6:00) I stop at the turnoff from the canal path alongside a jogger or two, or another cyclist, or a pedestrian with skates slung over her shoulder. All appearances say, "cross here." But there is no indication to the motorists that there's a good chance someone will be trying to run across the street in front of them, in a relatively unlit area. Add to that the fact that from the canal side of the path, it's pretty much impossible to see cars coming from the right, and that there are cars trying to turn either off or on to the parkway, and that just there, Queen Elizabeth happens to be four-lane, and that this is where the Bank Street entrance to the Skateway is, so at this time of year you also have skaters trying to cross either Queen Elizabeth or its twin brother Colonel By, and, well ... suffice it to say I have asked the air and the joggers near me, more than once, whose bright idea this intersection was.

But the truth is it was no one's idea. The city's "suggested" bike route ends. The city isn't responsible for connection to the NCC path, nor is the NCC responsible for connecting to the city's path. And so, we scurry across Queen Elizabeth in the twilight to get from one to the other. It's like a portage.

No, it doesn't hold me up a whole lot. But yes, it is annoying. And it's a perfect example of the rocky, uneven, jury-rigged solutions that come up where the city routes and the NCC paths meet.

(Click the picture to take a look at the map. Which I screen-captured from the City of Ottawa Bike Path Map, which you can take a look at in full through the link to the left.)