Friday, November 30, 2012

Courage is a muscle

About four months ago, I got a work contract that has me commuting out to Val-des-Monts roughly three days a week. It's 40km each way, on the highway - not something I can do on the bike. So, I drive. Which means I'm commuting by bike a whole lot less than usual. And lately, as I head out onto the road on the days I do bike, I'm noticing a difference.

I'm jumpier.

I've experienced the same thing in the springtime, when the outdoor rock climbing season starts and I've been indoors all winter. Climbing real rock is a whole other headgame from climbing plastic in a gym, and the first time I get out there on the real thing, I feel this weird flurry of nerves. The first time I lead a route (yet another headgame) it's even worse. Time away means you get a lot nervier.

And lately, when I get out onto the fast, wide, scary road right outside my building, I'm way more tense than usual. I can be fairly sure that traffic hasn't gotten faster or more reckless in the last few months, so it's a gimme that what's changed is my nerve. Cars coming up behind me drive me way too close to the curb, so when they pass I feel trapped and flinchy. I've screeched to a stop a couple of times as large trucks rumble by me. When they pass, I feel my left hand flex the way it does when I'm spooked. I've screamed out loud a couple of times as cars and trucks have gone whizzing past too close for comfort, and I stopped at the side of the road to call OC Transpo and report a bus that gave me a little over a foot of clearance a couple of weeks ago.

And when I get on the road and feel that tension and fear creeping in (it doesn't help that the first mile of my commute is the worst) I remember that it wasn't always quite this bad.

It seems like a no-brainer, but maybe worth saying: Courage is a muscle. You use it, it gets bigger. You don't use it, it slacks off. I keep insisting I'm no braver than anyone else, and when people tell me "I'd be far too scared to bike to work," I tell them it's not that bad and "you get used to it," but the last few months have reminded me that courage - the ability to hold your space on the road, the ability to ignore the roar of the truck you know is approaching you from behind, the ability to shoulder check and make the call before you merge left, the pigheaded refusal to cede your lane just because the driver behind you is breathing down your neck - all of that is something you have to do regularly, every day, or it starts to be harder to do. 

And why that really matters is for all the new riders, trying to get out there on the road - or the folks that put their bikes away over the winter and get them out again in the spring. It takes some time to get confident, or to readjust if you were confident once and have been away.

Good news is, like any other muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. 

Best thing

Okay, sorry, but this is totally the best thing ever. EVER.

I heard about it on CBC's As It Happens yesterday, I think it was, and then today it cropped up in my Facebook feed, reminding me that I had meant to go look it up.

I mean, come on. How is this not the best thing ever?

And how soon would it bash itself into little tiny pieces trying to keep up with the speeds I get up to on my way into town? Ah, never mind physics and practicality. Come, Patsy!

*cue the epic music*

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Only in Montreal

Just stumbled upon this. . . It's total Montréal.

Check out the website here.
There's also a pretty cute video that goes with it:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Standing in the dark in the middle of the road

Mike and his new big sister, Frederika.
For those of you that haven't heard, I got a car. Not all that recently, really: it was back in February or March that my parents said they were getting rid of their 2001 VW Jetta and did I want it? I said I did, partly because I have a soft spot in my heart for that car (her name is Frederika, and she's been with the family a long time, clearly, since my parents bought her new) and partly because as a self-employed (and sometimes semi-employed) individual, a car is a rather nice tick on the job application. Also, it's very useful for getting to rock climbing areas.

Anyway, I have a car now. And one of my most recent work contracts requires me to drive about 80km round trip to a gig in Val-des-Monts, Quebec, a few times a week. I'm riding a lot less, and I'm kind of sad about that (although, I still ride to my office downtown, and to shows and events, as often as I can). But also, I'm driving around cyclists a lot more. And seriously? Some of them do my head in. No lights, running reds, riding the wrong way. It's worse because I'm hyperaware of my status as the big scary car, and I give bikes a wide berth.

Just as an example: this evening, I was on Carleton University Campus, coming up the main road into campus. It's four or five lanes wide, with a right turn lane on each side and a left-only lane heading west, and two through lanes. I was in the through lane, and it was dark. There aren't even any streetlights there. Suddenly, I saw the faint glimmer of reflectors and realized there was a cyclist, standing, walking her bike, at the yellow line in the middle of the five-lane road, waiting for her moment to continue crossing.

I felt a little touch of panic when I saw the wheel of the bike in my headlights. I slammed on my brakes (causing the driver behind me to slam on theirs to avoid rear-ending me: I realized later how lucky I was). I stared at the cyclist in disbelief, and she took that as her cue to start across in front of me, with a little thank-you wave like I'd stopped to let her cross. Illegally. Nowhere near a crossing or traffic light.

We were about 500 metres south of the ghost bike erected about a month ago where a cyclist - a Carleton student - was killed going north in the southbound lane of Bronson Ave.

Maybe someone needs to rethink how bikes get across Carleton campus?

I also wondered what would have happened had the car behind me rear-ended me because of my sudden braking. Who covers damage, if a cyclist causes an accident between two motor vehicles? A quick Google got me an article from the CBC which says, among other things, "The next for the cyclist to look into whatever accident benefits they may have, especially if they have auto insurance, to cover physiotherapy, income loss and other costs."Their car insurance will pay for that," Hollingsworth said. "They often don't realize that, but that's available." And if the cyclist involved doesn't have auto insurance, Hollingsworth said accident benefits can often be accessed through a relative, and failing that, through the auto insurance of the other motorist involved in the crash, even if the cyclist is at fault." I assume that means if I was hit by another car because a cyclist was standing in the middle of the road in the dark like a moron, the cyclist would at least be likely to have insurance to cover the damage. I hope anyway.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What I wish the drivers knew

This list has been building itself in my head for ages, and on a rainy day like this, when I'm trying to get home and it's twilight and rush hour AND raining, it comes up to the forefront of my mind and starts getting refined... the things I wish people behind the wheels of cars knew. Or at least remembered at crucial times:

1. You're scary. No matter how in control of your car you feel, when you come buzzing past me with a couple of feet to spare, you scare me. And I might flinch. Which could be bad.

2. It's not you, it's your engine. If you have a very loud engine, you're even scarier. Maybe don't rev it just as you pass me.

3. On an uphill grade, I'm going to take a little more effort to get going after a stop light. I may wobble a bit. If you accelerate right off the bat, I feel like I might wobble into you.

4. When I pull away from anything really, I might wobble a bit to get going. I try not to. Still - that is not my most stable moment.

5. When you see me stand up a bit on my pedals, that's because I'm on a very bumpy or potholed bit of pavement, and trying not to get my brains rattled by it. Not a good time to step on the gas.

6. When there's a whole other lane you could be in to pass me, with no risk to yourself, I will swear at you if you don't use it.

7. When it's raining, or very windy, I blink a lot. There are obstructions to my vision. This is both distracting and scary. Be nice.

8. There are potholes, sewer drains, chunks of debris, dead animals, six-inch nails, and broken glass at the edge of the road. You can't be certain I'm going to travel in a straight line. Give me space.

9. When you're inching slowly through a left turn, I'm not sure you see me coming. I basically continue across your path by virtue of blind faith. If you're not rolling through your stop, I love you just that little bit more.

10. I am more afraid of parked cars than I am of moving ones. Please don't shove me off into the door zone because you think I have no problem with being there.