Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Oh what a difference a little link makes

Last weekend they finally opened the new ped/bike bridge over the Rideau River at Carleton University, linking the campus to Vincent Massey Park. It's about time: this bridge has been in place for two freaking years. It opened for a single solitary day this spring, apparently by accident when the contractor took down a barricade, and was then thoroughly barricaded and bolted shut for months. Apparently some smoothbrain thought we should all wait to use the bridge until the LRT line next to it was complete, which is infuriatingly on brand for this city. 

Whatever: it's open now. Sound the trumpets! 

I'd been watching for it to open because, ever since last summer, I'd wanted to use it to get to Carleton on Saturdays for a martial arts class. It would allow me to skip having to cross Billings Bridge, ever the bane of my existence (see many, many posts on here for why) and ride through Old Ottawa South (another bane) to get to campus. Now, I can take my usual quiet neighbourhood streets to the Rideau River Path, ride along that to the park, cut across the bridge, and know that it's likely that the only violence I have to deal with that morning will be consensual.

But I hadn't realized, until yesterday, that it has also cut the amount of on-road riding I have to do to get to work down to practically nothing. I headed out of the office yesterday evening  and decided to see how little on-road riding I could manage. If I stay on the Rideau River path till I get to the connection to the Hospital ring road, which has a separated path, I can literally travel 13 km and spend only 1 km total on a shared road or street. (Assuming you don't consider the Experimental Farm roads "roads," which I don't: they have virtually no cars, are slowed to 30km, have no lane lines, and are pedestrian- and farm-equipment priority.) And even then, none of the "streets" I'm on are in any way busy. They're the sorts of streets people walk and play road hockey in.

Even if I get off the river path at Pleasant Park, which shortens my trip by 3 km, I only spend 2.25 km more on streets. And again, really quiet and pleasant streets. 

Contrast with how things were before this bridge existed. I had three main (non-winter) routes: the first two took either the Rideau River path through Vincent Massey Park or the Brookfield underpass, both of which link up to Hog's Back Falls, where I crossed the river and connected with Prince of Wales Drive. I would then have to merge onto this thing. 

I would also have to cut through the Worst Parking Lot In Nepean as the last step of my trip to work: a grim and lawless hellscape with a wide area where there are no lanes, no rules, and drivers crisscrossing from one side to the next to get to the right or left turn lanes. It sucks. 

I need to get from, more or less, lower right to upper left here.
It's . . . an adventure.

OR: I could cut onto Bank Street at Riverside, go over Billings Bridge and through Old Ottawa South to Cameron, then through Brewer Park and Carleton campus to the Experimental Farm roads, and through the farm to the office. This, however, involves the part of the city (the bridge and OOS) where I have probably had the greatest number of adverse interactions with drivers, from punishment passing to tailgating to bullying, shouting, honking, and, at least once, me crying on the sidewalk for a minute. 

Now, though, I don't have to decide of a morning whether I'd rather face Prince of Wales or Billings Bridge. They've both been cleared off my list of problems: at least until there's too much snow down to use the river path, which isn't winter maintained. 

This tiny little link - one 60m long bridge! - is an absolute game changer.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Greek streets: the kingdom of the motorcycle

This fall I went on a climbing trip to a village in Greece for a week and a half or so, and as usually happens when I travel, I found myself adapting to a new attitude around roads and streets. This time, I found myself thinking differently about motorcycles. 

The first thing I noticed after landing in Athens was that the highways were full of motorcycles going much faster than the car traffic and weaving through it at speeds that were kind of scary to us at first. There were bikes on the highway - dirtbike-looking things - that wouldn't be legal on that class of road in Canada, and as we drove three hours down to the Peloponnese and got further and further from the big cities, the motorcycles started to make more and more sense. The roads are narrow. They're steep. They wind and switch back and dive down precipitous cliffsides. 

And then you get into the towns, and you really understand why there are so many motorcycles. It's a bit of a shock at first as you wind your way up the hill through Leonidio (the small town we were staying in, with a population of about 6,000) and the streets just keep getting narrower. There's a slightly unnerving sense that you might encounter a narrowing spot that you just can't fit through, or you might wind up in a street you can't get back out of. 

This is a pinchpoint just 
down the hill from where 
we were staying.
There are cars in Leonidio. For one thing, it's an area that attracts climbers from all over Europe, who often bring cars, and it's an agricultural town (its main crop being eggplants) that has light trucks coming in and out of the flat farmland below the town, which lies tucked in between steep hills and ends at the Aegean Sea.

But in the village itself, drivers have to navigate very narrow streets with strange hairpin turns at times and steep grades - and people walking in them, and motorcycles and bicycles everywhere. You just navigate around them, and take intersections very carefully in case there might be another car (although there were very few cars moving around the town at any point).

So people generally get around on foot or (because the side streets are steep) dirtbikes, ebikes, scooters and light motorcycles. They zip up and down the streets, making me, as a pedestrian, jump - for the first day or so. Then I got used to it, because they all know what they're doing. 

Everyone rides these. Maybe (I don't know for sure) it's like snowmobiles in a far northern town. I watched moms and dads taking their kids to school on dirtbikes. We were passed one afternoon by a man steering with one hand and carrying a chainsaw in the other. Older ladies in black took scooters to church. There were some (generally teenaged) people who rode bicycles, but watching them pedal in the lowest gear possible past us up the steep hill I didn't think I'd want to deal with that every day, and definitely most of the older, working folks used bikes with motors, of whatever kind. Some of the side streets, especially on the steep side of the village, were at impressive grades that I couldn't imagine trying to pedal a bike up. 

Streets were asphalt or paved in flat limestone cobbles. They weren't a consistent width and there was no sidewalk. There were no lane markers on the road: no parking spaces, no zebra stripes. Almost no signage meant for cars, within the village itself. There simply weren't enough cars moving around inside the town to require street markings. If you were coming uphill and encountered another driver coming downhill, one of you found a way to skootch over so you could get by each other - or one of you threw it into reverse until you could. 

If you must block a door
because there's nowhere
else to put a car, at least
make it your OWN door
If you were going to park somewhere it was a matter of figuring out whether it was polite to park there - are you blocking anyone's door? Are you making the street too narrow? Does it seem like you should? Outside our AirBnB there was a slightly wider stretch of street, next to a restaurant patio, where we could usually park. When we were out climbing, sometimes the staff at the taberna on the ground floor would park three scooters in the spot where we usually kept the car at night. When we returned, they'd jump up and walk the scooters across the street to clear the spot for us. 

This is a two-way street used by cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

It wasn't that you couldn't get a big vehicle through this town. There were beat-up old Ford pickups and cargo vans and at least once a couple driving a camper van through Leonidio. But the streets were not made for them and definitely did not go out of their way to accommodate them. Once, I saw a sign that warned of a narrow passage ahead that a car might not fit through, but that was about it for indications to drivers as to what they should do: because cars were absolutely the minority transportation. This town was here long before them and, I felt, will still be here after them. 

And it all works. I stopped jumping at the sound of engines behind me after a day or so. I gained a whole new appreciation for the agility and versatility and surefootedness of motorcycles and scooters. And it was, as always, a bit of a culture shock returning home to the supremacy of the car. 

Bikes and scooters parked in a plaza off the main street.
Nary a car.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Unexpected recovery (and more questions than answers)

Status update: About a month after my Trek got stolen from the bike room in my building, I got an email and a voicemail from a sergeant with the Ottawa Police Services to let me know that it was now back in the room. I talked with him for a bit, and then went down to confirm that it was in fact there, and. . . there it was. 

The worse for wear: It had had every single accessory removed. Fenders gone. Trailer hitch gone. Camera mount gone (the cameras, thankfully, come off every time I leave the bike, so I still have them). The OneUp multitool I'd just gotten from a friend and installed - gone. Even the bell was gone. And the Project 529 shield on the seat tube was spraypainted over in white. The seat had been dropped several inches too. But - it's my bike. 

Aside from dealing with the sense of violation when I look at the smear of white spraypaint across the frame and the derailleur, and the hole where my cute OneUp tool was stashed, I'm also left with some patchy information and a lot of other questions.

The cop I spoke with told me that after the bikes were stolen, the property manager posted notices about the theft in the building and got some information from tenants. The security cameras in the elevator area also caught the kids taking the bikes out of the basement where the bike room is. The kids were apparently identified from the video, because the cop was able to tell me that they were eleven years old - a girl and two boys. The girl lives in the building and let her two friends in.

At eleven years old, I'd have assumed they were just messing around. But they - or someone - systematically removed anything that might identify the bike. Including the OneUp tool, which requires you to know what it is and how to take it out: it's a tool housed in a little cylinder that you drop into the steering tube and then bolt into place through the bottom of the cylinder. And they spraypainted over the Project 529 shield. 

These children can't be experienced bike thieves. For one thing, they didn't hock it or ditch it. One of them seems to have been riding it: the seat was lowered and there was an elastic LED light on the handlebars. But - that spraypaint says they know something.

When I emailed the cop back to let him know the condition of the bike, his answer was "oh, wow," and he said he'd go talk to the boy and his parents, so I guess he also thinks the fact all the identifying items were removed is sketchy. And I still don't know how the bike wound up back in the room - did the boy fess up? Was he caught? Did he just put the bike back and the property manager noticed it? I didn't think to ask, so I guess I probably won't ever know.

But at least, and very improbably, I got my bike back! 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Ride review (and introducing Idris)

It was probably an ideal day to take the new Priority Continuum (I have named it Idris) to the office. Drizzly, a little above freezing, with balls of slushy snow in the bike lanes. The sort of thing I imagine this bike was designed for. 

I ride about 20km round trip to the office building I work in. Plenty of time to get used to a new bike. So, first impressions.

First, that big internal gear hub does make the back end heavy. At some spots, like intersections, where I might have stopped, put feet down, and then just swung the bike under me to a new direction, I couldn't easily do that. The bike itself is not light; it's something like 40 pounds. I felt that a little bit on hills, but I don't mind the extra legwork. And the weight does make it feel sturdy. I'm interested in how that heavy back wheel performs in winter with studded tires (I'm getting a set this weekend). 

One odd thing about it is that it's so quiet. There's no chain; there's no derailleur; the gearshift is a barrel shifter with no separate gears to cycle through; there's no clicking.  I think even when you're coasting, there isn't that little tiktiktik noise from the freewheel. It's just silent.

I'm still getting used to the shifting, I think. Because there aren't discrete gears, you just sort of ease the resistance back and forth to where you're comfortable. Your indicator, instead of numbered gears, is a little dude on a bike on a hill. The hill gets gradually steeper as you shift into lower gears. I admit to being kind of charmed any time I had to climb a steepish hill and shifted the little bonhomme till he was practically aiming for the sky.

It seems counterintuitive to me that you twist the barrel forward to go into lower gears and backward to shift back up - but my last couple of bikes had paddle shifters, so I might just be out of practice with barrels. I kept accidentally shifting the wrong direction. But again, because you just flow between "gears" it didn't do a bunch of mechanical clicking and jumping from cog to cog.

It was rainy and dark enough that I left the office ahead of twilight: people drive like morons in this town when the weather's bad, and I didn't want the temperature to fall and lay down ice on the roads - I don't have the studs on yet. So I didn't really get to see how bright the lights are for night riding. I expect I'll want to have a separate headlamp if I'm going to be on unlit paths or streets at night, but it really is nice to know that I'm lit up front and back no matter what. 

(Update, added later: the front headlight is actually plenty good enough to see by on an unlit path, in the rain. Hurrah!)

I'm slowly amassing the accessories that were stolen along with the Trek - the mount for my Fly12 camera, the bell, the trailer hitch. They've been ordered, and I'll start decking the bike out with them as they come in. 

So. . . so far, Idris and I seem to be getting along just fine. Looking forward to seeing what happens with studs and snow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Hello you sexy thing

So. . . my new bike arrived today. And I got to assemble it this evening. Say hi to Idris. 

Idris is a Priority Continuum Onyx, which means it's a bike I have had my eye on for roughly a decade, it's a bike I had to order directly from the manufacturer in New York, and it's a bike I had to assemble myself. 

But, after my Trek commuter was stolen a few weeks ago, I decided if I was going to have to get a new bike anyway. . . why not splurge on the all-season commuter I'd been looking longingly at for years? 

And so I found myself ordering a bike from a direct distribution company, getting it delivered to my door, and following along to YouTube videos on how to assemble it. 

But I am pretty stoked about this bike. 

Here's the basics. I've been aware of the Priority Continuum for something like a decade. This bike has an internal hub, a carbon belt drive, hydraulic disc brakes, built-in dynamo lights, and built-in fenders. Plus, the front headlight actually has a capacitor that lets you charge other devices off of it. And it looks COOL AS FUCK, can we just agree on that. That matte black finish! The insouciant sans-serif reflective branding on the top tube! The headstock logo that's only really visible under direct light because it's reflective too! GAH.

I only got it today and I spent an hour or so after work putting it together out of the box (with help from the awesome YouTube tutorials the company provides), so I haven't got a ride review yet. But, let's be real: I am probably going to look to like -- if looking liking move. 

Apparently, what you get with one of these bikes is a low-maintenance (because of the sealed hub and belt drive), hardy, all-season commuter. I'm in Ottawa - not a whole lot of elevation to worry about, but definitely a lot of salt, grit, and freeze-thaw. The day I got this, we came in for a night of freezing rain. I'm probably going to go ahead and order some studded tires to fit this bike. 

One con: sure, I won't be able to service this bike on my own as easily as I could a straightforward chain drive bike. But, I'm okay with supporting my local bike shop by bringing it in once in a while for support. I'm not going to learn how to build or fix a CVT hub, of course. But for the more infrequent maintenance, I'm just fine to pay my LBS to do the work for me. Same for the hydraulic brakes. Sure, I can't replace my own brake pads easily. Fine. My mechanics can do it. And this bike looks like it's going to be a blast to ride. 

I've also gotten the heads up from a couple of other Ottawa bike folks that in very cold conditions the carbon belt can snap. . . but when that happened the company sent them replacements for free. So, I guess I'll keep that in mind. And, honestly. . . 

I'm really looking forward to the ride. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Bike theft update

Well, I know a little more about the theft now. It looks like my bike, and one other, were taken by three teenagers, literally less than an hour after I left it in the room. They were caught on camera getting into the elevators (I don't know if it was the elevators for my building or the one next door - the garage is shared). That means if they didn't ship the bike off somewhere, it might actually still be in the building, or the one next door.

I'm heartened that at least the landlord did check the video surveillance, and have sent the video to the police. I just emailed them to let them know the report number, so the cops can connect the video to my report. And the landlord has now installed a security camera in the bike room, which is also encouraging. 

But it also is not a good feeling that these were dumbass kids. Are they stealing bikes for some kind of ring? That's shitty. Are they just stealing bikes for the lulz? That's also shitty. If it's just them messing around, I don't want to bring the cops down on them but also I want them not to steal bikes just because they're shitty teens. If they're stealing bikes for a ring, I want them to get the hell out of that now (and also I can be pretty sure my bike's already been broken down in Montreal).

It sucks all around. At least we're getting better security in the bike room out of it.

My bike got stolen

I suppose it was inevitable? 

About two weeks ago, I headed down to the bike room in my building to grab my bike and head to my Saturday martial arts class. I got to the room and there was someone in there getting her bike out as well. I stopped. Looked around. Assuming she'd moved my bike to get at hers, I checked all the nearby bikes. 


"My bike's not here," I said, staring around. I know I had that look on my face, the one everyone has when what they expected to see just isn't there. I saw it on someone's face in the bike cage at work, when he came out, panniers in hand, and then stopped, just like I had, looking all around him in a search pattern. 

"Someone stole my fucking bike," I said finally, although I was still looking for it as though it would just appear. 

But I was going to be late for class, so I went back outside and got in my car. Between having to drive and the fact that Carleton University was holding Convocation that day and the parking lot was crammed, I was feeling pretty damn combative by the time I made it to the Combatives Room. 

Got home and reported the theft to the police and to Project 529, and to the landlord. And to Ottawa Bike Twitter. And I went down to the bike room with a sign for the door warning other users that my bike had been stolen and telling the thief - who I figure had to have been someone with a key, and therefore another resident - that if they just put the bike back, I'd cancel the police report. But so far, nothing. 

Sure, I might still get the bike back through Project 529 or the cops, or the person who took it might put it back. 

People ask if I had it locked up in the room, and my answer is, I thought that a locked bike room in a locked garage in my own apartment building might - possibly - be secure enough. Not a mistake I'm going to make again. The room does not have any racks, so the only way to secure your bike is to lock the wheel to the frame and hope that's enough of a deterrent. 

I've asked the landlord if there are any plans to install racks. I don't expect much, though. 

However - since I need a winter bike and Long John will NOT work in bad weather conditions. . . I've bitten the bullet and ordered a Priority Continuum Onyx, a bike I've wanted for literally years. It's getting delivered sometime in the next few days. There will be reviews! And I will be locking it the hell up, no matter where it is.