Monday, November 30, 2009

Wolcum Yole: or, Winter's Here...

I happened to be up in the wee hours of the morning this morning (like, at about 4:30 AM) and so I saw the snow starting to fall, and I wasn't surprised when, after I went back to bed and got some more sleep, the roofs outside were all white. Last day of November, and there's finally snow.

But, it had pretty much melted by the time I made it to work. It was a tough slog, but maybe because of the lack of sleep, or maybe because the rainpants drag a little on my legs, or maybe because Mike's gearshifts really need a tune-up. Still, my eyes watered and I had to churn into the wind, but I stayed more or less toasty. When I bought my coffee, though, the girl behind the counter exclaimed at how cold the coins were. (Yeah, I said, I just spent 40 minutes on a bike with them in my jacket pocket, so it's not surprising they're cold.) It's cold and bright outside - heading down to -4 this afternoon, so I'm bracing for the ride home. And yet, remembering that you don't have to bike is sometimes just what you need to get in the saddle. I try to bring bus fare with me. That way I know I have an option, and somehow that makes me decide to bike.

I think it's related to the trick my ex-climbing partners used to use on me when I was about to give up on a particularly tough problem. "It's okay," they'd say, "you don't have to do it, you can come down if you want and try again later." It was the surest way to keep me up there trying the problem over and over until I finally got it or my muscles gave out on me.

My other sign of the season? The weekend's wind knocked down little chunks of dead branches all over the bike path, and they haven't been cleaned up. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, the maintenance teams' drawbridge is drawn and it's going to stay drawn till spring thaw, or a little thereafter.

Here goes, for real.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


A couple of days ago a co-worker said that she was heading to MEC, and did I want her to pick up a new headlight for me? I had been mentioning that I needed one, if only so I didn't have to leave work at 4:00 in order to catch the light, but it's hard to find the time to get all the way across town. So I said, yeah, sure, and went online to figure out which one to send her off to get.

I used to have a Planet Bike Beamer. A little LED that could be quick-removed from the mounting on the handlebars and double as a flashlight. But I discovered that it didn't really throw enough light to make the trip home along the path very comfortable. I remember midnight runs home, peering into the darkness, with a faint little circle of light on the pavement, failing to show me the potholes, rocks, and branches until I was basically on top of them.

I needed something that would provide light to see by, not just visibility to cars, like a Turtle light, but you can spend upwards of $90 on a commuting headlight, and MEC had one - "for 24-hour races and competitive night riding" the catalogue said - for about $400.

Then I spotted these (MEC brand "Sharks"), and the catalogue suggested that for $12.50 each, you could get two and double up. Well, of course! So, I did. They're super-bright: the day I got them I headed home around 9:30 PM from an after-work meeting, and was astonished. They cover the whole path. They're bright enough to light up the ceiling of the highway underpass. And it was actually quite beautiful, getting on the bike path with the city lights across the river all shining on the water, and putting on my headphones and zipping along in the dark cold, listening to "Ideas" on CBC as I pedaled.

It was even better last night, when I went out for a drink with some friends after a reading in the Market, and we suddenly looked up to realize it was 2:30 AM. It wasn't raining anymore - it had been earlier in the day - so I packed my rainpants into the pannier, flicked on my lights, and headed off for the canal. I had the whole canal path to myself, and it was still warm enough out that I didn't even need to wear my mittens, and at that hour of the night there's no stress. The streets are all yours. And I had plenty of light to see by on the pathways, and I knew that the cars that were out could see me. Freedom! I no longer have to scurry home before dark like some sort of small diurnal scavenger!

And come on, doesn't it look like Mike's got beady little eyes? Aren't they cute? Doesn't he look like WALL-E?
(The friends I was with last night think I should get four or six more and line them up along the handlebars like deerjackers. I'm half tempted. It would make Mike look like the low-tech version of a truck from a post-apocalypse movie. Which would be awesome.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kodak moment

I was meeting friends for breakfast at the Elgin Street Diner before the Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Ottawa when I spotted this bike, locked a foot off the pavement on the rail outside a bar strip. I had to stop and take the picture. I know, I know, my cell phone camera sucks. I still like this shot for some reason.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

... more style!

A friend sent me this link, to a blog on academic style (or stylish academia?) called - a post on cycling style. Right now going through these pictures causes more jealousy than inspiration - hard to be stylish on a bike in Ottawa in November. I'm living in a daily uniform of jeans (one leg tucked into a sock) and three layers, the top layer being the zip-out fleece lining of a light winter jacket. Sure, I could bundle up in a nice coat, but I don't want all my nice winter coats to wind up with a spattered stripe up the back, and that's what happens. Ditto the Victorian walking boots I just picked up from Clockwork Couture - they'll just get soaked. And do heels fit inside the shoe covers I got at MEC? (Actually, they might. Would look hilarious.)

I guess I feel like there are certain limitations connected to the kind of cycling you do. I'm a couple of miles away from downtown by any estimation, and the roads I take to get there are big, loud, dirty, and busy. Mike is as burly and gutsy as he needs to be to get me from place to place, but he's not really conducive (as I've mentioned before) to pretty clothes. More than Mike, though, the roads aren't. You just don't see women like the one in this picture beyond the confines of the true urban. Heading out to the suburbs you see the folks in Spandex and clip-toe shoes, with the mirrors on their helmets, or you see people like me in jeans and hoodies, but you're less likely to run into a sundress and heels on the way down, say, Conroy or West Hunt Club. On the pathways, maybe: once the pathways run out, someone dressed like that starts to look a little like a Minnesota tourist family that's just wandered into the wrong part of Amsterdam.

But, for the kind of objective pleasure that flipping through magazines, or gourmet cookbooks, or watching Fashion Television affords, this post is just great. So are:

Girls and Bicycles
Copenhagen Cycle Chic
Let's Go Ride a Bike
Chic Cyclist (and I love the current post "You Don't Have to Ride Your Bike" because it states perfectly something I didn't even realize I wanted to say!)

And just to plug Clockwork Couture, because I loves me my steampunk (although watch out for their shipping department, they can be a pain in the ass): their "casual cycling capris" are want-inducing. Although they don't make them in my size I guarantees ya.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fellow Travellers

I was having a terrible ride home today. It was raining, and by the time I was climbing Bank Street it was dark. I don't know why it is that people seem to be worse drivers in the rain - maybe it's a matter of my perception, maybe not. It's true that in the rain, the cars are louder. They seem to cut closer to you, and to be more impatient. I swore out loud at someone in a black truck that passed me with about a foot of clearance, and then again when a minivan nearly made a left turn right into me. I was bitching out loud at them all, and at the unfairness of having to worry about being critically injured or killed by my goddamn commute. (Once again, the thought crossed my mind that it's very strange how people who find out I enjoy rock climbing think I'm some kind of crazy daredevil, but don't bat an eye at my biking to work every day.)

And the traffic was just awful - backed up all the way down Bank. I was dodging around the cars trying to angle in off side streets and keeping an eye out for anyone that might be cutting in through the lines and turning left, and I got stopped up behind a bus that was trying to merge back into traffic, so had left no space for me to get between it and the curb. So I stopped, waiting for the bus to budge, and then I heard, "It's awful today, isn't it?"

There was a guy behind me on a commuter bike in a yellow rainjacket - older than me; I'm fairly certain he had grey hair under the helmet. I said something like, "Yeah, and they always seem to drive worse in the rain," and he nodded.

"Well, it's all clogged up," he said. "I haven't seen it this bad in a long while."

And then the bus moved a little, so I slipped between it and the curb and pedalled on up to the intersection. The light was red, so I pulled up. The guy was still behind me.

"How long are you going to keep riding?" he asked me.

"Long as I can," I told him, and mentioned that I use the River Path, so when the snow gets deep I'll have to find a streetside route. I also told him about the rumor I'd heard from the NCC about keeping part of the western path clear this year.

"Does that help you?" he asked me, and I said no, not really. "But it's a start, right?" I said.

"Yeah, it's a start." And then the light turned green and he said, "Have a good night," and I said, "Yeah, you too."

Biking on up the hill to my place, I felt a lot better. Something about the question: "How long are you going to keep riding?" There was a companionability about that question, and a sense that we both knew anyone out there in the cold mid-November drizzle in their rain gear was probably a committed cyclist. Still riding at this time of year, and in weather like that? The question isn't whether you're going to be riding in the snow - the question is how much snow you're going to try to handle.

Sometimes a little smidgin of esprit de corps can really improve your day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turning Signals! come standard on almost all cars! No, really!

Black Mercedes-Benz, plate #AZNZ 999

(written, as a Facebook note, by Katie Malkovsky and reposted here for the edification of the populace. This incident happened in Toronto.)

If you should happen to pass said car, and you're carrying your keys in your hands, and a single key inadvertantly slips out from between your fingers, and as you walk by - oops! - you realize you've scratched said car with your key, rest assured: the owner is an asshole.

This driver felt that a cyclist had cut him off, so he honked. So far so good. Then, he sped up and drove the cyclist all the way over to the side of the road, and continued behind, a few inches away from the cyclist, forcing the poor guy on the bike to go speeding down the street in order to not be run over by the car directly behind him. When the person you're tailing is in a car, that shit is intimidating. When the person you're chasing is on a bike, that shit is murderous.

So the car goes back to the middle of the road and stops, and the driver gets out. He starts yelling at the cyclist. A car in the next lane stops to yell at the first driver. Now both lanes are blocked, cars are honking, and this psycho driver is still yelling and cursing at the cyclist. I walk by, pull out my phone, and say, "so, I'll just call the police then, unless you're just about done?" At this point the cyclist speeds off. Fuck. I meant to scare the driver, not the cyclist.

Driver 1 and Driver 2 continue to yell at each other. Driver 2 speeds away, Driver 1 pulls over and just sits there. I dunno why.

Sorry for the crappy photo quality. Cell phone cam. I was also trying to be discreet, so as no to anger the psycho.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ah, larceny.

So I commented a couple of posts ago about the whole "U-lock Bic pen thing," and a friend's response sent me off onto YouTube looking for the truth. And the truth is, yes you can pick a U-lock with a Bic pen. But, not a straightforward key lock - in this example anyway, it's the tubular lock. The one you get with the circular key (which you can fit a pen body into, once the ink cartridge has been removed, twist, and voilá.) Which isn't to say you can't pick the regular key-lock kind either.

The YouTube click-trance, however, just delivered me directly to the land of the paranoid. From the loud and amateur movie insisting that all you have to do is spraypaint the bike, because a sprayed bike already looks stolen, to the British high-quality film advising, essentially, that you spend 20% of the value of your bike on locks, and even then lock and pin everything before leaving your bike even for a second... well... I started getting pretty freaked about leaving Mike unattended anywhere. I went to catch a movie screening downtown this evening, and outside the main branch of the public library, on a major, well-lit street, in Ottawa of all ridiculously safe cities, I made a point of running my cable (which has a safety rating, according to Kryptonite, of about 1 on a scale of 1 to 14... basically it's a deterrent, the equivalent of tying a length of rope around the bike, as far as any serious bike thieves are concerned) through the frame and both tires.

But I think I'm a victim of the availability heuristic. And a lot of the really paranoid videos were also assuming that your bike costs a couple of thousand dollars. (And the people writing comments were laughing at that fact because, like me, they got their bikes for $20-$50 dollars.)* And that you live somewhere where bike theft is rampant. And that you leave your bike in dark, secluded, out-of-the-way areas. Oh, and did I mention they assume your bike is worth a couple of thousand dollars?

Who even has a bike that costs that much? Other than Lance Armstrong?

Sure - that tubular U-lock trick is a bit of an eye-opener. Although... any lock can be picked. But someone's bound to notice someone sitting near my bike, even in the late evening, on a main street, with a lockpick set. Or someone trying to listen to the tumblers on the combination lock I've got now. Or hauling out the industrial shears to get through the cable. You figure? So as long as he's not all alone in a back alley or an industrial park parking lot, at three A.M., I think my paranoia's a bit unjustified.

*In fact, if memory serves, I got Mike for $50 and a Dave Brubeck ticket.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self-destructive Rodents

Why is it, anyway, that squirrels, when they suddenly make a dash into the path and freeze, inevitably then dart right back in front of, rather than away from, the oncoming bicycle? (Causing me to slam on the brakes so as not to find out what it feels like to run over a squirrel on 2-inch tires.)

Is it related to the four neurons in a moth that just randomly fire, telling it to drop, rise, swerve right or swerve left, when it's pinged by a bat's sonar? What, exactly, is going on in their furry little minds?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chilly Morning

There were frost stripes on the way to work this morning: lines of frost on the grass that matched up with the shadows of the trees. That's one of the things I think I like about November. It was probably hovering around freezing, bright and sunny. Where the sun hit my black jeans was warm, but I had wool mittens on to keep my hands from getting too cold. And where the sun hit the ground the frost just vanished: on the east side of the street, though, in the shadows of the houses, the grass was dusty-white.

The weather and the daylight are getting more tyrannical as winter comes on. They dictate more. It's interesting, in a way. My headlight died back in September or sometime, and until I get a new one, I have to stick to lit streets or get myself off the pathway before dark actually falls. With sunset falling at 4:35 (as of today), I need to get on the road by at least 4:20 in order to make the main streets by the time it gets too dark to see. It sets a real, cosmos-induced limit on my schedule - not something we're used to in the 21st-century West.

And I have to check the weather before I head out, too - is it cold in the morning? Will it get warmer through the day? Should I pack the raingear? It makes a bigger difference than in the summer, when getting rained on doesn't really inconvenience you much. Now, I'm starting to think I should just have my raingear with me, at all times, in case of snow or sleet or rain. I got caught a couple of weeks ago. When I got home with soaked clothing, after a terrifying ride through the dark along a major street in the rain, I was completely surprised when I started trembling in the elevator to my apartment. I hadn't thought it was that bad, until I got home, and got the shakes.

So I stick to the daylight when I can (I biked in the dark to my rock gym last night, but it's a well-lit, wide street. Had it been raining, I might have opted to bus it just that once.) And I have to plan ahead more. It helps, though, with some of what I find hard about winter. We're usually disconnected from the seasons, and so we wind up, in winter, working through the day, arriving in the dark and leaving in the dark, and wondering why we're depressed; standing shivering waiting for the bus with the wrong jacket on a damp night and wondering why we're sick. Biking is actually forcing me to pay a little more attention, and that makes the season a lot easier to live with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Separation Anxiety

It's the strangest thing. I had to leave Mike behind at the office today. It was a combination of things: I was starting to get a bit sick; there was a meeting at the office that ran until after dark, and my headlight broke down not long ago, so I've been trying to avoid the bike path when it gets dark; and I needed to stop for some errands on the way home, but I left my bike lock in a friend's car last weekend, so I couldn't exactly stop at the mall and leave Mike unattended in the parking lot. (I know, I know, it's paranoia. But how stupid would I feel if I left him in the parking lot of Billings Bridge Mall to run in for a new alarm clock and some coconut milk, and came out to find him gone?)

I did, actually, leave him in the lot yesterday, to run in and do some banking and grab a bottle of wine. And I spent the whole time I was inside the mall half distracted by knowing he was out there, unsecured. It was such a relief to see the reflective patches on his panniers glowing away at me when I got out.

So, I had to stop today for a new lock and some groceries and an alarm clock. And, all told, I thought it made more sense for me to leave Mike at the office - I bring him inside and park him in the storage area - and catch a bus home.

And I feel just ever so slightly silly that when I went into the storage area to take the pannier off his rack so I could take it home with me, I ... felt bad. Leaving him there. All ... parked and waiting for me to carry him outside and put him on the road. With my helmet slung on one of his handlebars. I kept wanting to apologize for leaving him behind.

I blame the fever. I was in a strange emotional spot. That must be it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bank Street Bike Racks

I missed it, because I had a meeting (and because I had the date wrong) but yesterday was the official unveiling of the new Bank Street North bike racks.

I meant to go, even though I'm conflicted about them. While I applaud the idea...

This is one of the bike rack designs. Artists were asked to create a line graphic that could be used as the template for a bike rack, to be installed along Bank Street. Note, this whole project was called the Bank Street North Rehabilitation Project. So clearly, it's a city beautification project, meant to try and build a sense of community on Ottawa's major downtown street. Bike racks make a street feel like a community, right? And public art makes a street feel like a community, right? And David Byrne's New York bike racks were a terrific idea, right?

The problem is this: Byrne's racks were designed by a guy who has been cycling, in New York and around the world, for 25 years or something like that. And his racks are useable. Big, open, steel frames that you could probably get a few bikes onto if you didn't mind sharing. But look at this one, from the City of Ottawa project. Where, exactly, are you supposed to thread the lock? Especially if, like me, you have a U-lock?

The panels are, to be fair, set up in frames that are lockable. But still awkward, and the space between the panels and the frames is pretty narrow. Not a lot of space to negotiate a long U lock and actually get it through the frame and wheel. Especially with a metal panel blocking where you can settle your handlebars and pedals to get in close to the frame. They're awkward.

I've already caught myself getting frustrated trying to use the racks that previously stood on Bank, which consist of short poles with shallow metal semicircles on either side - again, they look fine, but with a U-lock I usually find myself giving up and locking my bike to one of the metal tree cages nearby instead. A couple of months ago I really wished I had a camera so I could post a picture to this blog, of the bike rack standing empty and my bike and two others chained up to the trees nearby. Ah, city - it's the thought that counts, huh?

I also heard an interview on CBC Radio a month or two ago, when the racks started going in, in which the interviewer, talking to one of the artists, actually asked him whether he objected to seeing bikes chained up to his art. Whether he was annoyed by the design actually being used. And he did say that it was a little disconcerting for him to see the bikes parked up against his design.

Wasn't that what it was for?

I have to admit, though, that I do like this one - partly because the design allows you to lock through the frame or through the panel. It's spacious. There's room for my bike in this one.

And maybe I should just get a chain and ditch the U lock. Even though the city recommends U locks as the safest ones. (You can pick them with a Bic pen cap, though, apparently, so maybe I should be getting a combination chain anyway...)