Sunday, January 31, 2010

Theft-proof, puncture-free, and slightly implausible

I'm still stumped. I have no idea how this bike would actually work. Sure, maybe the wheels work on bearings and the brake cables are contained inside the frame, with the brake pads nestled in where the frame wraps around the tires. And I will assume that it's a fixie (because I can't imagine how else the drive train would work - and even then I find myself peering at this photo and trying to imagine the workings in there by the pedals). And sure, it is futuristically Tron-like. But... I still don't quite get it. Maybe because I'm not a racer?

I was sent the link to this design concept by a friend. Cool, yes. Pretty, yes. But the designer's statement that these will be commonplace in 20 years... I find that hard to agree with. Looks like design for design's sake, and that doesn't often stand the test of time unless it also improves on the old model: makes it easier or more efficient. Really, I like my gearshifts, the fact that I can do most repairs on my bike myself, on the fly if need be (I can't imagine trying to crack this carbon-fibre frame to try and fix anything).  Mike can handle slush, road salt, grit, potholes, and slipped chains. Although I have to admit, too, that this design has a whole lot fewer moving parts to get coated in grime and grit and start up all kinds of friction problems. Although since those wheels must be rolling on ball bearings or something, I'd hate to think what happens when you get grit into those workings. Seems like this bike would be clean tracks and pristine asphalt or nothing.

But it sure is space-age.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hooray for subzero!

Wow. I never would have thought I'd hear myself say that. . .

Over the weekend it rained. Sunday night I took the bus downtown for a meeting, and as we left the coffee shop, the fine rain had left a thin glassy layer of ice on the pavement that nearly had me falling down a couple of times. So I was glad I didn't have the bike. I actually enjoyed the chance to be lazy.

Then the next morning I looked outside. Slush, drizzle, mushy edges on all the roads, and the weather forecast saying something about freezing rain and temperatures between a couple of degrees over and a couple of degrees under freezing. Well, I could have taken the bike. Frankly, I just didn't want to. I was still okay with slacking off and being lazy. Sure, I've got rain gear - but it was cold and decidedly un-pretty out there. And unpredictable. So I caught the bus.

But then Tuesday I woke up to actual snow. And I had to take the bus: really, if there's going to be a few centimeters coming down I don't want to have to negotiate that, plus hidden hummocks of ice underneath the concealing layer of snow where it's been petrifying all winter, plus the general loopiness of traffic in this town when the weather gets bad. Plus no assurances anyone would have cleared the canal path. So, once again I found myself standing around waiting for buses, peering at bus numbers through the forest of heads, choking on cigarette smoke, shivering, wrestling with bags, cramming onto buses and being admonished to "keep moving back please..." Not to mention trudging all over the East End looking for someplace that would sell bus tickets so it wouldn't cost me $3 just to get home.

Suffice to say, I was pretty much done with being lazy by the time I got home last night. So when I woke up this morning to the kind of brisk, clear sunlight that tells you it's got to be below -5, I was pretty happy. There was a goshdarn spring in my step while I pulled on my wool tights and mittens for the ride to work.

Yup. I'd much rather bike over dry, rock-hard ice in 20-below than slog through slush at sort-of-maybe-not-quite-freezing. I'm actually looking forward to Friday's predicted -15.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budget Deliberations

I've been watching the city budget deliberations with what attention I can devote these days - the cuts to public transit are pretty disturbing, and the ways in which things are still giving priority to cars. But at least cycling infrastructure funding is up! Ecology Ottawa is keeping an eye on the proceedings, and has some links to ways you can get involved. The budget's being considered for the rest of the month, so you've got a few more days to make your point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Entirely too silly

How do I stumble across these things?

I don't know what led me to the hilarious blog Bike Snob NYC, but something did. I ended up reading a frankly stunning account of a hawk killing a pigeon in the middle of the bike lane (this guy is speedy with a camera, too!), which then turned into a meditation on intersection behaviour in New York. This led me to his rant about something called "shluffing," and an explanatory link to a blog post and short movie that's so heroically dorky that I have to believe it's tongue-in-cheek. I have to. 

The concept behind "shluffing," as far as I can tell, is that if you have about a block to go but can't ride in the street, but don't want to ride on the sidewalk for fear of being ticketed or inconveniencing pedestrians, you can swing off the saddle, stand on your bike pedal and push yourself along with the other foot. Watch the video for the all-important "transition," where you smoothly step off the pedal entirely and begin to walk the bike in order to pass people on the sidewalk.

This needs, or warrants, an instructional video? Okay, I don't agree with the Bike Snob that touching your foot down at an intersection is a "despicable act of surrender," (in fact, that's what I think the hardened piles of snowplow-heaped slush at the corners are there for) ... but I have to agree that even coming up with a technical term for treating your bike like a very awkward scooter is lame, much less making a video to encourage people to do it. Ride in the street like everyone else, or ride on the sidewalk but be prepared to stop and walk when you have to, or when the cops tell you to, people. Don't "shluff."

Then again, while I'm in the realm of the entirely too silly, I also spotted a design blog's post with something that I think deserves to be filed as chindogu. (For those of you who don't know chindogu, here's the Wikipedia entry: essentially they are gadgets that on the surface look like they might be useful, but on second thought cause way more problems than they solve.) This one wins: an aerial bike lane. Like a monorail for bikes. Wow. I can think of so many things that are wrong with that...

...and yet if someone built one I might very well give it a try...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moving, by bike

Spacing Ottawa just forwarded this link to a blog I just recently discovered, You Are The Engine. They've posted some cool pictures of moving by bicycle, with a bike-powered Montreal moving company. Which reminds me, somewhere out there I have a picture from Momentum Magazine of someone moving a refrigerator by bike.

Never say "you can't do that with a bike." There's usually a way. Where there's the thigh power, that is.

And another short anecdote: I was buying my coffee this morning when the two ladies in line behind me said, "Oh, my ... you must be a biker." I turned around and said, "Yeah..." wondering how they could tell; my helmet was sitting on the bike, outside.

"Your jacket..."

Oh, yeah. Right. My jacket is a blue two-parter with an outer, semi-waterproof shell, and an internal fleece. The shell is brown with mud spatters right up to the nape of the neck. I was wearing my waterproof pants: they're greyish from the knees down. It was a damp, damp, slushy week last week. I know all too well what road salt tastes like. Fenders. One of these days I should get fenders.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stranded... still

Remember the forsaken bike that started off my inquiry into what happens to abandoned bikes?

It's still there.

What I find sort of poignant is that there's still a plastic bag wrapped over the seat, as though someone thought they were going to be right back for it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A bicycle built for three

My friend John is in Japan visiting his wife's family and sent me this picture: a bicycle for three. One kid on the back, one kid on the front, parent in the middle. And judging from some bikes I saw in use in Japan, a week's worth of groceries balanced in the middle too! This is a seriously practical vehicle. Now who said you can't have soccer moms on bikes?

I also just love the sheer sturdiness and sensibility of the bike. Little bitty tires, low bar so you can step over the frame without having to swing your leg up and back. Good for biking in a dress. Now that - that's a mode of urban transportation.

Nice kickstand too.

Just while we're hanging out in the Far East, Japan is also where they've implemented the most freakishly cool space-saving bike parking ever: according to, it "accepts your bike and sends it into the 7th dimension. Returns it to our world at your command."

And it's actually totally worth it to watch this clip from Japanese television giving a tour of the parking space. Partly because the engineering is so completely amazing. Ah, who am I kidding... mostly because Japanese TV is just too much fun. And watching the host climb down into the system, and the shots from the point of view of the bike, is way cool.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The snow cyclist meets a messy end

The photo was taken by Shelly, Miss Scarlett's owner.
The helmet's name is, I believe, Helmut.
The snow cyclist was, alas, never heard from again.

My first piece on Spacing Ottawa!

I'm pretty chuffed: Spacing Ottawa just posted a piece I wrote about abandoned bikes. It was a followup to a short musing I posted here back in December, when I spotted a bike on the Mackenzie King Bridge that had clearly been sitting there since before the snow fell (and this year the snow really did just come down in a 'thwump' like a Terry Gilliam cartoon and stay there.)

I didn't really think, when I started this blog, that I would find so much to say about cycling. I didn't start out as a cycling activist or a 'bike geek' or anything like that: I started biking because it was a lot easier and cheaper and more convenient than taking the bus (and a great excuse to spend more of my day outside.) But it's shaped my interests, my causes, my convictions, in major ways, and it seems I keep finding more interesting things about biking, bike culture, biking infrastructure, and bike activism, the longer I do it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


That's what it got down to today, counting in the wind chill - my record low cycling temperature! It was about -27 on my way to the rock gym about noon: I didn't really think for long about taking the bus. It's just faster and easier to bike. And then when I got back to my place tonight after an evening at a friend's, a little after midnight, it was -23 (so sayeth the Weather Network). I didn't notice till I was getting out my keys that some of my hair was sticking out above my collar, and it and the collar were white with frost from my breath, as was the strap on my helmet. It was actually pretty spectacular: I don't think I've seen anything like that since I was in high school and used to cross-country ski regularly with my parents.

Awesome. The crazy thing is that I wouldn't have thought, a few months ago, that I'd be out there once the mercury dropped this low. But it's actually not that bad, once you're out there and moving (and especially with my wool tights - a thousand thanks to my parents again for those!) In fact, coming up Heron toward my place I was actually working up a sweat - the only thing cold was my cheeks. It felt really good. Cold, dark, quiet, clean, the streets nearly empty, nothing but me and Mike whizzing along through the night.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More wayfinding

Ah, a new year. Back to Ottawa and back on the bike this week, all kitted up in the new merino base layer and with the pant legs tucked into the boots... and still struggling to find a route to work.

Back in December when the snow first flew I found myself trapped on the back roads of the Cyrville Industrial Park and swore I would never try that again. I had talked over possible routes with other friends of mine who have a decent Area Knowledge modifier (to use gamerspeak) and worked out how many points there are where you can safely or sanely get across the highway. (Bank Street, where you can go under it at Catherine; Lees Avenue, where you can go over it at the Nicholas/Mann snarl; Riverside Drive just before Coventry, which is unpleasant.) So yesterday morning I set off down Heron, re-acclimatizing myself to the slush after a couple of weeks off the roads while I was visiting my family.

I decided to try Lees. So I took my usual route down Alta Vista to Hurdman, only to discover that when I'd walked the bike the length of the Transitway station, the pathway to and from the cluster of apartment buildings at Lees was uncleared: a foot-worn track that you couldn't bike along. I stopped for a moment, and an OC Transpo employee came out to say, "You look a little bewildered." I explained that I was trying to get to Lees Avenue, and she told me, not unsympathetically, that the only way was to walk the bike along the path. So I walked it back along the station to the path entrance, and shoved Mike, clogged with snow, from the station to Lees Avenue: the picture here highlights the amount of my trip that was spent trudging through deep snow. (Good lord, was it really nearly a mile? No wonder I was late for work.)

Lees Avenue was pretty slushy, too, and busy with cars who were all either still in highway mode or about to get into highway mode, since there's an on-and-off-ramp system to the Queensway there. I was happy to get to the other side of Pretoria Bridge, where I could get onto the canal path, and saw that the path had a strip of bare pavement down the middle of it. I  spotted another woman on a bike coming across the intersection. "Is the canal path clear through to downtown?" I asked her.

"I don't know, it's my first time here," she said, "but it's clear all the way back to Lansdowne. From Bank Street to Dows Lake, though, it's blocked off."

"But it's clear to Bank Street?" I said, hopefully, and she told me it was. Oh, happy day: this meant I could take the path home all the way to Old Ottawa South. So I got on the canal path and it was plowed and more or less clear, with little patches of ice or slush, all the way downtown. I crossed the canal at the Laurier Bridge, and took Laurier all the way to where it turns into Charlotte and meets up with Montreal Road. By then I was really tired (snow, deflated tires, and extra trudging took its toll), and the last little slog through Vanier was kind of painful. I was shaky by the time I got to the office, but I can blame some of that on bonking because I hadn't eaten breakfast; I'd gotten into town the night before at 11:30 PM and there hadn't been time to shop for groceries.

But hallelujah, I had finally found a route that I can actually use to get to work! Now, my path looks kind of like this:
I have to say, I used to have some real problems with the NCC. But this makes up for any differences we may have had in the past. I don't know what I'd do without the Skateway, and the cleared and salted canalside path it gives rise to. No cars. No buses. No terror. For at least most of my trip.

Tourism to the rescue!


... if you were driving past Billings Bridge Mall this evening around 5:15 or so, and came upon a cyclist at the intersection of Bank and the Billings Transitway exit, holding her bike up with one hand and kicking angrily at a huge ridge of slush and snow that had been thrown out across the bike lane by the plow, breaking it up and shoving the resulting bits of slush to the side of the road with her boot...

... well, that was me. Doing my civic duty.

More about bike lanes

Jonathan, in Montreal, commented on my last post, pointing out that in Montreal where there are segregated bike lanes, the trouble is that they're only separate between intersections: at each intersection you suddenly pop back into traffic, most of which hasn't noticed you because you were off in your own lane, possibly even behind parked cars. (That and where the bike lanes are blocked by something, you have to haul your bike up and over curbs and into traffic that's not used to seeing you there, or get on the sidewalk, neither of which is good.)

I can see that: and a lot of people have been mentioning that the real danger in bike lanes is when they end abruptly, shoving you unexpectedly into traffic. Did anyone see Giacomo Panico's video from last summer of commuting down Albert Street? Where the 'posted bike route' ends, Albert goes from a one-way street to a two-way. Dropping Giacomo, who's been traveling on the left side to stay away from the bus lane, right on the yellow line in two-way traffic with no way off the road. Scary.

Something to remember when designing the bike lanes: making them as continuous as possible. Keeping intersections in mind. Maybe signposting them, too, so cyclists have a sense of where they run, and how to get from point A to point B using safer streets... I know I would happily avoid major arteries if I knew how. One of the problems is all the waterways in Ottawa: bridges concentrate traffic, and so far are prioritized for cars. I see that part of the plan is a bike lane across the Pretoria Bridge, to which I say hallelujah. Especially since cyclists converge in that area to get onto the Canal bike path.

Jonathan's suggestion was to create bike-only streets in places: surprisingly, that's the other motion the transportation committee approved yesterday! There's a proposal to close a few streets leading off Montreal Road in the Vanier area to motor traffic. Wow. Here's hoping.

I'm also just happy to see attention being drawn to increased safety for cyclists in the city. It's too bad it took a year of terrible fatalities to make it happen. I've come across this interactive map of the seven most dangerous intersections in Ottawa for cyclist/car collisions: I use most of these intersections regularly. Elgin and Laurier is a nasty one; Vanier Parkway and Montreal is pretty unpleasant too, although I usually just go straight through it on Montreal, so I don't have to turn. Both of those are scary because there are multiple lanes on both roads, and because cars just don't expect us to merge into left-turn lanes and don't know what to do with us when we do. Notice, too, how many of these dangerous spots are in the general vicinity of bridges: where traffic concentrates. The three or so that aren't are near highway ramps, or on major arteries in suburban areas where the multilane street is the only direct route in a tangle of crescents and residential drives. The bikes wouldn't be there if they had a choice, for the most part: but it's just the easiest, or only, way from point to point. Bike lanes here, separate enough to keep us out of traffic and away from the buses plying those major streets, would be welcome: as long as they don't suddenly end, dropping us in some truly scary situation, which is all too often the case.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Doucet's segregated lanes

Well, Councillor Clive Doucet's been proposing segregated bike lanes for Ottawa (a la many European cities, or, say, parts of New York.) Having had a pretty rough ride to work this morning down Alta Vista, where the bike lane at the side of the road is unplowed and occluded by snow and slush that forced me a couple of feet into the traffic lane in places, I have to say that even if there were separate lanes with their own traffic signals and a concrete barrier, I have little faith that they'd be cleared and useable through the winter... but let that be. In principle, I'm for it.

And this morning the city approved the plan! With luck, we'll eventually have east-west dedicated lanes running from Preston to Elgin. Not having the city's posted bike route direct me down Albert Street, where I have to share the right-hand lane with the Transitway of all things, would be terrific.

I'm interested, though, in the opposition coming from some cyclists. I agree, the bike lanes I use here in Ottawa collect debris (I've seen everything from carriage bolts, branches, and pop cans to dead animals), are usually studded with drain covers and manholes, and are often potholed and cracked. But just to have that extra breathing room at the side of the road is welcome, as far as I'm concerned: if nothing else, the bike lane widens the street. And I cheered when the bike lane was put in at Saint Patrick and King Edward, leading cyclists across the two right-turn lanes so they can go straight through and up Saint Patrick. Suddenly it was so much easier to get across King Edward.

For some cyclists, the experienced and confident ones, bike lanes may be restrictive. But I think that they're invaluable for getting people out onto the streets who would not otherwise take their bikes: new cyclists, less experienced or more cautious ones. Parents towing their kids. I will bike down South Bank Street: I have friends who will not. If we want to encourage more people to leave their cars at home, we have to help them feel that it's a reasonable and sane thing to do. That it's not just for "road-warriors and bike couriers."

Cyclists objecting to bike lanes usually point out that the lanes create a false sense of security, that motorists don't see cyclists until the last minute at intersections, and that it's aggressive driving from cars that makes cycling dangerous so we should be re-educating motorists. (But face it. Some motorists will not be re-educated: you only have to read the comments below cycling-related news articles to see that. Nor will some cyclists learn to stop at red lights and obey traffic laws.) But I do, really, feel safer on a bike lane, and that translates to being less jumpy, less nervous, less unpredictable.

And it seems unclear from the news whether everyone's talking about the same thing - is this about painted lines at the edge of the road, or physically separated lanes with barriers and their own lights? I don't see how those concerns really fit in the latter case. We wouldn't be able to speed along through downtown, no, but then neither can the cars. So the question is, is that what Doucet's suggesting? Or more pertinent, is that what the city planners will decide is feasible?

Here, I'll add a little video. You know. Not that I imagine City Hall will be holding these cities up as a model while they think about this... but a girl can dream: