Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fossil Fools Day

I got a message from Critical Mass today - tomorrow is apparently Fossil Fools Day - a day of action against the fossil fuel dependency of the world. And while Critical Mass usually rides on the last Friday of the month, they're having a ride tomorrow to celebrate. Hm... and I don't have any other plans that afternoon...

I've never ridden with Critical Mass before - somehow it always slips my mind, although a friend of mine has suggested we join them a couple of times. We both promptly forget. They meet on the last Friday, usually, at Confederation Park, at 5:45, and the ride leaves at 6:00. I've seen them before, pedaling along merrily taking up road space, waving at the drivers, who generally don't seem too pissed off by it: more bemused than anything else.

Maybe this is a good excuse to go check it out. I'll report back.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aiming for the puddles

Okay, it must be spring.

I can tell because, after installing Mike's front fenders last week, I found myself biking to work in the rain on Monday. It was pouring, actually, and had been all night. So I was all kitted up - in the rain pants, the boot covers, the bright red rain jacket. (I'm so glad I chose the bright red jacket, incidentally, when I was shopping for it. I could have bought the black one. But the bright red is just so much more happy to pull on when it's grey and rainy outside. Not to mention I feel invisible enough in the rain without wearing dark colours.) And I was okay. Warm enough, once I got moving. And the fender performed admirably - such a difference when you don't have to worry about water being thrown up into your face.

But the moment when I knew it was spring? That was when I was nearly to work, and I actually steered at a puddle at the side of the road, sending a cascade of water up into the air (but not into my face) and over my rain-pant-clad legs.

It was damn satisfying.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fending for myself

I woke this morning to a weather report that predicted rain, snow, freezing rain, ice pellets, and sleet. All coming out of the same sky at the same time. And they weren't wrong. I suppose I could have biked to work. But I really wasn't feeling it - and sometimes you have to take the bus to remind yourself why you don't.

Another factor in the decision, though, was that I still didn't have fenders, and was not interested in spitting road grit out of my mouth and blinking freezing rain out of my eyes all the way to work. I bought the fenders weeks ago, but between not having time, or not thinking of it when I did have time, Mike remained bare-tired.

Ah yes, and the other reason I was still fender-less was the "instructions" that came with my Planet Bike fenders. Apparently IKEA is the only organization out there that can produce wordless instructions that actually make sense (and I bet they employ entire Scandinavian villages to come up with those.) There was a diagram that I assumed depicted some portion of a bike, and some drawings of various little nuts and bolts, and a plastic bag with the various little nuts and bolts in it, and that was all. I still don't have any idea how the back fender is supposed to work: it's got a circular sort of thing at one end that I would assume was meant to go around the seat post or something if that didn't put it in such a strange position on the bike.

But the back fender doesn't matter so much, really. So I have a reverse-skunk stripe up the back of my jacket, I can live with that. It's the front fender that will hopefully make the difference, as Mike and I head into rainy season. So this evening I got the fender out and tried figuring out how to install it.

At least the general basics of most of these accessories are the same. I took my reflector off the front where it ran between the brake cables (I've got lights, so it was redundant anyway), and then messed around with the little metal flange and the long carriage bolts versus the short carriage bolts, and the washers and other bits. I love standardized stuff - it means you can try a configuration, and either it fits, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, you must be doing it wrong: try again. Flip the little flange around and see if it fits the other direction. Try the other bolt, maybe it's just that little bit longer. Bits of metal are usually bent using pressure from bolts and nuts to hold things in place, rather than fitting precisely, and there are convenient, standard holes in the frames of most bikes. So you can just fit things together, like puzzle pieces, until they make sense.

So, I think I have a half-solidly installed fender on my front wheel - and if the weather reports are right, I'll get to try it out tomorrow!

Wednesday Update: it's now tomorrow - and bright, sunny, and 12 degrees. So, the efficacy of the fenders remains undetermined. But fear not: the weather report threatens more rain this weekend...

Further Update on Thursday (which didn't require a whole post, so I'm adding it here): No rain again today, but I did pass a city works truck which had sent water cascading down a few hundred metres of Alta Vista Drive today. Unable to avoid it, I went right through it. My face remained unspattered. Victory! 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dear NCC

Okay, so I appreciate your cycling paths. But I am extremely unhappy with the decision to close more than 90% of the rock climbing walls on the Eardley Escarpment in Gatineau Park. A little public consultation, a little transparency, a little attempt to co-operate with the Ottawa-Gatineau Climbers Access Coalition would have gone a long way toward helping me understand why I'm no longer going to be allowed to climb outdoors.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled cycling blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome back, River Path...

This morning I was on my way to work, heading down Bank Street, and stopped at the light at the Riverside intersection. A cyclist crossed in front of me heading down the River Path, and I watched her for a moment, did some quick predictive calculations, and decided to gamble that the path would be clear enough to navigate on my way to work. And as I was already running a little late, and I knew it was a shorter route, I turned off onto the pathway at Riverside for the first time since... late November, I believe.

The happy stars around where the path leaves the cars behind and strikes off alongside the river in the picture to the left are meant to indicate how I felt about finally being back on this path.

The canal path is fine, but it's crowded with joggers and dogwalkers, the intersection you have to negotiate to get on it is nasty, it's longer, and I still have to get back on the street to run down Laurier through U of O campus, and then brave Montreal Road at Vanier (one of the seven most dangerous intersections for cyclists in the city.) The Riverside path lets me leave motor traffic behind about a mile from my house, and only rejoin it about a half mile from work: and it's peaceful, largely untravelled between Smyth Road and the Overbrook neighbourhood, and there are ducks, geese, and redwinged blackbirds already out and going about their business along the riverbank. It's sheltered from the wind, too, through the forested patches, and it looks to me like it's actually been swept and cleared as far as Smyth.

Once you get into the wooded sections, it's true, there are still patches of crumbly, grainy ice crystals that you need to slow down to get across - usually there are tracks worn through them or even little channels of bare pavement, but it's still a little tricky. And in Parc Riverain, near Montreal Road, the river has flooded to cover half the path in spots. But it's more than a month ahead of last year, when I first started trying to take the path in mid-April and found it much more snow-covered and a lot harder to get through than it is now. It's been a seriously dry winter, and a warm spring so far.

I'm back on my bike path!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

T-shirt weather!

Spring is here! Spring is here! 
Life is skittles and life is beer...
I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring!
I do! Don't you? Of course you do!

Yes, today I rode home in a T-shirt, with my jacket and hoodie joyously stuffed into my pannier! Sure, it's been warmish lately, but this was the first day that really felt springlike. The first day that I could really open out the speed without worrying about patches of dirty, leftover ice. And it had an odd effect on me. I was taking the long way home through the business core of downtown, in order to do some postering for the Festival. (Ottawa has 'officially-sanctioned' poster collars around designated light standards in the downtown core, and postering on anything but these poster collars is a bylaw violation. Which means you have to trundle down a block and a half or so between poster spaces. A pain in the ass when you have to walk it with a bag full of posters and packing tape slung over your arm: more or less fun when you've got a bike.)

I became what I would normally consider Not A Good Little Cyclist... It was the necessity for jumping up onto the sidewalks to get at the poster collars, the need to prop the bike up somewhere, then mess about with packing tape and posters, then hop back on and roll a block or so, jumping the curb into the street when there was a clear patch in the traffic, both motorized and pedestrian. The sidewalks were crowded: it was rush hour on one of the first real genuine nice days. And between the wonderful weather, the feeling you can get when you're postering - that you're a part of the life of the city, essentially - and the crowds on the sidewalks, I really started ducking and weaving. At one point I jumped off the curb and into the street and I swear I actually caught a little air, landed with both tires, and swung off down the street.

There was the one moment when I went to swing my leg over the bike and accidentally kicked someone. I noticed my foot brushing something, and I turned around to see a shortish, white-haired man in a suit with a briefcase, looking irritated, and kicking my back tire with an air of taking vengeance. I apologized. "I didn't even see you!" I said, and he grumbled, "Kick me in the balls, I kick your tire." I said I was sorry again and repeated that I totally hadn't seen him, and he mumbled something else about, "Well, it was just instinct." And I hopped on the bike, and leapt back off the sidewalk onto the street. Hard to dwell on it when it's such a nice day, and I think he thought so too.

Normally I'm far more vehicular than this: I stay off the sidewalks and I try to use the intersections properly and wait for traffic like a Good Little Cyclist. But it was spring, and I was putting up posters downtown in the sunshine, and I had a roll of tape, and I was in a T-shirt on my bike for the first time in maybe six months.

I think it's about time for that spring tuneup. The front derailleur hasn't shifted to the largest gear since last fall, anyway. And now that the weather's getting better, I'm going to want those gears working so I can get some speed up! Spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer.

Beating Google to the punch

Well, after commenting on how Google Maps could improve their "cycling directions" function - which is limited only to the USA right now - I discover that it's already been done. I suppose it's just that Google is rapidly becoming a one-stop shop for all wisdom on The Internets, so people are less likely to automatically turn to a site like Ride The City (a New-York-based site: hooray, New York.) But here's a site that maps cycling routes around specific cities, with options for direct, safer, and safest routes, and that takes advice from cyclists to improve its routes. And it includes, well, one Canadian city so far, namely and unsurprisingly Toronto.

And hey, you don't go to the one-stop-shop for your bike gear, do you? At least, I usually don't stop at the Wal-Mart for new tires.

On a quick glance, I have a couple of wishes: for one thing, I'd want the ability to scan and pan the map, in essence the ability to grab the map and move it left or right, up or down, so I can track streets on a closer level. As it is, you have the option to zoom in, or zoom out, but not a lot of flexibility about how to view the map. But it's a start. And it does let you rate the routes and give feedback, something I would like to think a lot of cyclists will jump at. (Hey, we're always happy to share our hard-earned wisdom, right?) And for another thing... gosh it would be nice if Ottawa was covered! Who do I write to petition for this? Ah well, I can be patient... they only cover 8 cities so far anyway, I'm sure Ottawa's somewhere on their list of priorities, but I wouldn't bet on it being up near the top.

But I like the option to enter your start and destination manually or to simply drag and drop the bike and stop sign icons to where you want to go: saves needing to know exact directions. I like that you can drag and drop those icons from either their spaces at the left by the entry fields, or the little box at top right, too.

It also has some neat widgets already installed: like the ability to embed it in your website. Now that I would find useful if Ride The City included Ottawa. I would absolutely include an embedded Ride the City map on the Writers Festival website: we try to give people a lot of options other than driving to get to our venues after all, so how better than to give them cycling directions (and the location of the nearest BIXI stand if they're from out of town.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Geared Up

Just came across this article, by Bill Reynolds, from the Walrus archives - it was sent around "for everyone who's getting their bike out for the first time this year" on their Twitter feed. It's long, elegaic, and lovely - if you've got some time to do some reading (about 8 screens) it's well worth it. Be prepared for some spooky accident descriptions, though. The article is, in essence, a tour of the danger of cycling and why it doesn't stop some people.

This might be the key line of the whole article: a quote from Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman: “The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Google Maps Adds Cycling Directions...

Well, this is interesting. One of my favorite bike blogs lately (because he's so darn acerbic) is Bike Snob NYC, and that's where I stumbled across the discovery that Google Maps has added cycling to their "get directions" function. I love his dismantling of the New York Post's reportage about the subject, though: seems they sent a reporter out to rent a bike and follow Google's directions to the letter. Well, of course he instantly wound up in traffic: and as BSNYC points out, if you have to rent a bike, then you don't normally ride... so, um, welcome to the normal morning commute of those who do.

But it's pretty obvious, I think, how having cycling directions is both good (which it is) and problematic (which it also is.) Me, well, for a while now I've been relying on to plot routes around Ottawa - mostly because that way I can work around the highway, skip off roads where I know there's a bike path, and have an idea how far the trip is. But you can't, on MapMyRide, plug in a starting point and a destination and have a route suggested to you. Not to mention that I have to ignore the extent to which MapMyRide is so fitness-oriented that it wants me to plug in nutrition and hydration stops, log my favorite training routes, enter my calorie-burning goals, and sign up for inspirational workshops to boost my "training."

But if you don't know the area you're traveling through, MapMyRide's not much help. It doesn't show off-street trails, doesn't indicate how busy, fast, loud, or scary a road is, and doesn't show bike lanes or one-way streets. So, having something like Google Maps directions could be great. Sure, nothing makes up for personal knowledge, but if I'm visiting a city, I'd love to be able to plot bike routes to get around town.

Google Maps, though, seems to have a ways to go. No one knows the best routes around town like other cyclists, and what Google really needs is some sort of wiki-style means for cyclists to suggest and add improvements to the routes. To be able to say things like, "That's a really big, fast stretch, you can skip over a block and it's a lot quieter, just cut through the Quickie parking lot at the end of the street to get back on track" or something similar. There's a great, thoughtful piece on PC World about this, and what Google should really do to make this work. If Google Maps relies on official bike routes posted by the City of Ottawa, for example, they'll get sent right down Albert Street, dodging Transitway-line buses on possibly the most bus-heavy street in downtown Ottawa. As I've mentioned on this blog before, city bike routes can bottom out at busy parkways, or vanish where a one-way street becomes a two-way, dropping the hapless cyclist on the yellow line.

So yeah, Google - don't tell me you don't have the mad programming skillz to let us cyclists suggest the best routes. Get input from those of us with wheels on the ground and this is a brilliant idea: and kudos for adding it and getting the ball rolling, by the way.

And as an aside, I went to Google Maps and plugged in the addresses of Library and Archives Canada and the Mayfair Theatre (the two venues for this Spring's Writers Festival) and was informed that Google Maps can't calculate directions between the two. Okay: I plugged in my own address and the address of my GM. (Yes. My roleplaying Game Master. Outed.) Still no luck. I can only assume that this functionality is still restricted to the USA. I wait patiently up here north of the border.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sheer awesome

Someone in Toronto has run up and down a stretch of particularly heinous pavement with purple paint and splashed words like "OOF!" "YOWCH!" and "YIPE!" to mark all the worst bits.

Sheer wonderful. I wish someone would do this on my home street (which I've dubbed The Pothole House of Horrors) or on some of the more gruesome sections of Bank St. running through the Glebe. I bow before the arch wit, the succinctness, and the humour of this unknown vigilante onomatopoeist! Long may your tires remain unbent!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ballad of Mike and Miss Scarlett

(with sincere apologies to "Trad.")

Confused? At some point I'll have to figure out how to link to The Adventures of Shelly and Miss Scarlett. There's a whole - odd - story. Miss Scarlett was introduced in this blog pretty early on... and suffice it to say that she and Mike had a brief romance, which ended when Miss Scarlett moved to Sackville, NB along with Shelly last year, and now Shelly has acquired a second bike, named Captain Butler. Cad.

When first I came to Elgin Street,
Some pleasure for to find,
It's there I spied a damsel fair,
Most pleasing to my mind;
Her fenders bright and single gear,
Like arrows pierced my breast,
They call her lovely Scarlett O,
The Lily of the West.

One day as I was looking
Thro’ Facebook’s picture trove,
I espied a Captain of high degree
Conversing with my love,
She sang a song delightful
While I was sore oppressed,
Saying "I bid adieu to Scarlett O,
The Lily of the West."

I rolled up on my two-inch tires
And knocked loose his kickstand,
And dragged him from my false love
And boldly bid him stand,
But being mad with desperation,
I swore I'd pierce his breast,
I was then deceived by Scarlett O,
The Lily of the West.

I then did stand my trial,
And boldly I did plead,
But this whole battle was fictional,
And that soon had me freed.
That beauty bright I did adore,
The judge did her address,
"Now go, you faithless Scarlett O,
The Lily of the West."

Now that I've gained my liberty,
A-roving I will go,
I'll ramble through old Overbrook,
And travel Westboro o'er;
Tho' she thought to swear my life away,
She still disturbs my rest,
I still must style her Scarlett O,
The Lily of the West.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stop and stare

Wow. Now some people might already know that I have an awe of parkour that very possibly borders on hero worship: I am only a moderate risk-taker and nowhere near ... um... springy enough to be able to pull off those moves. I've only once been able to manage a (really minor) dyno at the rock gym. But I have serious respect for people that can do it: and I think one of the things I really like about it is how it's about seeing all the possibilities of your environment, thinking in multiple dimensions. How it's about grace and play and power all at once, and how it becomes a mental as well as a physical discipline.

And then this evening I came across this video of Danny MacAskill in Edinburgh. I stopped, jaw-dropped, and watched it in total awestruck fascination. This is gorgeous. It's dancing with the city, on a bike.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One! Of! Us! One! Of! Us!

...or, why Steve's getting the bike out early this year:

My friend Steve Tennant posted a note on Facebook yesterday, explaining why he began riding his bike to work on Monday, much earlier than usual, this year. I asked him if I could repost it here, partly because I love his breakdown of the ways that OC Transpo has stumbled and staggered in the last few years, and partly because, well, I have to smile a little, inwardly, when I see yet another bike on the road while the snow's still down and the weather's still dodgy. I think OC Transpo's fares are punishing enough already, considering how many of the people who have no choice but the bus - the people that can't afford cars - are also among the city's working poor, who depend on the bus to get to the jobs that keep them afloat.

(And I also have to add that this afternoon, while I was gliding along Bank past a mile or so of backed-up traffic - which included two buses, held up like everyone else - I did feel a certain amount of smug satisfaction.)

And now, over to Steve:

Am I ever pissed off that Spring has arrived in this fair city! Before warmer weather has hit and people enjoy various ways and means of getting out and about, our City has decided to hike transit fares, meaning I'll miss out on participating on wallet rape season for some time. Below is a list of the cost of regular [monthly] bus pass fares for the past 5 years:

• 2010 - $91.50 (+$6.75 / 7.96%)
• 2009 - $84.75 (+$3.75 / 4.62%)
• 2008 - $81 (+$8 / 10.95%)
• 2007 - $73 (+$1.75 / 2.45%)
• 2006 - $71.25

So over five years, the cost to ride the bus has increased by $20.25 or 28.42%. The current increase over the course of 12 months works out to the cost of one adult regular fare at 2008's prices ($81). They harp(er) on about how the tax savings are incredible...15% refundable credit. Wow! I could pee my pants...not. You would do better to contribute to a charity or a political party if you want tax credits.

Let's examine a few factors that probably led to this sharp increase:

1) Mismanagement by Ottawa City Hall and their lackies at OC Transpo. City Hall, in all its infinite stupidity, cannot make a budget work. Incompetent leaders make incompetent decisions and those poorly conceived decisions have costs that are transferred onto the public, especially when pissing matches occur. (See below)

2) ATU Local 279.
The local transit union decided to strike a blow to the city and its residents in the winter of 2008 by holding a strike right before Christmas. They allege the City/OC Transpo management were unfairly dealing with them, yadda yadda yadda. The result was over a month and a half without bus service and really pissed off people.

Now you have residents who are mad at and can't trust the three parties: City Hall, OC Transpo and the Transit Union because no matter which way you play it, all three are out for themselves. To that effect, ridership has decreased as people are opting for alternative means to get around (cars, bikes, carpooling, etc) and because of the net drop in revenues, the City stupidly increases fares onto current users to make up for the black hole that ever grows. They could decrease fares to attract people back, but won't because they'll never give up what they have and can get.

I can't say what it is that I'm getting different between this past Sunday and Monday that merits an extra $6.75/month, but it must really be something!!

Interestingly, fares in the past have generally gone up around July 1st each year. This year they seem to not have been able to wait and instituted effective March 1st. They must be trying to "balance" their budgets (or make appearances to do so) prior to the municipal elections this Fall. I hope Fall is the right word for it.

I hate to contribute to the black hole, but when I think that I'll be getting fitter earlier in the year by riding my bike and only using the bus in the extreme cold and saving money, I can't really see why I would want to contribute to an extremely flawed system. As it is, I'm sure that somewhere, somehow, some new tax or access or user fee will just gobble up what I don't already spend. As a new home owner, the City of Ottawa is already doing a bang up job at being creative in how often and how many ways they can gouge me, along with their other corporate crony friends. I guess even not buying bus passes, I'm already contributing (not by choice) to the transit glut.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A little rant

To the older man in the dark red mid-nineties sedan in the parking lot of the Billings Bridge Mall this evening:

When a cyclist extends her left arm out to her side, that is a turning signal. It indicates her intention to turn left, and as she will be at the rightmost side of the road, that means she will cross your path in the execution of said turn. If you are behind her, you are expected to slow up and allow her to complete the action she's signaled she's about to undertake.

If I'm expected to know the rules of the road, and the signals and signs appurtaining thereunto, then so bloody well are you.

And don't you shake your head at me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Roadside attraction

I admit it. . . if you want to feel hardcore (okay, maybe if you just want to feel like a really-and-for-true urban cyclist) you can't do much better than to stop at a bike shop in the Market between work and dance class (or wherever you're going in the evening), buy a tire for your bike, then head out of the shop, wheel around to the abandoned pub patio on the alley next to the shop, flip the bike over, and replace the tire.

Luckily, it was about 3 degrees out - so, plenty warm enough to be kneeling on brick, futzing around with cold grimy metal without gloves on - and there was a convenient little brick patio outside the Black Thorn, next to Pecco's Bike Shop, where I could work without getting in anyone's way. Popped off the wheel (I love those quick release wheels), peeled off the tire, replaced it, and dropped the old one next to a city garbage bin on my way to the noodle shop for dinner. Hells yeah, I felt like a denizen of the urban landscape.

It's the little things. I'm still going to have to take him in to the Bike Dump for a look at the wobbly crank shaft, very soon. But roadside repairs? Tick that off on my Cyclist Purity Test. (Not that there is one. But maybe there should be.)