Friday, December 16, 2011

Nothing says DIY like a cut up pop bottle

It rained on Thursday. It was actually pretty gross. But I was on my way downtown to meet a friend for lunch, so I got myself kitted up in my rain jacket and rain pants (even with a hole worn in the butt after a couple of winters, they're keeping me dry) and got on the road. And as I was cruising down the long, downhill bit of Bank Street between Heron and Riverside, I realized that what I really dislike about riding in the rain isn't the cold, or the wet, or the slow seep of the damp through my left boot (the one I keep down when I'm coasting.) These things I can shrug off, with my bright red rainjacket and black rainpants on. No, it's the Evil Fountain that I really dislike.

The Evil Fountain is created as my front tire goes through a puddle, or, increasingly as it gets colder, a pool of slush. It throws the dirty water up across my chest in a cascade of grit; it spatters the skin under my chin, chucks sand and salt and probably bits of dead squirrel into my mouth, and flings droplets of water up under my glasses and into my eyes, forcing me to squint and blink. It also coats my glasses in a layer of cold water, which, combined with the condensation from my breath, makes it a toss-up for me whether I leave the glasses on and peer through the distortion, or push them down on my nose and try to look over them with my astigmatic natural vision (which is not great.)

I know, I should just get a front fender. The problem is that I often - more often in the winter - am offered rides home from late night poetry shows and meetings, and frankly, I'm usually inclined to take them up on it. Particularly if it's started to snow. And in that case, I usually wind up having to pop off my quick-release front wheel in order to stash Mike in the back end or the trunk of my friend's car. And the last time I tried that with a fender attached to the front fork, it didn't end well for the fender. So I gave up, accepting that my rear fender might defend my back from the skunk stripe, but my face was going to have to look out for itself.

And then, riding down Bank Street on Thursday, I realized that I didn't even have to buy a fender. I could thwart the Evil Fountain all on my own. I even had an empty tonic water bottle waiting at home to be DIY-ed. And this is what I came up with:

It might be hard to see, like trying to photograph a jellyfish, but what I did was to take the pop bottle, cut it apart, slice out a section of the side that was about 10" or so long, round off the corners, and then poke holes in it right where the mounting braze-ons are for your average bottle holder or U-lock mount. Then I just poked the screws through the holes, and bolted a piece of cut-up plastic bottle onto my bike in a position that I think (I haven't tested it yet) will defeat the Evil Fountain. At least mostly.

And, as I pointed out to the friend I was having lunch with, not only is it free, but it makes Mike even less stealable than he was before. Hardly anyone wants to steal a beaten-up, elderly, road-weary $50 mountain bike with mismatched crank arms. How much less desirable is the same bike, with a chunk of plastic bottle bolted to it? I win.

Assuming this thing works to keep the water, slush and squirrel bits off my face.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I know it won't last, this stretch of time where the streets are more or less dry, and the air's clean and crisp, and the snow hasn't taken over the bike lanes and edges of the street, but I have to say I'm enjoying it. I know the snow will come though, and lately I've spotted a few things online that almost make me look forward to it, if only for the chance to get my hands all DIY dirty.

The idea of 'zip tie snow tires' has been making the rounds, and I said today on Twitter that I was looking forward to trying them. Then remembered: I've got your garden-variety rim brakes, which means the ties would get in the way of brakes, of course. Duh, and drat, I thought, there goes an opportunity to be all clever.

But never fear! You can also, if the idea doesn't freak you out too much, stud your own tires: if the thought of having screw heads up against your inner tube ready to pinch it freaks you out, you could always do what I did when my sidewalls wore thin a year or so ago: build "boots" for the tire, by duct-taping a strip of cardboard in to keep the tire safe from the screw heads. (I once lined most of a sidewall with duct tape as a stopgap measure when my inner tube was actually peeking out through the tire in one place.)

Then there's the step-by-step chain maintenance recently posted at Cyclopunk. It's part one of a series of winterproofing tutorials, and it's thorough. The diagram of the chain parts, in particular, I found really interesting: I'm now planning to take some time out, take my chain apart, and get ready for the grit and salt onslaught. I'm gonna need a chain tool. But it's about time I took my chain apart anyway.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Thanks to my friend Pearl, who sent me this video: more bike art! And this one's quite gorgeous . . . The artist's idea was to create animation that could be filmed in realtime (for a dissertation project - he's studying animation.) So he turned a bike into a Phantakistoscope (I just learned that word! It's like a zoetrope, but flat.)

While it's also just plain beautiful (and I like things that make art with bicycles; it reminds me of how simple a machine, and how elegant, a bike is) it's also making my brain boggle with the design of it. Apparently you have to film this to be able to see it: the human eye just sees a blurry mess. Once you add the frame rate of the camera (25fps) the separate parts of the image resolve into the animated image. And only (as you can see) when the wheel is rotating at a particular speed.

How cool is that?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Boiling a frog

There I was this morning, heading along a slush-filled bike lane on the first properly snowy ride of the year, blinking snowflakes out of my eyes and cursing my steamed-up glasses, with a small fountain of slush being cast up onto my chest, neck, and face by the front wheel (I lost the fender the last time I tried to take the wheel off to put the bike in a car.) And I thought to myself, this is it, finally. Winter cycling. How did I get here again?

I ride year round. This will be my third winter doing it. And I was talking to a friend at lunch today about the mentality. Sure, when people see me and my bike in the elevator of my apartment building and say things like, "Wow, you must be very brave," I do feel a little badass. And when I wheel the bike out, put it on the street, wonder what the hell I think I'm doing, and then find myself warming up a few minutes into the ride, I feel kind of badass. Even when I'm cursing and spitting salty road grit out of my mouth, I'm also thinking, somewhere in my subconscious, that I'm a badass.

But in reality, when it's summer and I'm cruising along the bike paths with my shorts and sandals on, and I even think about winter, I feel something akin to panic. I clench up just thinking about the extra waterproof pants and the hat under the helmet and the cold fingers, wrestling with the handlebars in the snow, the narrow slippery streets, and the grit that gets into everything. I don't like the idea at all. Yet here I am, at the beginning of December, with damp gloves and slush all down my front, and I'm not really all that miserable.

The thing is, riding in the winter is like boiling a frog. No, really. When I said that to my friend at lunch, I swear she nearly dropped her spoon. But here's the idea. They say - because of course I've never tried it - that if you drop a frog into hot or boiling water, it will jump out (or, at least, it'll try... I'm trying not to evoke any really nasty mental images here.) But if you put the frog in cool water, and gradually raise the temperature, it will just swim around, not noticing, until it eventually expires (once again, trying to avoid the mental images.)

It's the same with winter riding. The first year, I just failed to set a date after which I would stop riding. Some people stop when it starts getting dark too early. Some people stop when the snow stays down. I used to stop on November first, when I'd buy my first bus pass of the winter. But once those cut-off times are gone, it's a gradual thing, like the water around the poor doomed frog.

At first, you notice when the shorts are no longer possible, and you have to remember to tuck in or clip your pant legs. And then there's the moment when you find your gloves, and get the windbreaker out. And then there's switching the windbreaker for the winter coat, and then comes the day when you have to find the winter gloves because the fall gloves are too thin. Then you see your breath, and remember to try and breathe in such a way that it doesn't fog up your glasses. And before you know it, you're looking for the hat you wear under the helmet, and stashing the waterproof pants somewhere you can easily get them out, because you're going to need them most days. And by the time you're used to all that, a little extra snow and slush just seems to be business as usual. And voila, poor boiled frog; you're cycling through the winter. All because no single change in the weather was big enough to make you hang the bike up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The most annoying comment

I know I shouldn't read the comments. It's the cardinal rule of using the Internet, really: Don't Read The Comments. It's guaranteed to do nothing but annoy or frustrate you, or convince you that really, after all, the species probably isn't worth saving.

But I do read the comments. You probably do too. It's a sick fascination. It's like stopping to watch accidents or couples fighting in public. And then I find bits of those comments - at least, the ones on articles about cycling - circling my brain as I ride along on my bike, in lieu of snatches of music. One of them has been particularly persistent recently, and I feel I have to get this out of my system. You've probably seen something like it posted on some cycling article somewhere:

"Bikes and cars don't belong on the streets together. Physics will win every time."

Okay, I have to ask. What does that even mean? It's trotted out in the comments with odd regularity, with a sense that the author is nodding sagely as he or she types, and it makes about as much sense as "God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve."  And its sheer meaninglessness has caused it to get stuck in my head worse than the jingliest of tunes.

It feels to me like it's dressing up a hidden sense of superiority - cars are bigger and more powerful and I drive a car therefore I'm bigger and more powerful - in the guise of concern for the cyclists. Because, apparently, Physics Will Always Win.

Well, then, folks, Physics is out to get us, and the human race is screwed. I mean, if Physics Will Always Win, then we have no right to put ourselves inside vehicles that travel in excess of 80 km/h (I'm talking within the city here) because Physics will be a bitch and a half when it catches up with us. Not to mention cars shouldn't be anywhere near large stationary objects like buildings and concrete bollards, because Physics will eat them. Not to mention - since Gravity is probably in league with Physics - we shouldn't have tall buildings with balconies, because if we were to fall off, Gravity - and Physics - would just outright kill us. And then there are airplanes. . . which are sort of like a clever human trap dreamed up over drinks one night by Physics, Gravity and Meteorology.

In fact, Physics is shaping up to be Public Enemy #1. Never mind the cyclists, we're all in the line of fire. Physics is out to exterminate the entire human race. Maybe even all life on Earth. I say we fight back. Down with Physics!

(Seriously? Physics isn't the problem when cyclists and cars share the road. People are.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Space hog? Hell yeah.

I was riding down Bank Street this morning, on that long hill between Sunnyside and Riverdale. There are quite a few parked cars along that stretch, and you get up a pretty decent speed. I came through the Sunnyside intersection under the yellow light, but I'm pretty sure the pickup behind me had to have run the red. But hey, that happens all the time.

Lately, of course, I stay the hell out of the door zone, always aware of how much more dangerous it is than traffic. Especially at the speeds you can get up to on that hill. The street's two lanes wide, so I pulled out so I was riding at the far right edge of the inner lane, and zipped down the street. I noticed the truck behind me (noting that it had probably run the red light, with slight amusement.) I actually appreciated the fact that the driver wasn't crowding past me, although he could have pulled out to pass me at any point, it wasn't that busy.

It wasn't until the bottom of the hill, though, that I heard the engine rev and the truck pulled way out across the yellow line and passed me, with lots of space, which I also appreciated.

It was the annoyed honk of the horn that made me shake my head though. For a moment I felt a half-twinge, thinking, "that driver's cursing 'those damn cyclists taking up space on the road' right now." But I couldn't bring myself to feel bad about it for all that long. The truck had room and I wasn't slowing him down all that much, really. I was out of danger, and it was a lovely day. One honk didn't really do much to wreck that. I made a sort of sweeping gesture taking in the wide, quiet street and a sort of mild exasperation with the driver, and continued on my way home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Riding in Memory

This morning was the tribute ride for Danielle Naçu, the cyclist who was killed last week when she was hit by an opening car door and thrown into traffic. I was expecting a crowd: I certainly wasn't expecting the hundreds that showed up. One policeman I spoke to afterward said he thought there were about 500 people walking or riding down Queen Street (where Danielle was killed); the folks at Spacing Ottawa think they counted more like 700 (in this video of the ride setting off from Bronson and Queen.)

I was somewhere toward the front end of the group, by virtue of having been inside at the Christ Church Cathedral hall till nearly ride time: they'd opened the hall and brought out coffee and muffins for the riders, and my friend Steve was there volunteering, so I popped in for a cup of coffee and to give him a hug.


Steve manning the coffee table.

The ride set off a bit after nine, led by Danielle's family, her brother carrying a huge bunch of yellow balloons. From the 'dozens' predicted on CBC Radio that morning, we were already up to hundreds and more joined the ride along the way. (CBC's Ottawa Morning show was playing an update about the ride every half hour from about 7:00 AM this morning, and correspondent Giacomo Panico was at the starting point by 8:00, about half an hour before I got there.)

Setting off.
"Jordan L" (@supposedly_fun) posted this on Twitter: the ride as seen from an office block on Queen.
The weather stayed lovely: about 10 degrees, with the sun trying to break through and very little wind. I was riding alongside my friend Kevin, trying to remember how to ride that slowly - I caught on after a block or so. Hundreds of bike bells ringing meant we rode along in a bubble of chiming sounds. People stopped at the side of the street in respect, or took pictures of the stream of cyclists and walkers. We wound to a halt at the ghost bike installed on the north side of Queen, where Danielle died, and Danielle's brother Brent climbed up onto the bike (which was already nearly buried in flowers) to speak to the crowd, and everyone burst into applause (and the ringing of bike bells.)

That was when I started getting choked up. He released the balloons he was holding, and we all watched them drift up and away. Then Brent thanked everyone for being there, talked about Danielle's love of the city, and said that it was the support and warmth of people in Ottawa that had been helping them get through.

Sam McGavin, who had organized the ride, was a tiny woman, who was lifted up onto Brent's shoulders so she could speak to the crowd as well. She said that she heard about Danielle's accident when her partner called her, frantic to know if she was all right, and that it was probably the same for a lot of us. "For a day, we didn't know who she was," she said, "only that one of us had died, and it could have been a friend, or a sister, or a girlfriend, or a mother, or a daughter." She called on everyone to share the road, and on the city planners to take cycling into account when they design roads, build public spaces, and plan streets, and told everyone to be cautious - "not afraid," she said, "but cautious and aware."

Looking around, I was amazed at the size of the crowd. It stretched back at least a block, probably more. 

After Sam stepped down, the crowd slowly dispersed, with a number of people waiting to place flowers that they'd brought on the already buried ghost bike, and the media interviewing a few people, as well as the Naçu family. I stayed for a moment, not wanting to simply ride away, and then, of course, I did: down blocked-off Queen Street and onto Bank, where all the cars and bikes were rolling along as usual, but, I imagined, a little more somberly.

(Photo: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen: The story, with photos and videos, is on the Citizen website.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tribute Ride tomorrow

(Cross posted on Spacing Ottawa)

The ghost bike on Queen, Sat. night.
Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, hundreds of cyclists and allies (non-cyclists are welcome to walk with the group) will be meeting at Bronson and Queen for a tribute ride for Danielle Naçu, the cyclist who was killed last week on Queen Street. Christ Church Cathedral, at Bronson and Queen, will be serving coffee from 8:00 AM, and supplying shelter in case of rain. Anyone participating is encouraged to wear yellow if possible, as a symbol of the ‘ray of sunshine’ that Danielle was to those who knew her. The ride/walk will travel up Queen Street with a police escort (also on bikes), stopping at the ‘ghost bike’ installed at the place where Danielle was struck. The flowers from the funeral home are due to be moved to the ghost bike tonight: if the number of flowers piled on the bike two days ago are any indication, the bike should be completely buried by tomorrow morning. Members of her family will speak, and other members of the cycling community are welcome to say a few words, regardless of whether they knew her.

And thanks to Spacing Ottawa, here's a gorgeous little piece by Belfast journalist Malachi O'Doherty, who I had the real pleasure of meeting a few years ago at the Writers Festival: worth watching, in memory of any cyclist killed on the roads.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reason #462

... that drivers should give cyclists a little elbow room:

Sometimes there are surprises. Like large chunks of inexplicable concrete sitting there at the edge of the road.


This was on Main Street, in front of Saint Paul's University, where, believe it or not, a cyclist often finds herself squished that close to the curb (it's a narrow, fast street with a serious pothole problem.) I'm baffled. And glad I had space to swerve. And considering starting a catalog of the odd things I've had to swerve to avoid.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cyclists do it too...

I don't know what it was, but today seemed like a day where I kept running into traffic problems, not with cars, but with other cyclists. At one point I was heading along the bike lane when a man on a commuter cut lazily across from the opposite bike lane, pedalling away, and drove slantwise across the oncoming lane and into the bike lane, where he wound up heading straight for me, the wrong way up the bike lane. I dodged, and said something like, "Watch it!" as he arced left onto a side street and continued on his way. I guess merging with traffic and slowing down to make the turn at a sharper angle would have cramped his style.

Then a few blocks away, I was waiting in the left turn lane at a pretty big intersection when a man rolled up beside me on his bike, and glanced at me with a vague sort of expression. I was too busy wondering why he'd pulled up on my outside to be particularly social, and when the light did turn green, he did just what I'd been worried he was going to do: he headed out into the left turn beside me, which meant that when we finished the left turn, one of us would have to hit the brakes or we'd collide as we both headed for the outer edge of the road. I shouted, "What are you doing!?" but he didn't seem concerned. I pedaled faster just to get away from him in case he did anything else wonky.

I know, I know. In those bike-flotillas you see so often in videos of Copenhagen that make it look like cyclist heaven, I'd have to put up with more jostling than this. But I also wouldn't be putting up with the added factor of adjacent motor traffic. And I figure if we're all vehicles together, we should all try and act like it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Appalled by Nepean High School

I had been trying to avoid even looking at this story over the last couple of days, but I finally couldn't ignore the churning feeling in my stomach. I mean the story about Nepean High School student (now ex-student) Mykal Baytaluk chasing down a freshman in his car as a hazing ritual. His friends threw eggs out the window of the car at the other kid, then Baytaluk chased him along the road, and finally ran over the bike and drove away.

What repels me about this isn't that it happened. People do stupid things. People do stupid things with cars. In high school and out of it. (I myself have done stupid things with cars while in high school.) But the outcry supporting his moronic behaviour from his fellow students is just appalling. And the fact that he said he would "probably do it again" and thinks it's 'unfair' that he was expelled is also pretty repellent.

I don't have much of an opinion about hazing, except that it didn't happen at my high school, and if it had I would have been as far from it as I could possibly manage to be (I avoided all the 'frosh week activities' in first year university, too.) Come to think of it, maybe I do have an opinion about hazing, which is that it reinforces the superiority of the ones with social, psychological, and emotional power, and anyone who doesn't like it is forced to participate. Maybe it's bullying, maybe it's not. Apparently these kids - the ones protesting - think it's all in good fun. But the fact remains that a 17-year-old kid got behind the wheel of a car and pointed it at another human being, and his fellow students are okay with that.

That leads to people that think it's okay to bully and harass cyclists and other drivers. People that think that because you feel like you're in control of a car, you are (things can go wrong - gas pedals can stick, you can misjudge, hell, you can sneeze.) Throwing eggs at a Grade 9, whatever I may think of the practice, is nowhere in the same league as running them down with a car, and it scares me that these kids don't seem to know the difference.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What the hey?

My friend Marty posted this picture today on Facebook; the Bixi rack at the Musuem of Civilization.


And then, not twenty minutes after I saw this, came the answer, from CitizenCycle. Apparently there's a bit of a foreign-exchange program going on at Bixi. To demonstrate that there are Bixis all over the world, these bike ambassadors are hanging out in the Bixi networks of various cities. Mystery solved! (And, I might add, it's a kind of endearing answer.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Project Aura

Okay, I admit it: this is pretty cool. It's funny how some ways of lighting up your bike at night come off as dorky and others don't: I think what really appeals to me about this is the way it also indicates when you're slowing down, and does that intuitively, using a visual language that would be (one hopes) totally instinctive.

Project Aura: Bicycle Safety Lighting System from Project AURA on Vimeo.

I would buy this! Even with my blinking tail light and Mike's googly white eyes in front I still worry that I'm invisible at night. Even when I've also got my panniers with their (I know, because I've seen it) blindingly reflective orange patches on the back.

No, I swear, it's *not* the same as getting spinners. Or those purple undercarriage lights people put on their cars. It's not! It's cool!

Monday, August 22, 2011

R.I.P. Jack Layton

Adding my voice ... I can't really focus today because I'm suddenly, and totally by surprise, gutted by the loss of Jack Layton. Among many, many other things, he was a proud cyclist: and I just (thanks to Spacing Ottawa) found this absolutely moving tribute on Flickr - his name written in chalk on bike lanes in Toronto.

The Citizen's cycling blog just posted a series of pictures of Jack and bikes, too: one of my favorites:

It sucks that I'm coming back to this blog after a long hiatus for such a sad reason. . . I've been extremely busy this summer - general life-related chaos, which I hope is beginning to settle into shape and will give me more time for blogging.

But right now, I'm just mourning the loss of a man who stuck to his guns, fought hard with a smile on his face, and will leave a gaping Jack-shaped hole in Canadian politics.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Maybe it's just me...

I got home tonight, switched on my computer, and spotted the following two posts on Twitter, both by someone named @taybridge:

Tweet the First: "#ottbike - Dear bonehead. Passing on the shared path with inches to spare and almost clipping me and a runner is stupid. Smarten up."

Okay, fair enough, can't argue with sharing the multi-use paths. But then he follows it up, literally less than a minute later, with:

Tweet the Second: "#ottbike - One more thing about the path. The parkway has two paths. Why, during rush hour, stupid cyclist, are you riding on the road? Argh"

Well, I didn't answer either one (although I almost answered the second. But 140 characters isn't enough time to explain that sometimes you wind up on the parkway because the path isn't going where you need to go, etc. etc.) I'd like to mention, though, that these two comments, hard on each other's heels, are a bit depressing to me. To this guy, bikes shouldn't be on the path, because they're dangerous to joggers and walkers, and shouldn't be on the road, because they should be on the path.

Circular much? What you're telling me, @taybridge, is that bikes don't belong anywhere. And that's why I'm not getting into it with you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Spike Bike (a little healthy escapism)

I shouldn't read the comments. I know this, and yet... and yet I keep reading the comments.

I mean, of course, the comments on any article about cycling, or bike lanes, or sharing the road. I know I shouldn't look, because I'm just going to run into an ugly stream of vitriol, anger, and threats of violence. On both sides. Cyclists will be accused of being smug and self-righteous, and the cyclists in turn will proceed to prove those accusations right by telling drivers that they're fat, lazy, and polluting the planet. 

But then, I came across a comment thread that was getting the full back-and-forth flame treatment (you've all seen the kind of thing that gets said by anonymous jackasses) and someone, bless him, said something along the lines of, "Alright, I submit here the only possible response, for your reading pleasure," with a link to this archive.

Spike Bike. "In the year 1998 [this was written in 1989, on one of those old BBS boards], one man fights the tyranny of the automobile. . ."

It was just what I needed. Hilariously overblown Mad Max ultraviolence. A little fantasy fulfilment that takes the whole us-and-them hyperbole that always erupts in these comments, and extrapolates it. Here's your 'war on bikes,' and your 'war on cars.' Besides, it has a wry sense of humour that really endears it to me somehow. It catches the lunatic feel of 80's road warrior movies, and just in case you've ever fumed silently and helplessly as some jerk cut you off or buzzed you or hollered out their window trying to startle you into falling... this is guaranteed to be way more violent than anything you might have pictured yourself doing. And it's funny.

The paragraph that won me over:

My weekly raid on the old Joliet Arsenal yielded what I
 needed:   a bazooka and a couple of crates of armor-piercing
 rockets.  As usual, the morons the  Army  has  watching  the
 place  didn't  see  anything.   All  the  approaches  to the
 arsenal are pretty well guarded, but nobody expects a guy on
 a  mountain  bike  sneaking up from the river bank.  I slung
 the bazooka over my shoulder,  stuffed  all  the  rockets  I
 could  carry  into  a  set  of  panniers and a backback, and
 slipped away unnoticed. 
Back in the garage, I set about converting the  bazooka
 and  some  old Reynolds tubing into a bikezooka.  When I was
 finished, it looked pretty  much  like  any  other  fat-tube
 bike,  except  your  every-day Kleins and Cannondales aren't
 capable of firing antitank rockets out both  the  front  and
 back  ends.   The  bike handled a little funny, but I wasn't
 going to do any criteriums on this baby.
If you have a moment, it's worth it for the chuckles. And the bikezooka.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A bike kennel in Fredericton

My dad sent me this picture a couple of days ago: secure bike parking in my home town, Fredericton, NB.

I don't know for sure how it works (do you need a key to the 'kennel', or is there staff, or what?) but it struck me that I don't see these in Ottawa, which is arguably a more bike-friendly town (and probably has a higher rate of bike theft too). Not that Fredericton is huge, or hostile to bikes, but I don't remember ever seeing a bike lane there, and it is built on a great huge hill, which was definitely a deterrent to me as a kid, when I entertained the notion of bringing my bike in to town to get around on. But, lookee here, public bike parking. Which I would love to have access to in Ottawa (when I got a job recently on Elgin Street, about the third thing I asked my new boss was if it would be okay for me to bring my bike into the store and stash it in the staffroom. I've had too many headlights stolen to feel safe leaving him outside at night...)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Slow news day?

I was walking down Elgin this afternoon and I spotted this headline in the Ottawa Sun box. I had to stop and take the picture.

"Bike-lane changes would strip motorists of stoplight rights!" it says, there, underneath the screaming "RED ALERT."

I had to laugh. And get annoyed. And shake my head. All in one. Which made me look very silly, I'm sure, standing there on the sidewalk. Actually, crouching so I could snap the photo of the box. Anyway, I posted the picture to Twitter, with a comment along the lines of "Seriously, Ottawa Sun? Those nasty bikes are going to take away our god-given right to turn right on red? OH NOES!"

I appear to have struck a nerve, anyway - quite a few retweets, most in agreement. One, apparently in favour of the headline, pointing out that the bike lanes are inside all right turns regardless of whether the light is red or green. (I still don't see the problem, as bikes have to stop on red too, but hey.) What really amazes me about this, and about the headline from yesterday saying that the new Laurier lanes are going to impede emergency vehicles (I also tweeted about that, with a similar amount of scoff) is that it's got to be a slow news week or something if the media is having to invent controversy over the lanes. Which open Sunday, and with luck these stories will fade into history once they do.

Please note: I'm not expecting the earth to move, the sun to go dark, or cars everywhere to raise their mechanical little voices in despairing screams on Sunday, either. I just expect to see more bikes inside the concrete barrier, once they remove the pylons.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One right (and one left) make two wrongs

(Mostly posting this because I thought of the title and it amused me.)

As I was on the way to work this afternoon, heading north on Elgin Street, there was a car waiting to turn left. The car behind it cut me off (not sure if he was even aware I was there) to duck out around him. I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting the side of his car as he did so, and said something loud (a sarcastic "Nice!" I think it was.)

He then proceeded to turn right, once he'd cut me off, and paused for a moment. Switching his turn signal on - which was entertaining - at the exact moment he completed the right turn and headed off down the side street. I rolled my eyes and continued to work.

Coming home from work, south on Alta Vista, I came up to the left-turn lane onto Heron Road. Signalled, merged over into the left-turn lane. Didn't get the advance green, but the green light was still on. There was a car ahead of me making a left. I pulled up behind him and, seeing another car heading toward me, decided to wait till it came through the intersection before turning left. I started to roll forward toward the intersection, though, in preparation to turn.

At which point a truck appeared from my left side, having run the length of the through lane, passed me on the outside (hi! illegal!) and then cut over, turning left in front of me so he could gain that precious half-second of time.

Sigh. I rolled eyes. Continued riding. No point in trying to decide whether the drivers are impatient, or just blissfully unaware. Not sure which I'd rather.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy Monday

Here's a little video for anyone who rode or is riding to work today. Happy Monday: enjoy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Get scared or get stubborn

A car blew past me today so close I could feel the shockwave on my hand. A foot, maybe, off my handlebars. Too damn close, and going way too fast (it was on Heron Road, and the speeds there are a bad fit with how narrow the road is.) I shouted; I couldn't help it, just an inarticulate shout that came bursting out of me as the car passed.

And it had been such a nice ride, otherwise, too. I had a split second where I could have gotten terrified, or mad. I got mad. Which is a sign of how long I've been riding. I can remember times when I screeched to a halt when that kind of thing happened. Now, though, by the time I'd processed what was happening, I was looking to see if the car was going to hit the red light ahead and if I could catch up. I wanted to tell the driver that he'd been far too close, dangerously close, and if we lived somewhere with the one-metre rule, he would have been illegally close. So I started pedaling like mad to catch up.

But I didn't catch up. The light changed, and he went on ahead without knowing how angry I was. Although maybe he heard me. I can hope that the Doppler effect didn't steal my shout as he flew past me. By the time I got to the traffic light it was red again, which was not such a good thing, because it gave me a minute or so where the delayed adrenaline - and the short breath from my sprint - kicked in and I started shaking. Mad and about to cry all at once. So I sat there, calming myself back down, until the light changed, and then I set off again. Just as I got back into my stride, another van came past - not as close, but it was a van, and so its sheer size startled me.

Okay, fine. Fine, I thought. And again I kind of surprised myself: I got mad, and I got defiant. If they were going to keep blowing past me, then I was going to get out into the lane and make it impossible. So I came out about a metre into the lane - where, technically, I should be, but way further out than I usually ride - and I stayed there, determinedly ignoring the sounds of cars coming up from behind me. Or at least, not ignoring them, but not letting them push me sideways. I was absolutely done with being intimidated by cars.

A couple of things about that. One: I not only knew, but had internalized, the idea that the further out in traffic you are (within reason) the safer you actually are. I stay a long way over to the side out of courtesy for drivers, but if you want to be visible, and to avoid drivers thinking they can squeeze by you, you take up space. Two: I have a lot more confidence than I used to, about a lot of things. And I thought, as I rode the rest of the way home, about my Amazon friend's insight about the relationship between being femme and biking (or any kind of non-mainstream-ism and biking): that you have to take up your space, stop shrinking to the side to avoid being 'in the way,' stop trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Unobtrusive is sometimes way too close to invisible.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spinning in Almonte

A couple of weekends ago, my poetry/storytelling performance group, the Kymeras, got to open for Evalyn Parry and her fantastic show 'Spin.' A celebration of the bicycle (and in particular the phenomenal changes it created in the lives of women), this show is a little hard to describe. Part musical show, part documentary, part one-woman-and-a-guy-playing-a-bicycle show, it was moving and mesmerizing and surprising. Personal and political.

Evalyn's songs and stories and snippets of theatre take us, mostly, through the 1890s and the bicycle craze, when bikes became not just ubiquitous, but also, serendipitously, propelled a good chunk of the women's movement. She tells tales of rebel entrepreneurs, suffragettes and the Ladies' Christian Temperance Union, and interweaves them with her own relationship to bicycles - your bike is a part of you - and the rich metaphors you can wring out of this simple machine. "The past is behind us / the back wheel is the power / the front wheel freewheels / hour by hour . . . "

I was riveted. As well as giving us the songs and stories - Google 'Annie Londonderry' sometime! - Evalyn was joined on stage by Brad Hart, who played a vintage bike mounted on a mechanic's stand. I think I heard him say there were fourteen separate pickups mounted on the bike, so he could play the tubes and fenders with drumsticks and brushes, whack on the seat for a bass line, spin the pedals, ring the bells, use a bow on the spokes, and rattle drumsticks on the spinning wheels. Add to that a set of looping pedals, and the bike sang. It was an absolutely constant presence in the show, a third character, the main character. Your eyes kept drifting to it where it hovered on the stage.

Sean, in the audience, just before Evalyn's show. And the bike.
The Kymeras - well, three out of four of us, since Ruthanne was at a storytelling conference and couldn't come - lucked into this gig. We'd been out to Almonte last year as part of Mississippi Mills bike month: arts organizer and poet Danielle K.L. Gregoire knew that I was a cycling blogger, knew the Kymeras, and asked me if I thought we could do a show about bikes. We did - to a small crowd, admittedly, but it was a fun gig, and this year, with a star like Evalyn coming in, Danielle thought of us again.

So we came out to do a bike-themed Kymeras set, to open for Evalyn. I don't think any of us really realized how big it was going to be until we got to the Almonte Old Town Hall for sound check and saw the seating. There were going to be about 170 people in the audience at this show.

Sean and Marie doing a sound check. Me getting artsy with the camera phone.
 We did a very quick sound check and went for dinner with our host and Evalyn and her band, then headed back over to the Town Hall where people were starting to fill in the seats.

We went back to the green room to munch on the lovely bowl of fruit the hosts had put out, run through our poems and stories one more time, and get dressed in our performing getups. Yup, we had a 'look': coloured summery t-shirts and black pants with one leg rolled up (to stay out of the gears.)

Sean and Marie: fashion icons.
And then it was time to go out! I have to admit to being pretty nervous, but the audience was not just big, they were warm, responsive, receptive, and a joy to perform for. I had brought my poems on paper (as the 'page poet' of the foursome, but also because I don't have Sean's confidence for memorization) and as I read, out of an embroidered notebook I'd bought and copied the poems into for the occasion, I could feel the audience coming along with me. It really breathed a whole other life into the words I was performing. The same thing happened the last time I performed in front of a really large audience, in January at the NAC. I could feel my performance getting kicked up a notch. I highly recommend the sensation.

Marie anchored our set with a pair of stories, about love winning over a bicycle, and then about a bicycle winning over love. I came between the two stories with a trio of poems about childhood bikes, about the one I have now (which changed my life) and about taking up my space on the road, and then at the end of the set Sean did a couple of his own poems - which echoed mine in their themes of love and summer and freedom and nostalgia - and then ended with a Mary Oliver cover, "Summer Day."

And then we were done, and giddy, and happy, and we headed down into the hall to watch Evalyn's show, which was, as I've said, totally mesmerizing. Watching Brad play the bicycle was a whole lot of fun, and Evalyn was a complete chameleon on stage, becoming a half-dozen different characters as she recreated the 1890s, and then took us through her own stolen bike and the bits of her life that had been tangled up in it. She got a standing ovation at the end: I was one of the people on their feet first, I think. Jumped up.

And I was so darn happy to get on my bicycle the next morning.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bike as Muse (and Musical Instrument)

Two great tastes that taste great together (isn't that the old line?)

This weekend I'm getting to combine enthusiasms. On Saturday at 8:00, my performance group, the Kymeras (spoken word, poetry and storytelling) will be opening for the amazing Evalyn Parry and her show "SPIN", in Almonte, as part of Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month. The show celebrates the bicycle as muse, musical instrument, and agent of social change. Yeah. Musical instrument.

I'm really looking forward to this show! And yeah, I'm a little nervous. But it's going to be so damn fun.


Just had another piece posted under my ClickShift column over at Spacing Ottawa! This one's about the stuff that surprises me about Bixi... and has a link to a very nifty animation of bike use at the Ottawa stations.

One thing I didn't mention in the article, because it's not a surprise, it's an annoyance: why is it that when you enter into your browser, you are automatically rerouted to the Montreal Bixi page, with no clear way of getting back to Ottawa? Grr, Bixi. Grr.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another hollaback

I did actually shout back, this time. But it's still pretty frustrating that when things like this happen, there's nothing you can really do about it.

I was on my way down Bronson Avenue this morning on a fairly wet, misty day. Bronson was jammed with cars - I guess because of construction in the Glebe forcing cars off Bank Street - and I was rolling along trying to strike that balance between staying to the right and trying not to hit the potholes. And around Carling this carload of young men - somewhere in their early twenties - rolled up past me, and they did that thing where they shout out the window to try and make the cyclist jump. Maybe even - hyuk hyuk - fall over. I looked up, but I pride myself I didn't really flinch that much, although they did keep making barking sorts of noises out of the car at me. Traffic was slow enough that they couldn't just speed past, and before I knew it, I was saying, in absolute disdain and annoyance, "Oh, fuck off." They laughed. I have to point out that if you were casting actors to play young, stupid jocks in an SUV, you would have cast these guys. Blond, short-haired, muscular, stereotypical football-team types listening to techno and smoking out the windows of the car. Right out of a high school movie.

They laughed, and you know just what their laughter sounded like, and kept sort of leaning out the windows to look at me as I pedaled along and they paced me in the car, for about two blocks. Just when I was about to look up and point out to them that if they kept driving along right beside me like that, I was going to call them in for harassing me, they pulled ahead: I caught up to them again at a light (refusing to let them intimidate me into changing course or avoiding them), and they leaned back out the windows, looked at me, laughed and talked among themselves, but didn't actually say anything. They did, however, wait for me to draw even with them, and then paced me, again, for another half block, at which point I said, "Just keep rolling, guys," and they did pull away, although it probably wasn't because of me. It was probably because they were holding up traffic.

What bugged me about it was that I didn't get the license plate. My phone was dead anyway. And there was no real way to respond to them that they wouldn't have been amused by: anger would amuse them. Fear would amuse them. Even my "Oh, fuck off" probably amused them, although the ease and disdain with which it came out made me feel a little better. There is no way to win. I shouldn't even waste the energy on being annoyed with them. But it is hard to accept the existence of idiots.

Here, guys: here's a song for you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Volunteers Needed

Hey folks - just got this message from Capital Vélo Fest and thought I'd pass it along. They're looking for volunteers for their Tour la Nuit night ride... if you can give them a couple hours, please get in touch!

Capital Vélo Fest, on Saturday June 4th,  is almost upon us!

After months of planning and hard work by many individuals, the inaugural event for Ottawa’s annual bike festival at Ottawa City Hall is set to go.  Everything is in place for the Bicycle Rodeo from 11am-4pm, with several local bike stores contributing expertise for educational workshops and prizes for festival goers.

The Tour la Nuit, from 7pm-11pm is also ready to go, with 7 bands lined up to provide live music and Mayor Jim Watson committed to providing some welcoming remarks and starting the ride at 8:30.   However, we are currently short volunteers to help close the streets, which is jeopardizing the event and may require us to shorten the distance of the ride.  

If you are an advocate of cycling in Ottawa and if you are available to help on Saturday June 4th from 7pm-10:30, please sign up on line to volunteer today at as a Road Safety Assistant.  Depending on how many people can be recruited in the next few days, the call will be made early next week on how to proceed.  You can also help by forwarding this email to your family, friends and professional contacts with a personal message for assistance.

Thank-you in advance for any assistance you can provide to make this inaugural event a success.

Dick Louch

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mercy Killing

I pulled up at Billings Bridge this afternoon while I was out running errands, and went to lock my bike up against the sign post because, as usual, the bike racks (those irritating on-the-ground ones) were pretty much full. An older man who was just unlocking his bike offered to let me use the spot he was just leaving, and I declined, telling him I actually preferred to use the street sign. Then the conversation shifted to the damage those racks can do, and the lone naked (and bent, and rusted, with the tire long since gone) wheel still chained to one rack, and the blue kids' bike that, I realized, had been sitting there for well over a year.

The deal is, as I discovered a while back, the owner of the property has to call 311 to get abandoned bikes removed, and something tells me the owners of Billings Bridge Shopping Centre just don't really give a rat's arse that the bike has been sitting there rusting through two winters. This means that no one, really, has a right to complain if anyone comes by with bolt cutters who isn't employed by the City. 

So I stopped and took a picture. Here it is. Free to a good home, or at least to anyone with the wherewithal to cut a U-lock. Put this bike out of its misery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blessing of the Bikes

My friend Steve just pointed me at this. . . I probably would never have heard about it otherwise, but Steve's studying theology at Saint Paul's, and has his ear to a different ground than I do. In this case, though, our different grounds coincide in a kind of odd, off-kilter and - well - touching sort of Venn diagram.

This notice was posted on the website of the Church of the Ascension, an Anglican(ish) church on Echo Drive (conveniently, right on the Canal rec path.)

Sunday, May 22 at 12:00 noon: Blessing of the Bikes
Come as you are; all ages -- and faiths (or lack thereof) -- are most welcome!

There is a blessing for yourself and your bike, a moment of silence to remember those cyclists we’ve lost in the past year, and a chance for everyone to ring their bicycle bells in celebration of cycling. Come early for fair-trade coffee and soulful jazz!

You know, regardless of where you stand on blessings in general, there is something about a church holding a Blessing of the Bikes that is ear-to-the-ground community-based. With a dash of humour to go along with the outreach. Your bike is a part of your life, right? A part of your psyche? Then of course, any institution that exists to look after your psyche should take time to recognize it. It's like how Steve's church has a Blessing of the Animals each year, a holdover from rural churches, where people bring their pets. (Steve brings his guinea pigs.)

They also linked to a short film from the 12th annual (!) Blessing of the Bikes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sympathy for Bronson

(photo yoinked from
I was going to write a post to say I hate Bronson Avenue. But it’s actually kind of hard to hate it. I don’t like riding on Bronson, no. When I was first in Ottawa, as a college student living across Bronson from Carleton University campus, I developed an unshakeable conviction that one day Bronson would kill me. I remembered that conviction with immediate and crystal clarity, as I was biking down Bronson to a friend’s house last Sunday morning. It’s narrow. It’s fast, and the pavement is so unbelievably bad as to make it almost impassable for a cyclist. There are parked cars at the sides of the street, infrequently enough to be inconvenient. Where there are bike lanes (only around Carleton), they begin and end awkwardly.

But I can’t hate Bronson. Bronson is like the hard-luck cousin of Ottawa streets. The fact that its hashtag on Twitter is not #Bronson but #RescueBronson might give you an idea; the street grinds along through life, rusty, dirty, broken and cracked, the curbs crumbling, the sidewalks sloping and collecting mud, clumps of grass and water, and the asphalt slowly decaying into truly epic potholes. It doesn’t even get the more or less frequent patches that my other high-pothole zone, Main Street, gets. It feels, as you rattle and swerve and swear your way down Bronson, as though everyone has just given up on it as a bad job. Bronson feels unloved. And then there’s the matter of those spooky, garish painted children mounted on utility poles as decoration, in an attempt to create a sense of community among the elderly brick houses, shop fronts and poured-concrete apartment blocks. I tried to hate Bronson; I felt like I’d snapped at a kicked-around dog that was still trying to wag its tail.

But one of these days I will have to ride down Bronson with a camera and get pictures of the appalling state of the pavement.  Last weekend, as I was biking to my friend’s, and home again, I spotted a bunch that would be great candidates for a Gallery of Awful. Some, to use my Pothole Rating System from earlier this year, would count as Intensity 10. At one point a foot-wide, at least 6-inch-deep circular hole had been drilled around some sort of cap – pipes, or something – and left there, in the middle of where bikes need to be. (I came across that one after dark: exciting.)

Around Carleton, as I said, the bike lanes appear and disappear uncomfortably; I come up the ramp from Heron onto Bronson, where there are Transitway lanes, major ramps to major arteries, and where there is no bike lane and you have to be in the far left lane if you want to continue on Bronson and not be forced onto Riverside. After that, it’s a matter of getting past Carleton in a bike lane littered with the sort of high-speed obstacles you might expect – I’ve seen carriage bolts, dead animals, chunks of tire, sheets of rusted metal, and broken glass – and with the occasional off-ramp, like the one onto Colonel By just past the canal, that forces you to figure out when and how to cross a right-turn lane to merge into the suddenly appearing bike lane. But then the bike lanes peter out entirely and you’re on your own through the west end of the Glebe, where the pavement dissolves into defeat.

Underneath the 417 overpass, you dive into a dark tunnel with potholes so frequent and varied you’re forced to run over them, because you can’t be certain the drivers can or will swing out to give you room. Coming up to a light, with cars just to the left of me, I was forced through a pit in the pavement at least three inches deep – there was nowhere to go to avoid it. Avoiding the holes involves putting your head on swivel mode and trying to watch in front and behind at the same time: and sometimes having to hit major holes head on because of a truck rattling past too close for comfort. Arriving at my friend’s house, I was rattled in bone, body and mind, with a thumping headache beginning in my jarred skull and my adrenaline levels spiking. “God,” I said as I gave him a hug, “I hate Bronson."

But I’m sorry, Bronson. It’s not your fault. I didn’t really mean it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

E-bike ban

Here's an interesting one: the NCC is considering banning e-bikes from the multi-use paths. (E-bikes, as I found myself explaining to a friend yesterday, are those little mini-scooters that use an electric motor. I find there's an increasing number of them on the paths, and I've been startled by them more than once, because although they have a motor, they're virtually silent.) Here's the Government of Ontario's FAQ on e-bikes, for a definition.

I can kind of see it. E-bikes fall into this muddy area between motor vehicles and bikes. According to the Highway Traffic Act they are considered "motor assisted bicycles."* They have pedals but no one uses them: well, once I saw a guy pedaling an e-bike, on those teeny-tiny vestigial pedals. I assume the bike had run out of juice. It was a pretty funny thing to watch, I have to admit. I probably would have got off and walked the bike, myself.

They can get up to around 30 kph - the bike paths' ostensible speed limit is 20 - and after a few years of dodging small children, clotheslining dog leashes and/or the dogs themselves on the MUPs, I can see why a speed limit is a good idea. And a small, selfish bit of me thinks, "oh, get a real bike," when one of them zips by on the path or - heaven forfend - on the sidewalk where they really shouldn't be. But I know that bit of my brain is in the wrong. Motor-assisted bikes are great for people that want to bike but for whatever reason can't. Say you have a physical disability or something. They're also great for people that don't want to bike, and don't really feel the need to get their pulse up on their way around town, but also don't want to have a car or burn gas. Valid reasons to have one of these bikes.

But are they motorized or not? That's really at the heart of this, I think. They're too slow to be motorcycles, and they have those little pedals making them 'bicycles,' and so they're a new kind of beast. I also have to say that their sheer silence makes them spooky for me, when trying to share the path with them. I won't hear one coming up behind me to pass, or approaching an intersection, and then woop! there it is.

So, I'm not yet certain what I think about banning them from the paths. They're another green form of transport, which is good, but there's just something about how people think about and use the paths that isn't really compatible with a motorized vehicle. . . yet, what about one of those electric-assist bikes with the generator for climbing hills? would they also be banned? Where's the line?

I'll keep watching. Maybe I'll figure out where I stand as the NCC mulls it over.

*Want the official description? (quoted from the HTA):
“motor assisted bicycle” means a bicycle,
(a) that is fitted with pedals that are operable at all times to propel the bicycle,
(b) that weighs not more than fifty-five kilograms,
(c) that has no hand or foot operated clutch or gearbox driven by the motor and transferring power to the driven wheel,
(d) that has an attached motor driven by electricity or having a piston displacement of not more than fifty cubic centimetres, and
(e) that does not have sufficient power to enable the bicycle to attain a speed greater than 50 kilometres per hour on level ground within a distance of 2 kilometres from a standing start.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Capital VeloFest

This is new! Just spotted a link to this - Capital VéloFest: a bicycle festival for Ottawa. Seems brand new (incorporated only last March.) They've got a mini-festival on June 4th (a 'bicycle rodeo' and night ride on closed streets) as well as (starting this month) a Vélo Rally which will post instructions for riding along bike routes through the city, with questions to find the answers to along the way. Looks kind of like a bike scavenger hunt. And it also looks like they're planning ride-in movies - like Centretown Movies does outdoor movies, but with the encouragement to ride your bike to the location.

Okay. I have *got* to do one of the bike rallies just to see how it goes. I'll let you know as soon as they post a route! And check out the site or hook up with @CapitalVeloFest on Twitter to keep up with what they're doing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All in the Wrong

Sometimes - maybe because I read too many comments on news articles - I make a mistake (miss the yellow light and wind up accidentally running the red; wind up in the wrong lane; go at the wrong time at a stop sign) and I imagine the drivers around me thinking the sorts of things I see in the comments: "cyclists are out of control," "they're a danger to themselves and others," "why are these crazy cyclists allowed on the roads when they just disregard the rules," etc., etc., etc.

It drives me nuts to think that, because most of the time I'm pretty obsessively conscious of sharing the road. And because I hate reinforcing anyone's misguided stereotypes.

So what happened was this: I was heading to a friend's. I was tired, and shaking off the last of a cold, and maybe a little less alert than I could have been. I wound up at an intersection where I needed to turn left. You might know the intersection - at Bank and Kitchener.

So I pulled up at the red light, facing Bank Street. Across from me was the entrance to the parking lots of the LCBO (right) and Home Depot (left). But it gets a traffic light because people can continue straight through from Kitchener into the parking lots. There's a left turn lane on Kitchener, which I was in. But when the light turned green there was a car facing me, with turning signal on indicating the driver was turning left. I was also turning left. But I guess I have been in too many situations where a car facing me, when we're both turning left, has been visibly freaked out by not knowing what I'm going to do, so I hesitated before heading into the left turn, not able to figure out why the other car wasn't moving. Then saw the driver was waiting for a pedestrian to cross the road.

Then a car behind me honked, and pulled out to pass me, on the right side, although he'd been behind me in the left turn lane. So I turned to try and figure out which way he was going to go - worried that he was going to try and make the left turn around me, and possibly into me - and he pulled out, turning right onto Bank across the through/right turn lane, while a delivery truck behind him took the opportunity to pull past me on the other side and turn left, pausing long enough to yell something out the door of his truck that sounded to me like "... mumble something going straight something something cut off..."

Helpful, buddy.

I shouted, "He's turning! I was waiting! I'm turning left!" but by then he had driven off, having illegally passed me and cut me off for the turn, and the other driver having illegally passed me and cut across a lane to turn right.

I realize that in fact, if the car facing me was turning left, then what I was supposed to do was just continue with my turn. But since I didn't know what he was going to think of a bike heading into the intersection toward him, and because I was a little fuzzy-headed with a cold, and I momentarily forgot what my right of way was, I hesitated. Then the drivers behind me honked, fumed, and each did their own version of 'the wrong thing' to get around me - which they would not have done had I been in a car, hesitating in the left turn lane.

And I'm now bothered by the fact that I may have been taken for a 'stupid cyclist who doesn't know the rules.' Yup, I had a momentary brain fart. Sure, we were all wrong. But the end result of the whole incident was that my moment of insecurity was made infinitely more dangerous by the reactions of the drivers around me.

It's things like this that make me hate left turns with a burning firey passion.

Ride of Silence

I just spotted this listing in Culture Magazine, thought I'd repost here as an FYI. Not sure if I'll be able to make it but I'll report if I do. 

Ride of Silence - Gatineau
Date: May 18, 2011  Time: meet at 6:30 pm
Location: Maison du Citoyen, 25 rue Laurier, Gatineau (Hull sector)
This annual event started in 2003 in Texas in memory of cyclists injured or killed on the road.  The ride now takes place in over 320 cities worldwide on the third Wednesday of May.

The Ride of Silence is like a funeral procession. We will be riding  at around 15 km/h. No talking is allowed, as silence is how we can remember our deceased sisters and brothers. Black arm bands will be worn in memory of the deceased, and a red arm band will be worn for those injured or intimidated by motorists. A bicycle helmet is mandatory, and red and white flashing lights are a good idea to be seen.

We also take this opportunity to raise the drivers' awareness that we are here.

For more information consult website:

Ride of Silence main page

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So how much do you know, really?

I just took a quick skim through Transports Quebec's cycling site. Partly because I'm working on a piece about cycling and traffic laws (which are, basically, provincial, so the rules change a bit when you cross the border.)

I'm actually rather impressed by Quebec's cycling policy: check out their site and have a gander for yourself. But what entertained me most was their set of quizzes. You can go through them (four questions each, I think) and pick your answers, get a score, and if you get one or two wrong (which I'm willing to bet you might) it will tell you how many are wrong, but not which questions, so you have to rethink your answers and try again. I learned some things!

Check it out for yourself. I bet you learn stuff.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bike lanes for Wellington!

Sure, I bike on Wellington downtown. I don't *like* it. It's not fun to ride along a street with your knuckles whitening on the handlebars. Your hands fall asleep from all the tension and the adrenaline gets you all jittery. But I do ride down Wellington. I'm not at all surprised, though, when people ride on the sidewalks. For one thing, if you're trying to get anywhere other than just straight along Wellington - if you want to turn off the street anywhere between the Rideau Mall and, say, Lebreton Flats - then may the Force be with you. There are so many weird intersections, oddly spaced lights, double turn lanes and nasty leftward merges that I tend to give up and use pedestrian crosswalks. And even if you're just going east or west down the street, you're dodging buses (lots of them, OC Transpo and STO alike), taxis, and cars. Oh, and the buses are weaving in and out of the far right curb - you can't really pass them on the left or the right without running serious risk. No wonder people are on the (wide, spacious, built-for-postcard-pictures) sidewalks.

And if you want to get through that part of town on the riverside multi-user-path ... well, may the Force be with you then too. I've never managed to find my way through the maze of paths that run alongside the river without sooner or later winding up stranded, somewhere near the War Museum, on a sidewalk, with no clue where the next bit of the path picks up.

So when I heard about the NCC's plans for a segregated bike lane on Wellington, down near the Library and Archives, a few weeks ago, I was pretty happy. And it's all official and stuff now - it's on the news! I'm particularly heartened by the comment from Richard Daigneault, the NCC's project manager for the lane: "Up to date, we've always worked on pathways, more the recreational end of things. But now it's a matter of how to connect this network into the city."

Yes, yes, and yes. Yay.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My new least favorite intersection

Least favorite intersections are like favorite bands: they change and morph, depending on what sort of emotional and physical place you're in at any given time. Right now, my least favorite intersection is - predictably, and perhaps aptly, since it's the time of year when these kinds of intersections become part of my life again - one of those places where road meets bike path.

I've started taking Smyth, and Main Street, to get downtown, like to the Market, lately. It's quick and direct, if gritty. And Main Street is pothole hell, but that's not the part I hate. The part I hate runs from the intersection of Main and Hawthorne under the Queensway, and ends at Colonel By Drive.

Heading down Main, you first have to make it through the little jog that Hawthorne does. That's not so bad. But then on the other side of the intersection you're suddenly in a right-turn lane. Like most right-turn lanes, I tend to stay right on them, and try to shoulder check and move across them into the through lane as I'm coming up to the intersection, rather than ride the block or so with cars passing on both sides. It just seems to freak the drivers out to have me in the centre lane. (I know, legally I should just be taking up my space in the centre lane. Tell that to an aggressive driver.)

So, once I've negotiated that block, my next problem arises. Assuming I've managed to get into the centre lane, I'm now faced with this ickiness.

Heading toward Colonel By, you have a choice. If you don't want to go with the flow and just keep right onto Colonel By (and how many times have I heard drivers complain about bikes on Colonel By when "there's a perfectly good bike path along the canal"?) - if you want to get onto the bike path, that is - you wind up having to move to the inside of the centre lane - along the yellow line - and then ducking off the road and onto a sidewalk/multi-user path/bit of Echo Drive, just before an island that separates the two lanes between Echo Drive and Colonel By. And you have to duck across the oncoming lane, where there is virtually no marking, crosswalk, or indication of what anyone, car or bike, is supposed to be doing.  

Then the task of getting onto the multi-user path is only half over. Now you're stopped on a grassy median between Echo Drive, which is barely a street anyway, and Colonel By, staring at the bike path across the way, helpfully paved to the edge of Colonel By as if to say, "here, hop on!" However, you have two lanes of traffic - traffic that hasn't seen a stop light since Ottawa U campus in one direction, and god knows how long in the other - to brave before that happens, and no crosswalk, light, or signal. You can even see in the satellite picture, and in this one, where exit ramps have been paved up to the edge of Colonel By from the path.

I cursed this intersection at several places the other day. I know, I could have taken the easy road, and hung a right straight onto Colonel By. And given how many people were out walking, jogging, and cycling on the canal path that day, it might have been faster, if more harried, to take Colonel By as well. But that just results in more unpleasantness further down.

Again: these spots, where you have to somehow get from streetside riding to the NCC's beautiful network of rec paths, are far more annoying than they really should be. I'd take a ramp and pedestrian bridge, I would. Like the Corktown footbridge at Somerset, only over the parkways too. That would be awesome.