Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Road Crew

I was on my way home from a downtown meeting this afternoon and heading up Heron Road when I was passed by a road repair truck, stinking of hot tar, and its sidekick, that truck with the flashing yellow arrow on it. I kinda hoped when they passed that they were heading for some of the more horrific potholes on Heron (some of which appeared in my Potholapalooza post a couple of days ago) . . . and lo and behold, traffic slowed up and came to a stop behind them as they pulled over to tackle, well, this one actually:

So, I ducked onto the sidewalk (rather than try to pass, on the left, a lineup of about four cars plus the repair trucks), and as I passed the two repair guys I stopped the bike, caught the eye of one of them, and called out, "Thank you!"

He grinned, and I went on my way. So there you go. If you see someone out repairing the street and you get the chance, tell them thanks for me, and I'll do the same for you.

(In other good news for the day, it looks like the NCC is looking at putting in a segregated bike lane on Wellington! It would run from the Portage Bridge to Bay Street. This is fantastic: that bit of the street is just awful to bike down, but hard to avoid in some cases. Hooray.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Missing my Ride

I was laid off from my job in January.

Aside from all of the stress of not having a steady paycheck, trying to put together a freelance subsistence, and missing my old job (which was the best job I've ever had) I've discovered something else.

I miss my commute. I've been working from home, alternately job hunting and working short gigs as a marketing/social media consultant, and that means I get up in the morning, skim the paper, pour my coffee, and commute all of ten feet to my computer desk. Where once I got up and rode about 40 minutes from Ottawa South to Vanier, and that 40 minutes again back home, now I'm lucky if I get out for a mile or so to run errands in the afternoon, or out to an event downtown in the evening: and it's winter, which means that recreational rides are just that much harder to do. Bike paths uncleared, roads gritty and soggy and icy and generally not that pleasant.

How accustomed you get to that morning ride to wake you up, and that afternoon ride to wind back down and switch gears. If anything has proven to me that cycling has become part of my life, it's how sluggish and restless I feel without it. And I'm not a recreational cyclist, really. The reason I called this blog "The Incidental Cyclist" was that I felt that was how cycling got itself insinuated into my life: as an incidental thing, just how I happened to get around but not something I did as, I suppose, an enthusiast. I don't really go out just to go for a ride. But I'm feeling so lazy and sedentary these days. And I don't like it. Not one bit.

Which means that as I type this, and the sun is beginning to wipe out my screen (giving me my excuse to get out of the house) I'm thinking of getting out there on Mike and going to a grocery store several miles away, just for the trip. This - this - is how much a part of my life that morning commute had become. I miss my ride.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Ah, springtime in the nation's capital; there's a bite in the wind but the snow's beginning to rot away from the bike lanes, leaving its glacial moraines of grit and broken asphalt and debris. The pavement's stained white with salt, and the springtime bumper crop of potholes begin to surface as the freezing and thawing cause the roads to crumble like a stale brownie. . . 

And the following are a series of (only the most striking and/or egregious) potholes I encountered today in the space of about a mile and a half, between Alta Vista and Riverside on Bank Street. I started, as I went along, trying to design a rating system for potholes. I wound up deciding on three main factors: Intensity, Complexity, and Size. (Some potholes aren't so big, but are a couple of inches deep: some are essentially interconnected systems that can stretch over a couple of square metres. . . you get the idea.)

For example, I'd say Size 7; Complexity 4; Intensity 9.

Complexity about 3; Size 8; Intensity 6.

This one I thought I'd get a shot of for its sheer originality. One small pothole (Size 2, Intensity about 3) but with a long track into which a bike tire could fall and be captured. Complexity 5/8 (i.e., simple, but crafty.)

Intensity 8 or 9. Good thing it's not actually in the space a bike would be rolling in. And the Size rating (4) means cars might not be all that inconvenienced.

Complexity of about 8 or 9 here: Intensity is, luckily, low, probably about a 3.

Intensity here is off the scale: it's broken through the pavement entirely and begun eroding the earth underneath. Check out the hole just before the grate. Complexity, if you count in the grate, about 6: mostly, though, this one is just spectacular.

Short, sharp, and deep: Intensity 9, Size and Complexity both about 2.

As a combination I'd give these a Complexity of about 7, Intensity of 6 or so. Size? Um, 7.
And it occurred to me, as I weaved around to try and avoid these beasts, that one thing the city could do - simple, straightforward and cheap - to get people more comfortable with cycling, to make cycling easier and safer and more convenient . . . ? Just prioritize the stretches of road already designated as 'suggested bike routes' - like this stretch of Bank Street - for repairs. Send the road crews out here first, to fix the pavement. It'll keep us bikes from having to swerve out into traffic (or stand up on the pedals to avoid the painful jolt of an Intensity 7+ pothole) and cost no more than regular road repairs. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I joked, when I bought my twin headlights, that what I really ought to do was to line a whole bunch of them across the handlebars, transforming Mike from a humble mountain bike to something resembling a post-apocalyptic behemoth, like in SF movies.

Yesterday, I saw someone who had done that. There's something just slightly Mad Max about this bike. Respect.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Geek meets practical

My friend Frank (who knows me very well) sent me this link to an article on how to make your own Tron-style lightcycle using electroluminescent wire. (It's fun watching him go in circles. Observe:)

It reminded me of the guy who lives here in Ottawa, who I used to see regularly last winter along the Canal, with the entire frame of his bike wrapped in Christmas lights. Well, that's one way to make sure you're seen, and it was kind of cheery to be pedaling home from work after dark and come across a constellation of coloured lights heading up the path toward you. My co-worker spotted him - at least, we think it was him, although to my knowledge there were two bikes with Christmas lights on them last winter - down near Preston one night, and came to work the next day to tell me she wished she'd had a camera so she could show me.

But that sacrifices a certain level of . . . well, cool. Not to mention efficiency. Hard to attach panniers to a bike festooned with lights. Your legs might get in the way too.

But then I followed the links from the 'lightcycle' article. I love 'related links.' There's the impractical, massively expensive and slightly silly - yet somehow still cool - Tron lightcycle reproduction motorcycle from Parker Brothers Choppers... but that's not what I was really interested in. What I was interested in was EL wire. Check this stuff out.

Now, visibility at night is one of those things I bitch at other cyclists about. When I'm in a car and we pass a cyclist with no lights and a black hoodie on, it bugs me. But I can see how it might cramp your style to wear one of those bright orange reflector vests, and everyone has those Turtle lights, where's the individuality in that? And, well, I'm a geek. When I say I've considered putting refective tape on my helmet or the back of my jacket, I mean I've considered putting reflective tape on my helmet in a nifty - and by nifty I mean geeky - pattern. The Eye of Sauron, maybe, or the symbol of the Galactic Empire. 

But that's not nearly as cool as making a Tron backpack.

(On a related note, another geeky-yet-cool innovation is the 'portable bike lane' I wrote about last year. I need more spare time. And a workshop.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hit on Purpose

Ken Walker, who writes the blog Bike View in Ottawa, just posted this: video of his bike being deliberately rear-ended by an SUV in Old Ottawa South. (Mom, don't look.)

I'm in total awe of the guy's restraint. I would have been swearing and yelling like mad at the driver. It's a reaction when I'm scared. And although it's never happened to me I would bet there's not much scarier, in the cycling world, than having someone in charge of a half-ton of motor vehicle deciding that it's okay to strike (or, okay, 'nudge' or 'bump') you with it.

I ask: would the driver have done this to a car that was stopped in front of him in the same situation? No. The other car would be seen as having every right to be there waiting for the light. Would he have done it if the vehicle in front of him had been a motorcycle? Nope. Would he have done this to a pedestrian who happened to take that moment to cross the street in front of his grill? Again, no. What on earth gives him the idea it's okay to do it to a cyclist? And why does it seem that this attitude is not so uncommon?

"Well, move over," he says, when Ken protests. I've been down that stretch of Bank a lot. When the right lane isn't full of parked cars, it's so clogged with slush you're forced into the middle lane anyway. Besides. Traffic was stopped, what does it matter if the bike was in his lane; no one was going anywhere anyway. And, he'd already hit Ken with his mirror while he was trying to signal: oh, and look at the video. At that point the bike couldn't have been any further right.

To the driver: you are in control of a deadly weapon. Try to behave like a grownup.

To Ken: bravo. And thanks for getting it on tape. And thanks for reporting it to the cops.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

STDs (Severe Tire Damage)

(I stole the term from Neal Stephenson, who has devices in his novel Snow Crash that basically rip the snot out of the tires of any vehicle that crosses them going the wrong way.)

Ah, the other joy of winter riding: potholes. They're generally located off at the side of the road, or it seems that way, which is just where I'll be churning along, trying to avoid patches of ice, water, and slush, and trying not to swing out in front of passing cars. And then one of these beauties will just leap out at me, jarring my whole body as my tires run over it. If I'm really lucky it'll be lurking under a puddle of water, so I'll have no warning at all.

I hit this Mother Of All Potholes yesterday going pretty much full speed along Alta Vista, just off Bank Street.

I felt it, all right: WHUMP! But look at it - with cars coming past me on my left, there was no way to avoid this thing. The crack system runs all the way across the street, too, which means it's only going to get bigger as the winter goes on (especially with the February freeze-and-thaw cycle.) 
And then this afternoon, heading down Bank Street where there was a stretch of hill and I could coast, I felt the familiar shimmy. Once you've had one of these, the feeling is unmistakable. A little wriggle that your bike really shouldn't have, too regular to be bumps in the road. Crap, I thought, and pulled over, got onto the sidewalk, picked the back end up, and spun the tire, looking for the lump. And there it was, that bulge, meaning the sidewalls of the tire had finally had all they can take and they ain't taking no more.

It's not as bad as the last one (which was pretty spectacular.) But it does mean I'm going to have to head out looking for a new tire tomorrow. I know what happens when you let something like this go. But man, is it ever a dirty, dirty time of year to be changing tires.

And, once again, I've been reminded that potholes aren't just uncomfortable. They can end up costing you your tires too. All right, all right, cosmos: I'll go back to trying to avoid them. Difficult as that can be, at this time of year.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


(Or, Can't We All Just Get Along?)

I can't believe that the whole discussion and ruling and furor over the Laurier bike lane has gone by and I haven't said much recently. Or maybe I can believe it: it seems like there's not actually a lot to say that isn't being said, and I had a hard time keeping up with all the meetings that I couldn't be at. But I opened the Saturday paper today and found, in the letters to the editor, a desperate plea from a Laurier Street condo-dweller. They're going to remove all our parking! Won't someone think of the children and the little old ladies?

"But now the bikers come," he writes. "They are young, gainfully employed and dynamic. Most are members of bike and social clubs, and all are well organized. They are represented by city councilors who are like them, and who share their desire to make Ottawa an example of "greenness" in the province: the Copenhagen of Canada. They plan to converge on the city core to enjoy all of its benefits."

Against this Spandex-clad invasion force of apparent non-residents bent on disrupting our way of life, he pits a condo-dwelling population of frail, unorganized senior citizens who enjoy a quiet life of walking in the park, visiting with their grandchildren, and responsibly investing in their condos so as to reduce the burden on the taxpayer when they have to sell and move to a retirement home. (I'm still fuzzy on how that last bit works.) He alone, with his letter, is standing up for the rights of these dear old folks in their autumn years, because they can't speak up for themselves.

Seriously, you should read the letter. It's epic. EPIC.

Okay. Bike lanes will not destroy civilization as we know it. Parking is not a human right. People are pretty good at this adapting thing. Hey, we managed to get used to being agrarian rather than nomadic without too much of a hassle. Some of us even adapt to living in zero gravity without too many hiccups. I think a change in the setup of a street will probably, in two years, have been forgotten about. And/or worked around.

And, for the zillionth time - you just can't categorize a whole group of people - especially when you're talking city politics. This letter-writer's "cyclists" are a faceless mass of overprivileged (male) yuppies in Spandex, who oughta just stay in Kanata where they belong instead of coming in to our downtown core and imposing their self-righteous "greenness." And his "residents" are helpless frail little grannies who will be left, cut off from civilization and human contact, by the no-man's-land of a segregated lane in front of their condos.

In reality, of course, things are way more complicated. Part of the reason I haven't really felt like I can weigh in on the project that much: sure, I agree with some arguments and disagree with others, but on the whole the issue is so complex that I can't feel like I have a solid position. I really wouldn't want to work for the city's transport committee, required to listen to and consider as many different opinions as there are people involved. The bike lane will happen, or it won't, and I for one will wait and see what happens, rather than try to predict any outcomes.