Saturday, June 23, 2018

What's in a name?

One thing about bicycle commuting is that you have a lot of time to think. I try to keep my thoughts positive, but sometimes stuff happens to make that difficult.

For example, I'm riding along, minding my own business, when I see a garbage truck making a left turn. Pretty normal behaviour, right? Except that this garbage truck is closing in on an elderly lady who is crossing the street on the walk light. Rather than coming to a complete stop and waiting for the woman to clear the intersection, the driver chooses to maintain only light pressure on the brake, so that the truck eases its way towards her, making it clear that she is taking too long to cross, and that it is only because the driver doesn't want a black mark on his record that he is allowing her to proceed. I feel indignant. And then I notice the irony. The name of the garbage company is Green for Life. My quick-thinking mind thinks of a more fitting moniker: Green for Death.

This is the beginning of a new trend. During the next few weeks as I ride in the protected bike lanes downtown, I happen to notice that not once, not twice, but three times, either I or a fellow cyclist has a close call with a DynaLife driver. You guessed it -- that company's name is now DynaDeath.

Then one winter day, weary of jiggling my way over the packed snow and ice covering the marked on-street bike route through Glenora, I decide to try the sidewalk on Stony Plain Road. Maybe, just maybe the home and business owners along that stretch have cleared the walk and it will be a better ride. I know, of course, that it is not strictly kosher to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but when the city refuses to clear the roads on the bike routes, it can be mighty tempting. And so I give in to temptation. Ah joy, most of the sidewalk is indeed cleared of ice and snow, and it is a pretty good ride. Until I reach the walk in front of Young Life. Or should I say, Young Death? I'm not exactly young, but as I rode on their sidewalk, I felt the hand of death.

This is fun. I entertain family and friends by telling them about my renaming spree.

Then summer rolls around. Construction abounds, most of it necessary, but truly mystifying is the creation of benches and planters on the path connecting the 121 Street bike lane with the 105 Avenue bike lane -- a short path behind the Brewery District plaza. It was a nice clear route, but for some reason the powers that be decided to festoon the path with planters and benches. What was previously a direct, hazard-free ride has become an obstacle course. A glance at the vests of the workers and I have the chance to re-christen yet another company. Wilco -- classic shorthand for "will comply" -- becomes Wilinco (stress on the second syllable: "will-IN-co") -- short for "will inconvenience". And they live up to their new name in days to come, running a large hose across the path one day, and parking one of their vehicles on the path another day.

Anyone want to join in the fun?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

reflections on long red lights

Anyone who bicycle commutes in Edmonton knows the city-planners' rule: if there is a red light on a bicycle route, it should be an extra-long red light.

This is true at a couple of the intersections on 106 Street heading south from the river. It is also true at 102 Ave. and 116 St.; 105 Ave. and 116 St.; 105 Ave. and 109 St.; at 121 Street and 104 Avenue; at Kingsway near the Royal Alex; at 111 Street near the transit centre. The list could go on.

I have to admit, sometimes this really irks me, especially when the wind chill is around -35 C and I am literally the only person at the intersection, waiting, waiting, waiting for the light to change.

Recently, however, I have been trying to use these long waits as opportunities for reflection. 

The corner pictured here provides the waiting bicycle rider with ample food for thought. 

On my left I can feast my eyes on Umberto's hair salon, with its quaint 1940s architecture, complimented by Italian-themed awnings and a coat of mustard paint. 

And just in case I am tempted to forget this important truth, Umberto reminds me: 

"After all, no matter what you wear... you are still judged by your hair."

Thank you, Umberto! This is just what I want to think about as my hair is being squashed into strange shapes by my bike helmet, aided by the elements.

But that's OK. If I tire of Umberto's, I can turn my gaze to the other side of the street and The Twinson apartment building. 

Where, I ask myself, does this name come from? Is Twinson a surname? Apparently not, an admittedly cursory Google search tells me. (I have time for said Google search as I wait for the light to change.) So, perhaps the owner is the proud parent of twin boys. But in that case, shouldn't the name be The Twin Sons? This conundrum occupies my mind until, at last, the light turns green.

I get ready to ride, only to find that I have to wait until the drivers whose green light didn't last long enough shoot through the intersection on the red light. 

I would be annoyed by them, but by this time I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my ride that I almost feel like writing a thank you note to the city: 
Thank you, City of Edmonton, not only for giving me time to pause in my busy day and reflect on the important things in life, but also for allowing the light to turn green so that I can proceed on my journey. And thank you that I can look forward to several similar lengthy waits opportunities for reflection before I reach my destination.

What about you? Where are your favourite lengthy red lights on your bicycle commute? What deep thoughts occupy your mind as you wait for the light to change?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Five reasons you should try winter cycling -- this winter!

When I was growing up, bicycle riding was strictly a fair-weather activity. As soon as the weather turned cool and the snow began to fall, the bikes were stored in the garage, appearing again only after the snow had disappeared in the spring. In southern Saskatchewan, where winter began in late October and continued well into April, this meant bike riding season lasted only six or seven months.

Fast forward a number of years: I started working in downtown Edmonton. Parking was free at my workplace, so like most commuters, I drove downtown every day. And every day, I saw people on bikes. I was envious – they seemed to be having such a good time and were getting some good exercise, while I sat behind the wheel, feeling the middle-age spread gaining ground.

That winter was unusually mild, so after a few weeks of wistfully watching other bicycle commuters, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t buy any special clothing; I already had some water resistant running pants and a warm jacket. At this point in my life I didn’t even own a bike; the plan was to buy one in the spring. But in the backyard there was an old knobby-tired mountain bike that the boys had rejected, so I pulled that out, adjusted the saddle to a comfortable height, attached a couple of lights and a front basket, pumped up the tires and hopped on.

Since that first winter commute in  February, 2012, I haven’t looked back. I began by riding only on the “nice days.” But my definition of a nice day has changed. Minus 30 now means I cover my face with a balaclava, add another layer or two under my coat, and and stick some hand warmers in the mittens.

Contrary to what you might think, I am not some super-athlete or bad-ass biker girl type.  I’m just an ordinary person who has discovered what I believe is the best way to get to work – all year round.

If you already commute to work by bike during the warmer months -- or even if you don’t -- I heartily recommend you try winter bicycle commuting. Here’s why:

1)   It is cheaper than driving or taking transit

This is especially true if you live close (5 km or less) to your destination. Starting your car and driving such a short distance is possibly crazier than riding a bike during the winter. Add in the cost of parking, and it can become outrageous. Even taking transit is not cheap. And you have to stand around at bus stops, feeling the biting wind and nippy air.  

If you already own a bike and mittens, a hat, boots and a coat, cycling to work is free. Depending on your parking situation, you might have to buy a good-quality lock. But you should have one anyway, unless you want to ensure that you won’t have a bike the next time you want to ride.

2)  It is more fun than driving

Figuring out the best route to take. Learning how to navigate a sketchy patch of road. Sailing along a cleared shared-use pathway. Watching winter-white hares cross your path. Taking in the Christmas lights on the houses as you ride by. The challenges, thrills and quiet pleasures are yours for the taking.

 3)  You will feel good about yourself (and your work)

 An article in Harvard Business Review reports that minor successes can help workers feel good about their tasks, to the point that their performance improves. 

You can’t help but be encouraged and uplifted after your successful ride to work. And there is nothing like doing something that many people consider daring or extreme to make you feel brave and accomplished as well.

Even on the coldest days, or days when the riding conditions are not ideal, the fact that you persevered and made it will give you a boost. You will start the work day feeling successful, strong and capable of anything.

And after work, instead of a ride on a dreary bus or sitting in the car, creeping along, you can repeat the adventure.  

4)   It’s good for your mental health

The seemingly sunless days closing in on us can make us feel dark and down at times. It’s no secret that many of us hate winter and simply try to survive it, looking forward to the beach vacation and then spring. But recent research by University of Vermont psychology professor, Kelly Rohan, reveals that a more effective and desirable way to combat the winter blues is to find winter activities that you can enjoy and commit to doing them regularly.

Why not combine this with your need to get to work, riding your bike, instead of sitting in the car or on the bus, killing two birds with one stone? It has worked for me!   

5) It’s good for your physical health

It's no news that exercise is always good for you, but it seems that exercising outdoors in winter is even better. According to Dr. Dean Kreillaars, University of Manitoba professor and exercise physiologist, “winter’s varied surfaces, extra clothing and temperature all play a role in challenging people’s bodies in ways unique to the season.” The result is that we expend more energy in winter than we would in warmer weather to do the same work.

Incidentally, Kreillaars echoes Rohan’s discovery about the mental health benefits, saying, “When people get outside we know their mood tends to be better.”

Cycling is obviously not the only way to get outdoor exercise in the winter, or even the first thing that comes to mind when we consider winter activities. But you have to go to work, or to school, or wherever you go every day anyway, right? Why not do it on your bike and add that bit of extra, ramped-up winter exercise to your daily routine?

Of course, I know winter cycling might not be for everybody. 
But almost everyone enjoys riding a bike. 
Almost everyone has to go somewhere, at some time. Even in the winter.
In the words of the old adage, 
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.” 
I have a feeling that once you’ve tried it, you won’t knock it!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Poor Susan McNab

Every day as I ride my bicycle to work, I see motorists commit traffic infractions. Speeding is just normal, it seems. And at virtually every intersection I see one or two vehicles zip through as the light is changing from amber to red -- and often after it has already changed.

That's why I'm glad the city has increased the number of intersection cameras. 

But poor Susan McNab!

While taking her daughter to a dance recital in Edmonton, she was, in her own words, so focused on finding her destination that she ended up driving well over the speed limit through two intersections on 170 Street and earned herself not one, but two, speeding tickets.

She believes that two tickets 10 seconds apart is unreasonable and thinks she should not have to pay the second ticket.

Presumably, then, it is reasonable to drive 72 and 74 kph in a 60 kph zone?

And it is also reasonable to not pay attention to speed limits when driving?

Where was her attention? On her GPS? Her paper map? Google Maps on her phone?

Not on the road, at any rate.

Anyone who has driven this stretch of 170 Street knows that it is absurd to think the speed limit would be any more than 60 kph. This is a busy city street, not a freeway.

As Garry Shimko, the executive director of the city’s office of traffic safety says, "Each intersection is a high-risk intersection, so the point … is that we're trying to protect people at those locations because we don't want the crashes to happen."

And incidentally, if McNab was uncertain about her destination, how could whizzing along at more than 70 kph help?

I suggest that Susan McNab acknowledge the fact that she behaved carelessly on this occasion, pay her tickets, and chalk it up as a lesson learned. She should also count herself lucky that her careless driving did not result in a collision.

And when she is in the market for a new car, maybe she should consider one with cruise control!

Just don't call me late for supper

Presumably, this sign also includes Chris Bruntlett!

Just Don’t Call Me Late for Supper!

Chris Bruntlett is a pretty good guy. If you don’t believe me, just ask him. He’ll tell you!

To be honest, I don’t know him. I’ve just read a few of his blog posts, one of which is called “I Am Not a Cyclist.” I’ve read it through a couple of times, and I’m still not quite sure what he is trying to say.

I do know that he favours extreme language. He despises being called “a cyclist.”

He always does this and he never does that, this meaning all the good things “cyclists” fail to do and that meaning the bad things “cyclists” inevitably do.

He believes that his polite, dignified behaviour makes him a minority (I’m guessing a minority of one) and sets him apart as something other than a “cyclist.”

Clearly, I am not as good a person as Mr. Bruntlett, but that doesn’t make me feel too bad, since I am pretty sure no one else is either.

And I don’t mind if people call me a cyclist. A cyclist, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary (as well as every other dictionary I consulted) simply means “a person who rides a bicycle.” By definition, as soon as you hop on a bike and begin to pedal, you are a cyclist. Like it or not.

Mr. Bruntlett attempts an analogy: if he uses a vacuum cleaner, it doesn’t make him a janitor. If he flosses his teeth, people won’t call him a dental hygienist. But this is a flawed analogy; the terms “janitor” and “dental hygienist” have specific definitions. (In case you are wondering, those definitions are not “a person who uses a vacuum cleaner” and “a person who flosses his or her teeth”!)

Many monikers have stereotypes. Think of “librarian.” Chances are you pictured a slim woman with her hair pulled back and wearing glasses. Engineer – good at math; terrible at English. What about “lawyer”? Can you imagine how absurd it would be if everyone who didn’t like the traditional stereotypes conjured up by their job titles, for example, refused to let people call them that?

Cyclist happens to be the universally accepted English-language name for people who ride bicycles. The fact that it has certain connotations, some of which might be negative, doesn’t mean we can deny that this is what we are and demand that people stop referring to us by this name.

It’s almost as if Mr. Bruntlett fancies himself royalty or at least someone entitled to special treatment.

Hmm, now that I think about it, it seems like he does. He appears to think that because his behaviour while perched atop a bicycle seat is so exemplary, he deserves to be called by a special name, possibly “someone who often uses a bicycle.” But even his bike is not just any bicycle. No, his is a bicycle that reflects his personality and style. And the casual observer can probably distinguish him from other people who often use bicycles by the fact that he is riding with grace, elegance and dignity, while others around him occasionally ride fast or forget to signal or hop on the sidewalk for a meter or two to avoid a hazardous situation.

It seems I for one would make Bruntlett’s blacklist on a number of counts.

First of all, I like to ride fast. My bike is not only a way to get from Point A to Point B, but it is a fitness tool. By working hard and riding fast when I have the chance, I maximize the exercise benefits of bicycle commuting or running errands by bike. As a result, I am strong and fit and riding fast comes naturally. Riding fast does not preclude riding carefully, and when it’s necessary I slow down, but my preference is to go at a good clip and give myself a bit of a workout.

This leads to the second thing: sometimes I work up a sweat. It’s hard not to when the temperature is 28C and my cadence is 80-90 rpms. Bad, bad, bad. Sweat is bad. Hmm... funny how this recent article about exercise seems to say that working up a sweat is desirable.

Thirdly, I ride my bike almost everywhere, all year round. This means it is not always practical to simply hop on wearing nothing but my work outfit. If it’s raining, I wear my MEC (ooh, another bad word, according toMr. Bruntlett) Adanac waterproof tights over my regular tights or work pants. Sometimes I pack my skirt instead of wearing it, to keep it clean and dry. When I am going for a long ride in the country or in the River Valley, I often clad myself in “cycle wear” – spandex jersey and padded shorts. Even – horror of horrors – clip-in shoes. For me, comfort rules, even if being comfortable means I look like a cyclist.

Fourth on my list of Bruntlett no-nos: I usually wear a helmet. I don’t exactly make a practice of falling, but I know it is a possibility. Once last September, before I had my studded tires on my bike, I rounded a corner, slid on a patch of hidden ice and was on the ground before I knew what had happened. I hit my head and was shaken-up but not injured, thanks to my helmet.

Wow, lots of negatives, eh? Here is the fifth: in the winter, when I ride to work in the dark, I wear a reflective sash over my winter coat. Why not? It didn’t cost me much, it is easy to slip on, and it adds to my visibility. Of course I have lights as well, but I figure the extra stripe of reflective material doesn’t hurt.

Onto number six: I frequently share the road with motor vehicles. This is not my preference, but in Edmonton, it is often a necessity. The other option might be to ride on the sidewalk, and guess what? Number seven: I do that occasionally too,  for example, when the road on a marked bicycle route has not been cleared of ice and snow.

It makes me sad that someone like Chris Bruntlett, who obviously considers himself a leader in the "someone who sometimes rides a bicycle" realm, is spouting off about something so trivial. Rather than encouraging people to ride and talking about the benefits of riding, here he is, like a nine year old on the playground, complaining that people call him names he doesn't like.

I think I should score some points with nay-sayers for being polite, cheerful and friendly when I ride. I try to make eye contact with drivers and give them a grateful nod or wave when they yield to me. I say good morning to my fellow people who ride bicycles and ring my bell when passing pedestrians.

But I am fully cognizant of the fact that no matter how I feel about myself, when I’m riding a bike, I am and always will be a cyclist. You can call me a biker; you can call me a bicycle commuter; you can call me a cyclist. I don’t really care. Just don’t call me late for supper! Because, with the amount of riding I do and the number of calories I burn, I am usually ravenously hungry at about 6:00 PM.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Welcoming another bike (or two) to the fold...

Folding bikes, of course. 

Since my Dahon Vitesse, although beautiful and a dream to ride, is not suitable for taking on an airplane as a piece of regular checked luggage, I had to start again with my search. This time we decided to go the secondhand route, so we searched Kijiji. By this time, Hubby was convinced that folding bikes were a good idea, so we ended up buying two older Dahon bikes with the sixteen inch wheels. 

Mine, which I have christened "Kleine Fiets," is made of gleaming stainless steel and folds to an unbelievably small size. It came with its own softside carry case. Once I got used to the tiny wheels, it was surprisingly comfortable and fast. One problem, though -- the Sturmey Archer 3-speed internal hub isn't working quite right. I can't shift into the lowest gear. But for riding around town, without any significant hills, it was just fine with only the two gears. I tested it on a 10 km ride and even rode up the little -- but very steep -- hill on the trail behind our house. No problem!

From looking at photos online, we figure this is one of the very early Dahons, from the 1980s.

The other is also a Dahon, subtitled Piccolo, and it is considerably newer. It doesn't have the angled bar that is on the older model and it doesn't fold quite as compactly. Like the older one, it has the Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. I rode it over the same 10 km route, and found it pretty much the same as the other bike, except that I could shift into all three gears on this one.

So, we were pretty pleased with our finds. For less than $300, we had two folding bikes that rode well and could fit into standard suitcases.

London, here we come. 

But. Of course, there's a but. We decided to see whether we could get the gears fixed on the older bike. So, we rode to a DIY bike shop, which shall remain nameless. My understanding of this place was that there would be people there who would show us how to fix the bike. However, when I got there, the super-zealous guy said, "Wow, this is a beautiful bike!" He popped it up on a stand and started working on it. Next thing I knew, the gears were in worse shape than before. I thanked him, paid the minuscule fee and left. The bike was still rideable, but the gears were harder to shift than before and I still had only the two gears.

Oh well, I thought. It'll be OK. But then when we were trying to decide which suitcases to use, Hubby took the back rack and fenders off the Piccolo 9to make it smaller), and when he reassembled everything, something was wrong with the rear wheel. Oops!

Just proves the truth of one of my favourite sayings: if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Know when to fold 'em -- bikes, that is

Somewhere along the way, I developed a bit of an obsession with folding bikes. 

The first time I ever remember seeing one was in the late 1990s, when my next door neighbour Beverley, in Richmond, BC, came home from a garage sale with one. Thrilled with her find, she proudly showed me how it could fold in half and easily fit in their RV.  

I thought it was pretty cool, and because Beverley was older and at a different stage of life, I thought, “Yeah, maybe I’d like one of those someday,” and then promptly forgot about it.

Folding bikes came to my attention again when I visited London for the first time in April of 2015. I made extensive use of the cycle hire system, in which you pay 2 GBP for a 24-hour period and use a bike for half an hour at a time, as often as you want, at no extra charge. For me, this was simply marvelous, and I rode every day of my stay – to Buckingham Palace, to the British Museum, across Tower Bridge, to Trafalgar Square, to Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, and many more places. I did end up paying a little extra because twice I went over the half-hour limit, but even so, it was a super deal.

As I rode, I spotted people on folding bikes. Lots of people. I would see them exit the underground, break open their bikes and start riding. They rode fast, as fast as people on regular bikes. Many had panniers which presumably carried all they needed for a day at work. It was intriguing, and again, I thought that was pretty cool.

When I ended up beside a folding-bike rider at a red light, I asked him how he liked it. He replied that he loved it, adding that he used to use the cycle hire bikes, too, but when he would arrive at Paddington Station in the mornings, there would often be no bikes available, so he’d have to walk to the next cycle dock, hoping to find a bike. After a few times of doing this, he decided to buy a folder, and he was glad he did.

Once again, the thought crossed my mind: I’d like to own a folding bike someday.

The next winter, one morning as I rode my full-sized, studded-tired bike to work, I spotted a woman flying out of her yard in the Glenora neighbourhood -- on a folding bike. She sailed along over the ice and snow, that typical happy-bike-rider look on her face. Although I had previously felt rather special just for bicycle commuting throughout the winter, the sight of this woman riding in an Edmonton winter on her tiny-wheeled folder made me feel quite ordinary and boring. This time I felt more determined than ever: someday, I vowed, I too will own a folding bike.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017. I tentatively mentioned to Hubby that I was sort of, just a wee bit, interested in owning a folding bike. He likes cycling, too, but he doesn't quite get the n+1 rule, so I wasn't sure what he would say. But to my surprise, he was quite enthusiastic. I showed him the one I had in mind -- the Dahon Vitesse i7, with seven speeds and internal gearing (another thing I am a bit obsessed with, by the way.) He liked it, and it was on sale at Revolution Cycle, so he encouraged me to buy it online and we would pick it up the next day.

I love it! It is a dream to ride, and as mentioned in my post about Castor, it even rides nicely on gravel roads. BUT -- it turns out it is too big to take with us on an international flight. Bummer. I guess that means I have to try to find a different folding bike, right?