The City of Toronto is currently looking into changing the existing street design of John Street in order to improve this vital downtown corridor. John Street runs just east of Spadina Road from Front Street to just north of Queen Street. John Street is a short downtown road but is considered a Cultural Corridor as it links up several places and destinations of importance both to locals and tourists including the AGO to the north and the Rogers Centre to the south.
The Planning Partnership, a consulting firm heading the Environmental Assessment Study, has identified six alternative designs for John Street which takes into account various factors including transportation, streetscape design, and economical costs. The preferred alternative identified by the Planning Partnership proposes reducing the lane widths for vehicles, removing the right turning lanes, expanding sidewalk widths and improving the aesthetics of the street façade. This alternative, however, does not include a bike lane. Many people have argued that the John Street Corridor Improvement should include a bike lane as there is the bike network lacks adequate north/south connections in the downtown core, especially south of Queen Street. In addition, the John Street bike lane can connect to the existing Beverley/St. George Street bike lane (Route 35) providing an important north/south connection without forcing cyclists to hop through major arterial roads or take many detours to connect to other bike lanes.
An example of what John Street’s streetscape could look like
Adding a bike lane on John Street would provide a great north/south connection for cyclists but having the bike lane there may not be ideal for a few reasons. Firstly, according to a traffic assessment pedestrian traffic is dominant across John St, whereas cyclists average only 2% of the traffic flow. Efforts to expand the sidewalk, as opposed to reducing them for a bike lane, would result in increased space for pedestrians. Furthermore, decreased space often acts to limit speed, furthermore increase safety to cyclists and pedestrians. Widening and improving the sidewalk space would greatly benefit the existing pedestrian sphere while also serving a dominant, yet often underserved, modal type.
Another reason why a bike lane on John is not needed is that there are already plans for providing bike lanes within the immediate area as part of the City of Toronto Bicycle Plan. The existing plan proposes bike lanes on Peter Street/Blue Jays Way as well as Simcoe Street which are situated to the west and east of John Street. In addition, these roads not only pass through Front Street but continue south along to Bremnar Road which already has a segment of bike lanes implemented. While a bike lane on John Street would be beneficial for several reasons, efforts at expanding bike lanes could better be concentrated on projects with a more noticable impact; specifically, expansions on Peter Street and Simcoe Street.
The proposed bike network under the Bike Plan
Cyclists do need improved bike lanes and connectivity in the downtown core and John Street may be one of the locations to start. Given the fact that Peter Street and Simcoe Street are proposed locations for bike lanes and they provide greater connectivity to other bike lanes it may be best to shift the focus from bike lanes on John to bike lanes on Peter and Simcoe.
A little while back I went to Resistor Gallery to check out the Beater Bikes with a friend of mine. I liked the bike’s ruggedness and simplicity which would be ideal for city commuting. A few months ago, my dad stumbled upon my review and decided to buy a Beater Bike which he has yet to actually use, during that time I took it upon myself to use it as my commuter bike and get some mileage into it.
Ditching my track bike with its aerodynamic positioning and the need for speed for an upright bike that favours comfort and style was definitely a weird shift that took me some time to get used to. Once I did get used to the bike I really began to appreciate the upright position during my 14km commute and the 6-gears were a relief during my climb up the Bathurst St. hill between Dupont Ave and St. Clair Ave W.
The Beater Bike on a grocery run
On the second day of commuting with the Beater Bike I dropped it on the drive side (right side) bending the derailleur hanger out of place. Fortunately, the steel was soft and durable enough to be bent back into place and was able to bend it and go on with my day. I have so far put nearly 400km on it and have commuted in both fair and rainy weather, though it has kept up all this time there have been a number of things about the bike that bugged me.
The Beater Bike fork has a 1 1/4” threaded steerer which is a really odd size considering the industry standard is either 1” or 1 1/8”. That means finding a replacement fork or stem would be close to impossible since you won’t find any 1 1/4” components. The seatpost is also a weird size at 25.4mm compared to modern steel bikes which used 27.2mm. All of this odd sizing makes customizing the bike (such as a longer or taller stem) to fit the rider much harder.
Another big issue for me was the actual assembly of the bike. During the first few rides I noticed several small noises coming from the bike and I would often have to pull over to tighten different nuts and bolts that were obviously not tightened enough. Everything from the handlebar clamp bolt on the stem to the rack and fender bolts came loose in the first few days of riding. I even had to repack the bottom bracket as it came loose on one ride. Though these were quick fixes for me I know that commuters who don’t have the special tools or the know how to do it would be stuck with having to take the bike into a shop to do it which would cost money and time.
The cup-and-cone bottom bracket
The Beater Bike is still a nice bike for the money in comparison to what department stores have to offer in the same price range. I know they are in the process of designing a new model of Beater Bikes and I hope that in the future they look at standardizing the specs on their parts and take the time to properly assemble everything.
The second leg of the LGRAB Summer Games contest has begun! For this challenge I have merged two tasks into one by reading some classic bike literature on bike maintenance while overhauling a vintage ride I had in my garage.
There’s something about vintage bikes that we can all appreciate whether it’s the simplicity in their construction, their ruggedness, or even their timeless look and I certainly love older bikes for all three reasons. My first real bike was a 25+ year old Peugeot UO8 which I rode all over, even on a trip to Niagara Falls, I loved using it because I didn’t have to worry about things like pre-load on a fork or cycling through a gazillion different gearing combinations.
Though these bikes were rugged they were still required maintenance which is hard considering bike technology has really changed over the years. Luckily, I managed to nab the Compelte Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, a hefty book dating back to the days when bikes weighing 25lb was considered light and neon coloured frames were all the rage.
The book covered a whole slew of things from removing a cottered crankset to changing out the cogs in a freewheel, tips and tricks which have long since forgotten by many since we’ve moved onto cotter-less cranks and cassettes. I had to read up on a lot of stuff in order to tackle the task at hand which was a complete overhaul of an 80s road bike I managed to get my hands on.
This right here is a no-name Canadian made road bike from the mid 80s. When I got it it was barely in ride able condition; the hubs were creaking and needed to be repacked with grease, the headset was on too tight, the gears would not shift properly, the brakes were really loose, cables were rusting and the handlebar tape was just ick. After scrounging around nearby dumpsters as well as Craigslist I managed to secure most of the parts I needed. I got a sweet fluted seat post, leather saddle, crankset, and handlebar off dumped bikes and I bought a New Old Stock (NOS) set of Campagnolo (Italian…mmmmm….) wheels.
After many hours here and there I managed to get her in beautiful condition; the swept back handlebars gave a relaxed, yet low position, the new crankset and rear derailleurs shift responsively and the reflectors keep me safe ‘n visible. Not bad for a weekend of wrenching, I’d say.
Continuing on with my earlier blog post I am blogging on the Summer Games contest hosted by Let’s Go Ride A Bike. Yesterday’s game was to go on a group ride so I grabbed two of my friends from my bike club we went out on a 50km road ride.
The boys and their toys (from left to right) - Giant OCR, Trek 1.2, KHS Flite 100
We met up in downtown Toronto and made our way eastward along the lake towards Port Credit. It was a super hot day that day with the high being close to 34c and there was little wind to keep us cool but we still pushed on and it was totally worth it. We rode during the work day so we didn’t have to worry about rush hour traffic and the drivers who were out there were very courteous and gave us plenty of space. Midway through the ride we started getting a bit competitive and had some friendly sprints from one set of lights to another.
I managed to record the ride via helmet cam
After a quick rest-stop at a coffee shop in Port Credit we worked our way back to Toronto at a more leisurely pace soaking up the sights and sounds of the waterfront and soaking up some sun. In my opinion, this is honestly the best way to earn a tan.
I managed to borrow a small camera from my friend so I decided to mount it on my helmet during my morning commute down to work. The quality of it wasn’t too bad so I decided to share it online via youtube. Now the bike videos I normally see on youtube are of crazy bike antics like bike messenger races or insane stunts but this video is different since it isn’t about speed or tricks, it’s just a guy leisurely riding in Toronto. Hopefully, it will show people that riding a bike in the city isn’t as dangerous as people have claimed it to be.
Fellow Biking Toronto member Duncan gave me the heads up of this fun summer game that’s on the internet hosted by Let’s Go Ride A Bike. For my first event, I took my girlfriend out on a bike-date. I rarely get to see her as she now lives and works in Ottawa, a good 4-day bike ride (3 if I pedal really fast) from Toronto so when I found out she was coming to town to visit I insisted we go out by bike. Going on a bike date is a lot of fun since it the end destination and the trip there can be equally enjoyable rather than wasting time sitting in traffic in a car or squished amongst strangers on the subway. She took my 1-speed folding bike while I took my dad’s new Beater Bike.
It was a lot of fun wearing khakis and a straw fedora instead of lycra shorts and a road helmet
It was a quiet, but hot Sunday morning so we rode at a very leisurely pace to avoid breaking a sweat. Honestly, it was a nice change of pace for me as I’m either weaving through downtown traffic on my track bike or hustling about on my road bike so it was nice to just soak up the sun and enjoy the ride. It was also a really different and relaxing experience to just ride around aimlessly rather than worry about time or cadence or anything else; all I needed to focus on was enjoying the ride.
We hopped around to different shops in my area to pick up snacks for our little picnic. First we swung by my usual hang out to get some caffeine in our bodies to kick start the day followed by a stop at a French bakery and a pastry shop to satisfy our sweet tooth. After biking around through some quiet neighbourhoods we found our picnic spot by Casa Loma, a massive castle-like house turned museum and big tourist attraction. The day was pretty much just spent laying around munching on some delicious snacks and enjoying the great weather and company.
For many urban cyclists, roads with designated bicycle lanes offer safe passage along busy streets without worrying about conflicts with other road users such as motorists. However, there have been recent criticisms regarding the implementation of bike lanes on Toronto streets namely from not-so-bike-friendly mayoral candidates. Some cite that bike lanes impede vehicular traffic and that they should only be allocated on minor-arterial or local roads rather than major-arterial roads in efforts to increase traffic flow and better protect cyclists. This change, however, is counter-intuitive as it essentially renders the bike lane useless and may only make traffic flow on major arterial roads worse.
The purpose of a bike lane is simple: rather than have both automobile and bicycle traffic share a single lane on a road a separate lane is created specifically for cyclists (the width ranging from 1.2~1.5m in Toronto; wide enough to create a buffer, narrow enough to prevent cars from using it as a car lane) via a painted strip or other physical buffers. In separating cyclists from motorists it helps motorists pass cyclists without having to decrease speed or change lanes which is important in keeping the traffic flow moving efficiently in major arterial roads. That means bikes and cars can use the same street without impeding each other. What’s better is that almost every bike lane in Toronto was implemented without removing a car lane (with the exception of Jarvis street but that was part of the street revitalization so the middle lane was going to go regardless) since the lanes were wide enough to accommodate a bike lane and a normal vehicle lane.
The bike lane on St. George Street allows both the driver and cyclist to move along without hindering each others’ movement.
Another benefit to bike lanes on major arterial roads is that it deters vehicles from parking along the curb which slows down traffic (Well, not always). For example: most sections of Wellesley Street are wide enough for a car and a bike lane but not a normal road lane and side parking. Vehicles parked on the side do not give drivers enough space to continue moving so they must slow down and negotiate with the adjacent lane with oncoming traffic in order to pass the parked vehicle.
If bike lanes were to be removed from major arterial roads it would negatively affect traffic flow on major-arterials and would be a waste of tax-payers’ money to put on minor roads. Bike lanes are utterly useless in minor roads since the level of traffic and the speed of which vehicles travel at are very low. Local roads have speed limits posted anywhere from 20~30km/h so it is already very safe for cyclists on most of these roads. Many local roads are designed in cul-du-sacs or have lots of stop signs to deter drivers from using them as thoroughfares and that will affect cyclists as well.
Removing existing bike lanes on arterials will not have a positive effect on traffic flow for motorists as the number of lanes will not increase. Rather, it will work against them as they must now share the same lane with slower moving cyclists thus slowing down traffic flow and increases the risk of car-bicycle collisions. If the aim is to remove cyclists from major-arterial roads then it will not be very effective in Toronto. Major arterials such as College Street are fast and direct routes to navigate from one area to another. If a cyclist was forced to use minor-arterial or local roads it will only add time and distance to a commute as they attempt to navigate through a myriad of stop signs and cul-du-sacs. Chances are, many cyclists will still use major arterial roads regardless of whether or not a bike lane is there since it is efficient and sometimes the only direct means of getting where they need to go.
Riding from University of Toronto to Ryerson University via College Street. This route is fast and safe thanks to the bike lane and the rider encounters only a handful of controlled intersections.
Alternative route from University of Toronto to Ryerson University avoiding major arterial roads. Aside from the fact that it adds extra distance to the commute it also adds extra time due to the additional stop signs and lights a cyclist encounters.
In some cases, there is no alternative route; the bike lane on the Bloor viaduct is an important east/west connection as it is only one of two bridges in Toronto with a bike lane allowing safe passage into the downtown core or into the east end.
Preventing bike lanes from being put onto major-arterials is counter-intuitive and removing existing lanes is a complete waste of time and resources. Though not every major road is suitable for a bike lane it should still be something that planners and traffic engineers can consider on roads that would be appropriate, closing off any plans or deliberation on implementing bike lanes on arterial roads would have a negative impact on both drivers and cyclists.
For three days I had the luxury of test riding a Vitess road bike and though the time was short I made sure I got in as much riding time I could and for good reason: this bike rode like a dream. Built in Canada, Vitess bikes are all high performance carbon fibre road bikes tailored to match the needs of the rider.
What sets Vitess apart from most road bikes out there is the fact that they are tailored to the rider; rather than having a few choices in parts and sizes Vitess bikes offer flexibility in how each bike is assembled. Julien Pappon, founder of Vitess, explains that he wants to give riders the ultimate riding experience and in order to do that the bike needs to be as unique as the cyclists who use them whether they are a Master 1 racer or a recreational rider. That means that when you buy a Vitess bike you get to choose amongst different wheel sets, drive train components, and other components such as the saddle and handlebar that best suit your needs. To help determine the appropriate build and to optimize comfort and performance Vitess consult riders in matching the bike to them and even offer bike fitting by a professional to ensure your bike fits you.
In the Vitess showroom in Toronto’s west-end
The Vitess bike that I got to test ride was a full carbon road bike with Shimano Ultegra group, Vitess’ house brand 38mm aero-carbon wheels, and was topped off with 3T Pro components and fi’zi:k saddle. The bike looks fantastic and comes in a sleek Arctic Force paint job, special detail was made in both the function and practicality of the bike which is evident in everything from the internal cable housing to the matching coloured cable crimps.
The moment I left the show room I noticed a huge difference in performance compared to my steel road bike. The carbon fibre frame and wheels made Toronto’s pot holes and road blemishes almost unnoticeable as carbon fibre is remarkable in reducing road vibration. Though I was extremely nervous and fidgety at first I quickly felt comfortable riding the bike as I blitzed home along Lakeshore Blvd and the Martin Goodman Trail. It felt like the bike was responsive to my every move adding confidence in my cornering, climbing, and sprinting. Cross winds were a bit hard to take at first as the wind would whip up against the deep profile of the rims but with a bit of practice I quickly got the hang of it.
Carbon fibre, 38mm deep clincher rim.
3T Pro components
Shimano Ultegra f0r super smooth shifting
On a separate ride, I decided to tackle some hills in Toronto and though we may not have the Alps or steep climbing stages like in the Tour de France I did a continuous loop of a 7% gradient hill for an hour. Climbing both in the saddle and standing on the pedals felt great as the bike responded to my every movement; I didn’t have to focus on balance all I had to do was pedal harder and faster. On all of my rides I felt confident and in complete control of the bike which are two must haves on any kind of ride from a group ride in a tight pack of riders or a solo effort climbing the Niagara Escarpment.
So is a Vitess bike right for you? Though the price tags on these bikes are really steep for most commuter cyclists it is important to note that there is value in the price. Having done many long distance charity and recreational rides I’ve had my share of cycling injuries and discomfort as a result of poor bike fit and I’m sure that many other riders have had similar experiences. Vitess bikes come with a proper bike fitting to maximize efficiency and to decrease the risk of injury which is important for those with chronic injuries or those who plan on some long distance rides. The high-end components may be expensive but they are long-term investments; long lasting, quality components are more reliable and will require less costly maintenance/replacement in the long run. Cyclists looking for quality, performance and the need for speed all in a bike made just for them should definitely look at Vitess bikes.
I am now finished my final exams for the semester so I have a lot of free time to kill, so the other day I decided to sit on a patio at a busy downtown street and watch the intersection. Intersections are tricky for riders as it is where various users of the road all interact with each other. Statistically, intersections are also where most cycling collisions occur usually as a result of poor visibility or unpredictable behaviour. Below are a few techniques on approaching and navigating an intersection safely.
Approaching an Intersection:
-When approaching a stop sign or a red light glide to the intersection and slowly/gradually apply the brakes to come to a stop. Slamming on the brakes will wear out your tires, brake pads and rims quickly and may result in skidding which is especially dangerous in rainy/snowy conditions.
-Shift down one or two gears as you approach the intersection that way you are in a lower gear ratio when you begin pedaling again. Far too many cyclists stick to the high gear that they were on which means they will be struggling to bring themselves up to speed or they find themselves weaving around to maintain balance while they attempt to gain speed for momentum. Hammering on your pedals to gain speed is not only a waste of energy but can slow you and others behind you.
-If there is a vehicle waiting at the intersection hang back a bit so that you are not in the driver’s blind spot. There’s no point in squeezing beside the driver unless you are making a right turn and it places you in an uncomfortable position as you are boxed in if the driver is attempting to make a right turn. It’s best to either be slightly ahead or behind a vehicle in the same lane as pictured below rather than be caught in their blind spot.
Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto
Waiting at an Intersection:
-Put your left foot down instead of resting your right foot on the curb. It’s very tempting to rest one’s foot on the curb but doing so places your bike closer to the part of the road where debris such as glass accumulates and where there are sewer grates. By putting your left foot down you not only keep some distance away from the curb but it also gives drivers behind you the perception that there is much less space in the lane so they will not be tempted to squeeze beside you. Squeezing is dangerous since you enter their blind spot and vice versa which increases the chance of getting a right-hook.
-Look around you, especially behind you. Take the time to look at what other road users are doing or preparing to do as the driver behind you may be signaling to make a right turn or gun it when the green light shines. Also watch for pedestrians who may be straggling behind while crossing the street or trying to make a bolt for it as the light changes. You are still operating a vehicle even while stopped at a red light so try to be aware especially at an intersection.