Archives for October 2009

CBC Doc Zone: Pedal Power – Full Video Online

Fantastic documentary on bicycle infrastructure around the world and a look at Toronto’s most notorious alleged bicycle thief, Igor Kenk.

Pedestrian Power

While Toronto city councillors discuss reducing the speed limits on our streets, Hobart, on the Australian island province of Tasmania has also taken steps towards lowering speed limits and promoting safety for more vulnerable street users, namely pedestrians.

On October 2, 2009 a mass pedestrian crossing was staged to show that insufficient time is given to pedestrians crossing at a major intersection. The combination of reduced speed limits and longer crossing times would work towards increasing safety.
The photo at the top of this post is of of a reduced speed limit on Collins Street in Hobart.
Photo and video via Healthy Transport Hobart

Driving the Lane: Toronto Prepares for Public Bicycling – Walrus

Toronto Ride For Heart bike-a-thon on the DVP 6

Dear Emily,
I’m just going to skip over the second paragraph where you place blame on a cyclist for his own death.
Our roads are the domain of everyone who uses them. Finger tapping motorists and scofflaw cyclists alike.
Driving the Lane: Toronto Prepares for Public Bicycling

by Emily Testa
What do Jack Layton and David Byrne have in common? Sure, Layton’s Twitter account tells us he’ll be busking on the Danforth this Saturday, but at press time, the range of his musical talent remains untested. No, it’s a shared interest in the future of cycling that unites the current NDP leader and former Talking Head, who will participate in an October 24 panel discussion at the International Festival of Authors. Along with Toronto Cyclists Union executive director Yvonne Bambrick and urban designer Ken Greenberg, Layton and Byrne will discuss the potential of urban planning — specifically, bike lanes — to improve the political climate of cycling in Toronto and around the world.
Next, I call Richard Poplak, who has written about bike culture for Toronto Life magazine and is currently at work on a graphic novel about bicycle hoarder Igor Kenk, the “Fagin of Queen Street.” As an authority on sharing the roadway, Poplak’s credentials certainly pass muster — he estimates that between commuting and training as a UCI–licensed racer, he spends twenty-five hours every week on a bicycle. Poplak is doubtful that the riders who use Toronto’s new public system will amount to a meaningful increase in the number of regular bike commuters, or a meaningful decrease in the number of cars downtown. In the meantime, he calls for improved road infrastructure (“so that bicycles can safely traverse the streets without having to dodge lake-sized potholes”) and a large-scale safety campaign targeting cyclists and drivers alike. I ask whether Toronto’s public bicycle system should underwrite an expanded network of bike lanes, and can almost hear him shaking his head from the other end of the telephone line. “What bike lanes don’t do is enshrine cycling as a right,” he says. “What they do do, is enshrine the primacy of the car.” Like Heaps, Poplak believes cyclists should simply obey the rules of the road: no more rolling through red lights as they see fit. As well, motorists should recognize cyclists’ right to share their roadways. “Cyclists have the right to be everywhere except the 401 [highway] and the Don Valley Parkway. End of story,” he says. “We have rules — all we need to do is enforce them.”
Whether enforcing the rules will neutralize the discord remains to be seen. What is certain, though, is that no one, whether they travel by car or by bicycle, has the prerogative to ignore where and how their fellow commuters take to the road. Just before he signed off, filmmaker Christopher Sumpton put it to me this way: “It’s like the weather. Everyone has to deal with transportation.” Poplak was more frank in the last email he sent me: “No matter how much you may loathe cyclists, you’d have to agree that something has to be done, and pretty quickly. Painting white lines on the road and/or handing out bikes isn’t the solution. Making sure we all understand the rules of the game, however, is.”
Photo of Toronto Ride for Heart via Flickr

How a Guy Can Look Good on a Bicycle in Toronto

A short while ago I posted about how we dress when biking in Toronto.

I think we’re a pretty good looking bunch here in Toronto. Of course, when I tell people I’m a cyclist I can instantly see their eyes fog over as they picture me in full spandex.
As we’ve seen from my post, you don’t need to wear spandex to enjoy biking in Toronto. However, if you’re looking for more inspiration, here’s some clothing brands that could help you overcome “spandex anxiety” and bike in comfort and style:
Bikes Without Borders: While not a clothing brand per se, Mountain Equipment Co-op carries some of their t-shirts and hoodies and they certainly have nothing to do with lycra:

Bikes Without Borders

Rapha: Got some money? OK, now got some more? Rapha makes great looking clothing with a price tag to match

Outlier: Made in NYC and can cost as much as a Porter flight to their home town. Looks great though.



Of course, the best way to look good cycling in Toronto is to simply be yourself, put on your helmet and take to the streets in whatever you’ve got on.

All photos from respective company’s web sites.

Getting Over the Struggles of Biking in Toronto

The Struggle

There are times when you feel absolutely alone on your bicycle. The cars keep streaming past you, closer and closer. The hill feels as thought it is never going to end. The rain starts to fall harder. The temperature goes from a slight chill to a bone-numbing deep-freeze.
We all face struggles when biking in Toronto, or anywhere else for that matter.
Yet, many of us, thousands upon thousands actually, continue to take our keys to locks, plant our feet firmly on our pedals and take to the streets. You’ll see us in the rain. You’ll see us during that first snowfall. You’ll see us when it seems like everyone else on the road wants us gone.
Even though there’s a warm fall week ahead of me, I’m still contemplating when I’ll put the bicycle away for winter. I’d love to think that there is a way to go all the way through, but a 23 km journey on very busy, icy and snowbanked roads is going to be just too dangerous for me.
Until that dreadful day arrives, I’m still convinced that cycling in Toronto and not buying a car or taking the TTC is best. Here’s why:
My health: Aside from the fact that being run over would be really bad for my health, since May I’ve seen a drastic improvement physically and mentally. My stress levels have dropped now that I’m more active. I get a better night’s sleep and I’m losing the fat and flab caused by early morning drive-thru runs. I’m feeling better than I have in years.
My finances: Sure, this year I’ve spent more on cycling clothes, bikes, parts and other essentials than I have in more than a decade. But, that is nothing compared to the money I was spending on gas, car repairs and tune-ups. And even better, come next year I won’t have to spend more money on a bicycle, since I’ve already got one. So my biggest travel expense related to my bicycle commuting simply won’t exist next year.
My outlook: This one is good and bad. First, the bad. I have to admit that I look down on people who rely on their cars. Sorry, I know some of these people are my dear friends. But, I will never let a massive hunk of steal and problems run my life again. I’ll never have to think, “Oh, I can’t go on vacation this year, the car needs repairs” again. Some day a car or truck may again be a part of my life. But, I’ll go in to my new relationship with this vehicle knowing that I have the choice to not use it. I have the choice to sell it and take it off the road. I’ll never let a car take as much of my life (and money) as it once did.
And now for the good. I now look at life from the perspective of a cyclist. What I mean is that I can see that it is my own power, be it my legs or my mind, that can take me places. Cars make us rely on gas prices, mechanics and complicated machinery to bring movement to our lives. A bicycle may be an engineering marvel, but it requires one of the most impressive biological marvels to power it.
When faced with the struggle, how do you overcome and keep on biking in Toronto?

Toronto Cyclocross @ Centennial Park

Playing in the mud with bikes. Sounds like a whole lot of fun, maybe next year for me.
Story and more photos by Mike Clark here.

More photos from Day 1 here.

"Ride a bike, not a car. I did that in Toronto; I did a lot of it on a bike."


Dr. Harrelson honoured for his sustainable ways

Cheers alum champions bike riding and biofuel, but don’t look to him as an example, he says

His latest character may have killed a zombie with a banjo, but Woody Harrelson’s not sure he can slay the crowd when he accepts his honorary doctorate Saturday at York University.

“It means more than any award or accolade I’ve received,” Harrelson said. “I just get nervous about having to do a speech.”

The Zombieland star will receive the honour at York’s convocation. Best known for his role on the television comedy Cheers, he’s spent years promoting sustainable living by means of bicycle tours, green road trips and a book.

“It’s not always the usual suspects that need to be uncovered and recognized,” said Dawn Bazely, a biology professor who helped nominate the actor. Bazely first came across Harrelson’s efforts when she watched Go Further, the 2003 film that documents his biofuel road trip to spread the green word.

Harrelson has a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre but no honorary degrees to his name. “I was a little unsure they had the right guy,” he said in his Texas drawl. “But now that I know they do, I’ll be there.”

Harrelson talked to the Star on why he shouldn’t be your child’s role model and the impending vegan Twinkie revolution.

Q: When you were in school, were you into the environmental scene?

A: No, I really didn’t think about it that much. The college I went to, we had a nuclear power plant just down the road.

Q: When did the environment become important to you?

A: That probably happened in the late ’80s, early ’90s. I started to feel like, “What am I doing wasting my time as an actor when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?” I didn’t feel like I was doing anything of import.

Q: What parts of your life would you want students to follow?

A: I don’t consider myself much of a role model at all. The reason they’re giving me this doctorate has to do with my getting ahold of a principle that I believe in and sticking to it. Otherwise, I can’t think of any other aspect that I would even want my own children, much less other people’s children, to follow.

Q: Are you going to make a speech at convocation?

A: Well, I guess so. I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about it. I guess I have to say something. I’ll just say how grateful I am.

Q: What would be your advice to students?

A: Voting with your dollar, to me, is more important than voting any other way. Using a cloth bag instead of a paper bag. Ride a bike, not a car. I did that in Toronto; I did a lot of it on a bike.

Q: How was that?

A: I thought there were some really cool areas to bike, and some felt pretty dangerous. I was rehearsing over at the Distillery District, and I would come down some cool very green area, and go over the rail tracks.

Q: What’s your biggest challenge as a raw-food vegan?

A: Sitting at a restaurant that’s not vegan and trying to explain I can’t have any dairy or butter without annoying the s— out of everybody at the table.

Q: In Zombieland, your character is obsessed with a Twinkie. How did that work with your beliefs?

A: I play a lot of characters who have nothing to do with what I believe. And they ended up bringing in somebody to make something that looks just like a Twinkie. It might just start a vegan Twinkie revolution. There’s not even the remotest chance of me ever eating a Twinkie.

Q: How will you get to Toronto?

A: I generally fly. My carbon footprint has got to be astounding, but all those other people in the plane are helping offset it. I really haven’t done carbon offsetting. I probably should; that’s more laziness than anything.


Photo via Flickr

Coming to a Bike Rack Near You: Strollers

Baby commute

From the Globe and Mail:

Stroller thefts on the rise in Toronto

Luxury prams are vanishing from Toronto porches. Are stroller bandits selling them for parts?

Kate Hammer From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

An opportunistic thief can recognize their state-of-the-art shock absorbers, rugged wheels, plush bucket seats and shiny chrome finishes from a city block, even a playground, away.

As their price tags have climbed beyond $1,000, an increasing number of luxury baby-transporting apparatuses have been vanishing from the front porches of family homes.

Police are cautioning parents to lock up or conceal their wheels, especially in 11 Division, the west end of the city, where six stroller thefts have been recorded so far this year.

The geography of the thefts hints that there could be a more maternal version of Igor Kenk prowling the streets, but police say it’s still too early to tell.

“It’s just something that somebody’s twigged onto, that these things are expensive, and a lot of people look for secondhand children’s equipment,” said Constable Wendy Drummond, a police spokeswoman.

Earlier this year, a couple was charged after they posted two of the stolen strollers for sale online.

Two more remain unaccounted for, and the final pair appear to have been abducted for the purposes of a buggy joyride through the neighbourhood. Both were promptly found abandoned a short distance from where they were stolen.

An employee at Macklem’s, a baby store that sells nearly everything buggy from Firstwheels to Zoopers, said one of her customers who lives in the Beaches had her jogging stroller stolen last weekend.

The Baby Jogger City Elite is one of the store’s most popular models, according to Natasha, who declined to give her last name. It retails for $549, but it’s on sale right now at Macklem’s for $479.

“Their real claim to fame is that it’s a one-handed fold stroller so that it’s really easy to close up,” she said. “But it has your big wheels so it’s really appropriate for snow or any sort of all-terrain use.”

(It also boasts a “multi-position sun canopy with clear view windows and side ventilation panels.”) Given all these kinds of state-of-the-art offerings, it might be no surprise that there is evidence of chop-shop behaviour on the streets.

“I have heard people say that they’ve left their stroller outside a restaurant or … sometimes they’ve locked them up with a bike lock, and when they come back somebody’s taken the wheels off of them,” Natasha said. Toronto residents aren’t alone in their plight. A neighbourhood in the south of Brooklyn, N.Y., is under siege by a serial stroller thief.

The Brooklyn Paper reported a popular theory that wheels were being stolen as spare parts for motorized mini-bikes, which are popular with teens.

On both sides of the border, the consensus is that most thieves are looking to take advantage of a thriving market for secondhand items for babies and children. “With the coming colder months and then with the snow and the mess on the tires of the melting snow and salt, people are more likely to leave [their strollers] outside and we feel that the public should know that, in fact, these thefts are happening and to take precautions,” Constable Drummond said. “Being without a stroller and with a small child is a big inconvenience and also a big cost.”


Photo via Flickr

Indoor Cycling Options for Torontonians

Not going to bike in the slush, salt and stains of a Toronto winter?

Not going to join a gym or cyclefit type program?
Want to bike ride in your living room?
Well… seems you have a couple of options.
The first is something called the RealRyder. Why the silly name? I’m not sure. Sure, it looks like a regular exercise bike, but, it allows you to lean into “turns” or maybe just sway back and forth. Here’s what it looks like “in action”:
Alternatively, if you already have a Nintendo Wii there’s a new, massive gaming controller about to be released in 2010, the Cyberbike:

Personally, while I love cycling I’m not sure if I’m interested in cycling simulators to feed my addiction during the coldest months. But, hey, it’s good to have your options.

Via Wired

Trends in Bicycle Design and Use: Associated Press

Passing by

In the minds of many people there are just two categories of bicycles; road and mountain. A few know of a third category, the hybrids. And that’s about it.

The problem is that each of these categories present a barrier to visualizing bicycles in everyday use, and in fact they don’t even address that bicycles can be and are used daily as a method of transportation.
For example:
Mountain bikes are seen as weekend use, off-road only, daredevil tools.
And road bikes need to be accompanied by a matching spandex outfit, solid abs and massive quads.
Fortunately, neither of these beliefs are true as there are dozens of styles of bicycles and any one of them could help you get where you’re going, deliver your groceries and take the family to school in the morning.
The Associated Press helps explain the newer trends in bicycle design and their use:
Where bikes are heading: a look at the trends
By MEGAN K. SCOTT (AP) – Oct 6, 2009

Bicycle technology doesn’t stand still.

Bike makers keep tinkering to give us a smoother, more convenient, more stylish ride: bikes long enough to carry another passenger and groceries. Bikes with batteries so you don’t have to break a sweat. Aerodynamic bikes with little wind resistance.

“In the bike world, there have always been a bunch of trends going on at once,” said Loren Mooney, editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine. “It’s because a bike is such a multipurpose tool. It’s a toy. It’s a piece of exercise equipment. It’s a mode of transportation. And so really it’s very common to have many trends at once.”

Some bike trends on the horizon:

STYLISH UTILITY BIKE: The biggest trend is casual city riding, said Mooney, “where the person doesn’t look like a spandex-clad cyclist, but rather like a normal person. And his or her bike looks like a cool, often retro object of design and casual fun — maybe it even has a basket.”

FITNESS BIKES: An evolution from the hybrid bike — a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike, which was “too cumbersome for true fitness riding,” said Mooney. (Fitness bikes are sometimes referred to as flat-bar road bikes.)

PEDAL-ASSIST ELECTRIC BIKES: A bike with a boost. Pedal-assist bikes combine battery power with pedaling so you can ride farther and faster without getting as tired.

It’s an ideal bike for someone who rides for transportation, as opposed to fitness, and when the distance is far, the terrain difficult or the rider short on endurance.

ECO DESIGN BIKES: Bike manufacturers are coming out with eco-friendly bikes. For example, Trek’s Belleville and Atwood models have grips on the handlebars, a saddle and a steel frame that all can be recycled. The bikes also come with front and rear lights that are generated by pedaling, not batteries, said Trek spokesman Sam Foos.

FOLDING BIKES: These have been around for years but the technology is getting better. Traditional folding bikes, which have small wheels, were better for folding than riding, said David Montague, owner of Montague Bicycles in Cambridge, Mass. The company introduced SwissBike TX earlier this year, a full-size bike that folds in half.

XTRACYCLE: a kit that makes a bike 15 inches longer so you can carry a passenger, groceries, books. Some people use it to carry camping gear, said Nate Byerley, president of Xtracycle, in Oakland, Calif. He said he knows a home inspector who uses his Xtracycle to carry equipment including a 10-foot ladder.


Does your bike fit in to any of these categories? Share your ride in the BikingToronto Forum.