Hidden in Plain Sight – Toronto’s Cycling Culture

My fascination with Toronto started in the late 1980s on early trips to the city with my family.

The small town we lived in held nothing that could compare to the entire floor of toys in the former Eaton’s store. The massive parking structure, at the corner of Bay and Dundas, was one seemingly always full except for the roof, and became for me a visual that meant we had arrived. Since I’d usually sleep my way into the city, missing the sight of the CN Tower from the Gardiner, the concrete curves of that parking lot were as distinctive to me as any of Toronto’s more photographed landmarks.

Years later I began visiting the city without my family and with bigger plans than just shopping. As a skateboarder, I would explore the darker corners of office buildings and parks and parking lots. Our group was searching for marble ledges and stair sets and we found that some of the best skate spots were the ones just out of view of the street. Hidden, but in plain sight.

I learned early on that down almost any alley in Toronto there is life and action that remains almost completely out of the spotlight. To this day, Toronto’s alleys still hold nearly secret lives and these lives make up some of Toronto’s most interesting aspects of our bicycle culture.

On Tuesday, June 15, 2010 I met with a small group organized by Byron of BikeHugger.com and lead around Toronto by Janet Bike Girl.

Our first stop was the former coach house that has held everything from horses to fine furs and is now the home to CineCycle a bicycle repair shop and event space.

CineCycle Micro Cinema

Inside we met Martin Heath hard at work fixing a bicycle using the late day light from two large skylights, a tandem frame near his feet, behind him a large projection screen that adds the “cine” to CineCycle.

This location is only the most recent home to CineCycle, as explained on the 410 Richmond web site:

In the early 1990’s Cinecycle’s space on Spadina was becoming too expensive and Martin was in search of another building to house the venue. At the time Christina Zeidler, then a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), was a regular attendee and contributor to performances at Cinecycle. Her sister, Margie, had just bought a building, 401 Richmond St. W., and Martin Heath’s Cinecycle came up as a possible tenant. Originally there were grand plans for Cinecycle’s residence at 401. Martin had been granted $30,000 from the Toronto Arts Council with the additional promise of another $300,000 to build and operate a 200 seat theatre in the basement of the building. As Martin explains “while this was all going on the NDP government got kicked out and we got the Tories and the program that the $30,000 was coming out of evaporated. So, the Coach House was Plan B. “

Lovingly referred to as Plan B, the coach house is a small building behind 401 Richmond accessed by the back laneway. It has no address, a detail that apparently confounds many visitors, including a young woman coming to see a punk band play on the weekend who called during our interview. This is one of Cinecycle’s latest, “punk bands love the place. They’re always very polite and they’re always gone by 1:00.” Cinecycle will also host the next installment of Trampoline Hall, the monthly lecture series, previously held at the Cameron House and Gladstone Hotel.

Read the full 410 Richmond tenant description here.

With our bicycles locked in the alley behind 401 Richmond we were nest taken inside by Janet Bike Girl who gave us a quick tour of her studio.

Janet Bike Girl Studio, 401 Richmond St W, Studio S-26, Toronto, Canada

Janet’s bicycle-themed stencil work is easily recognizable from any cycling event. Bicycle couriers and Toronto Cyclist Union members all seem to have one of Janet’s patches sewn on bags, t-shirts and other prints.

From here we made out way to Kensington Market, home to Function 13, part of a unique building combining retail, gallery and workshop space for Toronto’s art and technology community.

Further north along Augusta we pedaled down another laneway leading us to Parts Unknown. Out front of another coach house a shop tech was inflating a bicycle tire, and once we stepped inside we discovered the “Parts” of Parts Unknown. A skylight above shined down upon an endless pile of bicycle parts. Wheel sets and frames and tires and tubes everywhere you looked. Could there possibly be method to this madness? Owner George, who has been in Kensington for 18 years, told us that he had been given his walking papers and the shop could soon be relocating to The Junction. We imagined a team of friends loading the bits and pieces of bicycles onto pick up trucks and cargo bikes, what a sight this will be.

Parts Unknown Bicycle Shop, Toronto, Canada

Exiting Kensington Market we pedaled past the “in your face” architecture of the recently renovated Art Gallery of Ontario. A full bike rack to the side of the building revealed to us a connection between art and bicycles, one seemingly inseparable from the other in Toronto.

Our final destination was to be 52 McCaul and the Life Cycles Photography & Custom Vintage Bicycle Exhibit. A Bike Month event, Life Cycles features photographs taken by local artists and showcases the custom bicycles within each photo.

Bicycles are made for the outdoors, yet when they are taken inside we can see just how important they are to the lives of their owners. In a shop, a technician works on a vintage bicycle whose aging parts are bent and reshaped into working order. In another shop, a pile of used rims awaits a new bicycle frame to set them back in motion on the city streets. And in an art gallery, a bicycle hanging from the ceiling or one featured in a photograph takes on a life of its own, showcasing how a relatively simple tool has the power to shape the life of its owner.

Toronto’s bicycle culture cannot be defined by a single group or revealed in a simple image. Bicycles are a part of our daily lives here, sometimes right in front of your face and at other times right around the corner and down a back alley.

CineCycle is located behind both 129 Spadina Avenue and 401 Richmond, bicycle repairs by appointment only, events hosted on a semi-regular basis.

Janet Bike Girl‘s studio is located in 401 Richmond and her work can be viewed by appointment only.

Function 13 is located at 156 Augusta Ave in Kensington Market.

Parts Unknown is currently located behind 218 Augusta Ave and has no regular hours while accepting bicycle repairs by appointment or drop in.

Life Cycles is currently running at 52 McCaul Gallery until June 19, 2010.

Photos via Flickr accounts CineCycle and JanetBikeGirl

Karen Stintz, Ward 16 “I will bike to work more regularly”

Photo by Dave Chan for National Post - screen shot taken of National Post Web Site

Via Posted Toronto:

While I will not join the ranks of the daily bike commuter, I will bike to work more regularly. I have also learned a few things. I felt safer when riding on dedicated bike lanes. I have a new appreciation for the complaint about people parking in bike lanes. Biking on secondary roads is less appealing because there are so many stop signs. I am not sure we have a rational plan for integrating bike lanes into our transportation network but I do believe we should keep trying.

Too bad you missed out on voting in favour of the University Avenue bike lane pilot project, those would have taken you directly to work!

Read the entire article at Posted Toronto.

Scenes from Toronto’s Group Commute – May 31, 2010

Bike to Work TorontoWhile I no longer bike to work, (I actually roll and then step to work in my home office) I still wanted free breakfast pancakes and chose to join the hundreds of Torontonians in the Bike Month Group Commute.

A whole lot of cyclists on the same route sure slows things down, but unlike when this happens with cars (every day), you can chit chat with your neighbour, sing a song or two and simply enjoy the fresh morning air.

Every day should be bike to work day for you. If it isn’t, ask yourself why? What is keeping you from biking to work? Is it because you feel you live too far? Is it because you don’t want to get sweaty? Is it because you don’t have a bike?

Remember, there are no good REASONS for not cycling to work, there are only EXCUSES.

Police Escort

Taking the Lane on Bloor Street

Join the Group

Into the Light


The Meet Up

Cyclops in the Morning Light

Cyclops Dance

Political Will

Ontario Transportation Minister

Bike Union Mobile Service Station

Every day I hear Bells on Bloor

Every day I hear bells on Bloor.

Bike Lanes on BloorWalking down the street, I hear bells. Sitting and sipping in a coffee shop, I hear bells. At the library, running errands, meeting with friends, and all the time, I hear bells.

Each one of those bells is connected to a cyclist. A mother riding her bicycle to work. A family riding their bikes home from the park. Students riding their bikes to class.

And each one of those bells is asking so little of you. That bell is a kind request for a little attention and a little space. “See me,” says these bells.

On Saturday, May 29th, 2010, a symphony of bells launched from High Park and made its way with music and joy to Queen’s Park. Bells on Bloor brings together the individual bells you hear on Bloor Street each and every day and asks for attention, we ask you for bike lanes on Bloor.

Orange and Yellow


Speaker 2



She and Him

Sing a Song of Support

A Symphony of Bells

Group Riding



Pirates Sing

Musical Accompaniment



Eye in the Sky

And the band played on

Little One

Queen's Park

Bells on Bloor Cycle Chic

The End

Show your support, sign the petition: Bike Lanes on Bloor

Participate in the LGRAB Summer Games!

Have you heard of the fantastic cycling web site letsgorideabike.com? Well, now you have.

Trisha in Nashville and Dottie in Chicago are behind this fantastic day-to-day cycling site and they have recently launched a Summer Games. Participants cycle, photograph and then post online stories about how they completed each event. Here’s a bit more information from the site:

How to play, you ask?

It’s easy. There are three main categories, and six events in each category. Complete events in each category over a three week period, and tell us about it via blog post link, email or photo addition to our Summer Games Flickr Pool. Entries must include a story and a photo of each event you complete.  If you enter via a post on your own blog, please link to this announcement in your entry, include one of our badges and let us know via email.

Anyone who completes at least two events in each of the three categories will be entered to win the Batavus BuB by random drawing. We’re also giving away prizes as readers complete each category.

May 17-June 6: Social Cycling

  • Go on a group ride
  • Leave a nice note on a bike, or say hi to a cyclist at a red light
  • Schedule a bike date with a friend or partner — dress up!
  • Recruit a non-biking friend for a ride
  • Ride with your family

June 7-June 27: Learning Experiences

  • Perform a maintenance task — big or small!
  • Decorate your bike
  • Read a book about cycling
  • Carry a load on your bike — groceries, etc.
  • Test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride

June 28-July 18: New Territory

  • Ride a greenway
  • Have a bicycle picnic
  • If you don’t normally ride to work, commute by bike, or by bike/train or bike/bus
  • If you do commute, take the long way home: add distance to your usual ride
  • Explore a new part of town by bike

Now, Toronto cyclists may have a distinct advantage here. Starting May 31st, it’s Bike Month in Toronto. That means there are even more cycling events than usual in town (and trust me, we have a lot of cycling events).

I’ll be posting mine and my girlfriend’s entries here, so stay tuned!

The games start today, go here if you’d like to join in the fun.