Bicycle Riding in Schools

Above is a photo from NYC in June of 1954. Police officers supervise a “bicycle safety program” on a painted figure-8 track. Now, I’m not so sure how often anyone on a bicycle will encounter a figure-8 (unless of course you’re racing on the Human Powered Rollercoaster) but I do remember a similar program at my elementary school involving painted roadways with stop signs, intersections, crosswalks and a working traffic light.

From what I remember these “bicycle rodeos” were hosted by the local police and we probably received a colouring book that further emphasized the rules of the road. The majority of my elementary school classmates all biked to school until at least grade 6. After that it was no longer “cool.”

Unfortunately, no such program for driving or bicycling was a part of my high school education. I did pay Young Drivers about $800 dollars for driving classes, which were useful, but from what I remember pedestrians and bicyclists were referred to mostly as unpredictable nuisances.

Now, before the comments on this post are flooded with “bicyclists don’t know the rules” rants, let me state that these group lessons are important not for teaching the rules but for getting people on bicycles to act as a group. Everyone knows what a stop sign means. In a car we’re forced to act mostly social not because a car makes us think in a group (actually quite the opposite) but because infrastructure forces us to act as a group. Narrow roads don’t allow for much “freedom” in a car and if you’re in a line of vehicles all stopped at a red you have no choice but to stop as well. Whereas on a bicycle we can act “freer.” And when there are only a few other bicycle riders on the road the temptation and the possibility of breaking the rules are both available.

I personally witness this change in behaviour a lot. When I’m with a group of bicyclists on one of Toronto’s busier routes, behaviour becomes more normalized. The group waits at lights, stops for stop signs and crosswalks and doesn’t pass open streetcar doors. However, when the group dwindles down to just two or three people I’m more likely to see someone defy the laws.

Do you remember “bicycle rodeos” or “safety” classes like these? Do they still exist?

The Successful Push for Safer Infrastructure

How many of these factors exist in North America today? Outrageous number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities – Check. Absurd amounts of public space dedicated to the movement and storage of private vehicles – Check. Oil and financial crises – Double Check. Public outcry – Check. Political will to change – Very Little.

We’re seeing major changes in cities like New York, Chicago and in Canada Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa. The addition of cycling infrastructure isn’t just to make cycling more attractive or easier. This is people-friendly infrastructure. These are changes that promote shorter commutes and allow citizens to spend less money on day-to-day transportation costs.

For more, read David Hembrow’s blog.

Perfecting ‘The Hop’ and Sidesaddle Cycling

The law in Ontario is a little iffy on this… or not.

Bicycle passengers

(2) No person riding on a bicycle designed for carrying one person only shall carry any other person thereon. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 178 (2).

So then, you can only have two people on a bicycle that is intended for two passengers. Does that only mean tandems or bicycles with child seats? One of my bikes has a large rear rack that can comfortably seat an adult, but does it have to be plastic with a seat belt to be considered a seat? If the passenger is an adult must my bicycle accommodate them with pedals and a saddle?

Either way, turns out Cathryn and I need to practice “the hop” on our shared rides on my bicycle. We’re pretty good at starting from a standstill, but this will seriously up our game.

Via Amsterdamize

Wheels for Wellbeing

I love everything about this:

More info here: Wheels For Wellbeing
Via Copenhagenize

Changing My Point of View

The point of viewI’ve recently realized that I was a bad driver.

I remember sitting in my car in traffic, judging and hating everyone around me, “You call that a signal, idiot?!” “Get off my ass jerk or I’ll just tap my brakes a little harder and see how you like the taste of my bumper.”

Yet, the minute I arrived at my destination and stepped out of my car all my rage was lost. I couldn’t talk in that tone, in those words to my co-workers, I couldn’t treat the cashier at the grocery store with the same disdain.

And for some bizarre reason this all felt perfectly normal. Outside the glass and steel of my car everyone was out to annoy me or run me into a wall. But once I stepped out of my car I couldn’t blame anonymous others.

But now, after a few car-free years and experiencing a lot of road travel on a much smaller vehicle, I have finally realized that the problem was me.

In the one fender bender I was involved in it was everyone else’s fault but my own. The other driver braked too hard, the road was icy, the light was still yellow. Now I realize that I was traveling too fast for the conditions, that I was following too close and that I had no right to proceed through a yellow light without slowing down.

But it has taken me a very long time to come to this realization. It has taken a combination of no longer driving cars and reading about the way we behave in cars to come to the conclusion that I was a bad driver. But I was actively looking for reasons why my car made me miserable. It wasn’t just the price of gas and constant maintenance costs. It wasn’t just the insurance charges I felt too were too high, after all I thought I was a good driver. There was an underlying issue here and thankfully more and more people are studying why our cars can change perfectly decent people into rage-aholics.

In a recent Grist article, Sarah Goodyear looks at why people in cars seem to hate people on bicycles:

If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of a car, you’ve felt it: The dead certainty that everyone around you is a complete idiot who should get the hell out of your way.

If you’ve spent much time riding a bicycle, you have been the target of that wrath. And without the protective metal-and-glass bubble that shields drivers (mostly) from each other’s anger, it’s easy to feel the hate. A horn honked in your ear by someone zooming past, an insult shouted out a window, the grit kicked up in your face by someone passing too close — just to make a point. It’s scary.

To explain why this happens, Sarah looks to Tom Vanderbuilt, author of the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us):

What happens to most of us, in most driving conditions, is that we’re losing some of the key attributes that facilitate human cooperation and, in a larger sense, society.

Eye contact, for example, has been shown in any number of experiments to increase the chance of gaining cooperation – that’s why when drivers give you what was called on Seinfeld the “stare-ahead,” your chances that they’ll let you merge in ahead of them are greatly reduced.

Then there’s the anonymity in traffic – there’s no one to spread rumors or gossip about you about how bad your behavior was — not to mention the lack of consequences for acting like an idiot. It’s all strikingly similar to the way we act on the internet, in what’s called the “online disinhibition effect.”

This is how door prizes happen. A driver, still in complete social isolation, fails to look for cyclists approaching and opens a door into their path. In an instant, the oblivious driver has made a potentially fatal mistake.

The question now is how do we socialize anti-social drivers? Most don’t realize they behave this way and those who do often feel it is absolutely acceptable behaviour.

As Joe Simonetti explains to Tom Vanderbuilt in a recent Outside article:

“As a couples therapist, I tell people that we take things so personally,” he says as we near the Whitestone Bridge, on the first dedicated bike path we’ve seen in more than two hours. It’s easy, when a car edges too close or cuts him off, to “go to that paranoid place where they’re just trying to fuck with me. We’re so worried that someone else can steal our sense of self that we fight for it at every turn.” But it could have been just that the driver didn’t see him. Under the spell of what’s called “inattentional blindness,” people have been known to miss obvious things simply because they’re not looking for them. Either that or what seems inconsequential in a car—passing by within a foot or two—can be terrifying to someone on a bike.

In my car I believed that every move I made was the right one. I was always acting in my own self-interest. When I first started commuting by bicycle I often behaved in the same manner. Only now I was exposed and on a different vehicle. I was confused when I’d aggressively “take the lane” only to have my aggression thrown back at me with 2 tonnes of steel. That’s how you behave in protective cocoons. You can be aggressive and the consequences are rarely anything at all, sometimes just an annoyance of expensive bumper dings and scratched doors. On a bicycle the consequences can be more dire, fatal.

Changing driver attitudes isn’t something that will happen inside of our cars. Listen to talk and news radio any morning and you’ll hear a consistent mantra in the news reports and commercials reinforcing the idea that other drivers are out to get you, other drivers are creating terrible traffic and other drivers are the ones making dangerous maneuvers… it’s always someone else.

So some cities are looking not at changing how we drive but at making changes that encourage people to get out of their cars. Vanderbuilt explains:

Few American cities have done a better job of getting people on bikes than Portland, Oregon, where around 7 percent of the population bikes to work and children cycle to school in huge “bike trains.” And yet, last year, like many recent years, no cyclist was killed. (By comparison, Tampa, Florida, a city where fewer than 1 percent of the population commutes by bike, had nine cyclist fatalities in four months in 2009.) Greg Raisman, a traffic-safety specialist with Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, says one key to getting people biking is providing infrastructure—actual or symbolic. The city features “bicycle boulevards” and bike-only traffic signals, and it’s planning new six-foot-wide bike lanes. It recently put some 2,100 “sharrows” bike symbols on 50 miles of residential streets. He says the symbols send messages to motorists and are, as many Portlanders have told him, changing “people’s mental maps of the city.”

“We need to get people to change the way they think about transportation,” Raisman says. While all road users need to step up in terms of behavior, he believes, calling for cyclists to be licensed, as some critics have lately done, isn’t the right place to start. “I recently got my driver’s license renewed,” he says. “They just asked me if my address was the same.” Among the things he was not asked was whether he was aware of traffic-code changes like the 2007 Vulnerable Road User law or a new Oregon rule that makes it legal for cyclists to pass on the right so they can filter to the front past queues of cars stopped at traffic lights.

I’ll be renewing my own drivers licence in Ontario this year. In the five years since I last renewed, I’ve changed my address from a small Ontario town with few bicycle lanes and even less pedestrian infrastructure to a Toronto address in a city with pedestrian activated crossings, turning and parking restrictions and a new piece of cycling infrastructure known as “sharrows.” Yet I won’t be asked if I’m familiar with any of this. I’ll confirm my address, get my photo taken and away I’ll go, free to drive as I’ve been driving since I became a G level driver more than a decade ago.

Will Toronto’s reputation for terribly long commutes make others search for alternatives? Or will we continue to think only of ourselves and place the blame on a faceless other? When looking in our rear view mirrors will we catch a glimpse of ourselves and realize that we are someone else’s “other?” As I’ve found out, changing our own behaviour is extremely difficult but it can be done.

Read Grist: Why Do People In Cars Hate People On Bikes So Much?
Read Outside: Rage Against Your Machine

Photo via BikingToronto Flickr Pool

What I Wear For Winter Cycling

It’s officially winter in Toronto. That time of year when many people believe outdoor physical activity grinds to a halt. It’s that time of year when excuses are passed off as reasons and it’s that time of year when I keep on doing what I do… riding my bicycle.

In the spirit of “how to do it” posts, here’s a look at my winter cycling wardrobe.

Let me state first that I tend to “run hot.” For some reason, I have a great tolerance to the cold. I don’t mind the biting wind on my cheeks and only once the temperature drops below -10 C do I add an extra layer to my legs.

That said, let’s look at outfit #1… the everyday ride:

1. Wool jacket with light lining (pocket handkerchief for running nose is essential).
2. Wool scarf
3. Toque
4. Merino wool sweater
5. Cotton shirt
6. Jeans (reflective strap since I don’t have a chainguard)
7. Fleece gloves
8. Merino wool socks

Not pictured: fleece long johns, leather boots.

My everyday rides take me to the grocery store, to the bank, to a new remote office (coffee shop), to the library. These are all short trips that see me on the bike for no more than 20 minutes at a time. In light snow, I’ve never had a problem with wet clothes and because I have a set of full fenders the amount of slush and grime spray on my shins is very minimal.

When I reach my destination I sometimes remove the pant strap and I’m ready to go. Easy as pie.

In addition to grocery hauling, errand running my bicycle is my only “exercise machine.” So, for longer, harder rides where I’m cranking up my already burning internal engine I dress differently… here’s a look at the active rider:

1. Waterproof/Breathable shell
2. Wool cap with ear flaps
3. Fleece half-zip
4. Merino wool base layer
5. Soft shell pants
6. Liner shorts
7. Lined water resistant gloves
8. Merino wool socks

Not pictured: Gore-tex hiking shoes, helmet

My goal on longer, harder rides is to have my outer layers block the wind and my inner layers fight to manage sweat. While I like the bright blue jacket for visibility, I bought it because the fabric is reliably wind resistant and waterproof and because it was on sale.

In the end, I suggest wearing what you feel is comfortable. I like my “advanced plastics” outer layers as much as I do my natural fibre one. Each outfit works for what I want them to do and finding the right mix that suits your body and your needs is how I feel you should determine what to wear on your bicycle in any weather.

The Bicycle Lifestyle; An American in Amsterdam

How do you promote products that are designed for active, everyday life? Well, why not just show them in use.

Based in San Francisco, Mission Workshop, makes bags and clothes for the lifestyle cyclist. (I don’t know if this is an actual term, but it’s what my girlfriend has been using to describe people who use bikes like others use their car, just for everyday living)

The two products featured in the above video are the Orion jacket (made in Canada) and the merino Bosun jacket, layered together for chillier winter riding.

For us Canuks, the only shop in our vast country carrying Mission Workshop gear is On the Rivet in Vancouver, BC. So far at least.

Via Amsterdamize

The Changing Face of the NYC Commute

11 miles is just shy of 18 kms and a fairly long commute. Yet, because of constant development and political support for cycling infrastructure 90% of this journey includes streets featuring some form of cycling infrastructure.

Notice that only a small percentage of the ride is along streets with sharrows and, notice too, that NYC DOT isn’t trying to squeeze one size fits all cycling infrastructure onto a wide variety of streets.

Thinking back on my former commute, 25 kms each way and exactly 0% of my route including any form of cycling infrastructure, it’s no wonder I was often alone on two wheels. Cycling along major arterials with boulevards wide enough to play soccer on I wondered why there wasn’t a bike path there. I would cross over multi-lane bridges that themselves spanned across 400 series highways and wondered why both cyclists and pedestrians were ignored there as well.

Real cycling infrastructure influences real change. How hard is that to understand?

Via StreetFilms.org

Covet: Four Women’s Cycling Jackets

Fall Cycling

With fall weather comes wetter days, chillier winds and the need to add an extra layer when cycling around town.

I recently viewed a few men’s cycling jackets that look just as good on or off of your bicycle. Today, it’s time to see what’s available for women:

The Portland jacket by Showers Pass has a reflective rear flap that adds extra visibility at night yet folds away when you no longer need it. With pit-zips and adjustable cuffs, the Portland is ready for unpredictable fall weather. Available at MEC.

Alberta-based Riyoko (meaning “to travel” in Japanese) offers their Riding Blazer, a windproof, water-resistant jacket with vents for warmer days and enough pockets for whatever you need on hand. More information about the 100% Canadian made jackets here.

Toronto-based Modrobes offers the longer trench-style Ryding Jacket made from recycled water bottles. A generous hood and vented back help you keep your cool when the winds start blowing and the rain starts falling. Available at Modrobes.

From the slim fit to the high neck, Nau’s Shroud of Purrin Jacket brings styling rarely seen in the world of “soft shells.” Learn more about this jacket made from recycled plastics at Nau.

Have you tried any of these jackets? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Fall photo via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Don’t Call it a Girl’s Bike

Just because your bicycle has a sloping top tube doesn’t mean you have to call it a “girl’s bike.” That slope can make it easier to cycle modestly while wearing a dress, sure, but it also comes in handy once you start carrying any sort of cargo on your bicycle.

Adding cargo adds weight to your bicycle and the “step-through” frame design makes it easier for you to balance your packages or children while mounting and dismounting your bike.

Here are just a few “step-through” bicycles for women and men that can help you carry your cargo and avoid the delicate dance of getting on and off your bike:

The above Linus Mixte comes with a rear rack ready for you to strap a basket to, available at Bikes on Wheels.

The Globe Live 1 Mixte will stand out in the crowd, if not for the bright red colour but also because it comes stock with a huge front rack, available at Urbane Cyclist.

While the Dutch may call this design by Electra an “omafiets” (literally, grandma’s bike) both men and women have benefited for years from this easy to step through design. Available at The Cycle Shoppe.

When it comes to really maximizing your cargo carrying capacity, the Kona Ute certainly stretches the limits. Available at Sweet Pete’s.

And that’s not all… you’ll find even more sloping step-throughs at Curbside Cycle who carry models from Batavus, Pashley and Abici.