NOVEMBER 15, 2012
Now that we’re well into Fall, I’ve been able to experience the different seasons on my bike. The biggest surprise I have encountered is that I can still work up a sweat on my rides up to Sunnybrook, even in 5°C weather. Other changes to anticipate are more frequent rainy periods, which creates slick streets especially when combined with the falling leaves.
While a good rain jacket certainly helps for rainy weather, I am waiting for ski goggles to catch on as rain protection for my eyes. When I see Hello Kitty-themed goggles in bike shops, I’ll know it’s a hot trend.
I recently attended a seminar at Sunnybrook, put on by Cycle Toronto through Smart Commute NTV, focusing on tips for biking through the fall and winter. I was relieved to discover, yet again, that everyone sweats and overheating is a common side effect of layering. A basket helps with the quick removal of layers as you’re biking.
Additional helpful tips, relating more to winter riding, include:
- removing close-fitting fenders to prevent snow buildup on tires,
- applying lubricant to chains to prevent rusting following snow or rainfall,
- carrying a lighter to thaw a frozen bike lock,
- and filling your tires with slightly less air to allow for a smoother ride.
My favourite tip – picking up a pair of gloves with felt on the fingers because it removes snot much easier. It’s always a good idea to carry tissue with you as well because you will inevitably have the sniffles every time you ride. It turns out that there are more accessories for bikes than there are for ourselves, pets, babies and cars! If you were thinking of getting a purse dog for the retail appeal, consider a bike. The large dog Halloween costumes will fit a bicycle.
Rules of the road were also discussed at the seminar and I learned one thing I wish I had known before. Cyclists, by law, are allowed to take up a lane because they are entitled to 1m of space on either side.
When road conditions are poor it is a good idea to give yourself more space and stay in the middle of the lane so you’re not moving left or right too much to avoid obstacles, such as a pile of leaves or snow. The veteran cyclists in this seminar insisted that we must assert our presence on the roads, which, I think, instilled more confidence amongst the newer bikers. The volunteer or DIY bike shops around the city were also mentioned (listed below).
The one thing that has remained constant while biking is the peace of mind I experience when riding.
Here are my top 3 moments of clarity:
- Dresses and road bikes don’t always mix.
- If I didn’t “nay” like a horse that dog probably wouldn’t be chasing me right now.
- My legs need a snack!
Bike Pirates: 1292 Bloor Street West
Bike Chain: 33 St. George Street, Basement (University of Toronto)
Bike Sauce: 235 Broadview Avenue
SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
Taking the Scenic Route
Biking has brought me to some scenic places in Toronto that I might not have seen as a pedestrian. If you are looking for some unique places to explore with some historical background knowledge check out Shawn Micallef’s book “Stroll: Psychogeographical Walking Tours of Toronto.” Most of the places are just as easily seen from a bike.
Entrance to Sunnybrook Park. You can access the park from the east side of the hospital, in between parking lots.
Sunnybrook Park Ravine.
Sunnybrook Stables. Horses!!!
Sunnybrook Park Soccer Fields. You wouldn’t even think you were in Toronto.
Serena Grundy Park Ravine.
SEPTEMBER 7, 2012
Cycling Culture at Sunnybrook
Since I bike to Sunnybrook on a daily basis I've become accustomed to the amenities provided, which include free showers (but unlike a hotel, no complimentary shampoo and conditioner!). My initial impression of Sunnybrook was that it is very commuter-friendly and that opinion has held true.
They offer a free shuttle service between the Bayview Sunnybrook campus and downtown to employees from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, which I know every graduate student utilizes from 9:15 a.m. onward. I’ve also noticed they promote biking every year in collaboration with Smart Commute - North Toronto, Vaughan with a Bike to Work Day event.
This year, Sunnybrook worked with Smart Commute NTV and Curbside Cycle to develop a campaign called The Most Unlikely Cyclist (which is how I won Fade to Black so I could write this blog!). Things are pretty easy to find here, too. All the biking racks, lockers or spas can be found on the Sunnybrook website.
Every day I choose to lock up my bike on the sturdy fence closest to the wing I work in because I’m pretty sure Sunnybrook spans 25 kilometers (it takes a long time to walk from one end to the other). Thus far, I have not had any problems with bike theft. I choose to use two bike locks, because, like anywhere in the city, leaving your bike unlocked highly increases the chances of it being stolen.
There is also a group called The BUG (Bicycle User Group) which circulates information by email. The BUG provides information on where to find bike-specific items at Sunnybrook (bike racks, showers, a free tool kit that remains at Sunnybrook), reports released about biking (safety, popularity, incidence of injuries) and anything else related to cycling. I actually signed up when I first started at Sunnybrook even though I didn’t own a bike. I found it helped generate some juicy water-cooler talk so I kept my email on it.
Sunnybrook is also home to Sunnybrook Park, which has many bike and walking paths, BBQs and horses (I drop off Fade to Black every morning so he can bond with his own kind). Sunnybrook has also been voted two years in a row as one of the Top 100 places to work. I’d have to agree because every year they throw an employee-appreciation day, which is only shy of being labeled a carnival due to the missing bouncy castles. They feed us unlimited corn-on-the-cob with unlimited spices to put on the corn-on-the-cob. I don’t like to use this word, but it is epic.
If I could ask Sunnybrook for one luxury item for cyclists? Install a chair lift on the hill between Eglinton and Blythwood (northbound and southbound). I’m sure everyone would agree!
AUGUST 17, 2012
Stereotypes of a Cyclist
As I cycle my way to becoming a regular biker, I realize I have become a casualty of biker stereotypes. Conversations with friends and reading cycling articles/blogs have led me to believe that people actually do think some of these things. Here I discuss the common stereotypes and offer solutions to curb these images.
We are hippies who love the environment. This includes any of the following: being vegan, recycling, enforcing recycling rules upon others, loving David Suzuki, laundry with cold water, showers with cold water, collecting rainwater for cooking, foraging for food in the city. This group also includes poor students or any other group which cannot afford other types of transportation. Walking is so expensive these days! Solution: next time you’re cycling throw something on the ground. Go ahead, litter!*
Only hipsters ride bicycles. I’ve actually heard many comments implying this. I have also learned this association is stronger if I am wearing plaid, skinny jeans, thick framed glasses, or cowboy boots. Combine any of the aforementioned items and that correlation will increase in a synergistic fashion. Solution: only wear a suit while riding your bicycle. Jeans and a blazer can still be interpreted as hipster so we're talking about a full-on suit. Preferably a three-piece suit accompanied by a monocle.
Cyclists, especially those wearing spandex or riding a road bike, are health nuts!
So much so that Hans and Franz and the Body Break gang look like amateurs. This very health conscious biking community is concerned about minimizing caloric intake, maximizing energy output, time trials, Cliff energy bars, steep hills, name-brand biking gloves, competitiveness, and a damn fine-looking butt. I suggest you eat a Big Mac while you take a break on the sidewalk the next time. And look like you're REALLY enjoying it.
I hope my suggestions have helped you in becoming a unique biker. Littering, spending a fair amount of money on formal wear and gaining a few pounds will definitely help the biking community become less of a target of generalizations. Happy cycling!
*I am clearly joking about littering. I actually love the environment so if I see you throwing something on the ground I will eat it (because I am also a poor student). Then I will yell at you.
AUGUST 9, 2012
Mandy's Hand Signals
Now that I have been biking for a month I see the necessity for some hand signals. There are three main ones: left, right and stop (which are all over the internet - like here - in case you are curious to look them up). Drivers usually only know what the “left” hand signal implies because you are literally pointing in the direction of left. This signal is very useful when stopped at a four-way stop sign. However, I've found that most drivers do not know the difference between “stop” and “right”. I've also learnt that the “stop” signal is very beneficial if you need to stop in a bike lane and there are cyclists behind you. I do feel that some more communication on the roads would be helpful.
When I’m getting ready to go up a hill, I'd like to signal to drivers that my biking might become sloppier as I near the top because I am close to collapsing. I find it easier to pedal up hills when I am standing off my seat, but this causes a slight zigzag pattern as I lean left to right. Hence, we have my very own zigzag signal (wobble of the arm, shown below), which means “give me a little extra space”.
One of the hills I go up (just north of Eglinton on Bayview) starts at an intersection. If you see me pretending to rev my engine (and, thus, mimicking the sound of an engine) that should translate to “don’t turn right ahead of me because I’m ready to go and who knows what I’ll do because, to be honest, I am making car sounds right now”.
The last hand signal is meant for cyclist’s eyes only. The current etiquette for bikers who want to pass other bikers on congested biking lanes is to ring your bell to let them know you are passing them. Sometimes the cyclist you are passing suddenly speeds up. The “I’m watching you” signal (shown below) might help to portray that “I did not appreciate your approach to driving by speeding up while I was attempting to pass you.” However, this has received mixed reviews.
JULY 30, 2012
After cycling to work for three weeks I’ve learned a few things and have finally put my apprehensions to rest. The three main anxieties I initially had were sweating, helmet hair and embarrassment from my athletic abilities.
If your commuting distance is 15 minutes or more, there are some inclines on your route and it is summertime, it is inevitable that you will sweat. Congrats, you’re human! (To those rare individuals that don’t sweat I am shaking my fist at you, but also suggest that you see a doctor!) Most workplaces have showers; however, a quick shower is only applicable to men or the odd woman with hair that blow-dries and styles itself (which Brian Fellows commends, by the way because “THAT’S CRAZY”). My solution has been to cycle into work a little earlier so I can cool down in the a/c before freshening up and changing.
I also purchased a pannier (a bag that attaches to the wire rack over the back wheel), which makes a world of difference. My ride is breezier (i.e. minimal back sweat) and it significantly reduces the stress on my shoulders and back. However, never – and I mean never! - give someone a hug directly after biking. Back sweat is, somehow, only appropriate in nightclubs.
I have not found a cure for helmet hair yet, but have finally become gracious for the fact that hipsters have been bringing back mullets and 80’s themed hairstyles for the past five years or so! I wish that I could pair it with a mustache to make it look even better! Although I stare in front of the mirror for 10 minutes every night willing my mustache to grow it has not worked yet so I stick to up-dos once I get into work.
The embarrassment was the easiest apprehension to curb. I was mostly worried about having to push my bike up the numerous hills on my way to work while the “Shooter McGavins” of the biker crowd smirked. Obviously, I have found this not to be true.There seems to be an appreciation amongst cyclists and I usually get a hello most times I bike past someone. It only took a week to get used to the intensity of certain areas. Almost as soon as I started cycling this worry disappeared.
Some other random tips:
- If you are riding quickly down a hill and you are feeling uneasy with balance, treat your bike like a horse. Lean slightly off the seat when you ride over bumpy patches and sewer grates. This will make the ride go much more smoothly. Then pat his back and feed him some apples, of course!
- If you ride very quickly over speed bumps, you will get air (which, contrary to my younger years, is not a fun thing).
- If you have bought new shorts, test them out on your bike on the weekend to see if they are sweat proof. If not, you can lie and say you had just gotten back from the beach to concerned bystanders.
- I’ve personally found that biking northbound on Glen Road (through the Rosedale area) is the worst stretch of road I have ever experienced and reminds me every time that I should have worn two sports bras.
- If your bike consists of a women’s frame it can be difficult to find a spot for your lock’s dock (the piece that holds your lock while you are riding). MEC has very cheap ($1.50, in fact) Velcro straps that I have used to attach the lock to my back rack, which also balances the weight from my pannier.
I hope these tips have helped in some way! Happy riding!
JULY 16, 2012
Fade to Black
I have been riding my new bike and... I am still alive, I have not run into a car door and my body’s ability to cool itself is surprising me! After meeting with Rachelle Waterman and Jessica Stronghill from Smart Commute and Mikey Bennington from Curbside Cycle, they helped me choose my new bike. Although the two bikes I took for a test ride were a vast improvement from my previous bike, the Linus Mixte was better suited for hills and longer commutes. //MORE
JUNE 26, 2012
Mandy Meets Mixte
Day One of the Most Unlikely Cyclist proved to be quite the adventure for Amanda. Once she arrived at Curbside Cycle, she had the opportunity to try on an array of colourful helmets, learn about the different types of bike locks, and most importantly, test drive the different bikes!
After a few rides around the Annex, Amanda chose the cream-coloured Linus Mixte. Stay tuned to read more about her experiences riding around the beautiful city of Toronto! Until then, like us on facebook and take a look at her adventure at Curbside!