Rack it up.

As of two days ago, I am the proud owner of a bicycle panier rack and bag. 

Panier
Panier and rear rack (apparently the term "saddlebags" is not a part of a cyclist's vernacular).

This is a huge upgrade from the bag I lug around to work, back and everywhere in between.  Mostly it means that I won’t have to carry the weight of books, food and rain gear on my back.  Unfortunately, the absence of said bag means that on hot days my inevitable back sweat will be visible to all that share the road- sorry fellow commuters.  

Having the rack installed on my bike was not an easy feat.  I arrived at MEC at 7pm and I picked out a panier rack and basket.  Why bother getting fancy when all you really need is a basket and some bungee cords to carry around your valuables?  When I brought my bike and purchases to the MEC bike shop, I was kindly informed that my bike was a strange model and would not fit the standard bike basket.  No problem- i’ll take the regular rack and I will splurge and buy the accompanying bag.  The in-house mechanic advised that I should be back in 20 minutes.

At 9pm I was finally prepared to pay and leave.  As it turns out, my velo is a strange model all around and it took the dedicated mechanic the entire two hours to rig up the little panier rack.  To do so also required that he take off the back fender, which is barely a loss because it created some friction with the back wheel to begin with.  Needless to say I was all sorts of apologetic, especially considering that the $5 I paid for labour was supposed to cover 20 minutes, not two hours.  (The service was fantastic throughout the two hours, and it is one of a myriad of reasons that I would recommend MEC to all Canadian cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts.) 

My Bicycle

 Two hours, $55 (including labour) and a back fender later, I had my first backpack-less ride.  Speaking from experience, I highly recommend all commuter cyclists to take a load off their backs and go the way of the panier.

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Bike Gripes

As a cyclist, naturally I have many enemies.  This thought struck me yesterday as I was forced to cancel a bike trip due to rain and thunderstorm warnings.  As it happens, however, rain and thunderstorms do not even rank in my top five list of velo adversaries.

No Biking
In Iceland, some major streets are bike enemies.

The Wind

The wind and I have a very tumultuous relationship.  I swear that windy days have the potential to tack on an extra 15 minutes to my ride.  Although I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot day as much as the next guy, there are few things I hate more than biking into the wind.  Few things, my friends.

Crotch Burn

Sit on a bike seat for two hours + each day and you will know exactly what I am talking about. 

Calluses

I have cyclist’s hands -calluses and blisters line the top of my palms (I wanted to call this part of the hand “inside knuckles” but my gentleman friend suggested that this was a made-up term).  Although I am mildly proud of my toughened cyclist hands, this is quite likely one of the worst places to nurse a popped blister.  I suppose that this problem could be easily remedied with the purchase of a good pair of bike gloves, but I just don’t think I’m there yet.

Bugslaps to the Face

Seriously.  You know how sometimes when you are in a car, bugs smack into the windshield and explode?  Picture the equivalent for cyclists, except instead of a windshield it’s your face.  The only upside in this situation, is that I will never go fast enough for an insect to actually explode, hence the term bugslap.

The Number 14 Bus

Every day I cycle Elgin and Gladstone twice, once on my way to work and once on my way home.  The number 14 bus also takes this route.  Since these times tend to be peak commuter periods, I often find myself playing tag with the 14.  This mostly consists of me catching up to the bus and ducking into traffic to pass it when it makes a stop, only to be passed again at the lights three blocks later.  Sometimes, when OC Transpo is feeling particularly inept generous, they send two 14’s out at the same time, and I find myself sandwiched  in between both until I finally get into Little Italy.

Number 14
The number 14, ruining my life.
 
This list is not all-inclusive.  I could probably add a million other things, starting with rain, humidity, flat tires, jerk drivers, bike laneless roads, jerk cyclists, taxi cabs, jerk pedestrians…etc.  But I won’t, because if you have already made it this far, you don’t deserve to be subjected to further grumblings.  Stay tuned for a more cheery post that focuses of the positives (of which there are many more than negatives) of being a bike commuter! 

Hello Heatwave

Holy hell it was a hot day for cycling.

At 35 degrees it feels like 45 and I took this opportunity to cash in on some lieu time and play hookie from work.  If ever there was a day to avoid melting off of my bicycle in a 30km ride, today was it.  Now I am in my toasty apartment, sipping a Stella and competing with my cat for a space in front of the table fan.  Earlier today however, I found myself cycling around centretown despite Environment Canada’s weather warning.

Cycling in near tropic temperatures is an acquired taste, to say the least.  By the end of a short 5km ride you are a giant, glistening sweatball with bad hair and the beginnings of an awkward knee tan.  (Honestly, I can’t be the only cyclist in the city with tanned knees.)  Today, in fact, I fit the above description by the time I finished unlocking my bike.  By the time I made it to the next block I was questioning my decision (and my sanity).  Why give up the wonderful comforts of home (ie. table fan) for the sweltering streets of Ottawa?

No, I’m just being dramatic.

Cycling in the heat is no sweat (lies; it’s always sweaty) as long as you bring sunscreen and lots of water.  And as long as you go nice and slow.  The heat tends to have a slo-mo effect on the city so you may not have much of  say in the matter.  Of course, if you are anything like those bike short wearing, aquapack toting diehards that insist on breezing past me no matter what, you will go as fast as you can to prove to us all that mere temperature hikes will not stand in your way.  

But seriously, here’s hoping tomorrow stays under 30.

Bike parking

Dear Car; Love Bike.

 I know that bikes and cars don’t always get along.  In fact, as I was trolling the internet for other like-minded Ottawa cyclists, I happened across many personal blogs raving about the insensitivity (or stupidity) of motorists.  Likewise, I hear many drivers grumble about the amount of reckless (or law-breaking) cyclists on their roads.  As a cyclist that both loves and appreciates the occasional car rides donated by friends and family, I maintain the following position:

99% of motorists are competent and bike tolerant. 

This is the only explanation for how I arrive safely to and from work each day.  Yes, I could give all the credit to my skillful car dodging abilities, but then I would be living a lie.  In all honesty, most people in cars give me plenty of space and consideration, and as an easily-crushable cyclist, this could not be more appreciated.  Of course there are those drivers that seem to have a perpetual hate-on for bikes (and maybe life in general), but this is thankfully a small minority.

99% of cyclists are well-meaning and rule abiding. 

Sure, we may cut through the occasional Power Sports RV lot, but all in all, we are a pretty decent bunch.  Aside from your intermittent street anarchist, we stick to bike lanes and road shoulders, we signal when needed and we generally try to stay out of your way.  This is because, when it comes down to it, we all just trying to get from A to B in one piece.

So why the constant misunderstanding?  The road is to share, and whether we like it or not, neither car nor bike is going anywhere (except during the winter when most bikes choose to hibernate).  As an occasional driver, I would like to offer up this advice to cyclists, from one amateur to another.

  • Please don’t be obnoxious; the rules are there to keep everyone safe.  If you want to be treated like a street vehicle, act like one.
  • It doesn’t hurt to signal.
  • Make sure you are visible.

As an avid amateur cyclist, I would like to offer this advice to motorists:

  • Please shoulder check before turning right and, when parked, before opening your car door to oncoming traffic.
  • Give cyclists space; it’s not their fault that the city has chosen not to provide bike lanes.
  • If a cyclist tests your nerves, keep the follow things in mind.  Many cyclists are either a) helping to unclog traffic by keeping another car off of the road; b) reducing our impact on the environment or c) unable to afford a car, which makes them poorer than you.

    Hunt Club
    Hunt Club Road, conveniently with bike lanes to help cyclists beat the 5pm traffic.

So there you have it, my two cents on how to minimize the car eat bike world that is the city of Ottawa.  As much as I would love it if every driver within a 10km radius of work/school left their car at home and opted for a more sustainable method of transportation, it can’t be helped if people love their cars.  And let’s be honest, when faced with an impending rainstorm, or a trip exceeding 30km, I love their cars too.

Portrait of a bike.

My bike, affectionately named Slimer (because we welcome and encourage Ghost Buster references in this household), is hands down one of my most favorite things. 

Bike
My Bicycle

 

It was a graduation present and it cost my father a grand total of $60.00 at re-Cycles, my friendly neighbourhood (not-for-profit) bicycle shop. 

Bike
My Bicycle
 
We have been together since June 2010.  During this time I had to replace both tires and one wheel, but other than that we have been getting along just great.
My Bicycle

 Sometimes the breaks need fixing and sometimes the gears stick.

My Bicycle
But when the day comes that I can finally afford an upgrade, I think I will actually be a little bit sad to see it go.   
My Bicycle
Which is silly, because it’s just a bicycle.
 
My Bicycle
 

Laurier Bike Lane

It seems that everyone wants to hate on the new Laurier bike lane.

Laurier Bike Lane
Laurier Bike Lane

This new segregated bike lane, stretching from Elgin to Bronson, has a lot of people huffing and puffing.  Why?  According to opponents, the new bike lane will:

  • Cause an increase in traffic
  • Make it difficult to find parking
  • Make it difficult for people to make deliveries
  • Impede emergency vehicles
  • Act as a barrier to people living with disabilities

The lane, which officially opens today, is a pilot project to encourage people to cycle to work.  As far as I know, this segregated lane is the first of its kind in Ottawa, and judging by all the controversy, it may be the last.

As an avid street cyclist, I am used to biking without bike lanes.  I bike all over the downtown core, most of which is bike-lane free.  This means that, out of respect for pedestrians, I bike alongside traffic.  Although I have never been hit, I have come close on many occasions to being doored in the face by parked cars or run off the road by motor-vehiclists that forget to shoulder check.  It is instances like these that always make me covet the security of the segregated bike lanes found all over Montreal.  So while I don’t need bike lanes, I welcome them with open arms.

The argument that a single bike lane will cause more traffic is a hilarious one.  Every person on a bike is another car off the road.  If you don’t expect traffic in the middle of the city, I really don’t know what else to say to you.  Maybe buy a bike?

I also understand that this one bike lane limits parking on Laurier.  I guess my argument here is the same as above: parking downtown blows no matter whether or not there is an additional bike lane on a section of a street.  The average person won’t be too disadvantaged if they need to walk an extra block or two to get to work.  

Many people have suggested that it would have been a better idea to paint the lanes rather than segregate them.  This would definitely alleviate many of the aforementioned problems, but it would defeat the whole purpose from a cyclist’s standpoint.  The reality is, people drive, stall and even park in bike lanes all the time. 

The last two arguments are actually more serious.  It is unfair to impose additional barriers on people living with disabilities and it may be dangerous if emergency vehicles are not able to do their job.  These groups should have been better consulted during the planning process in order to prevent some of the upset that has been surrounding the construction of this lane.  That said, Montreal has had segregated bike lanes in the city core for as long as I can remember, which seems to point to the fact that these problems can be solved peacefully.

In the meantime, I am excited to start cycling in Ottawa’s only segregated bike lane.