Stylocycle’s Blog

Twenty Below
February 24, 2009, 1:58 am
Filed under: helmets, winter riding

The temperature this morning when I left the house was -12, but with windchill we had a -20 estimate. Nonetheless, with roads that were basically clear (though the bike lanes remain decidedly obscured  by snow and ice) there was no reason to avoid cycling into work today. I have decided that for winter riding I really prefer to wear dresses and skirts. Today’s choice was a pullover cashmere sweater-dress that I just got from the last-call clearance sale at Neiman-Marcus. Even with delivery and duties and exchange rates I can’t buy a gorgeous cashmere anything, never mind a knee-length, 3-quarter sleeve dress, for under $160 each — so I bought two. The one I rode to work in today is fire-engine red — though I toned it down with my black patent Fluevogs and a black vest over the top.

Here’s the link for anyone interested in a bargain:

Anyway — why dresses or skirts? For one thing, they don’t crease while I am pedaling, but more importantly, I can pull on my merino-wool icebreaker ‘long underwear’ and keep my legs completely roasty warm (and not sweaty!) for the ride. When I arrive at work I pull off the leggings and I’m ready to go. No problem.

I concede the fashion point to warmth and continue to ride with my downhill helmet and massive goggles. I know it does kind of fly in the face of the ‘we can be fashionable’ mandate, but the helmet does not wreck my hair, keeps me completely warm and is designed to protect the brain in high-speed full on impact… so for winter riding, I’m OK with the concession. I also love wearing my goggles for winter riding. I admit that I have to turn my head a little farther around to do my shoulder-checks, but I never have to worry about slush getting in my eyes, or having my vision impaired by road glare. Plus, the goggles and helmet combine to protect about 2/3 of my face from the cold. My neck warmer pulls up to take care of the rest of the exposed face.


Plans for the Week
February 22, 2009, 7:46 pm
Filed under: around town, winter riding

It’s not going to be too nice around here this coming week, but the snow that is on the way won’t be too deep. Yesterday’s snowfall has been cleared from the streets, and the weather won’t be nearly so cold as it was in December and January when I would still ride. So my plans are to cycle to and from work every day this week (M-W-F) and to get out to my evening yoga classes by bike as well, and across town to my hair appointment. The hair appointment will actually be the high point of my week as I’ve not had mine cut since early November, and it’s looking ‘past time’.

I may have to wrap my yoga mat in something more waterproof than my cotton carrier, but I’m looking forward to getting all the things done that I want to even though my spouse will be out of town with our car for 4 days.

I’m also relieved that we are no longer housing the friend of our son; the boy had taken off from his house about 10 or 11 days ago and seemed to how up at our place most nights to sleep. His mother came to retrieve him this morning.

So, my plans are not ambitious… keep writing, continue to do my usual teaching and advising work. My great satisfactions this week will come from getting out and about on the Blue Beauty.

Vehicular riding
February 9, 2009, 10:15 pm
Filed under: commute by bike, hazards

I learned to ride a bike in Vancouver, where I lived as a child. I received my first real bike for my 6th birthday but a series of bizarre upheavals meant I didn’t actually learn to ride it until I was 8 years old and some other kid had had it at his disposal, and rode it what were then glorified logging roads on Hollyburn Mountain. By the time I had the bike in my possession again it was kind of trashed, and I was hangin’ at my mom’s place in Kitsilano (back when it was for poor folk, not the Canadian equivalent of Venice Beach yuppies). I recall that my first outing was on the sidewalk in front oh her low-rise building, and that I failed to properly make a right hand turndown the path that would lead to the main entry in the courtyard, and that I instead ran headlong into a brick wall. It was a little while before I got back on the bike, and longer still before I learned to see the bike as my friend. I had years of bad cycling habits to get over, the worst of which was being confined to riding on the sidewalk ’round and ’round the city block on which I lived in Toronto with my father. I was not learning that the bicycle could take me places I wanted to go. Mostly I felt like some kind of circus poodle, riding a banana-seat cruiser around and around the centre ring.

I was a teenager before I learned how to ride a bike on the roads, and to be honest, one of the best reasons I had for riding a bike was that I could manage it while, um, in an altered state. I still have a particularly vivid memory of riding home from downtown to uptown on the lazy side-streets that looked remarkably like the backdrop for a Bugs Bunny cartoon. In retrospect, I do not recommend such motivations or states for cycling. However, I did learn to ride reasonably aggressively at that time, for it was necessary to traverse large swaths of the city at its busiest times. I was a North Toronto girl dating a boy from the Beaches — about a 15 k trek across town from my place, and I often had to get out to the Beaches after getting off work at the same time that everyone else was doing the same. So, I learned to claim my lane back then, but that old pedestrian model of cycling stuck with me in many instances, and I’d find myself dismounting to handle left-hand turns by using the pedestrian crosswalks.

Only in the dead of night would I make a left-hand turn in a regular traffic lane. I have never worried about claiming my line in most instances because city traffic doesn’t move that fast, so bikes are generally able to keep up just fine. I was always afraid, however, of falling over while trying to get up to speed on a left turn, so I just avoided it.

But here’s what I’ve learned this year, truly vehicular riding is much easier when you have the right bike. Part of the reason I used to worry about falling is that — like most girls back then — I was riding a boy’s model with a high crossbar, and it was a 10-speed racing bike with narrow tire, and built for riding while hunched way down. That is: they are really not great for when you have to stop and start frequently; they are best for getting up to speed and then going uninterrupted for a long time. (I admit, I loved riding my bike down the Bayview Glen alongside the Don Valley, just east of Rosedale; it was also great for climbing the hill from Rosedale to Saint Clair. I admit that I’d have to walk the Blue Beauty up a hill like that now.

But: here I am, age 41, finally learning to claim my lane for all purposes. I can cross multiple lanes to get to the left-turn lane when I want to, and I can pause there as needed while waiting for the light to change, and I can mount easily and get moving quickly enough not to peeve drivers behind me. What’s the deal?

1. Sitting upright makes shoulder checks way easier for lane changes.

2. Being able to plant my feet makes it easier to wait; I don’t have to try to figure out how to keep my bike in balance as though I were a bike courier with aspirations of joining the Cirque du Soleil.

3. No high crossbar, but a step through frame means that my clothing isn’t hung up on the frame. Back in the day, we chose the boy frames precisely because it was the only option for getting the skirt up, out of the way of a chain (long skirts combined with cycling were common in the goth crowd)

So, if for safety reasons I’m more and more interested in taking a vehicular attitude to riding, I’m learning that having the right bike for the job is crucial. I am, therefore, really happy to have had the advice of the guys at Curbside in Toronto when I was making my purchase decision last year.

Now, if the ploughs would just get rid of the last of the snow from the roads in the residential neighbourhoods! I suppose the milder weather will manage that task more effectively in the next few days.

I’m off to write an advanced seminar for presentation this week, so I likely won’t have any more entries until next week, even though I’m certain to be riding around town quite a bit this week.

The promise of spring
February 8, 2009, 5:38 pm
Filed under: around town, winter riding

Today’s entry will direct your attention to the website of the Sabletine bakery in Waterloo, newly added to the links on the side of my page. I’ve been terribly excited about this bakery since its establishment was announced in the summer of ’08 and its opening that fall. I tend to measure the quality of a pastry chef by the quality of the simplest things s/he produces: croissants, baguette and a pain-au-chocolat. In this case, the owner/chef’s simplest concoctions are lovely little masterpieces. Her croissant and pains-aux-chocolats are crisp on that first outer edge, then sweet (bt not sugary) and tender through the inner layers. The quality of choolate matters too, and the chef at Sabletine uses lovely Belgian semi-sweet in the fillings.

And so it was that with the first thaw I and my dear friend M. thought first of heading to Sabletine. It’s probably about a 6k ride to the bakery from my house, and it’s an especially nice ride because I can choose to get there with a combination of side-streets, winding sloped roads, and park trails. I crossed the Laurel creek on the university campus, and went around the big lake in Waterloo Park, peddaled past the llamas who were pawing at the grass under the snow in their pens, and then wound my way through the Uptown area looking to see what everyone has in their windows… I stopped at the nice little organic grocer and replenished my dry herb collection, and then continued on my way. I like to fold a variety of little stops into my end-goal, partly because I like those encounters with the people who run and work in the shops. Having little chats along the way makes me feel more as though I live ina community of people, and works to battle that sense that contemporary life is all about getting most quickly and impersnally from A to B.

Yesterday’s riding weather was a little bit… uh… mercurial (!), and ranged from brightly sunny to quite misty, so I wore my running tights under my skirt, and my London Fog rain coat, and my cute little capthat I bought last year in Dublin. And because they are made from patent leather, I wore my Fluevog boots with the enamel heel — materials that resist the damp and clean up easily.

Sure enough! just when I was parking the Blue Beauty by the little grocery shop a woman coming out stopped to remark on my fabulous boots, and to marvel that I was wearing them while cycling…! And in the slushy weather! But, of course, with my skirt guard and chain guardbig fenders and panier, I wasn’t actually messed up. People continue to be boggled.

From left to right below: leaving from home, parked at Sabletine, the pastry case at Sabletine.


February 5, 2009, 3:03 pm
Filed under: winter riding
The People Have Spoken *

The People Have Spoken *

Alternate boot view

These are my preferred boots for winter riding. I bought the boots a few years ago at a local shop called “Loop Clothing”, a place where the owner aims to sell lots of Canadian brands, with no sweatshop manufactured goods, and good environmental production records.  Anyway, I thought the boots were cute in a dorky way that is completely unlike the usual footwear I lean toward (Stuart Weitzman is my #1 shoemaker).  Anyway, turns out that these boots are not very good for me for walking. The bottoms are too flat. However, they are GREAT for winter riding. That rubbery bottom with the multiple ridges is great for staying on wet pedals and for gripping the slick asphalt when I am at a stop. I like that the boots fasten on the back of the calf because it means I have better wind protection up front. And with the rounded toe, there’s room for a footwarmer in front on the really cold days.

Of course, I haven’t been on my bike for three weeks because there has been so much snow that our 4 lane roads are down to 2 lanes, and our residential streets are down to about a lane and a half. Snow banks outside my house can go as high as the second story on houses in my townhouse complex….. AAaaaAAAAaaaand: even the cleared roads often have a few inches of compacted ice and snow on them.

So… how completely thrilled do you suppose I am to hear that for the next week we will have above zero temperatures and no snow in the forecast? I’m ecstatic! I am really hopful that I’ll be able to ride my bike to work again starting on Monday.

That said, some things about winter have been just gorgeous this year, so I’ll leave on a high note and post a nice winter snap I took while out cross-country skiing.