Stylocycle’s Blog

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.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for sharing your story of how you started riding as a kid. Always funny to think of how we rode as kids (helmet, what’s a helmet?). I totally agree about VC and having the right bike. I was amazed at how much safer and sturdier I felt while test riding my oma. That is what made me buy the bike, more important than the good looks 🙂

Comment by msdottie

Nice memories. I surely takes some time to learn how to ride properly on the road. I started to cycle to school, when I was around 10 years old. I wasn’t cycling on the sidewalk, but very close to the road edge, which surely wasn’t the perfect line. By now I claim the space I need, which in a busy city is really essential and much safer. I think that’s something I learned by myself. Nobody really told me, where I’m supposed to cycle in order to be safe and visible. And I think that’s also the biggest problem for bike-newbies, especially when they only start cycling as adults: that they think cyclists should use be as small as possible to reduce blockage of cars. Which certainly isn’t a safe approach. The vehicular attitude, as you call it, is really the way that everybody should cycle.

Comment by anna

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