Stylocycle’s Blog

Glorious — readying for winter
November 27, 2009, 9:30 pm
Filed under: around town, Get outta town!, winter riding

It’s been a good week.

I’ve stayed on top of the work rather than racing to be a step behind and I’ve even managed some down-time too.

On Monday my grad students impressed my socks off with their great research paper proposals. I’m really keen on the end of term reading I’ll receive from them.

Tuesday found me in Toronto to visit a dear friend who was over from Bristol. I actually landed at the central bus terminal right at the point when the local SPCA was rescuing a deer that had wandered into downtown Toronto and found herself disoriented and endangered. Though the take-down wasn’t pretty, she is apparently resting and under veterinary care and doing fine. Much better than had she been hit by a car. Certainly we are not accustomed to finding deer at Dundas and Bay, but on that morning we heard from many sources that the deer from both valleys that run N-S through Toronto can find themselves in the centre of the city because the roads are still pretty quiet in the wee hours, and in the fall when the deer are on the move all it takes is a little thick fog for them to wander right into the centre of things.

Anyway, my friend, Nath, who now lives in the UK picked me up at the terminal and we trotted all over town. Ezra’s Pound for coffee in the annex; Fragipane for some ginger molasses cookie treats for my boy (who recognized the bag on the counter when he came home late Tuesday night and took it upstairs for himself with a knowing grin; Curbside cycle to look at bikes for my honey for Christmas (he thinks he wants TWO new bikes — one similar to mine for commuting, and a road bike for I’m-not-sure-what) and to pick up a new front-mount basket for the blue beauty; the AGO to see the Tutankhamen exhibit (which was disappointing) and then a tromp back to the terminal to ride home on the Greyhound. Along the way, Nath and I shared many stories, good laughs, the comfort of an old, established friendship and the excitement of two folks who don’t get to see each other much.

My Wednesday wasn’t so exciting… just academic advising and other administrivia, and a tumble on my steps in the day meant that my walk to the speciality store for Montreal style bagels took about double the expected time. The bagels, however, were worth it, and it was a pleasant walk. The evening was glistening from earlier fog and rain, so the lights sparkled and reflected off pavement and windows in a cheerful way.

Yesterday was a grant reading day. OK… so that’s not so much fun. I like readng the proposals, but I hate knowing that there isn’t enough money to fund everything. That means that I end up feeling like I’m working in a triage unit. Thankfully, none of these decisions is ever taken alone, but I hate making my priority list. I find it often comes down to a question of whether $$ denied would mean a project in process would be aborted, in which case the entirely worthy and excellent proposal for new work must be denied. Arg.

Today I went out on the Blue Beauty to run some errands. There’s great buzz about a California wine (and I’ll grant that when Napa and Sonoma get it right, they REALLY get it right), and my dear spouse consumed a bottle with his brother in Toronto last night at some swanky advertising affair (yes, it’s really like Mad Men and I’m glad it’s my brother-in-law who works in it, not my spouse). So…. I went to see if I could get us some for less than the $100+ per bottle they were charging at the steakhouse in T.O. Short answer: yes. Two bottles purchased and tossed into the front basket.

Thus I found myself uptown, so I took my bike in for a little servicing. The rear lamp isn’t working. My bike repair guy could not figure out why. Anyone else had difficulty with the rear lamp on a dynamo on their Old Dutch???

While the bike was being serviced, I picked up a winter coat ON SALE — down filled, with a faux fur collar, removable hood…. $49! Woot! I also picked up some winter boot/trainers from Puma. They are like a trainer that goes 2/3 up the calf. Lined, winter-worthy, and with great grips for riding through the winter. Very pleased! And while I was out I found jeans and a knit -t-shirt for the boy. I’m so proud of the way he’s been handling himself lately…

Let me throw in some pics… and wish you all an excellent week-end.

ps: I’m hating the new image insertion feature on word-press. I really didn’t mean to have 2 copies of me reading files… I just want to get this post up and done so I can head out on the blue beauty to runa  few errands before night falls.


So many things…
November 24, 2009, 2:58 am
Filed under: comments around town, commute by bike, Get outta town!, Hop on the bus Gus

‘K. My month has been one long laundry list of stuff to do.

Read through and judge the merits of dozens and dozens of grant applications.

Assess a small boatload of graduate research proposals.

Deal with the sale of my grandmother’s house, the movement of her stuff out of the house, and (we hope) settling her into a nursing home in December if she survives to that point. She’s currently in hospital (where she has been since the 36-hour heart attack at the end of August).

Deal with the impending loss of my grandmother… about which I’m alternately accepting and enraged.

Join and participate in the campus cycling committee.

Take our ‘monthly’ trip to the St. Lawrence market for the first time since September.

Adopt and get my grandmother’s 11-year-old Siamese cat settled into our house.

Try to help my mother deal with all that is going on while her husband is on a 3-week long trip in the US with his family of origin.

Settle accounts on my research grant. I swear that next time I need to build in funds to pay a CPA. Arg.

And then there’s the continuing saga of settling into the new house. Let me sum up with this: may I *never* have to set foot in an Ikea again in my life.

But on my tag points let me say the following:

I’ve been getting loads of comments around town on the silk flowers I have woven into my bike basket. I’m not sure if they encourage drivers around me to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the day, but as I go about my business, running my errands hither and yon, the flowers and the basket do make people seem more cheery.

Commuting by bike is becoming popular enough on my campus that it seems we are slated to get a covered rack to park at least 20 bikes in a central location. That means that there are enough of us who ride in the snow to make the structure a feasible budget expense. We’ve also persuaded the physical plant people to stop dumping the ploughed snow onto the bike racks in winter.

Commuting by bike is always practical and made my life in the borderlands of town more bearable, but now that we live in a central location, I find that cycling brings me tons of joy. I’m on my bike now more than ever, not just to and from work. I can easily hit 4-6 places with a distance of a few kilometres between each, but nothing long, dull and lifeless like the ride that used to take me across the North end of UW campus where there was nothing but empty, bleak space, people’s back fences, and cars. Now, I regularly run into friends, and walk or ride part of the way home. It’s just really, really nice.

Getting outta town remains one of the ways the living here is still bearable. If I lived in a town that wasn’t within an easy VIA or bus ride to a major cultural centre, I’d go bonkers. Tomorrow I’m going to head into Toronto to meet with a friend who is over from the UK for a few days to take care of her mum post surgery. We’re going to sneak off for some time at the AGO, and do our bi-annual catching up.

But my favourite thing about this month is that my long-time friend of 31 years is going to come visit me on Thursday. She’s a surgeon in Toronto. People tend to think that surgeons drive fancy cars. My friend has a morning surgery to do and when she’s finished, she’s going to hop on the inter-city bus to come to visit me for the day. I can hardly wait, and I love that it just blew my 17-year-old son’s mind when I told him that my friend was coming and that she’d be taking the bus. Some day he (and the rest of the world) will wrap their heads around the fact that we don’t all want to isolate ourselves in cars, that we don’t measure our freedom by the ability to drive, and that we like public transit.

Counter Culture?
November 5, 2009, 4:21 pm
Filed under: around town, commute by bike

Last week in my graduate seminar, we were reading Arviddson’s “From Counter Culture to Consumer Culture” about the marketing of the Vespa in the post-war period through to the 1970s in Italy. On the heels of that reading, my students asked whether there were any ‘real’ counter culture’ movements current.

I’m not convinced that there is a critical mass movement in the sense of anti-war and anti-capitalist movements of the late 60’s to mid-7o’s, or of various early twentieth century intellectual and political movements (eg: when it was a legitimate if counter-cultural stance to call oneself a ‘communist’ in 1920’s North America and Europe).

That said, I do think that contemporary ‘commuter bike culture’ is part of a ‘slow’ movement that runs against the grain of more, faster, bigger, cheaper. Like many counter-culture movements before it, this is a reformist movement. I do not think that any of us is seeking to remain on the fringes as a subculture movement. I know I dream of a future in which my city looks more like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, or Prato, Pistoia, Viareggio (or any of a host of other Tuscan small cities where bicycles and pedestrians rule the centre of town). That is, I want to see more people on their bikes, and I want it to be practical for them. I want us not to have to shower when we get to work, and not to have to keep a change of clothes in the office. I want a future in which we cycle at a non-sweaty pace in our every-day clothes, on comfortable bicycles built to last.

That’s my present-tense, and I love it. I love the way that my bike compels complete strangers to strike up conversations with me. That (now common) phenomenon helps me to feel like I live in a hospitable city (hat-tip to Derrida) with a community of people around me, connected to each other, not running about like disconnected atomistic drones.

Since I started using the bike as my primary means of getting around in this semi-urban town, I’ve lost 18 pounds. My back and hips feel better, and I also feel much more independent, not having to wait for a taxi or a bus to get where I want to go. I also find that on my bike I’m much more inclined to stop in at a few places along the way in my day. As a result, from my local favourite pastry chef I’ve learned tricks about using a super-hot oven for pastries, and I’ve met many more people in my new neighbourhood, I’ve discovered a bread bakery that uses an honour system to take payment, and I’ve found that I can run errands without waiting for my spouse to take me across town to do them.

And the thing is that although the things I enjoy are decidedly bourgeois, my bicycle lifestyle is extremely economical. I paid $860 for the Blue Beauty and saved $1300 in bus and taxi fares in the first year that I had her. In year two I bought a beautiful seat that cost me about $200, and I had her tuned up twice, once for spring and once for winter, total cost: $150 in service. And the Blue Beauty will save me at least $1300 in transportation costs again this year. My point here is that even if I weren’t a fairly bourgie person, the bike would be extremely economical. And I can do as I please with the difference between maintenance costs on the bike and transportation money saved.

So: is the “cashmere commuter” a counter-culture advocate? I think so. I think that we are doing things that end up privileging small, local businesses (because they are more fun to pop into than big-box conveyor belt type places) when we are out and about on our bikes. We certainly are not buying into the petroleum industry. Our mode of getting around is pretty ‘democratically’ priced — even if our own personal bikes are fairly expensive on the initial outlay. Our bikes are certainly part of a dirty manufacturing industry, but when we choose to buy bikes intended to last through decades worth of winters outside (like the Blue Beauty), we are making a commitment to less consumption rather than more.

The thing is I also think we are hoping that these choices will become less ‘against’ and more in-step with what the rest of the culture is doing. I’m definitely hoping more people will join us as we meander through town rather than racing from stop-light to stop-light.

That said, my old punk-rock self remains inclined to tell the creeps who cut me off to go fuck themselves. There are a few really aggressive drivers on the streets here in mid-town, even though most people are pretty cool and biking in the city centre is much more relaxed than biking in the suburbs with their speedways from strip mall to strip mall. So, I’m going to reserve my right to unleash my inner rebel sometimes. My biking culture amabassador self is on call about 98% of the time, but sometimes an asshole really needs to be called out for what s/he is.