Stylocycle’s Blog

Catching up
July 16, 2010, 9:11 pm
Filed under: commute by bike, Get outta town!

So… Barcelona was lovely… so lovely that Dear Spouse has been converted to the merits of Spain, or, more precisely: to the merits of Catalunya. The weather was fantastic, so we were out and about in the city every day… and the best way to see is city is on foot (which means that sadly I’ve biked in very few cities that I’ve visited as a tourist). We ate well, and cheaply, our apartment was lovely and convenient, and we had good company in his colleagues from the conference he was attending. We managed two day trips, one to Montserrat, and one to Sitjes. I’d wanted to see Sitjes on my last trip to Barcelona in 2007, but hadn’t had the chance. I’m very glad we took the trip this time. Sitjes is situated about 20k down the coast from Barcelona, but its hills slope more immediately into the sea than those of Barcelona, and so the town is all very much more compact. One exits from the central train and is at the beach in a matter of minutes. One of the guide books in our apartment said on the issue of whether going to Sitjes is worth the effort: “Do not try to convince yourself that the beaches in Barcelona are pretty; they are not. Go to Sitjes.” So we went, and yes, the beauty of Sitjes’ coastline is remarkable. Barcelona’s seafront charm is all about the quality of the restaurants and nightclubs (for beautiful people to get fleeced in), but not about a more organic charm.

Loads of people are cycling around Barcelona these days and the Bicing programme seemed much busier and more well-established than on my last trip. We did wish on a few times that the bicing programme wasn’t only for residents of the city. It would be nice, as a visitor, to be able to bike to places for dinner in the evening, or, as in our case, to a conference site.

I’ve been madly busy these past 10 days since getting home because it’s registration time at school, but I’ve still managed to go to the little farmer’s market that sets up on Thursday afternoons in Uptown Waterloo Square. Rainbow chard and scapes! Hoorah! Also managed a week-end out of town, in central Ontario’s cottage country where I did very little for two days. I did learn to perfect the Bramble cocktail (gin, lemon juice, blackberry liqueur, simple syrup, shaken over ice….mmmmmmm), and spent a fair amount of time in the water, went on long walks with my friend and her dog… I can’t complain.

All of this slowing down on week-ends means, however, that my weeks are way busier. I may have to go back to working on week-ends more in order to maintain my sense that each day is manageable.

Meanwhile, I ran across a link today that my cycling community friends may find interesting:


I’m not so sure that…
May 22, 2010, 4:25 pm
Filed under: commute by bike

“We’re just not that into bicycles” as a local writer for the city newspaper asserts (See bottom for a link to his article).

First off, my training has built in me a tendency to question the ‘we’ whenever it is invoked by one person claiming to speak for everyone else. Who the hell is this ‘we’, anyway? Certainly I’m not part of the ‘we’, and my spouse isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the cycling committee on campus isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the folks at RIM who just decided to install short-term bike rentals for visitors to their campus aren’t part of the ‘we’…. The kids who need to get from a-to-b in this town where bus service is inadequate to appalling in the suburbs where so many of them live aren’t part of the ‘we’.

OK, I take the point that the great majority of folks around here prefer to drive. That plus the over-abundance of pork products around here accounts for the fact that we have the highest average BMI measurements in the country.

But this leads to my second point, which is that our author assumes an obvious, single reason that people don’t cycle more and that is that they don’t like busy streets. And that becomes his argument for leaving things as they are.

Now, I don’t mind at all diverting bike traffic to calmer side-roads; that’s not what’s stuck in my craw on this one.

What’s bugging me is the unfounded but oft repeated assertion that biking for daily purposes can’t be enjoyable. Well, true enough if you don’t have a bike that suits your needs, and for most professionals, that means not having to pack all our stuff on our backs (in my case that can run to 250 exams at a go, plus the laptop, plus whatever books I’m working with at the time). It also means not wanting to arrive sweaty at work, in day-glo spandex, and if showering at work isn’t an option, then that means that a cruiser or city bike become the better ride. I learned this when I assessed why I had given up riding my bike to and from work when I became a professor. I’d always ridden to and from my previous work-places but I’d had less to carry and a more casual environment in which to work, so arriving with the helmet painted with flaming skulls and my short kilt (avoiding chain problems) and Great Big Boots (for sturdier stopping) wasn’t an issue. Once I was a prof. though, I could not really show up looking like Hardcore Morgan, Professor of Doom. Academic freedom doesn’t extend as far for women as for men (who can still show up to work in cut-offs and retain some kind of hippie, counter-culture credibility). Most of the women professoriate are too young to be able to stake those kinds of claims, so linen trousers for summer it is!

OK… I digress. I know.

The point is that I’d stopped cycling, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t that into it.

Third, if we are serious about getting more people out of their cars and onto bikes, we know that making our viability visible is a key issue. That’s why I have my pretty baskets, and that’s why I usually have some kind of nice scarf on when I’m riding… it attracts attention to the fact that you can ride, AND not look like a crossing-guard trying to chase down the Tour de France.

If “cycling is popular in some places but not here”, which I don’t dispute, I don’t think the solution is to accept that the model we have is the model to which we must acquiesce here. Instead, we should be looking at what has everyday bike ridership up by over 40% in the last few years in Toronto. Some of it is response to the price of gas and car ownership, the cost of parking, and the decline of TTC services. But some of it is because of positive changes in what’s available to ride (and hat can include good used bike shops that repair and restore city bikes — they don’t have to be costly EU bikes). Some of it is that even the costly EU bikes are cheap compared to the cost of driving (but our provincial tax relief for a bike purchase under $1000 is going to dry up with the kick in of the HST in July). Some of it is that Toronto has worked to provide more bike parking in shopping areas, and restaurants are providing places to lock up off to the side of their patios, etc. That is: shops are figuring out how to bring cyclists to their shops along with pedestrian traffic, instead of moaning that without big parking lots people won’t shop… central retail areas are close to central residential areas (we are starting to get this right with the redevelopment of the core, meaning that we aren’t all forced to drive 10k to a big box mall to get a light-bulb!)

Fourth; I just can’t stand the lack of imagination in Outhit’s editorial piece; it’s an apologia for the way things are, and it’s counter to his own opening observation that “Cycling is healthy and pollution-free”.

On that note, I’m going to spend my day making a rhubarb crisp (from Mark Bittman on the NY Times), cycling uptown to get new trainers ‘cuz my old ones are shot, and reading a dissertation in preparation for my role as examiner in Utrecht next week.

Cheers folks!

Here’s the link to the article in the Record.

Take the lane!
May 18, 2010, 3:01 am
Filed under: around town, commute by bike, hazards

Our provincial legislators are considering a change to our traffic laws that would require that drivers maintain a minimum 3-foot distance from cyclists when passing us on the left.

Dammit! While it’s an idea with some practical merits, it further entrenches the popular idea that cyclists belong shoved over on the right hand side of the road (where most of the gutter hazards are).

But here’s the thing that really sticks in my craw. Under current traffic laws, cyclists already have a right to be *in* the lane, taking up the usual space of one vehicle. Here’s what the local paper has to say, “Under current laws bicycles have as much right to the road as a vehicle.” (The Record: The article goes along to explain that “[a]long some streets, such as King Street through downtown Kitchener, cyclists are encouraged by the city to take the whole lane. Drivers do not always appreciate that.” (Ibid).

Drivers don’t always appreciate that?

Whether appreciate here refers to their entitlement issues or comprehension issues, I leave to your interpretation, but I”m going to close this one out by quoting from “Shit My Dad Says”:

“You’re riding up this guy’s ass because why? Because you are in such a hurry to be on time for that nothing that you do?!”

And the irony is that when those drivers don’t appreciate us riding in the middle of the road, where we are legally entitled to be, we are invariably faster or at least moving at the same pace as the rest of traffic. Cars may beat us off the block, but in dense city traffic, the cyclist is more efficient. That’s why we have huge companies that are built on the efficiencies of bike travel for messenger services. Duh.

For the Pashley Riding Grad Student
April 27, 2010, 6:49 pm
Filed under: around town, comments around town, commute by bike

My dear spouse just phoned me from his office to find out if we would be riding home together after work. Nope! I have the freedom of doing my own thing and I’ll be stopping off, meeting a friend for coffee on my way home. I love having my own wheels!

Anyway, in the course of our conversation, DS told me that he’d met a grad student outside the campus library, and that Grad Student was riding a Pashley — probably the only Pashley in town. Hey, Grad Student: I’d love a photo of you riding your Pashley around town!

Anyway, I heard that Grad Student had had some trouble finding someone to properly service the Pashley gears. My understanding is that the folks at Braun Cycle can help you out.

Good luck!

Loving the new Batavus
February 8, 2010, 8:10 pm
Filed under: commute by bike

It’s not so much that it’s a Batavus per se that makes me so happy. There are lots of sturdy, European-made bikes that would do as fine a job. For example, I think the Abici bikes are fantastic, and I’d love to have my own Pashley for fair-weather riding, but I’m thrilled that the Batavus Fryslan has proven to be such a great bike for Dear Spouse. Its price point was a little lower than some of the other bikes that Curbside carries, and because that dropped it below the provincial tax threshold the price difference translated into a final cost of about $500 less than some of the comparable models.
For his part, Dear Spouse has been a very easy convert. He loves the upright riding position, the effortlessness of the ride itself, the swiftness of the bike, and the fact that it’s really true that he can bike in his good clothes and not arrive at his destination in a sweat.
I love the fact that we can now cycle in time with each other. My bike ends up having a very similar wheel-base to his and my effort is about equal to his (unless I have my dynamo on at night) so we are often able to ride nearly side-by-side as we go.
He’s already found that lots of folks around town comment on his bike too, and the local hipster barrista with a Bianchi fixie pronounced the Batavus a very spiffy ride after taking it for a spin around the uptown core.
Dear Spouse is a big ol’ graphic novel fan so he’s named his shiny, black city bike the “Batavus-mobile”. Heh.

Meanwhile, when I’m not doing work-work I’ve been reading 3 books about cycling alongside each other. I’ll have comments to post soon, and I’ll be wondering what others think. I’ll say already that much as I like David Byrne’s premise about travelling with a bike being so much nicer than travelling any other way, I’m finding his Bicycle Diaries to be too much about his untrained sociological views. He’s not off the plot, but his fixation on the sociological questions can distract from the travel-by-bike premise and lead him into territory that he’s poorly equipped to analyse except in the most ‘armchair’ mode, and that’s too bad because it really does give the book a sedentary feel.

Look at what I bought my sweetie for his birthday
January 27, 2010, 2:38 am
Filed under: commute by bike

The Batavus Fryslan Heren. It is currently on sale so that it falls below the provincial cut-off for sales tax exemption.

Now when we ride together, it will be easier because our bikes will be more compatible. For him riding will be more comfortable than on his 17 year-old Hard Rock mountain bike, will strain his damaged knee far less (if at all), and will allow him to ride about town in all his dashing glory.

VIA ma bicyclette
January 27, 2010, 2:11 am
Filed under: around town, commute by bike, Get outta town!

I recently had to make a jaunt into Toronto for business. Because I have a fondness for the train, and because we live less than a kilometer from the train station, and because I get a corporate rate on train travel, I decided that the engine whistles were singing out to me to ride the rails for a day.

I rode my bike to the station where, rather like a Nederlander, I locked up my bike and hopped aboard. It is possible to take your bike on the train for some destinations (as, apparently, with the run down to Niagara-on-the-Lake where there do bike tours of the local wineries), but I had no ambition to ride at the other end, so I just locked the Blue Beauty and went on my merry way.

Except… as you will see in the photo below, our mostly desolate train station has no bike racks. There is a skinny parking lot with no appropriate place for a bike, and no visibility to the station’s interior offices. There is a large portico on the east side, and it would be perfect for bike racks, but there are none; instead, there are a few lonely newspaper boxes. So… I locked the Blue Beauty to herself with both the internal wheel lock and my steel bike cable. The Old Dutch is heavy enough to deter someone from trying to walk off with her, and I decided to park her on the wide platform, in front of a window with a sight-line to the interior ticketing office, but I admit that I did worry a little about vandalism if not about theft. I’ve had my bike tires slashed in the past.

When I returned in the late evening, my bike was exactly as I had left it. I am curious about how many people in passing trains wondered about the massive blue bike parked on the train platform with no accompanying rider in sight.

In addition to finding my bike in one piece, I was met by my dear spouse who had ridden down on his bike to meet me. How romantic!

Kitchener VIA station: you need bike racks!