Thursday, 26 July 2012

What makes cyclists so a-door-able?

Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.   (Aristotle)

If happiness is the goal of all other goals, then why not seek a happy state of mind in the first place so that you can relax and enjoy the pursuit of all those other worthy aims?

Mum says I have a whole lot of inner blonde going on, so I KISS (keep it simple stupid) whenever I can. There's a recipe for happiness. It's simple, too, so even people like me can follow it.  One: sleep every night.  Two: eat happy foods.  Three: get about under your own steam. Four: touch people and pets. Five: be helpful and kind.  Six: make love. Often. 

Did you know that your emotions are a barometer of the need for change? I didn't, not till very recently, anyway, but simple truths are self-evident. Like this one:  Happy is good. 

If it's not broken, don't fix it, right? Who is going to go pushing for radical change when everything is tickety-boo?  When you’re very UNhappy, though, when you are angry, frustrated, outraged or feeling betrayed it’s a pretty clear indication that it's time for change.  Sometimes it means that you need an attitude adjustment (I always check this first, for obvious reasons), or a different perspective on a situation (Gandhi said that every fight is the difference between two perspectives illuminating the same truth), or maybe you just need a drink and a good laugh with your mates.  (Actually, this last bit is good anytime, really.)

My happy place.

But there are definitely times when being unhappy means that something is wrong.  Sometimes it means time for change. (When a whole bunch of people are unhappy about something, and they decide it's time for change, that's when you end up with something like the French Revolution, the American War of Independence, or the Arab Spring.)

Normally, I'm a positive person, bit of an apocaloptomist, maybe, but I love my life.  I've got challenges, of course, like everyone, but overall, I'm happy.  Not like some people. Not like nasty man in an Escalade, whom I met the other day.

Imagine. It's rush hour, and you're approaching one of the biggest, busiest intersections in the city.  You're in a separated bike lane facing one way traffic, but the traffic has a red light and you and all the peds have the green.  You enter the intersection with a bit of momentum going on, and just as you reach the middle of the intersection, nasty man in an Escalade clocks you, clocks the red light, and pulls out into the bike lane anyway (in a misguided attempt to turn right against the no right on a red light), and then pulls to a dead stop because he can't drive through the peds streaming through the intersection.

That's what nasty man in an Escalade did. Naturally, I gave him the middle finger salute to say thanks, and for that he threatened my life.  Not the threat to my safety which left me standing in the middle of Georgia and Hornby at five pm, either.

No.  This man was feeling murderous, poor misguided sod.  Remember, he ran a red, cut me off, and stopped in the middle of the bike lane with heavy traffic all around, so that I had no choice but to stop in the middle of the intersection to wait on him. And the moment I thanked him for putting me in such an awkward place, he went so red he turned purple, and said "you ready to die, you stupid fucking cunt? BECAUSE I'LL KILL YOU RIGHT NOW."  It looked as if his temper was about to finish him off right then and there, truth be told, but there he was, loudly threatening to kill me. Laughing didn't make the situation any better, but I couldn't help myself.  He looked ridiculous, a great big guy like him, threatening to kill a girl on a bike in front of hundreds of people in the middle of a busy intersection in rush hour traffic. 

He was looking for a fight, and by the end of the day surely he would have found what he was looking for, even if it was just a conflict between his foot and the cat. But I'm not like him. I'm happy, and I look for reasons to be happy.  I never go looking for fights... 

And yet some things just wind me up and set me off.

Take my local bike routes.  Don't get me wrong. I am very grateful that they exist. It would just be a nice bonus if they somehow managed to be reasonably safe for cyclists at the same time.

If you’ve ever found yourself travelling at speed right smack into a freshly opened car door, and if you managed to come out the other side of the accident conscious and aware, and if you get up, dust yourself off, and decide you still want to ride your bike, well then you KNOW for certain that it’s imperative for a cyclist to stay a car door's width away from parked cars.

AAAAAAAAAND in case you hadn't noticed... ICBC's driving manual advises motorists to give cyclists a full meter's clearance (p85) for obvious reasons. And therein lies the rub, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Why are all of the Kitsilano bike routes on the very narrowest roads available? Oddly enough, in most instances, there is a much wider road just a block or two away. Why don't we get to ride the wide roads?  It's bizarre. The bike lanes are on very narrow roads with parallel parking on both sides, and plenty of car traffic.  When a car passes a cyclist there is never, ever a meter of room between the car and the cyclist, nor does the cyclist have nearly enough room to stay a safe distance away from parked cars, and that’s the bit that gets my goat. ICBC says "One of the most common causes of crashes involving cyclists is drivers who swing their doors open without checking." A lot hinges on the whole issue of cyclist doorings.

Off-Broadway bike route.

Let's not even get into the fact that all those parked cars make it impossible for drivers approaching the ever so narrow bike lane from crossroads to see cyclists of a smaller stature until they are almost on top of them. It's a recipe for disaster.

The avenue running parallel to the bike route.
It's pissing me off. Something has to change. I often forego the bike routes to ride the wider roads a block or two away, but those roads don't have pretty signs with bikes on them, (nor do they have 30 k speed limits).  And you know how much I like pretty things. And safety, of course.  I want safe bike routes, not just for me, but also for all those fledgling cyclists swelling our ranks out there, for the timid cyclists, and for the next generation of smug, bless 'em.  Vancouver is actually fairly bike friendly as far as cities go, but there is still tons of room for improvement. So much so it's got me in a scrappy frame of mind.

This week, Bike Snob posted a link to an infographic which mentions that while half of all Americans live within 5 miles of work, they still manage to waste an average of 41 hours stuck in traffic every year.  Now this is the thing which really bugs me, because I ride by all those poor sods stuck in cars every single day, just as I have for the past couple of decades, and still it astounds me that people believe that a car is their best option for transport.  How did we get to the point where we all consider it acceptable- normal, even - to get in a stinking car and drive absolutely everywhere we need to go?  It must be the best marketing campaign of all time, because it seems the whole planet has been suckered in by it.

It's all bass ackwards.  All of those haters like nasty man in an Escalade are brainwashed, stunned and stupefied,  and it's well past time for change.  I am so tired of the attitude out there that there must be something wrong with ME just because I choose a bike over a car.  What's wrong with our world that everyone thinks they have the right to drive stinky petrochemical sucking poison emitting contraptions everywhere they go?  Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford thinks he's seen a war on cars?  We have a looooooooong way to go before this mass delusion is shattered once and for all. He hasn't seen anything yet.

I guess I am more like nasty man in an Escalade than I care to admit, because now I'm angry and looking for a fight, too.  But never fear: serenity is only two wheels away.  I can head for my happy place, hang on the beach, drink in the beauty, and contemplate the best way to bring on the change that needs to be.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The need for speed.

If I ever get another go at it, I'm coming back as a pro bike racer, and I am going to win the Tour de France.  I fancy that job.  What fun, riding through the French countryside on the fastest bikes known to mankind and making killer coin while you're at it. Can you imagine?   Some people go on about how gruelling it can be and all that, but in the end they're riding bicycles.  Four year olds ride bicycles.

Yeah, sure there are a few crashes, but that'll work in my favour.  I’m old hat at that- I've been doing it pretty efficiently since I was four.  Don’t see why you would need to train all year long like they do just to be able to crash like that. 

Yep.  Next time around for sure…

You see, I checked, and it's not really all that dangerous.  In response to the question “Who has died in the Tour de France?” 

The Great Wiki replied:

Only three riders have died while racing in the Tour - Francisco Cepeda who lost control and fell into a ravine in 1935, Tom Simpson who died of exhaustion brought on by drug use and sheer effort in 1967 on Mont Ventoux and Fabio Casartelli in an 88kmph crash in 1995. In addition, Adolphe Helière drowned during a Tour rest day in 1910.

Did you clock that? He drowned in the French Riviera on a rest day. 
Sadly, though everyone on the Tour remembers their helmets, few think to pack their life jackets....

Drowning indeed. You hear words like punishing, demanding, arduous, but remember we're talking about  riding bicycles here...

Can you say dream job, people?  I turned fourteen the summer of my first road trip through the Rockies, and even though we were riding through Roger’s Pass on ten-speed bikes, hauling gear and hauling our asses in the pouring rain (and camping out under tarps to boot), it was an exhilarating, exciting, empowering experience.  Granted, mountains are a bit gruelling at times. It can be a bitch to get to the top of a high alpine pass, but there is nothing on Earth like the ride down the other side.

(One of these babies, a Canadian made Sekine ten speed, saw me through my first long haul through the Rockies.) 

That trip was the beginning of my love affair with bikes.

There is a moment in time which shines with bliss.  It happens shortly after you crest the summit of a hill- if you have legs to spare - when you relax and let gravity and momentum add exponential growth to your speed as you shift up, up, up until finally you’re moving so fast it’s time to tuck in and fly. 

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? 

It’s a sweet little piece of Heaven on Earth, that’s what that moment is.  That's what makes the bike path to world peace a no-brainer.  IT FEELS SO GOOD!!  I'm not the first person to call it like it is, either. Waaaaaaaaaay back in the 1890’s, there was a lot of concern about women who had taken up riding bikes:

such daring women were nothing short of a threat to the well-being of the race and of the nation as a whole.

Sexual Awakening

There was also another anxiety about bicycling women, one sometimes couched in obscure language. Girls and women, it was feared, may get some inkling of sex from riding a bicycle and, as a result, their innocence and sexual purity would be threatened.  Riding astride anything had always been problematic  – girls sitting astride while playing with toys such as a hobby horse was frowned upon and it was partly because of sexual concerns that women rode side-saddle on horses. The bicycle posed particular anxieties. The angle of the saddle could cause women to become aware of sexual feelings before marriage and so awaken in her carnality and unfeminine sexual desire. The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  
(Claire Jones, Women and the Bicycle for Herstoria magazine.): 

You see?  “The problem is exacerbated if you go fast.”  Just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one generation’s problem is another generation’s opportunity. Carpe Diem, I say, and give me the fastest bike in the world!

Vancouver sees its fair share of fast bikes during BC Superweek.  Second from the left is Dominic Roels, hanging on Kit’s beach shortly after he placed second in the UBC Grand Prix. (That's him up on top of the page, too.)

They look wide awake from here!

The next day I joined the masses and checked out the Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix.  What a rush! Those guys really move.  It's exhilarating just watching it; one can only imagine what it must feel like to cross the finish line in a really big race.  In the end you must feel really, um… happy.  My kind of happy...

Mark Cavendish, awakening to his stage two win. (Check out the babes.  The one on the left has a steady shag.  She's all "Oh really."  The one on the right...?)

And now, dear reader, you understand why I pray to Higgs to come back a pro racer.  

Friday, 6 July 2012

I had a dream...

You know that old rule about the two subjects one never brings up in polite conversation?  It’s been amended to three, so be careful.  Nowadays, one should never mention politics, religion, or helmets. Helmets are a political hot potato.  Who knew?

You’ve gotta love all things hot hot, though, and if you like gorgeous like I like gorgeous, check out Cycle Chic.   The photography is so endlessly enchanting that it's easy to lose yourself in it for hours on end, but the best bit is the impact this commuterevolution is having across the globe.  Loads of lovely people ride their daily lives. Masses. Mikael Coleville-Andersen, The Pope of Urban Cycling has already left the world a better place than he found it. Take a look!

Cycle Chic.  Hot. So hot.

Mikael Cycle Chic certainly inspired David Phu, his team at Vancouver Cycle Chic and the the delicious Bicycle Babes, and believe me, they've all got it ALL going on!  So...

As threatened, I showed up at the Cycle Chic social; as usual I was wearing four inch stiletto safety shoes, and as always I travelled by bike.  A few people took photos when we arrived, which was kindov fun, really. People kept saying "Wow!  You really are Cycle Chic!"  And my hopes were raised.  I felt elated.  I have a tendency toward the daft, however, and even though I've seen the Cycle Chic Manifesto at least once or twice, I never actually ‘got it.’
My friends are all smiling and nodding knowingly now.  It’s true. I am a total nerd.  I so get 'not getting it.'

The logical  have figured out by now that when I click on Cycle Chic it's just to look at the pictures.  If only I had paid attention to the words when I visited, I might have noticed the slogan "Style over Speed" which is on every page.  I might have noticed that there isn’t one single photo of a helmet anywhere. I didn't. I might have noticed that the manifesto ends with “I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of cycle wear,” which probably includes helmets

But I didn't.

It makes sense though, doesn't it, because we’re talking Cycle Chic, and you must admit that most helmets make gawdawful fashion accessories.  They rarely scream “great taste” even though they do make a statement loud and clear:

  Me. Dork extraordinaire

"What statement is that?" you ask. Helmets say “I like my brain,” or if you prefer “I am a dork!”  I do like my brain, for what it is, and my friends will assure you that I am a world class dork, so if the helmet fits...  You see, the trouble is there aren’t enough spare brain cells rattling around up there that I can afford to sacrifice a single one of them to a head injury.  If ever I become waaaaaaay smarter, then I can give up helmets, but in the mean time, I just don't dare.

And as Willie the Shake so eloquently put it, “Therein lies the rub.” The Cycle Chic Social turned into a terribly difficult lesson for me. Can I let you in on a secret?  Until I met Mikael, I harbored visions of seeing my photograph on the Cycle Chic site, resplendent in my safety shoes, and revelling in the fame and glory of it all.  It was an impossible dream...

The Manifesto  makes it clear that I am not now, nor could I ever be, a card carrying member of Cycle Chic, and I'm only just now transitioning from shock and denial to gradual acceptance.  (Grieving is a process, you know.) Mikael and I are on opposite sides of the great divide, that line that represents a gulf between those beautiful, popular Cycle Chic cyclists captured by Mr Coleville Andersen and the rest of us –  the dorks in helmets.

My friends must have known it all along, though I stubbornly clung to visions of one day exemplifying Chic-ness. But it was always an impossible dream, helmets aside.

You see, Mr Mikael Cycle Chic founded the slow bicycle movement in an effort to encourage more riders out and onto the roads; I can see how slow riding might be a great way to not hit your head hard on the pavement.  If everyone rides in super safe bike lanes ever so verrrrrrrrry slowly, then I can see a good case for riding without a helmet, for sure. In fact, the first tenant of the manifesto is:  "I choose to cycle chic and, at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed."

I just can’t do it.  Sorry. I do choose style (every day, if not always in the best of taste) but I just can’t ride slowly.  As soon as I get on a bike, my inner Wilma takes over, and I have a powerful, driving, irrepressible urge to go as fast as humanly possible. It’s a serious character flaw, for sure, but it is what it is, and that’s just the way it is.  I don't want to race the other riders out there on the roads,  I just want to go very fast, and to be a faster rider tomorrow than I am today, because damned it, it feels sooooooo good. 

Then there's "I will ride with grace, elegance and dignity." Ha!  I WISH!!  Again with the impossible dream. Not only am I a world class nerd, but I have been known to be a little clumsy on occasion, too.  (Dear friends, please don't give yourselves whiplash nodding so violently.) This is what I looked like a few days after the last time I took a tumble off my bike:

nerds are us

Just for the record, even though I wasn't travelling at any real speed at the time of this accident, I went over the handlebars and whiplashed my head into the road.  I was happy to be wearing a helmet that day, because there is no way I could have ridden away from that little mishap the way I did without help up.  Which is NOT to say that everyone is like me. (Blessed be.) Plenty of people (Cycle Chic people) ride safely, slowly, gracefully and with dignity and those people never, ever bounce their heads off the road.

Also for the record:  of course cycling is a very safe thing to do, especially if you are one of the above mentioned graceful, dignified, slow riders who always abides by the next point:

"I will respect the traffic laws." Yikes. As a girl who has been pulled over for speeding on her bike, and who has received a ticket for failure to obey a red light (I did stop first!) perhaps it's best if I stay mum on this one.  

Come to think of it, I am probably one of the reasons motorists don't much like cyclists.  Um.  Oh dear...  (Awkward!) 



Moving along...

This next one's fun:  "I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle." I like this on two fronts:  one, I have an appreciation for really nice bikes, and two, I love pretty clothes.  Do you think Jimmy Choo would do a shoe with cleats for girls who like to go really fast in safety shoes?

I'd love to lay eyes on the person upstaging their Aurumania Limited Edition Solid Gold bike.  Who am I kidding?  I would love to BE that person!  Not that I'm ostentatious, or anything.  I just love pretty, shiny things....


Despite our vast differences, however, there are a few crucial points Mr Mikael Cycle Chic and I most definitely agree upon.  First, and most importantly, we both have an interest in seeing you, dear reader, on a bike.  Helmet or no, this world will be a much better place when more people park their cars and hop on their bikes.  

Second.  The manifesto states:  "I am aware that my mere presence in said urban landscape will inspire others without me being labelled as a 'bicycle activist'" and that makes me very happy, because I've been riding my life for twenty-five years, and when I see so many cyclists out on the roads, I can feel good that I have contributed toward leaving the world a better place to live in, too.

Third. I am with him 100% in believing that we all share a sacred responsibility when it comes to creating a beautiful world. I love this: "I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape."  After all, Keats called it like it is when he penned " Beauty is truth, truth beauty.  That's all ye know in life, and all ye need to know."  

The final, most salient point which we absolutely and most definitely agree on is that cycling is really good for your sex life.  So there you have it, folks:  independent confirmation that if you get on your bike every day, you will have waaaaaay more sex.  Not that you will need any kind of verification once you are committed to life in the bike lane.  

Don't believe me?  Join us and see...  :)