Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Your ticket to ride.

It's that time of year again: Bike to Work Week is happening in cities everywhere. And finally, you're ready to give it a shot. You've thought about it long and hard, and this is it, you're going to give it a go. Wise choice!

Your body, your mind, your bank account, and your municipality will all thank you. And despite what you've undoubtedly heard other drivers say about cyclists, they will thank you, too, because you represent One Less Car on the roads in front of them. You're not willing to pay through the nose to park your car every day, and even with the price of oil scraping rock bottom, the price at the pumps is still exhorbitant. The cost of taking transit is not exactly easy on the pocket, either, and it leaves you at the mercy of outages, delays, and the occasional out and out fail. Once you've finally caught the bus you're hoping for, you're crammed into a tight space with a bunch of strangers and potential predators. What fun.

Mike McArthur via the CBC
And then you see those hipster kids out there on their bikes, smiling like they haven't a care in the world. It's not just kids, either. All sorts of people are riding these days, and if they can do it, so can you. And you're ready. It's time.

You probably have an old ten speed

or a mountain bike

sitting in the garage or in the basement. Drag it out. Pump up the tires, grease the chain and hop on. And before you take up the commuting challenge, give it a test run.  If you're really going to commit yourself to a new way of life, it's important that you're comfortable and well prepared, and naturally, it starts with what you're riding. 

The Guardian: In defense of MAMILS
You've surely seen a lot of middle aged men in lycra (M.A.M.I.L.s) out on the roads, specially during this time of year, and you've seen your fair share of mountain bikes out and about, too. Both of those types of bike has a specific purpose, and while they're ideally suited for the task at hand, they might not make the best commuting bike. But it isn't always necessary to spend a lot of money before you've given it a go. The most important thing to consider when you're planning to commute is your comfort. So dig the bike out of the garage or the basement, and give it a spin. Does it still fit you?

If you've an old mountain bike kicking about, it probably has knobby tires, which are ideally suited for climbing steep dirt trails, but they're noisy, and pretty heavy, too. That means that you will be spending more energy moving the bike than you have to. You might want to consider changing the wide, knobby tires on your mountian bike to a slimmer pair of slicks, to decrease your rolling resistance. Because why work any harder than you have to? 

And speaking of workloads: backpacks are the bane of easy commuting. There are a few items you will want to consider purchasing to simplify your ride, and chief amongst them is a rack, if your bike doesn't have it, along with a good bag. 

So many times I've heard people say "Oh I couldn't ride to work! I'd be too sweaty when I got there!" Two things: first of all, many buildings have a gym or a shower room for employees, but even if there isn't a shower available, you can always do a simple wipe down should you find your ride a vigorous one. And most people drive less than five kilometers, so after a few weeks, you won't even break out a sweat. But also (and second) leaving a little early and taking it easy on the way to the job will take the edge off. And packing your belongings into a bag instead of hauling them on your back will eliminate the soaked and sweaty back issue. Plus, and this is huge: backpacks will multiply your discomfort, especially if you've not ridden much for a good few years. Failing that, you can do what lovely Katie Poon (of I Fucking Love Fitness fame) does: haul your week's worth of clothes to work on Monday, and bring it all back again on Friday. That way, all but two of your ten rides that week will be comfortable. And it is a great strategy if you're riding a high end road bike which won't take a rack. But most bikes do, and many clever commuters take advantage of them.

A favourite: my waterproof laptop bag.
The other items you'll want are fenders, or at least you definitely will want them if you're a Vancouverite. And although a little fender over your back wheel will protect your butt fromt that tell-tale black stripe up your back, they do have several short comings. Soon as I started riding in a group in the off season, somebody politely requested that I get a set of courtesy fenders. That's a long fender with a mud flap attached at the end of it, so that the end of the flap is just a few inches off the ground. 

Bea Bike's rusty front fender and trusty mud flap.
The reason for this is that the water sprays up from the wheel much like a lovely rooster tail, and unless you're sporting a full fender and flap, that spray will end up in the eyes of whomsoever is directly behind you. And the faster you're moving, the harder and higher it sprays. The same is true of the front wheel, which means that if you're riding to work in a pair of shoes or some clothes you actually like when it starts to rain, then your front fender and mud flap will protect everything from the dirty water spraying up from the road.

Bell and folded Abus lock
You will of course want a lock. Do not rely on a cable lock, except perhaps to lock a nice saddle to your frame, (though even then, I prefer a bike chain.) No. Cable locks are an invitation to bike thieves. A U-lock is fairly effective, and the heftier it is, the more protection it provides. I like the Abus folding lock, cause it's sturdy, but not too weighty. Bea bike, the Amsterdam Royale already weighs sixty pounds before panniers, so every little bit helps.

And a simple, handy, and inexpensive addition to your cockpit is a bell. Some people just use their voices, calling out "On your left," as they approach another cyclist, or a pedestrian, to overtake them from behind. One well known local whistles a simple little riff instead. I love that, cause it's friendly, and effective - more so than shouting - and it's always well received. I would do it myself, except I can't really whistle, at least not well enough to get the job done!

One last thing before you set out: lights. You don't want to be out after dark without a decent set of lights on your bike.

It's summer now, or at least it is up here in the northern hemisphere (!) so you won't often need to use them, but it's still a good idea to have lights on hand. Some people ride with their lights switched on all of the time, (and those that do inevitably seem to have the front light permanently set to the worst possible epileptic strobe) but most of us just use them when the weather's inclement, or once the sun has gone down. But even if you rarely need them this time of year it's great to have them, just in case you want to catch the late show with friends.

K. So you're ready to rock'n'roll. You've given the bike a test ride, so you know it's tuned and running smoothly. You've got a rack, bag, fenders, lock, bell and lights and now all that's left is to give it a go. You've likely driven or taken transit to work for years, and so you know the way like the back of your hand, but sit might still be a good idea to take some time to test ride your route. The roads you've always chosen as the most efficient way to travel in a car are probably not the same, best choice for when you're on your bike.

There's a distinct subset of cyclists who don't like bicycle infrastructure, believing instead that since we're vehicles, we simply need to act like vehicles, and all will be well. While it's true that as vehicles we have every right to be on the road with all of the other vehicles, a cyclist doesn't have thousands of pounds of steel round them to protect them in the event of an accident, so we need to take extra precautions in order to stay safe.

Still. There may be times when you'll choose to ride with traffic on a road without cycle-specific infrastructure. When you do, it's important to be visible and predictable. You are entitled to half a lane wherever you are, and a motorist is obliged to give you a meter's clearance when they pass you.

Also, there are instances where you are entitled to take the entire lane. For example, if you are riding down a hill and are moving at the speed of traffic, it is better to take the lane than to ride too close to the edge of the road, where you have less room to manoever should you need to dodge something in the road. Motorists will generally give you as much room as you take for yourself. So if you are riding in traffic, make sure you ride a foot or two from the edge of the curb so that motorists will give you your half lane minimum when they pass. If you ride right on the very edge of the lane, motorists will be tempted to speed to overtake you within the lane, leaving you in a situation where you are in tight quarters at high speed - a recipe for disaster. So be confident and take your place on the road.

But more and more, there are alternatives to travelling in traffic. When you're planning your route, keep in mind the bike infrastructure in your area.  Most common, though at the same time, the least protective of the options are Bike Routes.

These are simply roads with bike pictures painted on the asphalt, and bike route signs posted along the way. Generally they also have reduced speed limits, though only a percentage of motorists actually abide by the limits. And it's not generally a large percentage of them, either. It's important that you remember to always give yourself three feet of distance from parked cars, too, because you don't want to win the door prize.

Most cyclists also drive, and so of course we don't want to annoy the drivers we are sharing the roads with. But if you do ride right beside parked cars in an effort to stay out of the flow of traffic, sooner or later you will be doored, and if you either swerve out into traffic to avoid hitting the door, or get thrown out into traffic by getting hit by the door, the end result is nasty. You do have the right to safe passage on the roads, and so don't be afraid to take the lane and stay out of the door zone, even if it means that traffic has to slow to go around you. But then, on a route like that, traffic is supposed to be moving slowly, for safety's sake, so don't cave to pressure to ride right next to parked cars to allow traffic to move faster. Motorists can always use thoroughfares if they need to speed. And they will. But more and more, a cyclist has options which give them the freedom to move safely, bypassing those busy streets.

The Burrard St bridge infrastructure was a long time coming, and even so, it was resoundley rejected the first time the city tried to install a bike lane on it. But we cyclists persisted in cycling, and the city eventually figured out how to accomodate us, so that now the bridge is the most used piece of bicycling infrastructure in the city.

And if you take a look online, you will find a route planning website which will allow you to make the best use of your city's cycling infrastructure.

We're lucky here in Vancouver to have some excellent infrastructure, with long routes of protected, separated bike lanes that allow a cyclist to travel safely through some of the busiest neighbourhoods in the city.

But it didn't just happen. It took a community of cyclists all determined to live a better lifestyle, and undaunted in the face of the loud opposition of people in denial of the unsustainability of the car-centric city. Chances are that wherever you are, your municipality has embraced cycling to some extent, because the benefits to the municipality of establishing that sort of infrastructure are well documented and undeniable. Get on it. Make use of it. Not only will your life look and feel better, but at the same time, you will be contributing to creating a beautiful, sustainable, liveable community. You'll glad you did.


  1. babs all in white and high heels riding a bike....yum yum!

    We just had out bike to work week here in Canada's butthole. I really didn't notice any more bikes, but I did notice a sharp uptick in free beer events put on by our local advocacy group.

    1. Wow! Free beer works for me! Round these parts, you're more likely to get a free coffee in the morning, and I can't touch the stuff. XX

    2. yeah! Once a month they do a handlebar happy hour where they get a guest speaker (this past one was a mayor of one of the suburbs) with free beer and wings. For National Bike Month the same group showed Breaking Away with free beer....which I unfortunately missed, but they had two kegs left over so they had a "kick the keg" party at a local brewery - free beer until the kegs were empty. I did my due diligence and took one to go (spill proof coffee cup) but I am not sure how close they came.

    3. I am exceptionally diligent, though unfortunately my skills and talents are rarely needed, at least not in their true capacity.

  2. il Pirata est Mort26 May 2015 at 11:33

    Ms Babs your Vancouver bike infrastructure makes NYC bike lanes look like paved over hell.

    1. It's beyond beautiful here, though according to The Economist, it's as boring as hell. Guess they don't ride bikes, cause I love this town.

  3. I am finally seeing a little improvement in my commute. In gear selection and overall time.

    NYC needs the epileptic strobe! Too much distraction going on.


    1. Lol! Noooo! The epileptic strobe is a distraction unto itself! The worst of distractions, cause it's hard to focus on the road in the face of such blinding light.
      I am happy to hear that it's getting easier... funny how that works! I find that if I choose one gear lower than I naturally would, it helps my spin. MashersRus. Also, I can't believe how many people don't shift down as they're coming to a stop. They wouldn't try to start their car in fourth or fifth gear, so why do they try to start their bike in a high gear??!

    2. I have to give Ms. Velouria of Lovely Bicycle credit for making me remember to play out my lower gears a little more. Yes, I definitely ensure to shift to starting gear at the red light. It's good for the Cat 6 Shoaloff at the green.

      Great to hear about your win!


    3. She totally rocks. I love her blog. She has a gift for storytelling... the "Bad Habits" post gave me a good belly laugh, because what cyclist hasn't been there in some way, shape or form?

  4. Enjoyed the post. Did you get the pic of the wise old owl? Saddlebag pic, like the way you suddlely worked your tush into the shot.

    1. Check out "Lovely Bicycle" post of February 23, 2015, "Creatures of the Night". And I love the illustration she did for the post. Hey, she's a Ginger, I want to date her.

    2. She's hot, simple as that. And she's a talented artist, too, and sharp as a whip. Any guy would be lucky... only isn't she with someone? Still. It doesn't hurt to dream, does it?

  5. Oi, that's not a "commuting bike". Oh sorry, seems to do the job. Works pretty well as an "exercise bike" too.
    Because I don't have a "commuting bike", with a nice rack, I use a backpack. Makes it easier to bunny hop kerbs and traffic islands. The weight on my back means I need to be a bit more careful with wheelies though or I risk modifying my butt and smashing my laptop.
    I do have a bell, the ding ding has become the universal "get out of my way" noise; and the Freds love it as I buzz past them with the whirrr of my knobby tyres and my baggy clothes flapping in the wind. The vast majority of my route is off road bike tracks, easements, and parks. All found with trial and error. It's important to refine your route, or even have an alternate route, or routes. For example, a route that went past a free beer stand would be a great route.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Right?? I keep hoping! Not a lot of free beer in Canada. We probably have the most provincial liquor laws in the world, so you won't see beer or wine outside of licenced restaurants, pubs, or clubs. Well... apparently things are about to change, but so far the only thing our newly revised laws have adjusted are the prices. Upward by about 15%.

      You are absolutely correct. The route has everything to do with how much fun it is to commute. And lol!! I hear you! The freds love getting passed by a chick in heels on a heavy as fuck city bike, too. Heh heh. I certainly have the advantage on the downhill, much as you likely do on an incline.

      What IS a commuting bike? The bike you choose to commute with! And if you're commuting off road, then knobbies are perfectly suited to your needs. I admire your ability to ride with a pack every day, Mr Neal. I did so for years, but these days any sort of significant weight on my shoulders leaves me in pain. I do like my panniers. :)

    3. Harry + Ms. Babbleness,

      I use a messenger bag for my 11 mile ride. Has office casual clothes, Kryptonite NYC Foggetaboutit Lock + chain, seat cable, 2 tubes, assorted multi tools (I should really get down to one!), a folded tyre, tire levers, Topeak Road Morph pump, chain tool, spoke wrench, other things I forgot. I like to think the messenger bag keeps me in the saddle more to concentrate on a round pedal stroke. And when I am free of the 18-20 pounds on my back it's almost like I can fly!

      Bea Bike . . . I can't get over the guy who kept up with us on the Snob ride with a Raleigh Sports 3 speed. I know their highest gear is pretty tall but the All Steel Bicycle is pretty weighty. I have a 1956 Schwinn Corvette 3 speed I'd like to put toe clips on and use for a while. I just have an aversion to keeping it locked up outside in NYC.
      Happy Friday!


    4. So I have no trouble at all keeping up with fast freds on the downhill, and on the straight away, once I've gotten up to speed. The physics is clear: a heavy bike only makes a difference when you're accelerating off the back of the pack, and when you're climbing. Otherwise it actually makes no difference whatsoever how much weight you're carrying. And every pound helps on the downhill, to exactly the same extent that it slows you on the uphill. Three speed guy is fairly slight of stature, so he wouldn't have suffered on the climbs the way you or I might have.

      Thank you for the Fondon't album. I am just about to tackle a project for one of the local bike shops, but a post about a Vancouver Fondon't is on my mind. I am going to use those photos for that purpose in a few weeks. If only I could do without a solid seven or eight hours sleep whilst training, I might be able to post as often as I like. Now I am spending more time on the bike AND more time in bed fast asleep, so my time is doubly taxed.

  6. I meant to comment earlier but I had no time-- thanks for the plug my dear! I'm actually selling my Cannondale / commuter bike so now it's down to one bike for leisurely rides and commutes but oh well! Btw, I've seen you around town a few times in a dress on your beautiful white bike. You always look so carefree and gorgeous!