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.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Our turn has come.

We're winning. There's a revolution going on, and no matter how you spin it, cyclists are bound to come out on top.
Ask any motorist what they think of cyclists, and almost inevitably they will go on a tirade about how we are all law flouting maniacs responsible for chaos and mayhem on their well ordered streets. Rare is the driver who is even aware of the mistakes they make behind the wheel, errors which may result in life altering injuries for any cyclist unfortunate enough to be in their path. But don't bring it up, because sacred is their right to drive.

And even though we are scorned, resented, and even sometimes hated  by ever so many motorists (self evident when you read the comments on any article about cycling in any publication), we are definitely on the right side of history. That's why cyclists can rest assured that a two wheeled way of life will be embraced by an ever growing number of people as time marches inexorably on. Our interests will be protected, even promoted by a growing number of governing bodies all over the globe. Here in Vancouver, where a progressive city council has embraced cycling infrastructure, despite the vociferous objections of many of the wealthiest, and thus most influential, people in town, the number of cyclists has dramatically increased in recent years. And that's a good thing, because along with the uptick in the number of cyclists comes a reduction in the number of automobiles congesting our city streets. And no matter how much you might hate me, dear motorist, you can't help but like seeing fewer cars on the road in front of you, and one more vacant parking spot when you do finally decide to stop.

Yep. It's a good thing that there are more and more of us on the roads. Why? OMG, can you imagine the gridlock if we continued to worship the motoring way of life the way we have for decades on end now? Vancouver is projected to grow by more than a million people over the next twenty five years. Already our streets are amongst the most congested in North America, and as we have a geography clearly defined and limited by both the mountains and the sea, that isn't about to change any time soon. There simply isn't the room for a million more cars. Crossing 16th Avenue on a Sunday morning is an exercise in patience, so don't bother even trying it in the middle of rush hour.

And here's the kicker: The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation readily spent $2.6 BILLION dollars building the new Port Mann Bridge. When it opened, it was the widest bridge in the world, with a whole ten lanes of trafic, and it was and remains the second longest cable stayed bridge in North America. The only problem is that it has done nothing to ease congestion in the city, except for in the area immediately preceeding the bridge. So far, the only thing this investment has accomplished is to move congestion from one side of the river to the other. It has also increased the traffic on the next crossing, the Pattullo Bridge, which was a nightmare even before people started using it to avoid paying the Port Mann toll. The Patullo was built in the 1930's, with very narrow lanes, and awkward approaches, and because the bridge was never built to handle today's big trucks, many of them need to take two lanes just to get onto the bridge. It's a mess. But don't worry, the Ministry of Transportation is willing to spend another billion dollars or so to build a bridge in New Westminister, too.

 The Now
Do you know what they're not prepared to do? They won't invest in transit. Nope. Nothing. De Nada. Zilch. Even though this government will happily drop billions of dollars to build bridges, (which only postpones the inevitable) it refuses to spend anything on sustainable development. What. A shocker. So the only way that residents of the Lower Mainland are going to see an improvement in the kinds of infrastructure which WILL create more liveable cities is if they pay for it themselves. That's right.
No spending on transit unless we the citizens vote yes on a referendum asking whether we will accept a 0.5% sales tax increase to fund the development.

 WTF? A 180 fork alignment!

It's all bass ackward. But then I expect very little from our government, what with its prioritization of the extraction and promotion of fossil fuels and its complete and utter lack of initiative when it comes to developing sustianable energy systems to see us into the future. No. This government is wedded to the past, with its prehistoric energy policies and will not budge till it, too, goes the way of the dinosaur. Our Premier, Christy Clark, is a bright little shadow of Stephen Harper, whom Pulitzer prize winning Chris Hedges recently declared a corporate puppet. And please, give me one shred of evidence that it isn't so. Each and every one of the grave mistakes made during the Bush administration, is happening here and now, in a Canada unrecognisable to those of us who like to think of our collective native land as the True North Strong and Free. The devolution of Canadian politics is happening at an alarming rate, with the underfunding of health care, the dismantling of social programs, the criminalization of poverty and the militarization of police forces all echoing and mirroring the decline of civilization in America. Let's not even mention the illegal war you'll find Canadian soldiers waging over in Syria. (Yes, of course ISIS is pure evil, but our being there with no end plan only strengthens their ability to recruit our youth.) And in the name of Homeland Security, the conservative government just passed bill C-51, laying waste to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sigh. Where are the mass protests which ought to be happening in every city across the country??!

Yes, Hedges has a lot to say, in fact, but the biggest take away I got from listening to his interview on The Current this week is that America (and by extension Canada, too, with its corporation-serving administration) is in the grips of a protofacist movement dating back generations and gaining exponential strength today. Hedges goes even further. He says that America is on the road to revolution, and he incites us all to defiance and protest, claiming that we are morally obliged to stop our government (s) from continuing on this path of absolute unfettered domination and destruction.

Hear. Hear. He's right.

And guess what? You don't even have to take up arms to take back your country. The best thing about waging war on a corporatocracy is that the most powerful weapon of all is in your pocket. You use it every day. It's your wallet! Here in Vancouver, growing number of us are choosing not to buy in to the bullshit. You don't actually NEED to drive everywhere you go, despite what you've been taught to believe. Do you wanna to know why I call it the bike path to world peace?

It's simple. When you ride where you need to go, rather than drive, you're happy. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine? Those are your brain's happy drugs, and they're yours for the making when you choose two wheels over four. So you're happy, and suddenly you're healthy, too, because all of that movement boosts your immune system and your sex drive, and actually slows the ageing process. (Does that look like a woman approaching the half way mark? I will turn 50 next year, but bikes keep me young and if it works for me, it will work for you.) And cycling does wonders for your legs, too, not to mention your butt. So. You're happy healthy, and hot, and suddenly you've got more money in your pocket, too, cause you're not donating it to the oil and gas industry, (already in receipt of unbelievable subsidies, so you can feel good about it on every level). If that's not a recipe for love, please tell me what is! Suddenly, you've got a great sex life going on, et voila. Your happy, healthy brain is saturated with oxytocin, the brain's love drug. What does that mean? It means that you see people as more loving and trustworthy, and concurrently you act in a more loving and trustworthy way. You see where this is going, don't you? If everyone rode a bike when and where they could, we'd be enjoying world peace in no time.

Quick. Somebody buy our leaders a bike, so we won't have to hold any more silly referendums to fund what ought to come natually to us all. Of course there will always be a time and a place for cars, and a good reason to drive here and there, but the daily commute isn't it. Sustainable cities - you know, places where people live and work in the same community, and where everything needed for daily living is close at hand? It's the way of the future, no doubt about it. Whether our governments see the truth of their own volition - or whether we need to be firm in our resistance - is yet to be seen, but here in Vancouver, at least, there's a beautiful, soft light at the end of the tunnel. The revolution has begun.

Monday, 4 May 2015

May the Fourth Be With You.

You could be forgiven for thinking that summer had arrived in Vancouver. The snow is all gone, and the beach volleyballers are volleyballing on the beach. Oh wait! We never had any snow this year.

But wait again! Now that the nets are up, now that spring is well past sprung and now that the ski slopes are long closed? Yeah, NOW there's snow on them there hills.

You see that right there? That's whatchacall the contrary nature of life. And the signs of life are everywhere. The bears have come out of hibernation up in the mountains, and have come to town to visit, so you know that winter is well and truly over. The humans have come out to play, too. You'll find the signs of the season everywhere.

Longboards that were long languishing in condo closets are now prominently present on the promenade.

And all of the vacuous vehicles are out on proud display. The owner of this baby might easily have been the guy who offered to buy the Shaugnessy mansion at list price to store his car collection.

Though I don't think much of his taste in vehicles, you've gotta give him points for matching his shoes to his ride.

And speaking of scoring points... a few people were playing croquet on the lawn, and they had the balls to offer me a drink to join them in their game. How wicket! 

Just a little way away, another group of people tried to rope me into joining them. I TOLD them I'm not a well balanced person, but they were having none of it.

If anyone needed a helmet in a situation like this...
"Just toe the line," they said. "Try and be modest, because pride comes before a fall, you know." 

Ha!  Lol!! And don't I know it! Can you think of anyone who's had more experience with falling, except maybe that guy in the seventies... what was his name again? Evel Knievel. Despite all of his falls and mishaps, though, that man had a lot more going on in his head than me, cause he managed to get paid for his efforts, whereas I simply appear to be dain bramaged.

It doesn't take a lot of reflection to see that beautiful weather means that everybody's out doing the things they love most...

Naturally. Some of us enjoy our favourite pursuits year round, and while some pursuits are winter specific, many outdoor activities are for fairweather Freds.

I am committed to riding my bikes year round, because the correlation between activity and happiness is painfully obvious to me, but most people don't see it the same way, and so you will notice an explosion in the number of bikes out and about this time of year. 

And for many people, bad weather makes pursuing their passions impossible. After all, the Inuit might enjoy a paddle in icy cold waters, but most people prefer to have feeling in their limbs. But now, with the warm sunshine's arrival, the outrigger canoes and the dragonboats are freed from their winter hiatus.

Let's face it.

It might not be strip-down-to-your-bikini-and-sit-on-the-beach weather just yet, but the signs of the season are everywhere. It's funny. No matter how happy you might be to see the days shorten toward the holidays, that's a feeling that quickly wears off, because everybody loves a warm, sunny day.

Wouldn't it be lovely if every day were ripe with the promise of an endless summer in front of you? Don't scoff, but anything's possible, you know. Canada has just created its first "Dementia Village" based on the Hogewey project in Holland, where dementia patients live in a true to life fantasyland, a protected, sheltered, staged small town which simulates ordinary life, even as it keeps them safe and contained.  I want to live there now!

If I lived in a dementia village, I might be able to forget the truth, which is easily and conveniently summed up thus: 

And upon further reflection, there is no-where I would rather be than with my head firmly buried in the sand. Between the wholesale destruction of our natural world, and the criminal undertakings propping up the global financial arena, this particular Monday the Fourth of May is a dark day indeed, despite the bright sunshine and the approaching summer season.

ER... did that statue just exhale?!
But maybe you can see a light at the end of the tunnel - maybe you know something which has completely eluded me...? Is there a solution to the crisis fast approaching which my poor, addled brain has completely missed? If so, please do let me know. In the mean time, I need to seek some peace of mind, so you'll find me on my bike, pedalling my way to a place of serenity, and praying for an answer.

May the Fourth Be With you, dear friends, because sooner than later, we're all going to need it.