Regular People Doing Regular Things on Bikes

Do you wear regular clothes?

Yes, I know: That’s a meaningless question. You’d expect a person’s wardrobe to vary based on their job, their leisure activities, and their personal style. 

But this sort of question seems to be a thing among certain cycling circles these days. There is, understandably, and attempt to normalize urban cycling, to depict it as a regular thing people do to get to work or buy groceries, instead of a fringe activity indulged in by crazed bicycle couriers and die-hard athletes in branded lycra. And I get it: There are a lot of stereotypes about cyclists, and combatting them is an important part of building safe infrastructure and letting cars & bikes get along on the streets.

But increasingly, this argument seems to take an elitist, judgemental tone; in seeking to make cycling mainstream, it attempts to mainstream all cyclists.

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What car commercials can teach us about bicycles

How do you get more people to give up their cars and ride bikes?

Danish cycling advocate Andreas Rohl attended the Ontario Bike Summit last week, and as a representative of a city with quite a lot of bicycle usage, he had a few things to say on the subject. In the National Post, he said:

“I like to say we have no cyclists in Copenhagen. We have citizens who use bikes to get from A to B.” Continue reading →

Making Safe Cycling Laws Meaningful

With a provincial election in the fall, Ontario politicians are starting to line up their platforms. Yesterday, NDP leader Andrea Horwath unveiled her party’s environmental policies, and most of the attention seems to have gone to a proposal that would require drivers to give cyclists at least one meter when passing.

It’s not a new idea – 19 America states have a similar law. But while “passing at a safe distance” is the sort of thing most people can get behind, it’s hard to say how much the law is needed, or how effective it might be.

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Making Up Facts: Not just for mayors any more

Making Shit Up is the new standard for getting things done in Toronto. If you’ve got an issue, there’s no need for things like research or facts. You can just make up claims, and apparently many media outlets will print them, regardless of any actual connections to reality.

First, we have this letter to the editor clamoring for bicycle licensing:

My fine for causing an accident like that to Ms Nedobi would be steep, both monetary and point-wise. My insurance would increase and I would have to compensate the victim, yet the cyclists get away with minor conviction, if any.

This is particularly funny because The Star just ran an article a month ago about how careless driving penalties are lightweight whether you’re in a car or on a bike. Remember: The Highway Traffic Act applies equally to cars and bicycles in most cases.

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How Dangerous is Riding a Bike?

Helmets credited for drop in cycling head injuries. That seems like an obvious story, right? As Greg Webster, director of primary healthcare information for the Canadian Institute for Health Information says, “it intuitively makes sense.”

But intuitively, it made sense that the sun orbited the Earth, because that’s what you see when you have a limited perspective or are only looking at a certain set of facts. There are two pieces of compelling data in the study:

  • There were 4,325 cycling-related injuries in 2009-10, compared to 4,332 eight years earlier. Meantime, the number of cycling-related head injuries stood at 665 last year, compared to 907 in 2001-2002.
  • Among the most severe cycling injury admissions of the past decade (those requiring admission to a special trauma centre), 78% of those hospitalized with a head injury were not wearing a helmet when their injury occurred

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On the Subject of Bikes, Cars, Pedestrians, and The Law

In my experience, cyclists have three approaches to the rules of the road:

  • Fully obey all laws all the time. These people are very rare.
  • Cautious rule breakers: They may not follow the exact letter of the law, but still remain considerate and aware. This is where things like the Idaho Stop comes in: They may not come to a complete stop at every stop sign, but they’ll approach the intersection with caution, yield to any traffic or pedestrian with the right of way, and then proceed. This group represents the overwhelming majority of cyclists, as well as the majority of drivers, pedestrians, and human beings in general.
  • Don’t give a fuck: These cyclists ignore signs and lights, have no understanding of the rules of the road, and are most likely to be perceived as jackasses by everyone around them.

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The Magical Powers of Bicycle Licenses

In the wake of a serious cyclist-pedestrian collision, concerned and non-wheeled citizens across Toronto are wondering how they can protect themselves from aggressive, negligent, and careless cyclists. Many of them are coming up with very stupid ideas.

Sun Columnist Michele Mandel had this to say about the power of bicycle licenses:

Maybe then they would take the rules of the road more seriously. Maybe then they would think twice before they mow down a pedestrian while riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

That’s some wishful thinking.

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I Do Not Want to Hit a Pedestrian

I don’t want to hit you with my bike.

This is not because I’m a nice guy who cares about other people. It’s because I’m selfish, I like my bike, and I don’t enjoy pain.

Riding a bicycle is a simple but precarious act. Gravity says you probably shoudn’t remain upright while balanced on two skinny rubber tires, but your muscles and sense of balance insist that you do. I’d be hard pressed to explain exactly how I keep from falling over, but I do it nonetheless.

But any cyclist knows that balance, that magical zen state of inertia, can be easily interrupted. When I was a (very stupid) kid, I proudly rode around showing off how I could ride with No Hands. Nowadays, after a couple close calls with potholes and bumps, I try to keep both hands on the bars as much as possible.

Which leads us to this: If I run into a pedestrian on my bike, I expect to fall off. I expect the impact of hitting another person would knock off my balance, jar my handlebars or front wheel, and throw me towards the pavement.

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Cycle Geek: Ride Your Bike Like a Dork and Have Fun Doing It

If you look around Toronto, you’ll see a wide variety of people on bikes. Many ride whatever was cheapest and available, be it a hand-me-down, used bike, or Canadian Tire junker. Others have more specific tastes that run into the thousands of dollars.

There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to cycling, so let me get some of my personal preferences out of the way: I like going fast. The longer your ride, the less practical a casual pace becomes. I love the fact that I can often travel faster than the TTC over medium distances.  I like long rides, and the longer you ride in Toronto, the more likely you are to run into some hills.

Needless to say, the prospect of riding a heavy Dutch-style bike offers no appeal to me whatsoever. Ditto a fixed-gear bike: I suppose it’s great for keeping maintenance costs low and getting around downtown, but I want some different gearing options when faced with a hill.

But I don’t judge. I may sigh inside when I see a bike with a chain in dire need of oil or a seat that’s far too low, but everyone has their own thing. And once you move into the more expensive range of bikes, it’s probably safe to say that it’s been chosen for in response to the rider’s specific tastes.

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Why Not Wear a Bike Helmet?

I don’t care if you ride a bicycle helmet.

Helmets are a ridiculously divisive issue, and it seems like many people pick their corner and defend it at all costs, no matter how ridiculous their arguments become. I don’t think you’re reckless just because you don’t wear one, nor will I laud you for setting a positive example to mankind if you do. I probably won’t notice one way or the other.

On the other hand, many of the arguments people take against helmets are naive at best, and laughable at worst. It’s your own business if you don’t want to wear a helmet, but getting bogged down in rhetoric doesn’t make anyone any safer. Continue reading →