If the Danes can do it, why can’t Montrealers?

I know there are some Montreal winter cyclists, but not a lot. I’ve been putting my bike away each fall because it seems … risky. But look at this! Next year, will I become a winter cyclist? I dunno yet, but it’s something I’m really seriously thinking about.



Reading: David V. Herlihy

I just started reading _Bicycle_, written by David V. Herlihy and am fascinated by a few facts I did not know previously. For example:

  • women took to cycling very early on, “forcing reforms in the rigid Victorian dress code as had no other pastime” (3)
  • the cycling trade launched the Good Roads Movement culminating in a great national network of highways and became the foundation for the automotive industry (4)
  • the advanced techniques for mass producing the amazingly popular bicycle were readily adopted and applied to automobile production (4)
  • Bicycle repair shops evolved into the first gas stations (5)
  • Wilbur and Orville Wright owned a bicycle repair shop and used bicycles to conduct their first wind tunnel experiments and in 1903, built the Wright Flyer in their workshop using the same tools and materials (5)
  • by the 1920s and 1930s, touring by bicycle had become popular in Europe (in the States, and presumably Canada, cycling was considered to be a child’s activity until the Great Depression saw many people turn to bicycles as a cheap and functional means of transport) (7-8)

I’ve only read the pre-history, but already I’ve come to appreciate cycling in new ways. Get the book! You won’t be sorry…

there is a season…

Autumn never fails to put me in awe of what it means to be alive. Even in this most urban of settings, we are aware of the fall as the time of harvest. The signs are everywhere: pumpkin, squash, potatoes, pears, apples, falling leaves and cooling temperatures, early evenings…. This awareness of the life-giving bounty of the harvest juxtaposed with the browning of once-green plants and scurry of animals hurrying to stock up food for the coming winter … this is the season that, for me, most profoundly embodies the full spectrum of the cycle of life. I know. I am aware of the purple state of my prose, of the fact that all that I am feeling and am about to say has been felt and said before, but I cannot help it. This is what this season does to me. It makes me acutely aware of the passage of time on a broad scale and the passage of my own life on a very personal scale – that even as all things reach their prime, myself included, they – we, I – also begin the slow descent into oblivion.

But this is not a season of sadness, it is a time to celebrate passages and extremes — the warmth which gives way to cold, the slow transition from the light of long summer evenings to dusky afternoons, the way the vibrant green of plants trees waxes into the dusky browns, reds, and golds. In spring, when all things are new, our thoughts and our vision are forward looking. The world is newly formed, and the future and all the promise it holds is before us. In fall, the world around us begins fade and decay. Everything is shutting down, hibernating, going to sleep, dying. Our focus is not on the future, but rather on the cyclical nature of our world – the revolution of day and night, the cycle of the four seasons, the spinning of the earth on it’s axis, the yearly revolution of the earth around the sun, the spinning of our galaxy, the expansion of this universe, sparkling new galaxies and black holes, life and death …

This season brings to mind all the rhythms of the world, big and small – monthly tides, seasonal weather shifts, yearly squalls and storms. Shifts in our own work and life patterns in keeping with the shorter days and longer nights, the way the changing seasons reflect the human experience, how childhood gives way to youth and then adulthood, and finally old age, and the ways in which all our loves and desires and fears and hopes shape and are shaped by our experiences along the way.

It’s all so huge. I feel both humbled and inspired by it all. I am in one minute full of joy and wonder and in the next, astounded and in awe. I find myself in a moment of fullness and in a stillness that both terrifies and thrills me. It is a time of comfort and plenty. It is a time of endings. Every autumn. All my life. This season is my constant, my core, the quiet space between my beginning and my end, the breath between that moment when I am everything and I am nothing. It feels like home. And so I welcome it with open arms.

Summertime, and the living is easy …

Reading: Around the World on a Bicycle by Thomas Stevens, written in 1885. (download it for free). This guy went around the world on his bike which meant there wasn’t always a road handy. He once had to take a railroad track for some 6 miles and at one point, perched on the edge of a cross-beam holding his bike over the edge into the precipice below…. quite the read!

Eating: gazpacho, and lots of it since it’s way too hot to cook.

Listening: catching up on old episodes of This America Life via an iPhone app that is truly fantastic – gives you access to all past and current episodes. Check it out!

Watching: just discovered this little Canadian Gem, The Republic of Doyle. It’s great fun. I’m all about Newfoundland these days! If you missed seeing it last fall and winter (as I did) you can buy it on iTunes.

Cycling: all over the Montreal Island. There are some truly beautiful paths in this city. I thought going car-less in the summer would be hard, but as it turns out, it’s a treat. I’m seeing more of the city this summer than I have in the previous 3 put together! some samples…

Lost of paths by the river and the canal, which I love since I really like being by the water. This photo was taken along the south-west end of the island. I could move to this area and be quite happy…

And there are also lots of paths that take you through pretty little wooded areas, like this one. The folk responsible for designing these paths really did a great job.

While going carless is turning out to be much easier than I thought, I did get to visit my old car when I went to Halifax recently. I couldn’t resist taking a quick picture as I followed it down the highway.

By the way, since I no longer have a car, I took a train to Halifax, which is a much more civilized way to travel! Instead of spending 14 hours hunched up behind the steering wheel, we did things like look at the scenery outside the observation deck…

and when we got tired, we curled up in the little flip-down beds and went to sleep. Much, much better than driving for 14 hours!

So, what are you up to this summer?

summer is for riding!

I haven’t been writing, because lately I’ve been riding. I joined Velo Québec shortly after arriving in Montreal some 4 years ago, but for a whole bunch of apparently unavoidable circumstances, I was not really able to join in any of the rides until this year. And in this past week, I have participated in 6 Velo Québec rides, and let me tell you — they are fabulous!

First one was the Metropolitan Challenge last Sunday, May 31. There were four routes: a 78 k, 102, 122, and 147. I chose the 78K route, which turned out to be quite enough, thank you very much, due to the amazingly strong (and persistent!) head wind. We worked HARD for each one of those km! And it was so amazing to be with that many cyclists… the start time began at 7 and ended at 10, which meant that the riders were all pretty much spread out. No jostling or traveling in packs, so that was cool.

The only time the actual number was apparent was at the lunch stop (we not only got a really well-marked route with emergency care all along the way, but we got a boxed lunch and lots of other goodies, including a free massage for those willing to stand in line…). I have never seen so many cyclists (3,500 took part in the event) at once, and it did my heart good to see bikes and riders everywhere. No one locked their bikes. Imagine. It was a community, and you just knew your property was safe. And it was!

Check out the scene…

That was the first event.

The second, the annual Tour la Nuit, took place Friday June 4. Some 15,000(!!!!) rode 20km of downtown streets, all blocked off to traffic. We sailed down main streets and through red lights — it was so much fun!!!

The increase in participants was quite evident: by the time we arrived, we joined a line that was several blocks from the starting line, and had to wait quite a while to start. We stood there for ages, watching the dusk grow deeper and deeper, hearing the cheers of people in the blocks ahead of us as they got to start, wondering when we would get to go …

It took a while, but eventually we got to go. Lots of different kinds of people take part in this event: lots of kids in trailers, sitting in bike seats on their parents bikes, and on their own bikes too. There were city bikes, mountain bikes, and road bikes. People came out of their houses to watch and cheer, many played drums, and at one point, there was an entire band! Montréal really knows how to party…

Then yesterday was the Tour d’île – 50 km through the city’s streets, starting at 9 a.m. Not quite a tour of the entire Island, but a good tour of the eastern end of it. And, it poured. Buckets. All day. It poured buckets as we stood in line waiting for the ride to start …

… and it was pouring when we reached the end (note the smiles… partly from the pure pleasure of having made it through the whole thing, partly giddiness at the thought of the warm baths and hot toddies that would soon be coming our way…).

Essentially, it alternated between freezing heavy downpours and freezing persistent drizzle the entire ride. I had puddles in my bike shoes. I wrung my gloves out several times before I finally gave up. And at one point I opened my little pack under my seat and discovered my iPhone was wet, so I unzipped my jacket to see if there was a dry spot on my shirt I could use to dry it off with and discovered I had no dry spots left anywhere!

One part of the route took us through a bit of dirt road which, of course, had turned into mud which meant that for the last third of the ride, we were all covered in a very fine spray of very fine muddy sand. It was amazing. I haven’t been that wet and that dirty in a very long time.

But I loved it. I loved that I was riding through Montreal without once worrying about traffic, that we were sailing through red lights, that there were all these other people loving it for the same reasons I was loving it! And despite the rain, people still came out of their houses to stand by the roadside and cheer us on.

I must mention the drummers at the 26 km pit stop… I truly appreciated those drummers who provided a beat that we were all able to bounce around to while we waited in line for one of the portapotties to free up – helped keep us a bit warm, or at least gave us something else to think about beside how wet and cold we were! I wish I’d gotten a picture of them, but my fingers were pretty much numb by that point… I also wish I’d gotten a picture of the unicycles, or the guys on stilts… I can’t wait for next year’s ride! Hope the sun comes out for that one. If the ride is this much fun in the rain, I can only imagine what it is like when the sun is shining!

NOTE: I have shamelessly stolen the Tour de l’Île photos from irishchick, without whom many of our adventures would go undocumented!

More cool things about the bixi!

1. When you buy a pass (which is only $78/year, or $68 if you register, as I did, before May 15), you can log into the bixi site and see your number of trips so far, usage time, and distance as well as the reduction in green house gasses and amount of gas saved because of your usage. Cool, huh?

2. Also with the pass, the first 30 minutes of your ride are free, and since the service is intended to provide a means of transportation within the plateau and downtown areas, 30 minutes is ample time to get you where you want to be.

3. You can go online (using computer or iPhone) to see where the bixi stations are located, and which ones have bikes available (if you’re looking to pick one up) and where there’s a free parking spot (if you’re looking to drop one off).

How convenient is that!

my first bixi ride

You’d think that with one road bike and one city bike all my bicycling needs would be taken care of. But, as it turns out, there are times when I’d like to ride my bike to work, but I don’t because I know I’m going someplace after work where it’s too far to ride, or where it’s not convenient to lug around helmet and seat (because you know if you don’t take ’em with you after you park your bike, they’ll be gone when you get back!). And sometimes I don’t want to take my bike because I’ll be out too late and I don’t want to drive home tired (or after I’ve had a couple… a tipsy me does not a good bike rider make!).

On those days, I’ve left my bike and home and walked to work (or even taken the bus!) but … it’s just so much more enjoyable to ride, you know what I mean? I hate plodding along on foot when I could be flying down the streets and back alleyways!

So, last week I subscribed to Bixi, Montreal’s super cool self-serve public bike system. It’s only been around for a year, but it’s been a great success – so much so, that already several other cities have bought their own bixi bike systems (London, Boston, Minneapolis, Melbourne and more…). They’re great bikes. Check ’em out…

Today I finally got to ride one. I rode my city bike in this morning, even though I knew I had an event after work. I figured I’d just stay a short while and then head home, but I ended up staying until it was too late to go back for my bike (the building I park it in closes up at 6 p.m., and while I can get into the area where my office is, I cannot get into the area my bike is at. I have no idea why the security is arranged that way, but there you have it).

So, I walked to the nearest bixi stand, used my bixi key to release a bike, adjusted the seat to fit, and off I went! The bikes are heavy and there are only three speeds, but the whole bike has been very well designed because other than when I had to pull it out of the stand, the weight was not a factor at all. I pedalled my way up Avenue du Parc which has a fairly steep incline at the south end, and I got up the hill with no problems.

The chain is fully covered, so there’s no worry of any messes on your clothes (I do like that. I’m forever getting chain grease on something or other). The basket up front holds a lot more than I thought it would – I stuffed it full with a light jacket, a huge purse, and my lunch bag with no difficulty. The attached bungie cord held it all in nice and secure all the way home. It’s a great design. I’ve never driven a bike with basket up front before, and I must admit it’s not my favourite place to carry stuff. I find it makes steering just a titch awkward, but not so much that it’ll ever deter me from using the bixi.

And now, since my city bike is at work, I’ll get to go for another bixi ride in the morning! And I’m glad. These bikes are amazing, the service is amazing, and this city is amazing for putting so much effort and support into making this a bike-friendly city. The bixi is just such a smart idea! I love it.

Cyclemeter – the iphone app

Yesterday I downloaded Cyclemeter to my iphone, today I tested it. A 3 hour drive very nearly drained the iPhone battery (it was in the red by the time I got home) so it obviously won’t be useful for very long rides.

I had it in my back pouch, and a wireless cateye computer on my handlebars.

Here are the stats:

Distance: (Cateye) 59.24     (cyclemeter) 45.29

Time:        (Cateye) 2:52:51  (cyclemeter) 2:17:13, plus 16:15 in stopped time

Average speed:      (Cateye) 20.5  (cyclemeter) 19.80

Maximum speed: (Cateye) 36.8   (cyclemeter) 40.52

A few discrepancies… I’m not sure which tool captured the right distance and time. The cateye only logs time when my wheels are turning. Cyclemeter logs from start to done, though it does record stopped time which suggests that when my location doesn’t change, it takes note of that. This still doesn’t account for the discrepancy in time between the two tools. I’ll have to figure out how to validate the right one. I’m not quite sure how to validate the cateye, but I can check the accuracy of cyclemeter by taking note of the time I leave (something I neglected to do this trip) and the time I return. If I add both the ride time and stopped time, I should come up with the exact length of time I was gone.

I’ve not yet come up with any ideas about how to validate mileage. I’ll figure out how to do that eventually, though if anyone out there has any ideas, I’d love to hear them! For now, I suspect the cateye is closer to correct. The google map of my route does not reflect the fact that I turned away from the Old Port on my way home since I knew there’d be a lot of people there (plus the bike route back is different from the route out, and I followed it).  Still, I don’t think that is enough to account for the 5k difference between the cateye and the cyclemeter. The cateye is set for my tire size (I used the chart that comes with the computer), and since the cateye determines my distance by the size of my tire, there is some room for error there. I could measure my actual tire and then program the that number into the computer. That should be precise, should it not?

[edit: doh! I just noticed that the map has me ending at the ice cream stop! that’s mile 46 on the cateye, mile 45 on the cyclemeter. No wonder the distances on the two don’t agree! I wonder if it stopped tracking me when the battery ran low? If I’m going to use cyclemeter, i’m going to need more juice for my iphone!]

One of the features of this app that I really love is that you can export the data to a google map so you can see your whole route (you can also see it in the app, but the screen on the iphone is so little, it’s nice to be able to look at it on a regular computer screen). When I look at my route (and you can do that too, it’s right here), I am kind of impressed! Apparently, I sailed on past the Montreal airport, and since I saw a plane coming in for a landing while en route, and it was so near to the ground I figured the airport had to be close even though I couldn’t see it.

They cyclemeter also told me I climbed a total of 202 metres, which is nice information to have. That info seems about right to me since it was mostly a flat ride with only one real hill (and while it was steep, it was also short).

Here are the photos I took along the way: one of a horse and buggy in the Old Port waiting customers, another of the river shore to the left of me at the 25K mark and of the tree directly above. It’s a gorgeous path and made me want to find a place to live in Lachine.

I had intended to take a photo of the various kinds of ice creams you can choose from at Havre aux Glaces, the hand-made ice-cream place at Atwater market, but in my eagerness to get some for me, I completely forgot! I had pistachio in a sugar cone. It was soooooo  good!

Cycling with your iPhone

I’ve been browsing the app store this morning, looking for an app that can be used to track rides (what I really wanted was something that has Velo Quebec’s Route Verte, but I haven’t found that one just yet) and I found Cyclemeter, which is just amazing: it will track your time, location, distance, elevation, and speed. You can see the results of your ride on a map, on graphs, and on a calendar. It’ll track your distance by day, week, month, year etc.

Check it out…

And if that’s not enough, you can hear your progress as you ride, and you can even share your ride via Facebook or Twitter, and hear encouraging comments from your well-wishers as you go along (via text-to-speech technology).

I do track my distance and time, average speed etc using a bike computer, and I log it all into an excel spreadsheet. I just like to track my progress. I would so LOVE to be able to track my routes, too! I was hesitant to buy the app at first, because I just couldn’t see how this was going to work very well with the phone tucked away in my little carry-sack with emergency tools and spare tube.

but lo and behold, look what I found…

That’s right, an iPhone mount for a bike (by bicio). How perfect is that?

Streetwise StreetFilms

I just discovered this site, which consists of a collection of videos that document “liveable streets worldwide”. Many of the videos have to do with what it looks like to have bike friendly cities (there’s one on the new bike paths on the bridge in Vancouver) and there’s this one… (which won’t embed, but it’s worth the extra effort to follow the link, you won’t be sorry!)

Check it out. The recent oil spill should have us all thinking about how we can lessen our reliance on fossil-fueled transport. These videos have some darn cool ideas about how to make that happen!