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…

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Salt Spray and Fiddle music

Just got back from a conference in St. John’s Newfoundland, the city where drivers stop for pedestrians, where everyone says hello to everyone else, and where taxi drivers can call you “sweetie” and somehow it just seems right that they do!

It was cold, often quite wet, yet the city felt warm and welcoming. I loved it!

I arrived a day early, which meant I got to explore the city a bit. After a cappuccino and oat cake (I LOVE oat cakes!) at Chatters Cafe, I embarked on the Harbourside Trail  …  it felt a lot like I was on

a walking trail in Ireland …

The trail eventually wound it’s way around to Cabot Tower, which sits at the very top of Signal Hill…

The view from the top of the tower is just amazing. You look out at St. John’s and the harbour on one side and the vastness of the ocean on the other. The city, perched as it is on the hillside along the edge of the bay, looked so fragile and vulnerable compared the the immensity of the ocean. I am drawn to harbour towns. Don’t know why, I just am….

Looking back at the city from the Harbourside Trail, you can see that

Newfoundlanders love colour …

Well, my photo doesn’t do it justice, but trust me … Most of the residences are painted in bright primary colours: red, green, blue, yellow… with some purples and oranges thrown in for good measure. Typically, each house is a colour different from it’s neighbours. Likely it’s because there always seems to be mist and fog and fine drizzle coming in from the sea in the mornings, and in winter, I hear, it’s all day. But with all the colours in the city, it doesn’t feel as grey as it would if the houses were painted in more neutral colours.

Someone came up with the brilliant idea to make mailboxes that look like the houses, and these were all over the city…

Despite the mist and fog, and perhaps even because of it, the city seems to be a popular destination: so popular, I wasn’t able to get a hotel room and had to stay in the student residence. The bed was as hard as concrete, the pillows as flat as pancakes, the lock on my door was broken, the wifi was finicky, and the washrooms waaaaay down the hall and showers down a completely different one. I cannot imagine how students live through these kinds of conditions for 4 years! Why do we do this to them !!!!

Despite my whining, I really didn’t mind the room so much. The conference really was quite interesting (all about information technology in Higher Education), and the organizers treated us in the evenings to a lot of really good music — fiddles, guitars, banjoes…. The Masterless Men entertained us Monday Night, we two-stepped the night away, and were given one of their CDs to take home with us. I’ve listened to mine twice already. Harbours and old time ballads and hiking trails… what more could a girl want?

I love Newfoundland! I plan to go back some day to hike the East Coast Trail. The views would be spectacular.

The only thing missing from this post is some video I took of a guy riding a unicycle at the top of signal hill. I captured him winding through the parking lot and off onto a misty little trail along the cliff side. I could not believe this guy winding his way along the path, and in all the mist! One little slip, and the guy would plummet to the ocean. I felt a bit woozy watching him, but I must admit that at the same time, watching how easily he manoeuvred around the cars and people kinda made me want to get a unicycle … hmmm… Well, I wish I could show it to you, but iphoto and I are currently struggling against each other, and so far, iphoto is wining. Why I can’t make it play, or upload it, is currently a mystery to me, but I’ll try to figure it out.

Long and short of it, I love Newfoundland, love St. John’s, love the city the people the colours the history… I’ll be back. don’t know when, but I’ll be back.

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?