The Cheerful Bicyclist

The cheerful cyclist
veers for dogs and their owners.
Says hello to the few
steadfast walkers in the ice packed snow
or those exercising patience for buses.

But no stopping on the way to work.
That would turn sweat to ice
so why delay unless those behemoths,
the fossil combustion carnivores,
are too dangerous.
Of course this is why you must be careful with the route.
It should be quick
but where necessary should avoid the worst of the traffic.

And the biker should be happy to
greet those on the way.
You are, through it all, solidly
the energy conservationist and
the relic who knows how to
spread enough time to think on.

So obligated
the cyclist must be largesse itself.
The ambassador of wise transport. A happy disseminater.

And if you should see a cheerful bicyclist?
You could Reciprocate actively.
Salute him or tip your hat to her.

After all.
That ability, that particular battle,
could be gone as quickly as a new year’s resolution.


Why Cyclists ride up to the intersection, cars or no

I was baited into an argument at work today about this habit of bicyclists. I am offended every time it comes up and, not being a very good debater, was very frustrated by the end of it. So I thought I’d blog about it. Not because I’m better at blogging… no, just to be able to get the whole argument out without interruption.

Here’s the argument for the other (dark) side:
Cyclists should wait at their place in the queue at a red light or stop sign and not sidle up on the right by the curb.

Well. I could respond that cars pass me in my lane when I’m travelling by the curb all the time. I don’t think, out of all the thousands of hours I’ve spent cycling, I can think of single example of a car not passing me as I’m on my way.
I could say that, as a cyclist, I try to share the road. It is probably safest, for both cyclists and motorists, to assume that there is a dedicated cycling lane on the right at all times (especially when there actually is one). If I need to turn left I go into the left side of the lane and signal. And, even when I do that, cars coming up behind me pass me on the right and in at least two cases on the left in the opposing lane.
As I cycle every metre/yard is thanks to my own will power and personal exertion, not thanks to some petrochemical pathway to climate warming. Just me. Cars are zipping by me all the time and I’m not going to win any races. Isn’t it fair that I take advantage of that superior flexibility allowing me to pass them when I can?
Finally I could say that I have never seen a car queue up behind me when I’m stopped at a stop sign or red light. Never, not once.  And if I did queue up behind stopped cars how much do you want to bet there’d be someone beside me at the next opportunity?  If I did it ‘properly’ and ‘took the road’ by going in the centre of the lane do you think the motorist(s) behind me would be any happier?  I very much doubt it.

So why do car drivers feel this hypocritical road rage at cyclists who do this? I came up the following possible reasons/motivations:

  1. the motorist is afraid of hurting anyone not contained in their own half to one ton cocoon of steel
  2. it’s just not fair
  3. cyclists are idiots
  4. the motorist doesn’t like any non-polluting vehicle passing them (and don’t bother bringing up the breathing and/or farting of the cyclist because the motorist is doing that too)
  5. the motorist isn’t interested in sharing the road

So the answer is no! I’ll keep doing what I’m doing thank you very much.

Cycle Touring on a Budget

I’ve already provided an exhaustive (-ing?) set of posts about my bike trip to Montreal a month ago. But there are aspects of my trip that I left out.
Why did I bike? And how could I afford it?
This summer I had the opportunity to do this trip because my wife has started a new job and wasn’t able to get more than a few scattered days for vacation. It was an ideal opportunity for me to try a little part of a dream I’ve always had to tour by bike. I wanted to bike across Canada when I was younger and still hope to one day. So I tried the experiment and I enjoyed it very much.
The how is contained in a bunch of lucky breaks. I had purchased a used bike for $35 from my favourite supplier in Kitchener about a week and a half before the trip but once I had it home and set up, it didn’t look like it would be reliable enough for such a long trip. I went to Backpeddling twice in Guelph, here, and as luck would have it I found a really interesting bike being sold on consignment the second time. It’s a big frame and of the older hybrid style both of which I really like. An older Sekine I think (it’s painted black with fluorescent green/yellow highlights so it’s kinda hard to tell): probably about 15 years old. I added in some old toe clips (not installed) and the total came to just over $165. It was a gamble (I rarely fork over that much for a bike since I’m so hard on them, it’s rarely worth it) but, as it turned out, entirely worth it.
I put on a new seat, a bell, fenders and a water bottle holder from my stock at home. I go through a lot of bikes so I tend to accumulate extra parts! I had lights for night driving already.
Then I went shopping for panniers. After quite a few tries I finally found what I wanted at Braun’s bike shop. My set of Vaude panniers (with the all important waterproof covers) were on sale there for about $100. They wouldn’t fit my existing old-style rack so I had to buy a new one but it was fairly inexpensive (around $25). I already had a cheap, strap held handlebar bag for holding my wallet, munchies, camera and maps so I was set there.
I already described the cheap tent I had (probably a mistake but certainly light) but I also bought a cheap tarp to cover the bike with from Canadian Tire.
My homemade Gator/PowerAde mix I described in a previous post but make no mistake, that is a very good thing to have.
The next thing I needed were pants that wouldn’t chafe. Biking pants are REALLY expensive (hundreds of dollars) and there was no way I was going to fork over that much money on my ‘little’ trip especially as our family budget is so strapped. I only had one night to go when I found two stretchy kids shorts that I could wear underneath my track pants as underwear. Not perfect but as they were under $10 each at Value Village I judged that these were far better than normal underwear. I was right… there was no discomfort from chafing at all. The pain I experienced was, I think, from pushing too long and too hard with my deadline.
The only thing you really need after that, besides the will (and perhaps a will), is a good set of directions. I described where I got those before too.
So my conclusion? Although there is a tendency to think that the finest in expensive equipment is required to tour, I can tell you it isn’t. If you take a little time to look around before your trip, you’ll find it’s entirely possible to make do without having to spend a fortune. You do have to buy food along the way, true, but you would have to do that on most other types of voyages too.

Cycling from Oshawa to Montreal – Day 4

You can find Day 3 here.

August 4 – Montréal:

Almost there.

The Quebec bike trails are excellent and the Montérégie and Montréal sections of the La Route Verte were not exceptions.

I started on Route 338 at about 6:50 but soon changed over to the 21 km Piste Cyclable de Soulanges which follows the Soulanges Canal, part of the shipping lanes until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. It’s a beautifully paved path through woods on the edge of the hardly moving water of the canal all the way to Pointe-des-Cascades. Here the road is busy as you approach Vaudreuil-Dorion on the Ottawa River but the path over the bridges to Ile Perrot and then to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue have excellent bike lanes. Also the route that Brian advises to traverse the Island is quiet and nicely forested for the latter half.

Once on the island of Montreal there are several picturesque communities that you cycle through on reasonably quiet roads: Baie-d’Urfé, Beaconsfield, Pointe-Claire, Dorval and Lachine. A dedicated bike path starts again at Lachine and, in 4 km, turns from Lac St. Louis on the St. Lawrence to become the excellent Piste Cyclable du Canal Lachine which goes all the way into the Old Port of Montréal.  It switches back and forth on both sides and is well taken care of.

I checked in at the hostel in the Latin Quarter just after noon and walked (slowly with battle wounds:  my big right toe — I haven’t lost the nail yet but I think it will happen soon — and with my butt bleeding a little) down to Amir’s on St-Catherine for lunch and then to the Palais des Congres to start my Worldcon activities.  For the next three days I just left my bike locked up but it wasn’t so bad getting back in the saddle after that recovery period. Certainly better than walking and the in-town paths for bikers are terrific.

That’s my ~600 km trip in 3 days nutshell. I hope you enjoyed my reminiscing. I’ve been asked if I would do it again by a few friends and family. My answer is absolutely if I could do it on a less tight timetable.  I guess I’m of the school that the voyage is the most important part of the travel experience.

Cycling from Oshawa to Montreal – Day 3

Yes there was a Day 2 before this, find it here!

August 3rd:

My second night in my toy pup tent was better than the first. Though I still had leg cramps, it was reduced and the train hooting was muffled by trees. The fact that it didn’t rain also meant that my stuff was well on its way to being less dampish! A big plus was that I had learned to bring only the minimum equipment necessary for the night into my spacious tent: I used my clothes pannier as a pillow and left the other on the bike. So there was room to curl up and get weight off my butt and my feet.

The previous day my feet had begun getting sore. I finally figured out it was the shoes that were too small and my toe nails too long. I purchased some clippers in Kingston and remedied the situation but my feet were still sore, especially my right. More on this delightful happenstance later.

I left the campsite at 6:25 and reached the beautiful town of Brockville just before nine. The whole St. Lawrence/Thousand Island area just reeks of history. And after I passed through, it could only be more so. Prescott, in particular had Fort Wellington and, 45 minutes riding to the east, the site of the Battle of the Windmill (the rebellion of Nov 1838).

After a few wrong turns I ended up deviating from the proscribed route between Iroquois and Morrisburg by staying on Highway 2. It was lunch when I reached the latter so I partook in the excellent meatloaf at the McIntosh Inn.

From here on is where my screaming seat and sore feet and sunburned face began to be paid off. Some of the best and most beautiful biking of the trip was surely between Morrisburg and Cornwall.

These amazing trails began at Upper Canada Village where some strange directions take you behind parts of the historical re-enactment area and through administrative sections. You finally arrive at a crushed stone path through the woods which leads to breathtaking bike paths on narrow causeways, views of the faraway Adirondacks to the south and beautiful islands that lead to Cornwall. You are basically moving along the tops of hills left dry after the building of the dam close to Cornwall. This 50’s megaproject allowed a much easier passage around the formerly dangerous rapids that were present here before but moved entire villages (the Lost Villages) out of the way. One of the more interesting sites is what remains of old Highway 2 on MacDonell Island which disappear into the the water of new St. Lawrence Seaway (see this map).

The bike paths in Corwall itself are amazing. There was even one delightful spot where the path was bisected by a telephone pole. The extremely bike-friendly engineers of Cornwall actually ramped up the asphalt onto the adjacent hill to give bikers more room. This is a city that cares about biking unlike many that just pay lip service to the idea of maybe and unimaginatively promoting cycling (not to name any names like “Guelph” or anything!)

In South Lancaster I was forced to detour around the route by construction on the South Service Road. Luckily Highway 2 paralleled the 401 just to the north and so I could follow it until Brian’s turn at the 38 kilometer point. Without any particular fanfare I was in Quebec on the wonderful cycling trails that are La Route Verte.

Several klicks to km 57 on Route 338 where I found Camping TePee at about 8:30 and luckily secured a spot. I did approximately 201 km. That left only about 79 klicks to Old Montreal.

My derriere was really sore, my right big toe felt like hell but I felt wonderful!

Day 4 tomorrow!

Cycling from Oshawa to Montreal – Day 2

This is continued from Cycling from Oshawa to Montreal – Day 1.

Second day of trip: August 2nd.

I had a very uncomfortable night with very little sleep.

The tent I purchased for $14.99 from Canadian Tire (regular $29.99) was really too small! It was great in terms of weight as it could easily fit into one corner of a pannier bag but it certainly wasn’t the 6 by 4 feet advertised. Not unless your head and feet were sharpened into points would a 5’11’ me be able to fit between one corner diagonally to the other. Admittedly I set up the tent in the dark but it went up fine. I had nothing to lean my bike against as the ground by the trees behind my site was covered in poison ivy so I laid by bike out on the ground and put a tarp over it. I had put the panniers and my handlebar bag in the tent and then attempted to contort my sleeping bag in the available room left over. I already indicated that I couldn’t lay straight anyway and laying on my side repeatedly caused my abused legs to cramp up forcing me to try to extend them up into the three foot reaches of the ceiling or to suddenly sit up so I could flatten my feet out to work out the muscles.

And, oh joy, the main train route wasn’t far off since I kept being awakened by the hooting sounds of trains. It turned out, as I learned on the remaining trip, that the bike route never went far from train tracks. With all that noise I suspected the Engineers were likely trying to be spotted. Now this is very safety conscious and all but NOT conducive to sleep.

The cramping and train whistles finally settled down around 4AM which was just in time for the pitter-patter of rain to commence closely followed by puddles (that’s right… in the tent) at 4:30.

Thankfully it wasn’t raining when I packed up my wet things and got on the road again at 6:15. I passed by the entrance to Presqu’ile Provincial Park where I spent a summer in my University days working on a vegetation survey and carried on to the pretty Island of Prince Edward County.

Just past that, still in Brighton, I stopped to take a look at the marina there. One thing to remember when stopping on long bike rides is not to forget to remove your toes from your toe clips. I had a foot down but, unfortunately, not on the side the bike began to lean. So, stuck in the toe clip, that leg didn’t help much and over I went. It was comfortable in the dirt but somehow the view wasn’t as spectacular.

The rain began again when I reached Consecon and while I cycled past the Hillier vineyards. It lasted until I left Picton. But was I going to let my soaking nature dampen my spirits? No. They couldn’t have been dampened any further anyway so I decided to share my moistness generously with others. I stopped at the Bloomfield Bicycle Company which is a wonderful bike shop where I picked up a pack of dried mango and some chain lube. A very nice bike mechanic admired my dripping bike and clamped down some of the pokey wires on it and adjusted my helmet free of charge. They were so nice there it made me wish there was something wrong with my bike but, alas, it was doing just fine! I also stopped at the Black Prince Winery for some wine tasting: that made me feel much better. Luckily only their beautiful foyer had the nice wood flooring: their tasting room had civilized tiles to drip my sodden feet upon! I very much enjoyed the 2004 Hillier Pinot Noir (which isn’t being made any more) and purchased a bottle which I drank with my wife after my trip was over. With my advanced palate I noticed right away that it didn’t taste as I remembered. Hm. Could carrying it all the way to Montreal on a bike and then shipping it back in the bottom of three different Greyhound buses not be healthy for wine? Something to remember for next time. Karen and I will just have to return there before the remaining 80 bottles are finished. Wisely, I stopped at the Tourist bureau in Picton. Unfortunately I had missed mass but I was directed to eat at the Buddha Dog. This was an inspired suggestion (thank you Tourism guy!) I had two of their delightful gourmet dogs and some banana pop.

I caught the Glenora ferry just after noon and talked with two people (Hi guys!) who were also going to Montreal by bike. Besides being much better equipped they were also far saner and were taking their time. I didn’t stop to wet my toes in Bath (around 2pm) where they were planning to stop and so reached Kingston by 4pm. I had thought of a stay at Queen’s Victoria Hall but decided decidedly against this as it was WAY too expensive.

So yay! Back on the road! I reached the GoGo Pizza (fish and chips, baklava, two ginger ales and a water fill up) in Gananoque at 6:30. Should I stop there. No! There was more pain to be had. I kept on a little bit and stopped for the night at the beautiful Landon Bay Centre campground and environmental education area on the Thousand Island Parkway. There was a site with a picnic table so I could lay things out to dry on it as I partook in the very nice and soothing pool.

‘Why would you need soothing?’ you may well ask. Well before this point in the trip I had noticed something about riding all day. My, well I can’t really be delicate about this, ass (Sorry!) was REAL sore! Near the end of this day I was greeting every blessed hill as an opportunity to rise from the tortuous seat of damnation. I would lift myself up accompanied by a sharp wrench of pain issuing from my vocal chords. I often prayed that the hill wouldn’t end so I wouldn’t have to return to the seated position. But it would end. Wow and ouch my poor end! And just to be clear here, I was doing this to myself! Yes. Whatever you’re thinking about in terms of what an idiot I was is, my friends, nothing compared to how that sentiment was being screamed in my own head.

That’s my second day which was, as far I can figure it (by that time I was thanking God that I didn’t have the extra weight of an odometer on my bike), a grand total of 169 kilometres.

To be continued in Part 3.

Cycling from Oshawa to Montreal – Day 1

I mentioned my idea about biking to Montreal in my posting about Worldcon 2009. I’ve finally returned home and can report that I made it but not without sore parts.

Although I did not have months to prepare for this trip I did find several internet resources that helped me to plan it. Chief among these was Brian Hedney’s excellent Ultimate Toronto to Montreal Cycling Route. Brian’s route uses the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail but his notes and deviations from it are excellent advice. I also found time to listen to some podcasts while preparing. And, this recipe for homemade Gator/Power/Ade I googled was a good find.


So the first day of the trip: August 1st.

I wanted to avoid the traffic of the city and I didn’t have that much time so getting around Metropolitan Toronto was required. My wife and son had planned on going to see some guitars at the 12th fret, a music store in the Danforth section of Toronto, so I came with! My bike was detached from the carrier on the car and I then cycled the short distance to the Danforth GO train station. I purchased my ticket and maneuvered the bike onto the proper platform by 11:30. The smell of the garbage remaining from the recent strike was definitely present or at least I hoped that was the explanation. Phew!

The weight of the panniers was incredible. It was certainly a bigger challenge to muscle them (attached to the bike of course) onto the train when it arrived at about 11:45. The problem was exacerbated by the tightness in getting past the floor to ceiling pole in the middle of the doorway.

On the ride to Oshawa we were stopped at Guildwood for several tens of minutes. An announcement came over the speakers indicating that the announcer (a woman who didn’t introduce herself) had a “need to re-spot the train”. That confused me. There was a VIA train that was stopped on tracks to the immediate left. It wasn’t hard to spot at all. And, seeing how I could see myself and the rest of the train I was currently located in, I had a hard time imagining that the train I was in was difficult to spot. I was pretty sure they didn’t mean they were going to be repainting or re-applying a polka dot somewhere but all this spotting may have been happening in a car different that the one I was in. So I was left with the idea that the voice was actually as disembodied as it sounded and needed to somehow float towards us until it could spot us again. Eventually the voice came back, opened and closed the doors, and then we went on. One should always start a new adventure with the surreal. It’s very grounding.

We reached the Oshawa station at 12:40 and then I was off! Watch me go. Pedaling! OK, so I wasn’t all that fast with around 40 pounds of crap making my back tire look flat. But I wouldn’t let that stop me (at least not until I biked past a place with a pump where I did stop to inflate). I biked down through Cordova Park and the Oshawa Valleylands Conservation Area until I reached Simcoe Street South and the rendezvous with Brian Hedney’s route.

It didn’t take long to get out of Oshawa, through the Second Marsh. I took a picture of the GM office as I passed it on the way. I learned how smart it was to follow Brian’s advice when I went through the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station Trail which he advised against. There were some pretty things to see in there (including some beautiful swans in a rather bleak pond) but the trail was rough and difficult to get a pannier-equipped bicycle through. At one point I had to detach the panniers to get through a gate. By 3:00 I had arrived near to Newcastle and by 4:00 I was in Port Granby. There was a lot of country road travel happening here and a few places pretty enough to snap a few pictures.

Port Hope had on some kind of festival which I rode through, pausing only for a little bit to take a picture at the Firefighter’s Museum, until reaching the busy Highway 2. Cobourg I reached at 6pm and stopped to eat at Happy Gilmore’s bar and grill. I ordered a hot hamburger entré with Greek salad on the side, a Caesar, Vanilla ice cream and 2 full pitchers of water. Okay so I was hungry. I made some more P/G/ade drink (which works well to keep up my electrolytes) while I waited for the meal to arrive. It started to get dark around 8:15 when I stopped to call Karen from a pay phone in Colburne. I reached the Salem Woods trailer park at 9:30 and set up my wee tent. I went and had a shower and was in bed by 10:00.

And that was my first day. It amounted to about 100 kilometres plus the distance from the Oshawa GO station to meet up with Brian’s trail and a few spots where I got lost. In other words I had made it about 1/2 the distance to Kingston. With only half a day it was a pretty good start and the first ‘century’ I’ve done in cycle-touring.

More adventures continued tomorrow for Day 2.

Echo and the CycleMan

I usually know better than to pick up a copy of the Echo but I did so anyway last night.  It is an Entertainment weekly for Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph tending toward a ‘scene’ that I’m not all that interested in.  But this was the 2nd Annual Cycle Guide by lined with ‘Your Rants, the Best Trails & the Urban Jungle.’  As someone who bikes more than their fair share, some would say I’m insane for cycling, it piqued my interest even though it had a cheesy picture of a fashion plate couple on a tandem bike who were definitely not dressed for biking.  So I start flipping through pages of ads to events I frankly find laughable such as concerts for bands obviously capitalizing on vague references to religion, psychological disorders and ‘evil’ as well as two ads for Sexapalooza featuring a woman whose push up bra must be painful.  I forged on looking hard for the cycling content until I finally found it on page 26.  There it was.  Along with another picture of the non-cyclers and two large ads for bike stores.  It was a third-of-a-page and pitifully newbie listing of bike trails that would better have been replaced with the URL’s that they were obviously pulled from.  There’s no commentary at all, no ‘rants’, nothing to indicate that anyone who actually knew which end of a bicycle goes first was involved.
So call me a sucker as I put this trash in the Recycling.

Some better places to go for Cycling information: