*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

I, cyclist.

I once wrote a 'cyclist profile' for another website, but had to ask them to take it down, as some of my views were not popular with the suburban parents whose children I taught.  I had not yet learned that there is nothing too uncontroversial for some student's idiot parent to take offence to: thus my name is not on this blog.  I wrote it, so I think I can reproduce it here without it being counted as plagiarism.  I have also changed some of the content, as my attitudes to cycling have changed over time.

What do I use my bike for?
Which bike? I used to use my hybrid for everything, but after I got my good road bike I couldn’t endure my hybrid anymore, so I sold it. Nobody should own a hybrid: 'neither fish nor fowl'. The road bike I use for fitness rides, but I don’t use it for errands, because I know it would be stolen in Toronto.  (Now in Tokyo it might not be, but I am too lazy to carry the weight of a lock.  If I did, what would be the point of a light bike?)  I don't use my 'fixed gear' (with brakes, thank you) or 'monster-cross' for errands for the same reason, but I use them for commuting.

How long have I been commuting by bicycle and what made me decide to do it?
More than five years.  I’d gained a gut living in the suburbs, so I kept telling myself to start cycling to work, but didn’t. Due to a few errors and bad luck, my annual insurance began to cost more than the value of my car: it was an old car. That was a great motivator. I am a big fan of bikes, transit and car-sharing now. I used to ride daily, when I had a 9km commute to my school. Last school year my commute was 32 km.  Several years ago it was 46km, but I'd hitch a ride to work with a friend, and ride home.  I have thousands more for beer now, so I am not sure I am in better shape, but I get to drink more beer!

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
You don’t need to go to the gym. If you can dress for the weather, and get the right gear, you can ride year round. I get all the benefits of the gym, and daylight too. It’s great for ‘seasonal adjustment disorder’. Whether I ride, drive or take transit, my commute takes a similar amount of time, so why not kill a few birds with the one stone?  If only my workplace did not use the staff shower for storage I wouldn't have to do sink-baths.

Any advice for new riders?
You have to be an SOB, or be in no hurry. You have to always ride defensively. You can do that by taking the lane, and yelling at people who endanger you.  You can take charge, or you can back far off.  Be nice to pedestrians: bikes hurt. Be nice to drivers who are nice to you. Be assertive with those who aren’t.  Know where to bail if you come across a sociopath in a car, because you will.  Cabs, parked, parking and turning cars are the greatest dangers. Truck drivers can’t see you, but seem less clueless than commuters and cabbies.  Always go to the inside of cars in the turning lane. I don’t know what it is in Ontario, but people don’t signal.

What do I like about biking in Toronto?
It’s nice that it’s flat, apart from ravines and the slope up from the lake. The ravine bike paths are a godsend. The Waterfront Trail would be, except that it is discontinuous, and pedestrians wander onto it from the boardwalk.

What do I dislike about biking in Toronto?
Drivers. To be fair, most drivers are decently careful (if witless), but there are far too many who aren’t, and you cannot tell which is which enough of the time.  My attitude is to treat every car as a threat, all the time. It is stressful, but it has worked so far. Always remember that Torontonians have just elected this creature as mayor:


There is also this b.s.  I thought I could take up mountain biking on my return to Toronto and be safe, but no, %$#@wits want to get you for that, too.  What is it with fat charmless Torontonians?

What is my favourite piece of cycling kit/clothing/gadget?
I don’t know why I ever bought a hybrid.  I learned to love cycling when I got a steel framed Lemond road bike.  However, I started to love it a lot more when I ditched the stock saddle for a ‘Brooks Titanium Swallow’.  I got it for half price, and it was still stupidly expensive.  Expect to spend a bit more than a 'C-note'.  Spend some coin on the right saddle, if nothing else.

How could the city help me enjoy riding more?
Nail more drivers with fines, year round. In Japan and Holland, drivers give cyclists enough room, because most adults are also cyclists. We are not at that utopian point in our city, so we have to hurt drivers where it counts: that ain't their conscience. If drivers are as likely to get a ticket for endangering a cyclist as for speeding, behaviour will change. So will the number of dead and injured cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and passengers.  Cyclists will also start to better obey the laws, because they’ll be able to. I don’t encourage cyclists to ignore the law but… it’s more important to get home unscathed.

Helmet or no helmet?
Helmet, always. I have rarely landed on my head, and never hard; however, the day I don't wear mine is the day I will need it.  I have no argument with people who do not wear a helmet, because the data is not clear that it is much safer.  That's because the danger is not hitting your head: it's getting hit by a car.

Bikelane or no bikelane?
The ravine bike paths are great. Toronto’s on-street bike-lanes are a joke. What moron paints a bike-lane so that parking cars need to cross it, and open their doors into it? Lanes with a curb between cyclists and cars solve this, but have their own issues.  Toronto bike-lanes always privilege drivers where there is any conflict among road users.  Accidents happen at intersections, and bike-lane or not, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers have to interact there.  Tokyo has few bike lanes, but much fewer fatalities per capita.  Maybe because it has a far higher proportion of cyclists than Toronto.  Maybe because Japanese law %$#@s you if you hit someone, whereas N. American law does not.  Maybe because the Japanese agree with me that on-street parking is stupid: they don't have it.  I'd far rather cycle through the chaos of Tokyo streets than along a bike-lane in Toronto.

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