Not-so-random note for drivers

Cyclists pay for all Toronto roads (including the DVP and Gardiner). We get bike lanes on only 2%.

I’ve always wanted to put a message for drivers on the back of my t-shirt or bike, but have never been able to come up with anything suitably brief. This one, seen in Nathan Phillips Square after Monday’s group commute, gets high marks for visibility and clarity. But I think it’s a bit long for drivers to read at speed, and probably invites much disagreement. So far, my own leading candidates are, “Pretend I’m in a car,” and “No, you get off my road.” The search continues.

First ride of the year

The open road beckons.

I’ve been so busy this year that I’ve only just made it out for my first recreational ride of the year. It’s the latest start to my riding season since 2002, when I didn’t get going until mid-June. I’m usually on the roads as soon as the snow is gone in February or March, so it’s been a long wait this year. Oh sure, I’ve been commuting and running errands, but there’s nothing like hopping on the saddle not because I have to go somewhere, but just because I want to.

This year’s first ride was, as in most years, a mercifully short introduction to the grind for my winter legs—just 20 km in and around the neighbourhood. What set this year’s inaugural ride apart was that I started from our new cottage on Rice Lake and the deserted country roads started right at my front door. It’s a real joy to be in the middle of nowhere without first having to brave two hours of suburban traffic to get there.

I’ve often poked fun at problems with Toronto’s signs, so it’s only fair to point out that “2nd Line” in Peterborough County is misspelled on this sign at Scriven Road. I’ll also mention that my GPS thinks that 2nd Line is called “Line Road 2.”

An osprey buzzes me when I get too close to its nest.

There are quite a few ospreys around Rice Lake, and this one buzzed me on both occasions when I passed by its roadside nest. It didn’t seem to care about the cars speeding past, but considered a lone cyclist to be a threat. No worries, I’m just taking pictures.

So here are my random observations after my first ride:

  • It’s really hilly. The Rice Lake area is home to a high concentration of drumlins in the Peterborough drumlin field north of the Oak Ridges Moraine, and although the individual hills aren’t all that big, they just come at you one after another after another.
  • The back roads are almost deserted. This could have something to do with the fact that many of them are still unpaved and seem likely to remain so.
  • The farms out here seem both bigger and more traditional than the ones north of Toronto. I hope to share more observations about that in the coming months.
  • In general, the view is your typical southern Ontario rolling countryside, just a little more rolling and a little more country than I’m used to.
  • My cycling goal for the year is a circumnavigation of Rice Lake. The Ganaraska Freewheelers cycling club publishes a suggested route that I’ll probably follow.
  • I’m really looking forward to exploring the area by bike this summer. As soon as I get my legs back into hill-climbing shape, I’ll be able to head out for longer, more adventurous rides.

Random notes for drivers

If you see me, don’t turn into my path. If you don’t see me and turn anyway, you’re breaking the law because you’re not doing shoulder and mirror checks before changing lanes.

Flashing your turn signal doesn’t mean, “Get out of my way because I’m turning,” it means “I’m letting you know that I’m planning to turn, but I won’t begin my manoeuvre until I’ve verified that it’s safe to do so.” Please learn the difference.

If you think that I “came out of nowhere,” it’s because you weren’t paying attention; I’ve been riding in a straight line in the middle of this lane for almost 2 km.

Don’t think that honking your horn absolves you of your responsibility to drive safely.

I hope that leaning on your horn is making you feel better, because it’s just steeling my resolve to ride in the middle of the lane and make you change lanes to pass me. The last thing I need is some infuriated driver buzzing me if I move over to the curb.

The fact that your vehicle outwieghs mine by 100 to 1 doesn’t mean that either one of us is less human than the other.

I realize that it’s frustrating for you to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but steering over to the curb to prevent me from passing isn’t really going to make you feel better.

I’m probably moving faster than you think, especially if you’re trying to judge whether you can floor it and make that turn in front of me.

When I’m on the road, my safety is my responsibility. That means that if I decide it’s unsafe for you to pass me in this lane, you don’t get to override my decision.

It won’t kill you to change lanes or wait behind me for 10 seconds until it’s safe to pass. It could kill me if you try to squeeze past now, so don’t try.

I’m riding in the middle of the road because the asphalt is in such poor condition closer to the curb that it’s unridable, even on my mountain bike. Please wait to pass me.

If you have to speed up to pass me before you turn right in front of me, you should just wait behind me until I’m through the intersection.

You don’t pay any “road taxes” either, because there isn’t such a thing.

As a matter of fact, I do have insurance. And a driver’s licence. And a car.

Do you really think I’d take up less room on the road if I was in a car instead of on a bike?

Yes, sitting in a padded chair and pressing your right foot down on a little lever that makes liquid flow through a thin tube toward your car’s engine makes you a real man. I tremble in the presence of your enormous penis.

When you say that cycling is dangerous, what you really mean is that you’re causing the danger and then subjecting me to it.

If you think I’m in your way, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re also in my way. So, uh, get outta my way!

Besides, why am I, riding the smallest vehicle on the street, the only one who’s in your way, while all of those cars aren’t in your way, they’re “traffic”? Aren’t all of them blocking traffic too?

This may come as a surprise, but I really can’t understand a word you’re saying when you gun your engine past me and shout out your window. So I’ll just imagine that you’re saying, “My crappy life really depresses me and I’m unfairly taking my frustrations out on you, random anonymous person on a bike!”

What part of that “no stopping” sign—not 10 feet in front of your car stopped in the bike lane—don’t you understand?

No, I won’t get out of the middle of the lane. Wait behind me until you can pass me safely.

I realize that what I do for my safety doesn’t always mesh with what you’d like me to do for your convenience, but frankly, I don’t care.

I don’t have an airbag or a seatbelt. My crumple zone is the space I create around my bike and I really don’t like you in it.

If I can touch your car when you pass, you’re way too close.

I realize that parking in the bike lane is very convenient for you, but it’s pretty dangerous to me.

Just imagine that your mother or sister is out riding her bike, and that some asshole like you is threatening to run her off the road; what would you think of yourself?

Just because you’re in a car and I’m not doesn’t mean that you’re in more of a rush to get to wherever you’re going than I am.

There’s a whole other lane over there for you to use; there’s really no need to crowd me in this one.

I’m sorry that your life is so miserable that you need to vent your frustration on me. Maybe you need some happiness in your life.

Yes, I’m turning left from the left-turn lane. Deal with it.

I’m signalling a left turn at an intersection; please don’t try to pass me on the left.

Yes, I’m waiting at this red light. If you’re going straight, you can wait in line behind me. If you’re turning right, there’s plenty of room to my right to make the turn without waiting.

Yes, I know I’m in the middle of the lane. It’s my way of telling you that you’re not supposed to pass me along this stretch of road. I do that because I’ve had too many right hooks at this intersection coming up and riding in the middle of the lane is the best way to prevent them.

If I’m riding at the speed limit, you have absolutely no need to pass me.

When I go to the effort of stopping at a four-way stop because you have the right of way, please proceed. Waving me on first may seem polite, but it makes you wait longer and it frustrates me because I stopped for nothing.

If you really want me to get out of “your” lane, call your councillor and tell her that you want a bike lane here.

It’s a good thing you blew past me back there; it must be really important to you to wait at this red light for 10 seconds longer than me.

I know that commuting in a car every day makes you angry and depressed, and that’s precisely why I don’t do it. Commuting by bike every day puts a smile on my face. Don’ t you wish you could say the same thing about your trip?

And finally, no, I will not get off the road.

CAA discovers bikes

There are some things you just don’t expect to see, and a bicycle gracing the cover of the Canadian Automobile Association‘s quarterly magazine ranks right up there. Not only is cycling included in the cover story (although the online summary doesn’t say much about cycing, the original in the magazine includes several paragraphs and a sidebar about cycle touring), there’s also a second article extolling the virtues of public bike sharing programs like Montreal’s Bixi.

Transporting Dodgeville by the numbers, 2009

Overall distance travelled (km): 18,685

  • by airplane: 6,083
  • by bike: 5,395
  • by car: 4,840
  • by foot 1,319
  • by train: 688
  • by TTC: 294
  • by non-TTC transit: 49
  • by horse: 8
  • by Ice Explorer: 6
  • by canoe: 3

Days I walked: 319
Days I rode my bike: 275
Days I was a passenger in a car: 41
Days I drove a car: 25
Longest ride ( km): 154.4
Shortest ride (km): 2.22
Times I needed rescue by car: 1
Rides longer than 100 km: 5
Rides 10-20 km: 184
Rides shorter than 10 km: 18
Days I rode without a helmet: 1
Flat tires: 2
Tire blowouts: 1
Broken chains: 1
Broken derailleurs: 1
Broken bells: 2
Broken pedals: 2
New wheels: 3
New drivetrains: 2
New brake pads: 6
Bottles of Ice Wax lube: 3
Bikes I currently own: 7
Bikes I actually rode last year: 5
More bikes I want to buy: 2
Chance that I’ll convince Risa that I need to buy more bikes: 0

At the beginning of 2009, I embarked on a year-long project to record the distances I travelled by various means of transportation. I expected cycling to come out on top by a wide margin. My mileage estimates a year ago were 5000 km by bike, 2000 km by car, 1000 km on foot, and 500 by TTC. I got the order right, but some of the numbers were way off. In particular, I hadn’t anticipated flying anywhere, and my car mileage was bumped up considerably by our (ultimately successful) hunt for a cottage this fall; two months accounted for more than 2600 km of the 4840 km total I spent sitting in cars, and 1300 km of that came in just four days of visiting, revisiting, and inspecting.

It’s a lot of work keeping track of everywhere you go for a year. The spreadsheet I used to record every trip is 787 lines long, with calculations being done on a separate sheet before being uploaded automatically every night to my web server. My cycling log will continue to survive into the new year (as it has every year since 1991), but I think I’ll be dropping the rest of the tracking.

Where's a cop when you need one?

Yesterday afternoon, I was riding west along Summerhill Avenue, which forms part of bike route 41 through Rosedale and Moore Park. Traffic there is usually pretty calm and slow-paced, but shoppers and delivery trucks always seem to be jockeying for space in front of the Summerhill Market; so much so that a paid-duty police officer is frequently directing traffic in front of the store.

So I was riding along and could see two car drivers getting ready to pull out of their street parking spaces and directly into my path. One driver had the good sense to wait, but the other didn’t and just pulled into the traffic lane directly in front of me. I’d been anticipating the boneheaded move, so I was already in position to avoid the car if necessary, but it’s still pretty annoying to be either unseen or ignored in broad daylight. To cap the annoyance, after the driver cut me off and then slowed down in front of me, he held his hand up to thank me for letting him in. I started swearing at him under my breath. “Don’t wave at me, jerk. I didn’t let you in, I just avoided being hit. There’s a difference you know.”

And then for the first time ever in my many years of riding in the city, something almost perfect happened: the paid-duty officer at the Summerhill Market flagged the driver down and gave him a lecture. I couldn’t hear the driver’s protestations from my spot behind the car, but the officer’s half of the conversation went something like this:

You know you almost hit that cyclist, right?


It’s not his fault. He’s just riding along the street.


It’s on you to look for traffic before you pull out of your parking spot. It’s dangerous.


You have to be more careful. You could kill someone if you don’t look.

The officer eventually waved the driver on and I thanked him as I rode past, feeling quite a bit better than I had 30 seconds earlier. Overall, not a bad start to my ride.

What would have made the moment perfect instead of merely almost perfect? If the officer had pulled out a ticket book and given the driver a summons under the Highway Traffic Act, I would have had time to pull out my camera and take pictures. Oh well. It still made my day to have someone other than me lecture a driver for cutting me off.

A trying week on the road

Reason #1 not to stand on the pedals when riding: you never know when one will break clean off.

A three-finger tear in a tire can't be fixed with a piece of duct tape.

I’m not superstitious, but I had a seemingly endless run of bad luck on the road over the course of a week. Of the five days I rode, I had equipment or brain failure on four of them:

  • Thursday brought a flat tire at 9:30 p.m. Later investigation showed that the culprit was likely a couple of burrs on the edge of the rim. It was scheduled for replacement before the winter anyway, so I guess this was a good way of reminding me to make a trip to the bike shop.
  • On Sunday afternoon, I wiped out on a pile of wet leaves while going downhill with a firm grip on the brakes. Predictably, the front wheel locked and slipped out to the side, slamming me to the ground. It’s the second time I’ve crashed in less than a year, and by far the hardest I’ve gone down in a long time. Nothing broken beyond my pride, but my arm is still smarting from the bruise and road rash. I was also reminded why I wear a helmet: not because it’ll save me if I get hit by a car, but because I come perilously close to knocking my head on the ground without any help from right hooks or door prizes.
  • On Monday night, the tube that I’d replaced after Thursday’s flat tire blew out with a bang on the way home. The tire was destroyed, with a 3-inch gash torn in the sidewall just above the bead. In retrospect, the weakened tire had probably already contributed to Thursday’s flat before finally giving out entirely. These were virtually new tires, installed just this past spring and with only about 2500 km on them. A previous set of the same model lasted about 12,000 km before also succumbing to a blowout.
  • By Tuesday, I was paranoid enough to run an important errand by TTC instead of taking my bike. The errand was completed, and the bike survived its other rides that day without incident.
  • Starting my ride home on Wednesday night, I could tell that something was wrong with my right pedal. I thought that maybe one side of the platform was broken, but I couldn’t see anything in the dark and decided to finish my ride home and check it out in the garage. Unfortunately, I only made it about halfway before the pedal broke off, the spindle cleanly severed where it enters the body of the pedal. I tried to look at the bright side: I’ve destroyed four pedals in the last couple of years, but this is the first time I’ve broken a right pedal. I’ve always broken left pedals before now. Maybe this means that my right leg is getting as pedal-breakingly strong as my left.

This Thursday, I countered my run of bad luck by switching bikes and giving my usual commuter a rest. It’s due for a new drivetrain anyway, so here’s hoping that it’ll be happier next week with a whole bunch of new components.

Trailer update

Homebuilt bike trailer

My homebuilt bike trailer using the Wike DIY trailer kit recently passed the 100 km mileage mark and I wanted to share some thoughts about it. First off, I have zero regrets about buying the kit and only some minor reservations about my construction. Mostly, I’m as pleased as I can be to have a nice big trailer that can haul virtually anything I want it to. In all, it’s saved me more than a dozen trips that would otherwise have required the car. Some of its duties since its June inauguration have included:

  • Making several trips with three big storage totes all packed full of stuff ranging from coffee makers to power tools. The trailer can easily carry anything I can put into three bins, plus a whole bunch more stuff on top.
  • Ferrying electronics, including a new computer and a large printer.
  • Hauling short sections of lumber. In the picture at the top of this post, a dozen 4-foot sections of cedar are heading off to temporary storage along with a couple of lawn chairs.  The trailer could easily accommodate 6-foot lengths; 8-footers would require a bit more care in loading and travelling, but it could still be done.
  • Carrying sheets of foam insulation and a heavy load of deck-building hardware.
  • And, of course, bringing home big boxes of cat litter.

There are also some things it hasn’t done yet:

  • Go to the farmers’ market. I’ve been satisfied with panniers and a backpack so far this year, but with only one week left, time is getting short to haul home backpacks full of local honeycrisp apples. I usually get a big bushel of them on the last day of the market, but I could pull five or six bushels home this year if I bring my trailer along.
  • Go downtown. The trailer has lived mostly on residential roads in the east end. Although it’s done considerable duty on Danforth,  Broadview, and other busy streets, it hasn’t yet crossed the Viaduct.
  • Haul something really heavy. If the trailer can handle 150 lb as Wike claims, its heaviest load so far has been only about half that.

Despite my early concerns, the pop rivets I used to bind the aluminum tubes to the kit brackets have held up well, and not a single one has come loose or broken. So far so good. I’m still prepared to replace them with screws or bolts if necessary. The oak cargo bed is also holding up well, with no noticeable wear, cracks, or other problems. Even though I planed it down pretty thin, it’s proven to be more than strong enough. This oak stuff is pretty tough; I bet you could make giant trees out of it.

I’ve used a single-wheel BOB Yak trailer for several years and find that using a two-wheel trailer requires a bit of an adjustment. In particular, the Yak tracks so beautifully behind the bike that I never have to worry where its wheel is when I’m riding: it’s always in line with the rear wheel of the bike. A two-wheel trailer, especially one as wide as mine, tracks very differently around turns. I haven’t yet bounced it into the curb, but it’s only a matter of time. And with a wheel off to each side of the bike, it’s that much harder to manoeuvre all three tracks around potholes and other obstacles.

If I were constructing this trailer today, I’d make some minor changes based on my experience so far:

  • I’d use small rubber washers between all of the wood-to-wood and wood-to-metal joints, and maybe dip all of the screws in glue before driving them in. Riding down the street, the trailer tends to squeak and rattle a bit. I know the joints are solid and I’m not worried about them, but I wouldn’t complain if rides were a little quieter.
  • I’d reinforce the front and back of the oak slats with additional crosspieces at each end. Only after I started using the handles at the front and the back as tiedowns did I realize that I don’t have the sturdiest construction at the very edges, which is precisely where the load on the tiedowns is greatest. A crosspiece tying the ends of the slats together underneath the tiedowns would better distribute the force. I haven’t yet encountered any problems with it the way it is, but I can feel the potential for weakness every time I cinch down a bungee cord.
  • I might make the trailer about four or five inches narrower. I’d still be able to haul the same number of storage totes, but would also be able pull the trailer through many more doorways. As currently constructed, the trailer is 34″ wide with the wheels on and thus can’t be pulled through narrower doorways. Still, I like the current bed width of two feet. It could go either way.

Also, I’m planning to make a couple of additions over the winter:

  • I’d like to make a removable pull handle so that I don’t have to stoop down just to pull the trailer around by hand. The handle would also have a stabilizing foot so that I can let go of the handle and still have the trailer rest in a level position.
  • I have a bad habit of loading and unloading on small hills, so I’ve been thinking about how to implement a simple and reliable wheel brake. Chocks would be fine, but I’d always forget to bring them. I need something that I can attach to the trailer and forget about until I need it. This could take the form of a decent kickstand attached to the bike or trailer.

Tour de Kennedy


How long does it take to ride up Kennedy Road to Lake Simcoe? Almost two months, apparently. As I mentioned before, it took three attempts (and two bikes) starting at the end of June for me to complete this trip. Kennedy Road is an interesting contrast to Warden, just two kilometres to the west and my more usual route north: Kennedy seems much more wild, with fewer farms and estate houses, and more forest and overgrown meadows. Kennedy also has less industry than Warden, fewer golf courses, and less traffic. The downside is that it’s also somewhat poorly maintained, with many kilometres of the road through East Gwillimbury cratered with potholes and only haphazardly patched in a way that makes it rather bike unfriendly. Still, it’s a very peaceful ride. The landscape feels less constricted than on Warden, with several sweeping vistas that you don’t see from the other northbound routes.


One of the things that I like most about riding out of the city is watching streets take on completely different characters. Two of my formative years were spent not too far from the foot of Kennedy Road in Scarborough, where it’s a sleepy residential street. Most people are familiar with the big box hell of Kennedy Road from Lawrence to Sheppard. That’s followed by the suburban thoroughfare of northern Scarborough and Markham, which gives way to a quiet concession road and a lazy country road before finally ending up at a beach in a little cottage area. It may all be one street, but it has at least eight distinct phases from beginning to end.

Before these rides, the only part of Kennedy north of Sheppard that I’d ever ridden on was the 400 or so metres between Ravencrest Road and Mount Pleasant Trail, where it forms part of a nice big diagonal shortcut from Woodbine to McCowan on the way to Sutton.

Read on for the full gallery treatment of my ride up Kennedy Road.

Read More …

The long road


Three and a half hours after setting out from home on Sunday, I was rolling up to Willow Beach on Lake Simcoe. It’s pretty underwhelming as beaches go, but that didn’t stop me from celebrating by taking my shoes off and wading around in the cool water while I ate my lunch. The ride back home was into a full-on headwind, destroying the usual downhill advantage of the ride back to Toronto. This was the third time I’ve tried this trip this summer. The first time I turned around after an exhausting traversal of a muddy, overgrown trail, but I wasn’t really expecting to make it all the way up that day anyway. My second attempt was cut short by time constraints just 20 km from Lake Simcoe.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve ridden up to Lake Simcoe, but it was the first time that I’ve gone all the way up and back in a single day. The other times I’ve made the trip, I either stayed overnight at Sibbald Point or cheated by driving over the Oak Ridges Moraine to start and finish my ride near Newmarket. The round trip was 154 km, with seven hours in the saddle and about an hour of breaks. I just didn’t have it in me to ride around Toronto for another twenty minutes to make it a full century.  Still, it was my longest ride of the year by about 35 km and my longest overall since riding to Toronto from Niagara Falls a couple of years ago.

I really like the challenge of pushing myself on a long bike ride, but I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a Hairshirt. Still, I feel that a 200 km ride is within reach. Probably not this year, but maybe next.

Two important lessons from this ride:

  1. The next time I ride anywhere near this far, it’s going to be a bit cooler than Sunday’s humidex of two and a half jillion degrees.
  2. My current carrying capacity of four and a half litres of water and Gatorade isn’t enough to last 150 km on a hot day. Are there any good bike-mounted hydration options that hold more than a couple of water bottles? I’d love some kind of frame-mounted system that would add another 2-3 litres to what I currently have. I suppose I could mount another couple of bottles under my seat or on the handlebars. Until then, I’ll just keep stopping at variety stores or farmhouses for refills when my water gets low.