A useful bit of whimsy

Fishy catch basin grate

Much Toronto infrastructure is notable for its absolute devotion to utilitarianism, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to happen across a piece that combines utility with thoughtful design. This catch basin grate, located just a few steps north of the Leaside Bridge, was installed after the road was resurfaced late last autumn. Toronto has long participated in the Yellow Fish Road program, but incorporating the image of a fish directly into the grate is a nice touch that both looks great (mud and trash notwithstanding) and delivers a message.

These grates seem to have been around Ottawa for a while, and seem to be one of at least two fishy designs currently on the streets of Toronto.

Cycling in Austin

Tikit to the Capitol

While I was in Austin last week, I managed to get out for a couple or rides and get a bit of a feel for cycling in the area. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in the way of cycling infrastructure in the city: my cycling friends all said that Austin is a very bikeable city with cyclists everywhere, whereas all of the drivers I know who have been there said that the only cyclists to be seen were large groups of spandex-wearing racers who took over the thoroughfares heading out of the city every weekend. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

Like Toronto, Austin is split between a bike-friendly core and somewhat bike-hostile suburbs. There are recreational trails all over the place, but actually getting by bike from one place in the suburbs to another requires you to grit your teeth and put up with a lot of fast-moving traffic. The bike lanes and racks of downtown quickly give way to turning lanes and parking lots when you leave the core. Sidewalks also largely disappear, leaving car travel as the only practical way of getting from A to B in the suburbs. A lot of roads in the burbs have what most people would call shoulders, but what many Austinites seem to think of  as passing lanes: what looks at first glance to be a safe suburban haven for cyclists is actually home to lots of cars going really fast with drivers probably not expecting slow-moving  bikes in front of them.

It’s hard to tell from a short visit whether Austin has really embraced the practicality of cycling, but I do know that in just five days, I saw three different cars with “Please be kind to cyclists” bumper stickers, which is three more than I’ve seen in a lifetime in Toronto.

Yield to bikes

One of the major cycling routes downtown goes down Guadalupe St, seen above at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There were a lot of bike lanes downtown, both on major arterials and on quieter side streets. But compared to the state of the road paint in Toronto, most of the lane lines were faded almost to invisibility. Several times while riding in a barely-discernable bike lane, I was unsure that drivers in the cars behind me could see the same markings that I could. The sign above, telling drivers entering a right-turn lane to yield to cyclists in the bike lane, is rare in Toronto, but common in Austin.

Area map on a bike route sign

One nice touch on some of the signed bike routes was an area map, showing not only where you where, but connecting routes and nearby attractions.

Bike racks with integrated cable locks

Another interesting feature was bike racks with integrated cable locks for securing your wheels without having to carry a second lock around. I only saw these in two locations, but it would be great to have these city-wide.

Bike frames made into a bike rack

Unlike Toronto’s iconic post and ring racks, there doesn’t seem to be a single standard design for bike racks in Austin. Many racks are provided by private businesses and can take interesting forms. I was especially taken by this excellent re-purposing of old frames into a functional sculpture.

The war on texting?

Just when I was starting to think that Austinites had fully embraced (or at least tolerated) cycling as a form of transportation, I read the above letter to the editor in the local newspaper as I sat down to my last breakfast in the city. Apparently, Toronto isn’t the only place where anything done in a car is more important than safe cycling routes.


Overly specific.

Among the various disclaimers and warnings in the manual that accompanied a new Bluetooth headset was this oddity:

Do not place this unit in a place exposed to humidity, dust, soot or steam, subject to direct sunlight, or in a car waiting at a traffic signal. It may cause a malfunction.

Huh? I’ve seen my share of odd warnings, but warning against using something “in a car waiting at a traffic signal”? This is new to me. So assuming I have this thing in my car while I go from A to B, what am I supposed to do when I reach a red light? “Yes, I saw the red light officer, but do you know how dangerous it would have been for me to stop? I have a bluetooth headset in my bag!”

For the record, Sony informed me that this is an error in the manual and it’s meant to caution against using the headset while driving. I’m not at all sure how that would “cause a malfunction,” though. Either way, I’d say that this warning is a good argument against writing owner’s manuals while in a car, whether driving or stopped at a red light.

How to take your bike on a business trip (or vacation)

Tikit at home

Step 1: Get a folding bike. Mine is a Bike Friday Tikit. This bike has a million options, from the most basic Model T (the one I have) all the way up to a fully tricked-out road bike with drop handlebars, lots of gear inches, and just about any component choice you could imagine. The hyperfold model folds in five seconds. I don’t have that one, so my Tikit takes a full 15 seconds to fold. The best thing about the Tikit is that although it looks weird and the wheels are tiny (just sixteen inches), it feels and rides like a normal-sized bike. My riding position on this bike is basically the same as on my mountain bike, which is perfect for commuting and tootling around the city. But don’t take my word for it, get yourself to Urbane Cyclist and give one a test ride for yourself.

Samsonite 30-inch Flite case

Step 2: Get a suitcase that your folded bike will fit into. The 30″ Samsonite F’Lite GT is the case that Bike Friday designs their bikes to fit into, so it seemed like a good choice. With only minor disassembly (one wheel removed and a half-dozen bolts loosened or removed), the bike fits neatly into the case with lots of room left over for a repair kit, pump, locks, and other cycling gear. Because the bike is designed to fit into a suitcase, there’s no guesswork involved; the manual shows the packing process in detail, right down to the correct way to orient the cranks. I didn’t manage to squeeze my helmet in, but I’m sure I could with a bit of practice. Practice could also get my packing time down from around 45 minutes the first time to maybe 15.

Homemade crush protector

Step 3: Get a crush protector to keep the side of the suitcase from collapsing on your fragile bike. Even a hard-sided suitcase like the F’Lite has a lot of give in it and given the way that baggage handlers toss luggage around, it would be pretty easy to end up with a bent wheel or chainring after a flight. The crush protector is just a support that keeps the sides of the suitcase from compressing, ensuring that there’s never any weight bearing down on the sensitive bits of the bike itself. Bike Friday sells crush protectors for $7, or you can make your own for about the same cost from parts available at any hardware store with a decent stock of electrical supplies. That meant Home Depot for me.

All packed up

Step 4: Pack the bike in the case, following the instructions in the manual. Bike Friday sells packing kits that include little fabric bags and sleeves to help protect the sensitive bits, but I found that a short length of packing foam, some old rags, and a few elastic bands did the same job.

Step 5: Check your bike at the airport, now indistinguishable from any other piece of luggage, and laugh at those ridiculous charges for bike boxes that airlines love to charge.

Ready to go

Step 6: Unpack at your destination. It only took me about 20 minutes to unpack and reassemble. I didn’t do too badly for my first-time packing: the rear reflector was broken in transit, but everything else survived without a scratch.

At the Texas Capitol, 2200 km from home

Step 7: Have a good ride!

So I’m in Austin, Texas at the moment, midway through a week of working hard, eating meat, and riding a bit. The Texas Capitol is about 2200 km from home, or a much more reasonable 10-minute ride from my hotel. Work commitments are keeping my exploring to a minimum, but I’m trying to get as much in as I can. There’ll be some more random posts about Austin in the days ahead.

Supermarket Finds: Code 4651

Individually labelled mushrooms from Loblaws

While I recognize that memorizing all of those codes can be difficult for cashiers and it can’t be easy telling whether that bag of apples has a dozen galas or fujis, I think that painstakingly tagging every individual mushroom in the store is going a little overboard. Not only do labels not stick to mushrooms all that well, but I can’t imagine that it’s very efficient to pay some poor stocker to sit over boxes of mushrooms all day long with a label gun. And as with all tagged produce, the worst part is standing in the kitchen removing all of the labels. Good thing those printed codes save me five seconds in line; I can apply that time to the two minutes I have to spend standing over the cutting board de-labelling a bag of shiitakes.

I try to avoid my local Loblaws whenever possible, but occasionally it’s just too convenient to pass up. I never fail to be surprised by something there, and today was no different. At least they don’t shrink-wrap as much of their produce as the local Sobeys does.


The once proud Toronto Moose, now relegated to playing bit parts in off-Bayview productions

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Toronto was overrun by Moose in the City. Why, I remember it like it was ten years ago…

There are still a few moose dotting the city in various states of disrepair, but you can almost see the sadness in this one’s eyes as he gazes back on his glory days as a tourist attraction from his current position as a Halloween prop near the corner of Bayview and Moore. Hang in there, buddy; Halloween’s here in a week and I’m sure you won’t have to wear any silly Christmas costumes afterward. Besides, this getup is much more dignified than the one Google Street View caught you in. They didn’t even have the courtesy to blur your face.

Informed democracy

“Who are all these people on the ballot? I thought there were only five people running for mayor.”

“They’re just a bunch of random people who don’t have any chance of winning.”

— An ill-informed voter gets an equally ill-informed answer from a worker at Sunday’s advance poll.