Guelph to Kitchener

The road from Guelph to Kitchener

The farm-lined road to Anywhere, southern Ontario.

First, a travel tip for anyone taking a bike into the York Mills GO terminal: the canonical way to get to the bus platforms is to go into the York Mills Centre at the northeast corner of Yonge and York Mills, take the well-hidden elevator up to the second floor, and then walk down a short flight of stairs. It’s not so bad on foot, but it’s an overly complicated two-step when you’re swinging a loaded bike around. It’s way more convenient to ride just a few more metres north up Yonge to the same portal that the buses use and ride in through that as if you owned the place. It’s not only a shorter and easier route to the platform, but it means you don’t have to shoulder your bike down stairs or make everyone in the elevator miserable. It’s also far safer. You won’t be riding into a fare-paid zone, so it’s not like you’re doing anything underhanded.

I made a multi-modal trip to Kitchener this weekend (I’ll write more about that in the future), taking GO Transit to Guelph and cycling from there to Kitchener on Friday morning, and then reversing the trip on Sunday evening. Riding the roughly 28 km from Guelph to Kitchener is unlike riding in the countryside anywhere near Toronto. Oh sure, you’ve got the same corn fields, roadside ruminants, sod farms, rural communities, and quiet country roads, but the terrain is remarkably flat. There were only two noticeable hills for the entire ride and even those were smaller than climbing up Danforth from Coxwell to Woodbine. I’m used to traversing the Oak Ridges Moraine or climbing hills on hills on hills in the Peterborough drumlin field when I ride in the country, so riding somewhere flat is quite a treat.

Highway 7 provides the shortest and most direct route between the two cities, but it’s not very pleasant to ride on. A more southerly route along Wellington 124 is about 5 km longer but it’s at least 10 km nicer to ride on. I took a middle way to Kitchener that had theoretical advantages over taking 124: the route along Fife Road is both quieter and shorter by almost 3 km. It also has a long stretch of riding on dirt roads, which doesn’t usually bother me. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t been riding in Friday’s rain, which begat mud, which begat a poorly functioning drivetrain, which begat sucking the fun out of the ride. I was insanely happy that my hotel room was ready three hours before check-in time. “How are you today Mr. Dodge?” “A little muddy.” “I see that.” In total, the ride from downtown Guelph to downtown Kitchener was 28.5 km and took 90 minutes in the rain with a malfunctioning rear derailleur that left me more or less stuck in an awkward gear.

Sunday’s evening’s return trip was sunny and warm (see the picture above) with a steady tailwind. I took advantage of the tailwind to ride the slightly longer return route along Kossuth Road and Wellington 124. Both of those roads have nice wide paved shoulders for most of their length and are easy to ride on if not quite as scenic as some of the quieter rural roads. The return trip was 30.5 km in just 75 minutes with a tailwind blowing all the way. Not bad for a loaded mountain bike. I’d recommend the Fife Road route if it’s dry and you don’t mind riding on dirt roads. I don’t think I’d do it on my road bike. If you want a smooth ride that’s relatively fast but with less traffic than Highway 7, take Wellington 124 and Kossuth Road. You’ll have to head either north or south to cross the Grand River into town; take whichever way is the shorter route to your ultimate destination.

If you’re so inclined, you can read a more detailed ride report below the fold.

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Public bike repair stands

I was riding downtown a couple of weeks ago and decided to pop my bike up on one of the newly installed public bike repair stands to give it a quick once over:

Old Faithful on a public bike repair stand.

Each of the three stands downtown (plus one more on the university campus) includes a full set of tools for most basic on-the-go repairs and adjustments:

Tools available at the public bike repair stand.

The stands even feature bike repair videos and tips, via a QR code that links to a helpful website.

QR code for bike maintenance instructions on the public repair stand.This is the kind of cycling infrastructure that I love: it’s incredibly useful for both casual and seasoned riders and just sits unobtrusively in the background until it’s needed. The only thing missing from the stand is a pump, which is probably the one tool that would be used the most. Susan Sauvé, a transportation planner at the city, told me via email that pumps were originally included with the stands when they were installed in July, but they all broke within a week. The city currently has more durable pumps on order from the manufacturer and hopes to re-install them soon.

My bike checked out fine on this occasion, but I definitely could have used one of these stands when my pedal broke near Grange Park last year and I needed to conduct some emergency repairs before finishing my commute. It’s good to know that if it happened again today, I’d be just a short 163 km ride away from this stand at the corner of George and Simcoe Streets in downtown Peterborough. The two other downtown Peterborough locations would be a smidge closer, and the one at Trent University a bit farther. The stands were installed this summer through a partnership of the City of Peterborough and B!ke, a local DIY bike repair shop. Oh, you didn’t think these were in Toronto, did you? Doncha know there’s a war on the car here? The last thing we want to do is make things easier for those dastardly bikers.

Peterborough to Hastings rail trail

 

The Peterborough to Hastings rail trial curves away from the Trent River after kissing the shore.

After our thoroughly enjoyable trip on the Peterborough to Omemee rail trail a few weeks ago, I decided to take a trip down a second Peterborough-area rail trail this weekend, heading east out of town this time. Risa was unable to join me for the ride, so I packed up my day-trip kit and did this one solo.

The Peterborough to Hastings rail trail is not yet part of the Trans Canada Trail, but is listed as a proposed addition and there is some work afoot to make it official (PDF) and make improvements where necessary. As it stands now, the trail is formally maintained only in winter as a snowmobile trail, leaving summer maintenance to volunteers acting on an ad hoc basis with no coordinating body.

Compared to the Peterborough to Omemee trail, the lack of coordination shows: the route to Hastings is a little more wild and a bit more of a challenging ride. Unlike the smooth wide bed of gravel dust on the Omemee trail, the ride to Hastings is mostly on dirt double-track with some large gravel, loose sand, and other trail hazards along the way. Some of the bridges seemed to be in rough shape, with some surface planks rotting away and exposing holes big enough to see through to the rivers below. The trail is probably smooth as butter when it’s covered with a couple of feet of hard packed snow but it can be a little jarring on a bike in the summer. It’s certainly in good enough condition and offers enough variation for an average cyclist to have an enjoyable trip, but you won’t find any beach cruisers on it. Front suspension on my mountain bike was most welcome by the halfway mark.

The trail was exceptionally quiet considering that it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon for cycling or hiking. The first 90 minutes of my two hour putter along the trail were blissfully solo, without another soul in sight at any time, even when crossing intersections. The last half hour was almost as quiet and I only encountered four people on the trail before I turned onto the streets of Hastings. I imagine that it’s not quite as tranquil when the snowmobiles hit the trail, but it’s a very relaxing summer day trip.

The trail ends somewhat unceremoniously in the middle of the Trent River in Hastings (see the gallery below for more information about that), but you can make connections from there to other trails that continue to Campbellford, Tweed, and Sharbot Lake. Traversing gaps to yet more trails that can get you as far as Bancroft or within hailing distance of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

The Peterborough to Hastings rail trail starts approximately 7 km southeast of downtown Peterborough at Keene Road and runs about 29 km to Hastings. Like most rail trails, it’s fairly flat and grades are slight enough that they won’t trouble even the most casual of cyclists. The scenery ranges from wide-open farmers’ fields to thick forest growth and includes views of numerous rivers, creeks, marshes, swamps, cows, and even a couple of trailer parks heading into Hastings. Intersections are mostly quiet dirt roads. There are no obvious supply facilities or rest stops along the way other than farmhouses that back onto the trail; the village of Keene is about 2 km south of the trail at the 9 km mark, but that’s about it. Be sure to pack a repair kit and adequate food and water.

Check out the gallery after the jump for the usual ride pictures and commentary.

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Peterborough to Omemee rail trail

This is why I don’t understand why people pay to ride stationary bikes in windowless gym basements.

Risa and I rode the 22 km from downtown Peterborough to Omemee this weekend via an old railway that’s now part of the Trans Canada Trail. Starting from its origin in Peterborough, this rail trail runs between backyards and along a small stream before quickly leaving the city, pavement, and crowds behind on the way to Omemee and beyond.  It has everything you’d expect along the way: scenic vistas, a well-maintained gravel bed, planked-in bridges and trestles like the one shown above, and an utter lack of traffic and hills. The trail continues past Omemee to Lindsay, where you can connect to other trails that will take you to Uxbridge, Fenelon Falls, or all the way up to Haliburton.
Peterborough to Omemee rail trailThe trail is an easy and relaxing ride for the entire length. It passes a few rural intersections and driveways at grade, while busy Highway 7 and some other driveways are carried over the trail on bridges. The urban intersections in Peterborough are similar to the ones on Toronto’s Beltline, but have curb cuts to actually let cyclists cross at the trail. The trail itself is well-maintained and can be ridden by the most casual of cyclists. Along the way you are treated to views of farms, valleys, and the rolling hills that you are not constantly climbing up and down. That’s the real joy of rail trails: you may be climbing, but the grade is so slight that it doesn’t hurt when you’re going up and it’s like having a slight tailbreeze when you’re going down.

Check out the short gallery with some of the sights along the way after the jump.

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Two roads, one day

The first ever Bells on Danforth ride pauses at Pape.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday: The first ever Bells on Danforth ride pauses at Pape.

 

Lakeshore Road outside Newcastle, Ontario.

Early evening on Saturday: Lakeshore Road outside Newcastle.

Saturday was a day of contrasts and lots of fun bike riding. In the morning, I was helping to set up the skills course for the Ward 35 bike rodeo in Scarborough. By mid-afternoon, I was cycling to Queen’s Park very slowly with 90 other cyclists as part of the inaugural Bells on Danforth ride. And in the early evening, I was pedalling down a virtually deserted Lakeshore Road on Lake Ontario between Newcastle and Port Hope. After cycling out of Newcastle and before arriving on the main drag of Port Hope 90 minutes later, I encountered a scant eleven cars and three pedestrians—and none at all of either for a full 45-minute stretch. With the sun finally peeking out from the clouds for the last half hour of my ride, it was the perfect way to unwind from a long day of good cycling and lousy weather.

Bike Month

Most people who read this blog will already know that Bike Month kicks off on Monday with the Group Commute to City Hall. But you may not know about two other biking activities taking place in June that I’m helping to organize through my work with Ward 29 Bikes:

  • Bells on Danforth. Inspired by Bells on Bloor, Bells on Danforth will be a fun—and with luck, huge—group ride on Saturday, June 2 from East Lynn Park (south side of Danforth, one block west of Woodbine) to Queen’s Park for the Cycle and Sole rally. We’ve been talking about organizing this ride for years and we finally got it off the ground this year by joining forces with the other east end cycling groups—32 Spokes, SoDa Bikes, and DECA Bikes—along with a lot of help and advice from Peter Low of Bells on Bloor. We have no real idea how many people to expect on the inaugural ride but I’m hoping for at least 200.
  • Thursday night rides. At Ward 29 Bikes, we’ve also talked about running social rides for almost as long as we’ve been around (since 2008!) but we’ve never quite gotten around to actually doing it until this year. We’ve organized a slate of four rides on Thursday evenings in June, leaving from the East York Community Centre and tootling around various parts of the city for 90-120 minutes. I’m hoping for 10-20 people on each ride. I’ll be on all of them, so set aside a couple of hours on one Thursday in June if you’ve ever wanted to heckle me in person.

Worst bike name ever

The MEC created a minor stir a few weeks ago when it announced that it would start selling Ghost bikes, a brand long-established in Germany but whose name means something else entirely here. It would have been difficult to find a bike name less suited to the North American market, but then I found the Ibis Tranny:

Ibis Tranny bike

The Ibis Tranny has both a monocoque frame and a slot machine. Good to know.

It raises the inevitable question: would you rather be caught hammering a Ghost down the trail, or riding a Tranny? Either way, I’ll stick to my Trek, thanks.

Same path, same day, different rules

In Taylor Creek Park near the forks of the Don, a raised pathway was installed a while ago so that pedestrians and cyclists wouldn’t have to contend with vehicular traffic on the park roadway. When you’re heading east into the park, the shared path beckons to cyclists, explicitly declaring that it’s “open for bikers [sic] and pedestrians”:

Welcome, eastbound cyclists.

But at the other end of the path, cyclists heading west out of the park are sternly instructed to dismount:

Go away, westbound cyclists.

To be clear, this is the same “shared pathway,” only about 100 metres long, and built with the express purpose of giving safe passage under the Don Valley Parkway away from cars on the park road. And although it’s signed as a shared pathway at both ends, it seems that only eastbound cyclists are actually allowed to ride their bikes.

If the pathway is too narrow to allow cyclists to ride in both directions while mingling with pedestrians (an assessment I wouldn’t disagree with), or if there’s a blind corner that makes riding full-bore unsafe, why weren’t those issues addressed during design and construction? Or better yet, why not just mark it as a pedestrian walkway and encourage cyclists to just take the road, which is the route still chosen by the vast majority of cyclists anyway?

Ironically, the raised path would be of most use to westbound cyclists because it doesn’t dip as low under the bridge as the roadway does, making the short hill on the far side easier to climb. Yet it’s westbound cyclists who are singled out for dismounting. Personally, I think that if the city wants this passage to be safer, it should instruct drivers to get out of their cars and push. After all, there’s a blind corner and the lanes are a little narrow…

Start seeing bicycles

Start seeing bicycles bumper sticker

I saw this bumper sticker last night on my way to, appropriately enough, an organizing meeting for Ward 29 Bikes.

Whenever I’m riding in traffic, I’m always secretly grateful to the people who blast their horns and yell at me out their windows. It’s not that I appreciate their road rage or get-outta-my-way entitlement, it’s that if nothing else, I know that they’ve seen me. And drivers who see me, and who know I’m in front of them, and whose rage tacitly acknowledges that they can’t get around me without changing lanes, scare me a lot less than the ones who show up in my mirror while looking down at their cell phones, engaging their passengers in animated conversation, or fiddling with the radio. Those drivers may get away with it most of the time, but they are the ones who really need to start seeing bicycles.

I’d say the same about the people at Lifehacker, who last week posted an article about how car drivers could prevent dooring cyclists. Unfortunately, they stuck with the lazy “invisible cyclists” narrative while transferring the responsibility of motorists to do something as simple as safely opening their doors onto those dastardly bikers:

It has likely happened to all of us: we’re casually opening the door of a car when another car or bike comes whizzing past, nearly hitting the door because they didn’t see it opening. Instructables user milesfromnelhu recognized the problem and decided to fix it by spray painting a warning strip on the inside of the door.

[…]

It’s true you should be looking in your side mirror before popping open the door, but it doesn’t always happen. Smaller vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles might still be invisible when you look in the mirror.

As a cyclist, I have to say that I try to use my powers of invisibility much more sparingly than the above statement would suggest. Still, I always hear that I “came out of nowhere” or that a driver simply “didn’t see” me. As I’ve said elsewhere, if you don’t see me, it’s not because putting a bicycle between my legs activates my cloak of invisibility, it’s because you aren’t paying attention.

If you look at the language in the Lifehacker post, it excuses the person who creates the dangerous situation (the driver opening the door) while laying the blame on the victim (the person about to be hit by it):

  • casually opening the door“: I’m just minding my own business, quietly going about my day without affecting anyone else.
  • car or bike comes whizzing past“: Maniacs, I tell you. Maniacs.
  • because they didn’t see it opening“: It’s not my fault for endangering other people, it’s their fault for not anticipating it and getting out of the way.
  • It’s true you should be looking in your side mirror“: Actually, it’s the law in most places, not merely a suggestion.
  • but it doesn’t always happen“: A really jarring mid-sentence switch to the passive voice to avoid laying blame precisely where it belongs.
  • motorcycles or bicycles might still be invisible“: How can you possibly expect me to see invisible cyclists?

And that’s just in a short two-paragraph article. Unfortunately, it reflects how a lot of motorists feel not just about bikes, but about all other traffic, including pedestrians.

Some motorists often have a knee-jerk reaction against cyclists and cycling infrastructure because they think that our goal is to force them to ride bicycles everywhere. In truth, we just want to be seen. But all of the lights, reflective strips, helmets, mirrors, and DayGlo jackets in the world won’t do us any good if you’re not looking for us. So by all means, stay in your car. But please start seeing bicycles.