Warning or invitation?

Dangerous unmaintained road sign

These signs are scattered all around Hamilton Township at the entrances to many dirt roads  that run between two or more adjacent farms. They’re municipal roads that are used primarily for access to back fields, so the only traffic that they really see are tractors and the occasional dirt bike or ATV. Most are only 1-2 km long and are classified as “summer maintained” or “unopened road allowance” by the township. Some, like the one above, are navigable by your average family sedan. Others, like the one below, call for more of a sense of adventure and either a larger or smaller vehicle:

The road here just kind of disappears into weeds and neatly growing rows of wheat, bordered by trees on one side and a corn field on the other.

Some of the roads not only seem well-maintained in the summer, but also form part of the snowmobile trails that criss-cross Ontario? in the winter:

Country lane

So, is “Dangerous unmaintained road” a warning or invitation? It depends what you’ve got underneath you at the time.  The roadies that I passed on the asphalt a couple of clicks back would have nothing to do with roads like these. A rider on a touring motorcycle was checking one out, but probably wouldn’t take another. But for a guy exploring on a mountain bike, they’re just about irresistible.

My own personal G20

I don’t live in the G20 security zone and I don’t often find myself there in the normal course of events, but I do need 24/7 emergency access to 151 Front Street West (geeks in the audience should recognize the address), which is directly across the street from the Convention Centre and deep inside the security perimeter. Yay. So I went and got me one of these ultra-high-tech ID cards that appears to be completely unforgeable without the use of an ink jet printer and a laminating machine. And really, who has that kind of stuff just lying around? You’d have to be some kind of Forest Hill zillionaire. Maybe there’s an RFID tag hiding in that card somewhere, but I doubt it.

Anyway, the original info about these cards from the Toronto Police Service said that it was a good idea to have one, but that they weren’t mandatory; you can get into the perimeter if you have this card and government-issued photo ID, or just government-issued photo ID and a plausible reason to be inside, or just a plausible reason to be inside. My take on that is that the cards will go from being optional today, to being mandatory tomorrow, to being useless on Saturday because no one will be getting in, no matter what ID or reasons they have.

My plausible reason for being there yesterday and today was taking due precautions for business continuity in the highly unlikely event that all hell breaks loose and 151 Front is damaged or taken off the grid. Such an event would pretty much screw the Internet in Canada for a few weeks. I expect nothing of the sort, but plan for the worst, hope for the best, and all that.

Both yesterday and today, I got into the perimeter without any problem, locking my bike up in front of 151 and having friendly chats with the police officers nearby; no ID, justification, or body-cavity searches required. One officer today joked that he may need to use my bike lock (Master Lock Street Cuffs) to arrest some protesters. I was certainly aware of being surrounded by cops, but everyone seemed relaxed and friendly, even if on alert.

Many of the bikes locked up along Front Street had police seals on them, for reasons unkown. My bike didn’t get one on either of my two trips down, though it would have been a nifty souvenir. Two of the officers milling about at Front and University did ask me how long I’d be, because if my bike was still there when a security lockdown started, the lock would be cut and my bike removed. Informed that I’d only be about 20 minutes or so, they offered to keep an eye out and save my lock if a removal crew came along. I guess that’s good news. I was surprised to see so many post and rings still in service in the perimeter, but many more than usual were unused.

At the height of lunch hour, Front Street at Simcoe was basically deserted. There are usually more people at this intersection on Sundays at 6 a.m. I’m used to looking out this window while I wait for a server to reboot for the umpteenth time in the middle of the night, so it was a nice change of pace.

Rent-a-cop or rent-a-truck?

For an event like this, the police obviously need more vehicles than they have. The good news is that however much they’re spending on rentals out of the $1 billion security tab, they didn’t direct a significant portion toward painting their temporary vehicles in the official colours, opting instead for a printed sticker and an ID scrawled in grease pencil. The drawback to this is that anyone with a rental truck and an ink jet printer (there’s that subversive tool again!) can do a pretty mean impression of a police van. After I took this picture, I was even more amused to see the POLICE sticker on the driver’s door placed above a prominent Air Miles logo. I thought of a frequent protester program: get arrested in this van three times and get an all-expenses paid flight to Syria. Woo! (Return fare not included.)

All right, now this is the final straw. I don’t mind giant fences, thousands of cops with riot gear patrolling the streets, downtown emptying of all life, the protests, the over-the-top media, the general inconvenience, the highway closures, or the enormous cost. Hell, I don’t even mind the fake lake. But sealing off the cute old mail slot by the elevators in 151 Front is more than I can take.

Truth be told, in the 13 or so years that I’ve been making regular visits to 151, I’ve never been sure that the mail slots were in regular use anyway. I’ve always just assumed that they were part of the building’s semi-old-timey heritage (and more than a bit of an anacronism considering its current duties) and it never occurred to me that I could drop a letter into the slot and have it do anything other than sit forgotten inside the wall for the rest of eternity.

With any luck, I’ll be enjoying the G20 summit from the shores of a real lake. Part of me really wants to hang around for the weekend just to see how the local media goes crazy trying to blow every little thing out of proportion, but a much bigger part of me just wants to snooze on a hammock. Decisions, decisions.

Random notes for other cyclists

A straight fender over your rear wheel may keep your back clean in the rain, but anyone riding behind you will get a hard line of spray right in the face. Do other cyclists a favour and eliminate the rooster tail; get yourself a set of full fenders.

If you’re riding at night, you really need lights. You may be able to see without them, but you also need to be seen.

You’d find riding a lot easier if you just pumped up your tires a bit.

Please, can I put some oil on your chain? If I have to listen to that squeaking for one more block, I’m  going to have to take another route.

I realize that those damned ear buds have been surgically attached to your head since 2006, but at least pretend to pay attention to the world around you when you ride.

If yammering away on your cell phone is preventing you from riding in a straight line, either pull over or call back later.

No, I will not call out “passing on the left” whenever I overtake you, for the same reason that I don’t honk at every car that I pass on the highway. If you’re on the road, I expect you to be alert enough to know what’s happening around you.

I understand why you’d choose to wear a helmet, and I understand why you’d choose not to wear a helmet. What I don’t understand is why you bother bringing a helmet if it’s just going to swing from your handlebar like that while you ride. It’s the worst of both worlds.

If you think that crossing against a red light at the top of a T intersection is so harmless, maybe you can explain why you nearly rode straight into me.

I realize that you’re too super-cool to bother with courtesy, the rules of the road, and all that, but stop your bike for 20 seconds and let people get off the streetcar in peace.

If you’re going to make a U-turn on the bike path, look over your left shoulder first.

When you’re teaching your kids to ride, don’t tell them that cyclists “don’t really have to stop at stop signs.” They’ll figure that out when they’re teenagers, but in the meantime, you’re setting them up to expect something that just isn’t true.

When you’re teaching your kids how to ride, don’t tell them to ride on the left side of the road in order to avoid getting doored. Instead, teach them to keep a safe distance from parked cars and to be alert for people exiting vehicles.

I understand why you might want to ride on the sidewalk in certain places, but beside a perfectly good bike lane really isn’t one of them.

If you must ride on the sidewalk, please don’t careen around pedestrians like they’re part of an obstacle course; ride at a walking pace or learn how to schluff.

If the car driver ahead is signalling a right turn, don’t try to squeeze past on the right; wait behind or go around to the left.

If you’re moving out to get past a parked car, check over your shoulder to make sure that you aren’t about to ride in front of another cyclist. Or a car.

I’ve been using this post and ring all winter long. You’ve seen me using this post and ring all winter long. And now that the nice weather is here, I really don’t appreciate you taking my post and ring just because you get to work a few minutes before I do.

I really don’t mind stopping to help you patch up your tire, but seriously, how can you ride this far out of the city without carrying even a basic repair kit?

And finally, you may be all decked out with your team jersey, clipless shoes, energy bars, and carbon-fibre road bike, but this 40-year-old fat guy on a 20-year-old  mountain bike heading home for dinner can ride through Leaside faster than you. Bring it!

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.