This summer I got myself a red vintage Raleigh bike & joined the Toronto bike community. I also learned a couple of things about the life of a cyclists.
1) The freedom.
With our crappy public transit & horrid traffic, riding a bike in the city is most freeing experience. On my bike, I can go anywhere I want, at the pace I want. Nothing can stop me, not gridlock, blocked roads or transit delays as I peddle down side streets or weave in & out of the gridlock.
Plus, nothing beats the feeling of the wind in your face as you pedal down a hill.
2) If you are a reasonably attractive woman on a bike, you will get hit on.
For men who cycle, seeing a woman doing the same shows that you have something in common. This shared interest makes you more approachable & provides a topic of conversation. I’ve been complimented on my bike or chatted up about the shady behavior of a driver.
Then there are the other men , the ones who use the bike for some lame pick-up lame (“I wish I was that bike”) or better yet, will cat-call at you as they walk past. The second always amused me as clearly I’m not going to hear you or engage with you if you are walking & I’m whizzing past you on my bike.
3) A lot of cyclist don’t what bike signals are.
This is a problem.
To cycle safety you need to know your hand signals & use them. Everyone on the road will thank you.
4) There are not enough bike lanes in Toronto.
I commute from the Annex to Yonge & Bloor, & have to take one of the most treacherous streets for a cyclist – Bloor Street from University to Church Street. This one stretch of Bloor Street, has no bike lane to speak of & I end up fighting for road space with cars who don’t like me or are driving by people who just want to get home after a long work day.
Most drivers are considerate enough to give me the space I need to ride past them but there are some (usually those in the largest cars) who will ignore my existence. They will squeeze me out of you the tiny space I have on the road & whiz past me at dangerous speeds.
Then there are the drivers that decided to stop along Bloor as they pop into Holts or wait to pick someone up – messing up the flow of traffic & forcing me to ride out into traffic.
5) Alleyways are the underground railroad of Toronto cyclists.
Until I started cycling I did not notice the vast number of lanes & back alleys that Toronto has. There is quite a lot of them & they can be the best way to get you around the city at times.
They are also some of the most interesting routes to take as you will discovery things you didn’t know existed before – lanes of graffiti, garages turned into art pieces & historical buildings.
6) Things that you didn’t notice before have now become extremely dangerous.
Streetcar tracks & curb bulges are two things I use to never pay much attention to. But, they have now become THE things I watch for when I ride my bike.
My first major whip-out resulted because I rode up a lane way to park my bike. My back wheel got caught on the curb bulge, because I took it at too much of an angle & I went crashing down.
Luckily I wasn’t going very fast & caught my fall on my hand, but a few scraps & bruises were my souvenirs for that lesson.
7) Vigilante Pedestrians exist & it is best to avoid them.
As a rule I don’t ride on the sidewalk. But, there are times when for your own safety you have to ride on the sidewalk (side bar: having more bike lanes would solve this problem).
One time I was riding along Bloor past St.George & when I got close to the ROM some construction was blocking the street & the cars had blocked my access to safely get past University. So I rode up onto the sidewalk.
That is when I had my first experience with the “Vigilante Pedestrian”.
As I slowed down on the sidewalk, a rather angry white old man jumped into my way & started waiving his hands. Not knowing what was going on & having a pedestrian in my way I stopped. Only to have the man run up to me & grab the handle bars of my bike, stopping me from moving, & shouting at me that what I was doing was illegal, as his wife stood by his side. His public abuse of me seemed to have given another Vigilante Pedestrian the courage to join in & hurl abuse at me.
I was shocked. Regardless of what I was doing this man did not have the right to detain me or abuse me. I had not been riding on the sidewalk fast or deliberately riding at pedestrians. I was only on the sidewalk because I had no other option.
The last thing I learned …
That I love it.