Sunday, May 24, 2009

Still lacking in posts. I am in the final thesis push to complete my first draft and really lacking creative energy. I am also thinking of switching the direction of this blog. I started it during the OC Transpo transit strike here in Ottawa, which had wide reaching implications for even those of us in the city who don't take transit. Gridlock was unbelievable, snow removal wasn't happening (for unrelated reasons), cylists were abused by angry drivers looking for an easy target. I was frustrated a lot and wanted to vent. The thing is though that I am in love with the cycle chic movement and want to get away from the urban warrior concept of cycling. Be a person who rides a bike, not a cyclist. Judging by my previous posts, I enjoy focusing on local content and focus on being a female cyclist. I'm not sure what I will do, but I will definately have more time to plan and get creative once I am done writing. I definitely want to include more photos too.

Way more important than any of that self-indulgence is the fact that Sarah from Girls and Bicycles has had her water break and may be going into labour as I write this! We have never interacted, but her blog is one of my favourites and always inspiring. If she can cycle through the winter, while pregnant in Edmonton, I think I can handle Ottawa. I can only hope to look half as stylish as she does! What a lucky baby. Chauffeured around in style on a Pashley in the womb and well on the way to riding in a cargo bike or other baby friendly set up soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Urban Warrior Cycling Uniform

I don't know why, but I absolutely love seeing women cycling in hijab. I think it is because it is the greatest challenge to to the urban warrior bike culture that predominates in North America. I get enough comments when people see me riding in skirts and heels, I can only imagine what the reaction hijabi get when people see them on a bike. Most hijabi in Ottawa wear modest western dress with a headscarf, although I occasionally see a niqab. I think it would still be possible to wear one while riding a bike, as long as it had a step-through frame and substantial chain cover and skirt guard. I read once on Frum Satire that riding a bike in tzitzit can be difficult for observant Jews who want to partake in modern activities, including a riding a bike. His solution was riding faster in order to let the tzitziyot billow out behind the rider, which seems like a sensible solution for any long or loose manner of dress.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Springtime is so beautiful in Ottawa. It has one of the harshest winters in the world for an urban area. I am also from Vancouver Island, which has a much more moderate climate. Spring also means more bikes on the road, and I keep hearing about something called the cycling "season." Sometimes I grumble about not being able to find parking, but I get a thrill from seeing other bikes and feel far less alone in my commute. I have also gotten some shots of interesting local bikes.

Here in Ottawa, there really is a sense of the bike season. It's officially April-October as far as city facilities go. That's when buses have bike racks, paths are maintained (although the Rideau Canal path has snow removal, no other paths do) and locking racks are available on the street. I haven't seen many bike racks out yet, even though it is late April. I am not sure why they are taken in for winter: salt, danger of vandalism, clutter.

The roads are much less challenging than in winter, but it is still necessary to be aware. Novist cyclists may not be familiar with traffic laws (please rectify this!), drivers are not used to seeing cyclists and everyone wants to be on the road more for a nice, sunny drive. I have had a couple of near misses with drivers not realizing one-way streets are not two-way, thinking a two-way street was one-way, and not noticing a cyclist advance at an intersection. Hi tourists! Enjoy your visit to Ottawa!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cycling Wardrobe to Tone With

Ottawa weather is so bizarre. It was 15°C and sunny on Thursday before dropping to just above zero and stormy all weekend. I love the rain, but it was a bit of a shock. Cycled around Vanier for the annual maple sugar festival and to a drive in prayer grotto (?!). I don't mind the rain, and the sugar shack was serving hot maple related food and drinks. And now it is even colder and the rain hast turned to snow! Weird. It makes daily weather and traffic cam checks necessary, especially because my new-old cruiser is not outfitted for snow. Or the traffic generated by three days of Tamil demonstrations, although I soared by the riot cops and lines of cars attempting to get onto the freeway.

The usual amount of rain has necessitated a change in footwear while cycling, specificaly boots to keep my work clothes clear from splashbacks. Most of Ottawa's percipitation comes in the form of light, powdery snow that doesn't soak into your clothes. The typical winter temperatures also require something warm, so I wear snow boots that are apparently certified to -30°C. Luckily the temperature here usually doesn't go below -20°C in the winter, other than on terribly windy days. My rain cycling outfit of choice is a hooded jacket, long-sleeved shirt (depending on temperature), light knee-length and hooded coat, leggings, skirt and knee-high boots. I usually lose the legging and switch to heels when I get to work.

Right now my favourite flat boots are in need of resoling, so I have been wearing some with heels. Doesn't really affect my ride since I don't pedal with the heels. I can actually cycle better in heels than I can walk, which is why my pumps stay at the office. The one thing I do notice is that different muscles are sore at the end the of day. I normally feel it in my hamstrings, although my usually work-home route has long sinced been a challenge. Since I started cycling in these (low, wedge) heels, I feel the effects in my gluts. No science, just when I have noticed. Has this happened to anyone else?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pretty Gloves

Oh yes. Mine are actually white. I bought them to celebrate getting my work contract extended and because I only have fingerless and winter weight gloves. I wanted something which covered my entire hand but allowed me to feel through the material and not get too warm. There were no black pairs there and I didn't even realize that Fox offered black. I am not sure which I would prefer. I usually wear more black but the white will not get as warm in the bright Ottawa sun, although it will show more dirt. I have a white helmet right now too, so I match. At least until I get a Bern.

I got them at Fosters, as usual. 15% of for students with an ISIC. The province of Ontario does not charge taxes on many bike accessories. I am not sure if clothing counts. I need to find where I put my receipt!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


It is hard to motivate myself to update when I would rather be out riding in the spring weather. The change in temperature is also leading me to cover prettier cycling accessories. If I were a full-time functionary instead of a part-time functionnaire (we are bilingual here) and full-time grad student, I would purchase the following things:

- Pretty new bike from Ottawa's Tall Trees Cycles. I would get the "city" Kona Africa instead of the "womens" because then I would get specs rather than a heartwarming story, not to mention better grammar.

- Chic Bern Muse helmet. I am linking to the London Cycle Chic blog's shop because I love their blog and because Foster's

- Riding Pretty's helmet covers, although that would be better for winter as well as covering up my current, less attractive helmet. The Bern Muse would look fine on its own.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pretty Helmet Cover

I'm a day late to call this Wordless Wednesday. How about Thesis Thursday? As in, I need to frantically make things up rather than talk about cycling.

All I really have to say is that now that the weather is nice enough to ride in a skirt and now I have a beautiful ladies bike with a skirt guard and step-through frame that I coveted for so long. This has left me coveting something new, namely a helmet cover for maximum prettiness while riding.

I have been eying this one on one of my favourite women's cycling sites.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Turn Signals

Drivers, cyclists, everybody: please use your turn signals. I live in an area of Ottawa with lots of old, winding roads that are not on a grid system. There are a lot of confusing two-way and four-way stops, and the streets alternate randomly between one and two-way lanes. It's confusing and hard to tell who has the right of way. When I got from my place to the Canal, I pass by Rideau Street, a major road and then a serious of small streets. They go four-way stop, two-way stop, two-way stop one-way, four-way stop, one-way four-way stop, and then the road ends and I have to turn. Two of the roads have bike lanes, but most don't.

One thing that would make this and any driving or cycling experience much easier would be if people would use their turn signals. This even affects me as a pedestrians. Going to cross with the light and having to jump away when a motorist 1) thinks the pedestrian advance is outweighed by their right turn needs and 2) has not even signaled that right turn. I realise that this is something that cyclists are as guilty of. In fact, sometimes I seems like I am the only cyclist I see who uses turn signals. I also wonder how many motorists understand them. I have also been almost clipped so many times, or alternately waited unnecessarily many times when it turns out someone is turning but has not signaled.

Please, please. Whether with your hand or lights, use your turn signals!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Old Bike!

Mine as of about ten minutes!

New Old Bike

Not my yard pictures. That's the seller's place. He was a really nice guy from the Quebec side of the river who brought it over for me because of the freak weather. I was all set to bus there and ride it back since it has been mild and warm. Some rain, but that doesn't bother me. Then there was a flash freeze yesterday and now it is -30. The freezing rain was like gravel to the face.

I have been looking for an old cruiser like this for ages. I had one like it in Germany and it is so much more comfortable to commute on. I carry a lot, so I need a stable bike with lots of carrying capacity. I also don't care about speed, so not being hunched over drop handlebars is a huge plus. I wanted a women's bike so I could wear it with skirts because this will be my summer bike. I still have the hybrid with snow tires for the rest of the year.

It was such a good deal, and came with almost all the accessories I want, other than a chain guard. So pleased. I had my eye on this for some time. While it would be nice to get a new bike, it just is not in my budget right now. I am also somewhat offended by the gendered advertising. Check out the description above, which is in the "commuter" section, and then compare it with this in the "womens section" [sic].

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ladies on Bikes

I thought I had the market cornered on writing about being a woman in a Canadian city commuting by bike in ridiculous weather, but it looks like Night Shade Bike Crew beat me to it.

It's probably for the best. My intentions are good, but having a job that involves writing reports all day as well as a graduate thesis hanging over my head really leaves me with a nasty case of writers block. That's why most of my posts involve stream of conscious rants about drivers almost clipping me. Not that the happened soon.

Fear not, I will keep at it. A post about cycling in heels and contemplating what it is like to cycle in hijab is up next. Just as soon as I coax another few thesis pages into existence.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Bike Lanes and Defensive Cycling

I just learned the term "right hook" the hard way. I went out for a Sunday ride in the sun earlier. It was lovely. Decent weather, break from thesis writing, discovered a sugar shack and cloister. The way home was less fun. Most bridges in Ottawa have bike lane, I suppose so that we don't slow down traffic on the uphill part. The St. Patrick bridge is no exception. Cyclists should be careful when merging with traffic because drivers often don't expect a cyclist to be around the corner in "their" lane, when there has just been a cycling lane. I got boxed in between two cars. In front was someone who passed me right before an intersection in order to do that right turn a few seconds faster and behind was someone following very close and not expecting me to brake when the first car pulled their "pass and turn" move. Nothing happened other than a fender coming far to close to my leg, but it still reminded me to watch out.

The recent poor cycling conditions have really improved my defensive cycling and awareness on the road. I watch for things like people stopping to park, pulling out of parallel parking, taking advantage the above to do a left turn, pedestrians cutting between parked cars and jaywalkers far more than before.

Cycling in Winter

Depending on how you measure it, Ottawa is either the second or third coldest capital in the world. It places third by how cold it gets in winter, following Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Astana, Kazakhstan and Moscow, Russia. It places seventh by average temperature because the summers are so hot. I actually find that weather more challenging, but the winters here are brutal. It is not only cold but there is also consistently heavy snowfall. 
The first thing people wonder about when I say that I cycle in winter is how I can do so over snow. Well, given that Ottawa experiences about 235cm of snow per year, the city has very sophisticated snow removal.Snow is typically removed within a day and there is extensive salting. People will say things like "how can you ride in 15cm of snow, like what fell today!?" The answer is that I can't. And most people also couldn't drive in that, at least with the type of vehicles you find in the city. No one would be going anywhere if there was that much unploughed snow and they would be digging their cars out anyway. This feels like common sense, but I think that hearing about a winter cyclists shocks people so much that they don't think about it. 

I do have href="">snow tires, each of which cost less than a student or discounted group buss pass for one month. They help, but I have seen people riding road and racing bikes in the snow. They probably have better skills than I do (I should mention here that I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was in my early 20s and am from the part of Canada with the mildest climate. Shock! Will elaborate later) and are certainly braver.

I don't have a lot of bike specific gear or clothing other than that. One thing I want to make more people aware of, is that you don't need a lot of spandex or expensive equipment to commute by bike. I wear a helmet, bike gloves and a thin head cover. Otherwise everything I wear is part of my street clothes. Mostly things I can wear to work. Right now it is about -15°C and I have been wearing tights under my suit pants, a sweater, my winter coat, a scarf, head cover thing, gloves, helmet and winter boots. When it was colder I would add a base layer that my mother bought me. My parents ski avidly and I poach their gear when I can. Before that I wore leggings and a hoody that I scrounged around. I did recently get some waterproof over pants to wear over my work pants. I won't need the layer beneath them soon and as the snow thaws it gets very wet, even though I have fenders. I've never gotten coated in mud, but the odd splatter happens and does not like that professional.

In the summer it is even easier. I just wear whatever I am wearing to work with a light, white top over to prevent sunburn. Also some leggings or shorts if I am wearing a skirt or dress. I bike in heels, which is not challenging at all since only the balls of my feet are on the peddles. If anything it is easier than walking in them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The transit strike is over!

A settlement was reached on the fifth of February. To be honest, the strike barely affected me. I commuted by bike before it started and will continue to do so. The increased traffic did make my rides more stressful, but overall things were not too bad since I wasn't looking for parking or needing a ride. No spending $17/work day on parking costs or sleeping at my place of work to avoid being late for an early shift. I think the strike really made people realize that this is not a city of cars. Sure, lots of people own them. But those of us who live and work in the downtown core do not use them on a daily basis.

I mostly interact with students and government workers. The latter group was mostly able to carpool to offset the cost and unavailability of parking downtown. It was annoying but live moved on. Most of my coworkers own cars but usually only use them on weekends. The students mostly coped as well, though I think returning to classes in January was a large shock. They had largely been insulted from the strike in December due to classes ending and the fact that many students stay with their families over the holidays. The school set up shuttle buses, people got used to walking and many cabs were shared. I never met the people who were really hurt by the strike, but I caught glimpses. Seniors with walkers hitch-hiking to the hospital, wheelchairs stuck in the snow. The local newspapers were full of articles about what people were doing: a construction worker who walked three hours each way to work, those who were fired due to lack of protective legislation in this circumstance, people sleeping in malls. It made me realize how lucky I am.

I guess I got very used to commuting in gridlock. My rides seem so short and (happily) empty now. It doesn't hurt that the weather shot up from an average of -25°C to a few degrees above 0°C. Cycling is much easier with several layers. I can feel my handlebars and climb onto my seat.

I think most people agree that the local transit authority is going to be hurt. They are offering two weeks of free transit to entice riders back after a 51 day strike. The first week barely counted because only limited light rail was availale, and it is a system used primarily to connect between bus exchanges. A great deal of the rapid transit that brings commuters from the suburbs will not be available until April, which means those people will not have access to the discount. I think this is going to result in a major loss of ridership as people have learned to live without transit. A few of them will be walking and cycling, but many more will be driving. I constantly hear the excuse that the Ottawa climate makes it impossible to cycle in winter, something I will adress shortly. Obviously, I don't agree.  It is especially fun to hear that when I have just ridden to class or work!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ottawa Bike Map

View Larger Map
I am in the process of creating a cycling map of Ottawa. There is already a map of bike lanes and paths available through the City for purchase or online. What I am attempting to create is an inventory of places to see, places to avoid and things I have learned during my time cycling here. Anyone can access and contribute.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Riding in Snow

People are generally shocked that I ride through the winter. It is simply the most practical option for me: I am not willing to undertake the financial or environmental impact of driving, which I also hate. I don't mind taking transit, but there are not always good connections and I don't like timing myself by someone else's schedule. I also had a demanding schedule as I am a full-time grad student in addition to working a total of 37 hours per week, which is split between three locations. The beauty of cycling is that my commute, rather than being dead time, is part of my fitness regime. It is also the most enjoyable way of getting around, for me, and saves me money.

Anyway, yeah, cycling in winter in Ottawa. There is a lot of snow. The good thing is that there is so much snow that the city has to remove it efficently, or no one would ever leave their homes. It is also cold, but the thing is that cycling keeps me warming than waiting for the bus or walking the several blocks that would seperate me from my downtown work location and the nearest available parking spot. I tend to be impatient with people who say they could not do it because of the cold. I'm from Vancouver Island and only just adapted to the climate in Ottawa.

The other reaction I get is that it must be very dangerous due to ice and snow. Well, we have already established that the roads are ploughed. I also use these studded snow tires on a cheap bike that I don't mine getting rusted from the road salt. They did cost me roughly $100, but that is less than three months of bus passes at a student price and less than two at a full price.

I lived in Kiel, Germany for a year between my undergrad and my MA. My heartly, old sailor roommate had worked on submarines during his mandatory military service. He shared a saying to me that is appropriate here. It translates, "there is no bad weather, only innapropriate clothing."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 30

The transit strike in Ottawa has not effected me that much. The roads are more conjested, but I can still pass the lines of backed up cars as long as there is not too much snow. Hearing about coworkers carpooling to work at 6:00am and students paying $30 for cab rides to class makes me really grateful to have equipped my bicycle for winter.

The one thing that I find most frustrating is the number of subburban drivers coming into downtown and bringing their suburban or small town driving habits with them. I got clipped last night by some one who did not shoulder check before pulling out of the parking lane on a busy road. He would have hit a car if I had not been there, because at 19:30 it was the tail end of rush hour. The car had a license plate from a small feeder community outside of Ottawa and I am willing to bet that this person is not used to parell parking on busy streets and would typically be able to park in boxmart lots.

The conditions around Carleton have been some of the worst. The strike started December 10, which was five days after the end of classes and six days before the end of exams. Most students were largely unaffected for the rest of the month, at least as far as getting the campus. Carleton is also popular with local students from the affluent suburbs in that part of town, so I am willing to bet that many of them are able to borrow cars or get rides from their parents now. The roads leading to campus have been a terrible mess of illegal three point turns and shaky attempts to parellel park in residential spots. On Monday some students got angry at having to yield to me when turning on one of the roads into campus and with the fact that I outpaced them when they were stuck in gridlock. They eventually caught up and the front passenger tried to door me, but she misjudged the angle. I ended up running into her even though I was attempting to brake. I am confident that they are not used to seeing cyclists on the road and feel that we have no place there.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Summer Commute

There is a wind chill of -30 outside right now. I have not been cycling very much for fun, and rarely at night. The snow narrows the streets, traffic is worsened by the transit strike, and I am stuck at home with a thesis to write. When I do get out, it is usually to work #1 in the government sector across the Canal, to work #2 in an other government area of Sussex Drive, or to Carleton University. In the fall I would sometimes change my route to school by taking the multi-use path along the Canal, but I have been staying on main streets since those have the best snow removal.

I am missing my summer commute. I live in Lower Town and was working in a non-profit social services agency in Hintonburg (apparently the next "big" place in Ottawa). I was able to cycle along the Ottawa River along with many other cyclists and walkers. This route took my through some of the most scenic and famous parks of Ottawa: Byward Market, Rideau Canal, Parliament of Canada, Canadian War Museum and gave me a lovely view across the river to Quebec.

It's not all sceneic. When I tell people that I commute by bike, the first thing I hear is the danger. It's true:

Sometimes there are goose traffic jams! I thought it would be interesting to show a map of my summer route. I also took a French class in the south end of Ottawa during the summer, mostly because Carleton did not offer anything at my (extreamly low) level, and it was cheap. Free for non-citizens, but also cheap for Canadians.
The blue line is the route I took along the Ottawa River between home and work. This was back when I was still shelling out for a transit pass, so I would take my bike on the local light-rail service (marked by Google with train tracks) from very close to my work, through Carleton, and all the way south to the end station. This saved me time and allowed me to avoid the most congested areas of the city during rush hour. Then I had a short ride through a suburb, surprisingly with a bike lane. That's the green line. After French class I would ride home along Altavista, which also has a bike lane, connect to the Rideau River pathway (different river than before), cross it and loop back onto the little cul-de-sac that I live on. It totally about two hours round-trip, though I never did it at once since I would ride to my job, work, ride/rail to class, attempt to learn French and then ride home. And collapse.

I doubt I will be cycling as far any time soon. I work downtown now and can take French classes through my new job. I do look forward to more lazy, evening rides along the river in the Ottawa humidity. Picking up speed is the only way to cope with the heat.