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

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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.