Bike Advocacy Division

I’ve had a tough couple days on the bike. The roads are a mess, the bike lanes aren’t clear. Motorists turn into snarling beasts when a bike is in their way. I usually try to yell, – ‘tell your city government to plow the bike lanes asshole’ as they pass, but they can’t hear because their horns are blaring or engine’s revving.

It’s also been a physically exhausting commute both days. Slush, snow, ice, it takes everything I have to keep my bike moving and upright in some spots. I develop quite a sweat. I’ve also taken a couple spills (not in traffic thank God).

Winter biking image
Is Winter biking that tough? I guess I'd prefer it if you decided for yourself

I’ve been thankful for my athletic gear, lights, and even my helmet while I bike through this rough patch. I know there’s no way I could do it in my work clothes; there’s too much effort required.

Then I got a twitter update about an article update from The Urban Country. A great blog about cycle advocacy. It looked like he added a picture of me (or at least a reasonable hand-drawn likeness) with the caption “Added the ridiculous photo seen above”. Huh. That sure is a kick in the rocks while I’m down.

Then I saw the follow up from biking’s CPO (chief promotional officer as I like to call him) at Copenhagenize where he calls me ‘silly’. Another blow to my fragile cycle-psyche.

All that gear isn’t necessary for every winter commute. I personally consider some of that gear indispensable for mine, but I won’t go on about how you’re under dressed or unsafe without it.

It could be that you are in a much more bicycle friendly city, or better climate. Maybe the drivers are more used to seeing bicycles on the road and are more welcoming. Maybe you live closer to work, maybe there aren’t any hills, better infrastructure…

Whatever your situation is, I’ll keep my mouth shut about what you wear when you bike. I don’t see a need to create a division where there wasn’t any before. We all want better dedicated infrastructure, acceptance from motorists, and more cyclists on the roads. That’s a lot of common ground to work with.

9 thoughts on “Bike Advocacy Division

  1. I do not think this division is necessarily there. I have not felt a warm sense of cultural cycling ‘togetherness” while struggling through Kitchener and Waterloo on my bicycle over the last two days, either. It has been just the commute, and an appreciation of what little cycling ‘gear’ that helps take the edge off the ice, snow and cold. As for a Swedish perspective on what we face here, I don’t think it should be taken as anything more than a humorous perspective on cycling in Canada. He obviously fancies himself a student of cultural studies with his quoting of Max Weber, but I think he misses the point. The incentive for the Toronto Star to give space to an article on cycling is most likely just to highlight the controversy surrounding Don Cherry, a cultural phenomenon that even Canadians are probably unsure of how to accomodate or explain. Additionally, half the article seems to be taken up with a different Canadian cultural focus – the obsession with ‘safety’. I don’t think I have ever seen a cyclist in Canada with four lights, three sets of reflectors and a safety vest, unless it was in a government sponsored pamphlet on cycling safety.

  2. I would say a lot of it boils down to how cycling is viewed or promoted to the general public.

    If I were a motorist, transit user or simply a pedestrian and saw that article on “how to dress for winter cycling”, I would laugh cycling off as an option. I would seriously question why I would need such things.

    Not saying people can’t choose to wear safety vests, helmets etc., for me (and presumably James) it boils down to normalizing cycling. Simply hop on your bike in whatever you would have walked in or sat waiting for the bus in.

    As for grumpy motorists, fortunately I haven’t encountered any as of yet, though one of our many bike hating radio hosts yesterday questioned the sanity of people who ride bikes in the winter. He brought it up because of that TO Star article.

    If someone wanted to yell at me or question why I am on the road in such conditions, I would say the same thing you said…Tell the city to clear the bike lanes!

  3. Maybe I’m over-sensitive. But I’m damn sick of hearing how ridiculous I look.

    I prefer your approach Ryan, you have another perspective, but keep it to yourself unless asked.

  4. Rob, I appreciate the criticism (and the honesty). We both have the same goals here, so there is no reason why we should be divided.

    First, I will make a disclaimer that riding bicycles in Toronto is much different than riding a bicycle in a smaller city or town. I grew up in Guelph and Niagara, then lived in Hamilton for a few years before moving to Toronto. Here in Toronto, the roads are cleared very fast, and as I mentioned in the article, there are only a 2-5 days each winter that I feel there is too much snow to ride safely. On those “snow” days, I would just take transit or walk where I need to go.

    The snowbanks that are left by snow plows don’t usually last more than a couple days. They have machines that load the excess snow on to trucks and it gets removed from the city. When I lived in Hamilton there was huge snowbanks on the side of the roads which forced bicyclists to impede motorists (probably similar to what you are experiencing in Waterloo).

    I find the vast majority of the rest of the winter, I only *need* my regular work clothes, long johns, good warm gloves, warm boots if I’m traveling more than a few kilometres, a good scarf, a warm coat, and a toque or ear muffs on colder days.

    That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with wearing more gear (helmets, high-viz vest, etc).

    The part that I think is ridiculous is that the media is telling people who are prospective cyclists that they *need* all of the gear in that photo. Notice the only “optional” piece of equipment is the metal studded tires? I think that it is ridiculous that they make bicycling seem so complicated. If I’m someone who is thinking about riding a bicycle, I would be overwhelmed with all of that gear. I’m not saying the gear isn’t useful, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with using that gear. But I think the media needs to do a better job at showing people that biking in the winter isn’t so hard (90% of the time anyway). (And I do carry ski goggles with me if they are calling for snowstorms – they are great for keeping the snow out of the eyes).

    I always like to compare how our society views pedestrians to how our society views bicyclists. If the Toronto Star posted an article that talked about “winter walking” and had 50 pieces of equipment that every pedestrian in the winter needs to buy, I would say it is completely ridiculous that the Star is making “walking” seem like such a chore. Sure, that equipment may come in handy on certain snow days, but the vast majority of the time, you only *need* your regular *winter* clothes.

    The last point I wanted to make is that I’ve found Toronto drivers to be far more cautious around me in the winter than in the summer. I think it has a bit to do with the media and the rhetoric that always comes out from certain politicians around May. But I find drivers are much more aggressive in the summer than in the winter. That might be a Toronto-specific thing, but I think it’s worthy of mentioning.


  5. Rob, I’m bringing the commute cam for you tomorrow — let folks see the hairy commute you take to work! I consider myself lucky. Although I live in the same town, I can take iron horse trail for 90% of my commute. I don’t have to share a major artery with cars during rush hour and poor road conditions.

    I don’t know if I’d stick it out for an entire winter — The stress of riding would get to me!

  6. I wasn’t able to ride on Monday or Tuesday, so today was my first realy snowy commute to work. I also have roads and more roads to deal with. Lucky for me, most of them are on major bus routes which generally means plowed roads. I found the drivers were generally respectful of my need to be more near the bare pavement. Didn’t have any brush ups or run-ins with anyone. I wear wind pants, a gore-tex jacket (not bright, but blue-ish) and other stuff to keep me warm. It all works. I also turned on my LED’s on the back of my bike for a bit more visibility. Should be an interesting ride home. Wonder if I will get the same respect in the dark.

  7. I really don’t know how you do winter riding Rob. It amazes me.
    I put away the bike for the winter, and I’m having a hard time getting around in the car. I can only imagine how much harder it would be on a bike.
    Despite that, I’m starting to get the no-bike blues. Driving on icy roads with crappy all-season tires is a little stressful.

  8. Great site!….i’m a new user. It’s good to hear other people suffering/still loving their bike through the winter. I’m new to winter cycling and regret not starting earlier. It has taken me a few weeks, about $200, and a bruised knee to get it right!…studded tires are a savior. Rob I agree the past few days have been a struggle (but what cyclist doesn’t enjoy a struggle from time to time?). The IronHorse has been great though. I rode down King Street from Waterloo into Kitchener all year but don’t feel like risking my neck if I don’t have to.
    Also great to hear Graham on the Jeff Allan show. Whenever they talk about cyclists and where ‘we’ belong, only the ignorant drivers and red necks call in! I actually called in near the end of the show!!haha…nothing great to say just a little rant on my part.
    As for my winter ‘get-up’, my wife calls me the Big Winter Geek…..hey as long as I’m warm!


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