Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist – Pop! Pop! Fizz! Fizz! Oh, what a bunch of shite it is!

Here, we go! First bike commute of the season!

I was thinking about biking to work all Thursday as the weather had taken a marvelous turn for the better. Should I wear shorts? It’s going to be warm in the afternoon, but the mornings are still cool. Maybe I’ll stick with long pants. Should I make sure my bike is ready to go? Nah. It’s late and, besides, I rode it the other day and everything seems fine, although I should probably take a look at the brakes sometime soon; they feel a bit weak. Yes, I will ride my bike on Friday!

Friday morning. I’m a bit sore from yoga the day before, but I’m still riding. I’m excited. I was pacing around the house a bit the night before as I was feeling eager to get out and about on my bike. I dropped the kids off at the day home, and now I have to get ready to go. It’s still a bit cool, but I think I will wear my shorts.

Oh.

Damn.

So, it looks like my shorts don’t fit anymore. That’s typical. Pants it is; just have to make sure I roll them up so I can keep my pant legs clean and/or look as dorky as possible. As I get my bike from the garage, I begin to notice how cool it is this morning; just as well I’m wearing pants, I suppose. Anyway, I’m off!

As I turn onto 97th Street I’m feeling confident, although I notice that the winter sand hasn’t been cleared along this stretch yet. That’s typical. I’m already starting to feel a layer of grit forming on my body. The first bus to pass me sends a plume of dust into the air that swirls and envelops me. I will definitely need a shower when I get to work. As I head down 97th I’m feeling better and better, but my first challenge it coming up.

The train overpass just north of Yellowhead Trail is a dodgy spot for cycling. The lane gets narrow and there is a storm drain with a large depression surrounding it. I could hop onto the sidewalk, but I opt to stay on the road. As I approach the overpass I am plunged into a moment of darkness. The lane narrows and I have fast travelling traffic beside me, squeezing me towards the storm drain. That’s typical. I approach the drain and prepare myself for the jarring bump and the split-second worry about losing control. I enter the depression and exit with a familiar bump, but accompanied by a hissing sound and a continuous rumble from the rear of my bike.

That is not typical.

Feck.

I quickly pull off onto the sidewalk and examine the damage. My rear tire has blown completely. The treads look fine, which means the inner tube has blown, and I am now faced with a long walk into downtown. As a briskly stroll along 97th, my limping bicycle beside me, I am strangely calm. Those that know me know that this is not typical, as I would usually be swearing a blue streak; but today I am simply focused on getting to work on time. Good thing I left home early. I come up on 120th Avenue where the cops usually set up to catch motorists in the bus lane. In fact, here’s another one caught just now. I walk past the constable and nod a good morning.

“Blow a tire?”

“Yep.”

“Shitty.”

“Yep.”

As I cross 118th Avenue I have a flashback to a couple of years ago when, during my first commute of the season, I lost my saddle due to a snapped bolt. Maybe first ride mishaps are typical as well. I continue on and reach work on time, but sporting a nasty rash.

Fortunately, I was able to purchase a new tube over lunch and install it on my bike.

How was your first commute of the season? My ride home was much better, thanks.

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Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist – Nothing to fear but LOOKOUT! CAR DOOR!

This summer I have made an effort to cycle to work as much as possible, including purchasing a new bicycle. Even as the nature of my job has changed and continues to change, I still want to keep up the cycling and as a result, most days I find myself on my bike in rush hour. As I’ve commuted to and from work, I’ve been keeping a mental list of things that for lack of a better term, are fears that would serve to keep me from biking that I have to overcome on order to continue with my commitment to cycling to work. You may find some of these a bit silly, a couple of these sound, and even others to be shallow and not worth worrying about. However, I want to put them all down for the benefit of others who are considering cycling to work but haven’t yet due to some reason or another. If you are one of those individuals, perhaps you will find your particular barrier or barriers in my list.

Fear of holding up traffic

Christ, I hate doing this when I’m driving. Imagine how I feel somethings when I don’t have the protective covering of an automobile. I really do not like inconveniencing other people, and it took me quite a while to understand that until such time as a dedicated bike lane appears in my daily commute, I will not inconvenience myself by taking some goofy back road route when I have a direct road to downtown. I do what I can to stay as close to the curb so vehicles have an opportunity to go around me. If I’m going too slow for you, which is most likely the case, then pass me. Just be glad I’m not a tractor. Oh, and if you don’t think I belong on the road, take a look at City bylaws and let’s all try to get along.

Fear of being clipped/crushed by vehicles passing me

This is one that’s come close a couple of times. Along 97th Street between 118th Avenue and 112th Avenue there is a long line of parked cars that I have to pass by in the morning. This reduces the amount of room I have especially when both lanes of traffic are heavy with people going downtown. Every so often there will be a vehicle that is looking to go around me – which is cool, but doesn’t necessarily wait for the other lane to be open and so tries to squeeze by me while I’m trying not to pinball between the sides of the moving and parked vehicles – not cool.

Fear of looking like a dork

Does my outfit match my bike? Is my seat at the right angle? Is my helmet dated? These were some things I used to worry about, and still do to some extent (see Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist – Hipster jeans of invincibility). I know it seems shallow, but I used to get hung up on whether I looked like a proper cyclist. Then I started to realise that my fellow cyclist don’t all look the same. There are a myriad of bikes and bike riders out there. Everyone has their own style, their own customizations, their own look. I know I look like shite in Lycra, so I just dress for comfort and if that means I don’t look like a true cyclist, oh well. I’m riding the streets, not the runway.

Fear of taking forever to get where I’m going

It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather, I always seem to be riding into the wind on my way home. Some days are worse than others and I find myself thinking, “This is taking forever!” I try to push through the resistance, but all that happens is my legs burn and I get super frustrated. There’s nothing to do but swallow my pride and gear down and keep going, even though it feels as though I’m going nowhere. This one can be difficult for me as I often feel guilty about not being home on time, but the fact of the matter is I’m in the middle of it, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Just keep going forward, no matter how slow, and you will eventually get there.

Fear of running into an open car door

This is high on my list. As I already mentioned, I travel past a long line of parked vehicles along 97th Street in the morning. More than being side-swiped by a moving vehicle, I fear having a door suddenly open in front of me, stopping me dead in my tracks. When I was young I ran into a parked car while riding my bike, so I guess that has something to do about it.

Fear of arriving to work a sweaty mess

So, this is not so much a fear as a fact. I often arrive to work as a sweaty mess. Fortunately, my workplace now has staff shower facilities, but for a while they were not available as they were being renovated (and now that they are I must say I am quite impressed). However, what if you don’t have access to a shower at your workplace? I suggest packing your work clothes with you. Allow yourself enough time so you can cool down before you change – you don’t want to get all dressed and then promptly drench yourself from the inside out. Pack deodorant with you so you can do a quick reapplication, depending on you assessment of your condition. Splash some water on your face to refresh yourself and you’re goodish to go.

Fear of not being able to keep up with the commitment

I didn’t start off this season with a clear idea in terms of how many times I would be riding to work, only that I wanted to do it as often as I could. That being said, there’s been times where, because of circumstances I’ve not been able to ride for a few days straight. It’s easy to get down on myself, or in your case, yourself; try not to. Assure yourself that you have an open invitation to cycle, no matter how many times you may need to turn it down. Your bike is very understanding and it is always ready when you are.

Even if you’re starting late in the season, go for it! Happy cycling!

Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist – Spring has finally sprung *cough*sputter*ouch*

Welcome to Edmonton, where spring eventually comes; you just have to suffer through a few false starts and regressions back into winter. As spring has tentatively arrived, I have brought out my bike for another season of two-wheeled, person-powered commuting to work. The warmish weather and the (for now) absence of snow aren’t the only signs of spring, as my ride to work would be incomplete without rows and piles of sand and dirt, and construction along 97th Street. The construction I can handle, I just queue up with the other vehicles; we’re not going anywhere. However, I am finding that I am covered with a fine layer of silt by the time I reach my destination. Every so often I end up crunching a grain of sand or two between my teeth, and of course my quote-unquote lane is cut in half as I am squeezed between the vehicles to my left and the gravel dunes to my right. I guess I shouldn’t complain, though, as I’m quite sure the deposit is covering up any number of holes and fissures in the road. It’s difficult because the quote-unquote bike lane is the same lane as the bus lane; the very same lane that gets chewed up year after year as it is subjected to the girth of ETS vehicles; the lane that reminds me that I have an old bike with no shocks (though the male-friendly saddle does help). Let’s just say it’s a good thing my wife and I weren’t going to have any more kids anyway. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the City to give 97th a good ol’ wash down to see for sure, and brace myself for repeated impact.

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If you ride a bike without shocks on Edmonton roads, this is a constant fear.

Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist – Hipster skinny jeans of invincibility

I was walking around downtown on my lunch break the other day when I noticed something. Granted, I’ve noticed this before, but this time it caused me to want to write about it. I’ve been having a positive and, for the most part, pleasant time biking to and from work; with one exception – I need to pack a change of clothes with me. By the time I get to work, I’m a hot sweaty mess. These days it’s not as bad as the temperature in the morning has cooled down quite a bit. Nevertheless, I need to change when I get to work. It’s a pain, and it’s one more thing I need to worry about packing before I leave the house. Back to lunchtime downtown. I was waiting at a corner when I saw a cyclist gliding down the street in stylish charcoal skinny jeans, rolled up to expose his ankles; a crisp, white button down shirt, gently billowing behind him. He had a leather shoulder bag hanging from his hip, the black strap cutting across his brilliant white shirt in perfect contrast. As this living page from within a modern urban living magazine passed before me I used that moment to create a false dichotomy for the interest of self-loathing, and proclaim there are two types bicycle commuters. There are those who ride to work in their everyday clothes, whether that be hipster mod, business casual, or even full-on suit (with or without vest); and then there’s my kind, who arrive at work somewhat disheveled, breathing heavily, damp with sweat, back soaked from carrying a backpack, and mouth dry and somewhat pasty from puffing along with the traffic.

On the surface I see them as fellow travelers, these other type of cyclists. Below the surface, I kind of hate them. Deeper still, I wish to be them. A white shirt, for crying out loud! There’s no way I could wear a white shirt on my bike to work. Hell, I can’t even wear a white shirt, period! All my white shirts end up looking like a “before” on a laundry detergent commercial. Skinny pants? That’s a negative, too. Not unless you want to see my impression of the Hulk wearing Bruce Banner’s pants. I’ve got thighs; and let’s not even mention the muffin top. I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to move, simply due to the fact that there’s no way I would even be able to put a pair on. Whilst I trudge along, bent over on my cheap, greasy mountain bike; they glide along, upright on their retro, hip, urban cruisers; and yet, there is more here than simple bike envy. The bike is just part of the overall package that symbolises my desire to be someone else. Someone else’s body; someone else’s closet; someone else’s bike – it’s like being back in high school; unhip, unstylish, and unaware of what drives popular culture. Sadly, it shows that at the wondrous age of 38, I still haven’t been able to accept myself.

Ah, but I digress as I fail to suppress these feelings of regress. Suffice to say, there are two types of bicycle commuters. I don’t know how these other ones are able to ride around in their crisp white shirts and seemingly waltz into work with no sweat, no stains, and no laboured breathing, but I’ll hazard it has something to do with the skinny jeans; which is why I will never be able to attain such a state.

Damn you and your skinny jeans of invincibility!

Revolutions of a pedestrian cyclist: Commuting to confidence

I’m finally back on my bike again, and, less importantly, I’m finally blogging about being on my bike again. Last year, near the end of August, my bike chain snapped on me while I was about halfway home. For various reasons, though mostly apathy, I did not replace my chain and that was the end of cycling for the rest of the year. Jump ahead to the beginning of August this year, and I was back on my saddle and back on the streets.

Last season I had made the decision to stay off the sidewalks and side roads and go simply take the most direct route to work. Up to that point, I had travelling via the Etch-A-Sketch method (thanks to my wife for coming up with this term). Basically, I didn’t feel confident enough to take any major roads ad so I would zig-zag my way downtown by way of residential streets, back alleys, and sidewalks, though I did do my best to stay off the sidewalks as much as possible. In my mind, I had myself convinced that I didn’t have the right temperament (i.e. balls) to commute using major roadways in the city. I was amazed how quickly I became accustomed to riding on a major roadway, during rush hour, to and from work.

This year, after getting my act together and fixing my bike, I got back on the road to commuting. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my confidence had not left me and that, indeed, it had increased. With this in mind I offer my recommendation to try bicycle commuting as a way to increase your confidence, and here are some reasons why:

You have to get to where you’re going – When I’m not riding by bike to work, I’m taking the bus; and this is an important point. If I have decided to take my bike to work, I must be committed to following through. I can’t get going, reach the main road and then decide, “Ooo. Those cars look pretty nasty. I think I’ll head back and take the bus instead.” I don’t have time for that! I would have to double back, change out of my cycling gear (and yes, I need to change to cycle to work. I sweat; a lot), dig my work clothes out of my bag, get dressed, and then catch the… oh, yeah, my bus has long since passed and now I have to wait for the late bus. No. If I’m on my bike, that’s it; no turning back. I have to get where I’m going. I have to make the conscious decision to take on the task and not back down.

You have a share in the road – We’ve all heard the term, share the road, but as I cycle alongside the automobiles toward downtown I must constantly remind myself that I am not only sharing the road, but that I have a share in the road. It’s a subtle difference, but a crucial one. It’s the difference between being a passive cyclist, afraid of pissing off every motorist on the road, and being a fellow traveller who is confident that he is allowed to share the road; that he, too, has the right to use this street. Of course one can carry this too far, becoming cyclist who doesn’t respect motorist and bends the rules to his whim. That’s just being a dick; and you will piss off every motorist on the road.

You have to think on your feet, or saddle as it were – Welcome to Edmonton! We have two seasons, Winter and Construction. As it happens, 97th Street usually has some sort of construction on it, and if it doesn’t, then you have to dodge the obvious signs that construction will soon follow. Traffic, pylons, potholes, road crush temporarily filling in pot holes,  leftover sand from the winter and the giant ruts formed in the asphalt by busses and large trucks; all of these must be maneuvered in order to reach your destination. At some point you need to leave your inhibitions behind and become assertive in order to cycle through these hazards.

In order to become more confident, you have to put yourself out there in some way; exposure yourself; and there is nothing like riding a bicycle, plodding alongside hundreds of motor vehicles to make you feel exposed.

Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist. Part 3, Chew on this!

The odd thing is, I hate chewing gum. Oh sure, there were those carefree days as a young boy when I would stuff a whole pack of Big League Chew in my mouth just for the hell of it. I am of course appalled to have found out later on in life what Big League Chew was emulating, but then we all had fun with Popeye Candy Cigarettes, didn’t we? Then there was my maturation into Hubba Bubba and Bubblicious. Past that, however, the thrill of chewing gum had ended. Later in life I found the act of chewing gum to be tedious and annoying. The flavour never stays long enough, despite the advertising, and I find my jaw becomes sore and tired from the whole business. I am forever denying offers of gum from people, and I often find packs of gum in bags with only a single piece ever being removed, causing me to wonder, “Why did I bother to buy that pack of gum?” I’d much rather have a mint. Yes, I believe I am a mint type of guy, even though I habitually crunch them up prematurely.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was biking home from work the other day and a singular thought flashed in my head –

 “Damn. I could use some gum right about now.”

Seriously. I was really desperate for some gum; yet at the time, I couldn’t figure out why. It was only when I got home, dismounted my bike and subsequently unlocked my jaw that it dawned on me; I need something to help me deal with the stress of biking to and from work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my commutes are horribly distressing and that I barely make it alive; but the fact of the matter is that every so often I do get those close shaves with passing cars and stopping buses. It’s at times like these that I find myself clenching my jaw and gritting my teeth. It’s at times like these that I could use some gum to chew away some of the nerves and prevent me from filing my teeth down to stubs.

The next morning I hunted down one of those slightly used packs of gum and took a piece for the road. Well, it worked wonderfully. It helped me focus in the tight situations, and gave me something to do at stop lights, ridiculous as it may sound. Yes, this really did seem to be working even if the flavour did pass away as quickly as my desire to continue swimming on Monday evenings.

I still hate chewing gum, but then without context there would be no irony.

A sudden, seemingly inexplicable jonesing for gum. Hmmm… wonder how that could have come about…

Circulations of a pedestrian cyclist, Part 2. In which I start out…

My first ride of the season was a success… sort of.

The morning starts out with me scrambling to get my gear together, which, for anyone who knows me, is typical. The morning is crisp, but comfortable as I set out for work. As I had said in my previous post, I was determined to ride on the roadway as much as possible and so to the shoulder of 97th Street I venture. Very quickly I discover something that I hadn’t really thought about; the roads had yet to be visited by the street sweepers and so there was a winter’s worth of sand and grit lining the roads. As I skid and slog through the man-made sand bank, churning up an irritating dust cloud, I realize I have to venture further into the drive lane to escape these sand traps. I am not wholly comfortable with this, but I know that, ultimately, this is what I had set out to do.

Well, this isn’t that bad, I think to myself as I move quite harmoniously with the morning rush hour traffic. However, as I pass 137th Avenue, there is a marked change in the quality of road. I am traveling in the curb lane, the very same lane that buses travel in. As a result, the surface has become a ragged path of cracks, ruts, and potholes, as the soft asphalt presents itself in varying stages of age and decay. Speaking of age, my bike is old. My bike is cheap. My bike is not equipped with shocks of any kind. I notice that my jaw is becoming sore as I have been instinctively clinching my teeth for the past three blocks. Each imperfection in the road, it may go without saying, is being mapped on my arse.

I am about halfway to work; teeth clenched, arse assaulted, quads burning, breathing heavy, as I do my best to keep a quick pace so as to not hinder traffic, though I must say my fellow travelers are being most kind to me, if not indifferent when I think to myself, this seems to working out quite nicely… oh, shit! What was that? What just happened?

With a metallic ping, and my body quickly sliding backwards, I get across 118th Avenue and swerve to the curb just as my seat falls away from its post and drops to the ground.

Brilliant.

Surprisingly, especially for me, I am not upset at this turn of events, even as I stare at the naked post protruding from the frame of by bike and ponder whether or not I could make it the rest of the way sans seat. I quickly disregard the idea as I snap back to reality and scan the road for debris. There, in the middle of the road, is the missing half of the bracket that, up to a moment ago, had been securing my seat to the sadistic looking pike that remains. I wait for a break in the traffic and then run out to collect the hardware. As I examine it I see that the bolt that secures the seat and bracket to the post has snapped. This firmly dashes any thoughts of a quick roadside mend and off again. I will not ride and walking will take too long, but lo! what is that on yonder horizon? ‘Tis a bus, and yea what foresight that I did pack my transit pass! I secure my bike to the front of the bus and I am on my way to work.

Over the lunch hour I go to the Sport Chek downtown to see what I can find in the way of seats. They have quite a few seats; only seats. Seats with no brackets, no posts, no hardware; just seats. Fortunately, one of the bike techs on duty is able to wrangle up a spare bolt, “from a pair of roller blades” in a box behind the desk. At this point I’ll try anything. I thank the young man and return to work to try out my find. I am delighted to see that the bolt, though different in design from the original, nonetheless fits. I am fairly confident I’ll be able to ride home.

My work day ends and I straddle my bike, once more ready to take on the streets. Seriously, if it sounds like I’m being overly dramatic about this aspect, it’s probably because I am; but it’s also because, up to this point, I didn’t think I had the attitude, the confidence, essentially, the balls, to properly ride on the road. I exit the loading dock and head out, strangely confident in my lunch time fix-up job. My handy work is quickly tested as the roads are just as rough on the way home. Add to this a perpetual wind blowing out of the north into my face, an unending pileup of sand that threatens to push me further and further into traffic, quads that once again are alight with lactic acid, and I am presenting the passing motorists with a puzzle: am I smiling, or am I grimacing with pain?

As I approach 137th Avenue, I can see the traffic start to get muddled as vehicles are entering and exiting from various positions. I take this opportunity to cheat and ride up on the curb and take a breather at the light. I figure I can ride for a bit on the sidewalk until I get past the bus terminal and the road opens up a bit more. As I make my way across the intersection and then the adjoining cross walk I’m met by a young family crossing the road, the father calling out to me, “Hey! Why don’t you try riding on the road!” Gah! He’s right, of course, and yet there is that part of me who really wants to say, “Piss off! I’m getting there!” That’s what I get for cheating. I immediately get back onto the road and press on, muttering to myself as I fight against the wind and sand blowing against my face. The remainder of the ride is trying, if uneventful. It will take a while for me to get into better shape, so I can’t get too discouraged with my first ride of the season.

That was Wednesday. I awoke Thursday to find the city smothered under a blanket of heavy wet snow.

Yeah, no. I’m not even going to try that…