Monday, December 17, 2012


Cyclocross has wrapped up another great season in Ottawa. The guys behind the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series and the Ottawa Bicycle club deserve effusive praise, for putting on a great local race series.
I've been meaning to post several times about cyclocross: Its popularity, its growth. Unfortunately none of the drafts seemed good enough, so nothing got published.
So, since words fail I'll just post some pictures taken by Darling Daughter and myself.
Photo by Persephone
A Ride in the Park

Photo by MuddyBike
Navigating Steep Switchbacks

Photo by Persephone
Into the Sand

Photo by MuddyBike
My Cheering Section

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not a Cycling Path

Ottawa is know for its scenic pathways. The National Capital Commission maintains 300km of pathways through out the region. These are excellent multi-use pathways popular with all manner of folk recreating in just about every imaginable way. Runers, joggers, recreational cyclists, commuters, dog walkers all use and enjoy the pathways in relative harmony. The city of Ottawa has built and is building more pathways as well, on city land, through Hydro cuts and disused railway rights of ways.

The Rideau River Nature Trail is one such project, seaking city funds.

Rideau River Nature Trail 
It is a great initiative, complementing the Rideau River Eastern Pathway. Connecting several parks; Strathcona and Dutchy's Hole parks in the north, Springhurst, Brantwood and Windsor parks to the south. The neighbourhoods of Sandy Hill, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South would also be connected. This would be a great complement to Ottawa's pathway networks.

There are of course several hurdles to overcome before this pathway can be completed. There is the construction of a stadium at the Ottawa U. Lees campus which has temporarly blocked access to the only pedestrian bridge across the Rideau River and access to the Sandy Hill pathway.
North End of Brantwood Park
Pathway Under Transitway

There is the flood prone connection under the Transitway, a yet to be acquired right of way through the privately held Oblate land, between Springhurst and Brantwood parks. There is also a grading issue at either end of Brantwood Park. Still, some work has been done and a small section of pathway has been constructed in Springhurst Park.
New Pathway in Springhurst Park
One small complaint, this is not a pathway suitable for cycling. The stone-dust treatment for the pathway was chosen specifically to discourage cyclists, especially fast commuter cyclists. The desire for a slow-speed nature focused trail is understandable, but I feel misguided. 

Likely Route Already Established
The truth is this is already a popular cycling route. With many families riding through the park despite the poor surface.
Cycling Through Brantwood Park

Lots of Children Cycle to the Park

Not only Cyclists Use the Pathways Scooters Too

Despite Obvious Barriers Cyclists Still Come
I hope this project receives priority and is completed in the next few years. It will be a valuable link between local parks and neighbourhoods. Regardless of the surface treatment I see this being popular with local cyclists, of all ages. If the stone-dust treatment lowers cost and speeds construction, fine. I can accept compromises but if the rational is to discourage cyclists, I would encourage the planers to choose a more durable and cycling friendly surface. No matter what the cyclists will be there.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Teaching and Learning

With Darling Daughter's new bike we've been riding together a lot more. These rides haven't gone exactly as I expected, for one thing riding with a nine year old has taught me more then I've managed to teach her. So, while not every ride has been a Great Day, they have all been pretty good.
The first thing I've learned how much I take for granted. There is a lot going on when you are riding a bike; balance, steering, pedalling, control and brakes. On top of this is of course situation awareness and route planning. All of these skills transfer from conscious efforts that require focus and attention to automatic, almost unconscious skills, but it takes time.
When Darling Daughter was riding with the Fast and Female ambassadors, she did great. She was riding smoothly, following instructions and trying new things. Basic skills, like braking, riding with one hand and riding beside another rider. I expected the ride home to be more difficult, on account of distance and her being tired, but it wasn't. Our next outing together wasn't so smooth of course, and I was not sure why.
A little reflectiion on the wrinkles, and I think I know why this other shorter trip was more trouble, it was more complicated. The ride home from the Fast and Female event was almost entirely on multi-use pathways. When we had to leave the pathways the street we joined was closed to cars for Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays. I also gave clear directions well in advance. The other ride was on local streets, joining a busy MUP and back to local streets. I didn`t give Darling Daughter much notice of route changes. Even when I gave her instructions clearly and in advance, crossing sidewalks or roads was confusing and difficult.
She survived that trip and we`ve had had several successful rides since, I`d love to give her the freedom that I had as a nine year old, unfortunately that is not going to happen. For now we`ll ride together, I`ll keep teaching signals and skills, and we`ll keep to quiet roads and paths for a while longer still.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

It is a beautiful hot and sunny Canada in the Capital. I am fortunate enough to squeeze in a couple of bike rides in between visiting and lounging. I was hoping to get a ride in with Darling Daughter but Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays was suspended for Canada Day celebrations. She is focused on swimming today anyway.
Always a big deal Canada Day draws thousands to the city centre with lots of activities free concerts and fun. Unfortunately the crowds get so thick that cycling is not terribly practical, which may be part of the reason that Capital Bixi has closed several Bixi stations in the downtown core. Still cycling is a great way to get to the crowds, certainly better then driving.
Happy Canada Day! Hope you get to enjoy at least part of it on a bike.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour

This past weekend, June 9-10, I road my sixth Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. This is one of the signature events for the Ottawa Bicycle Club and has been very well run for 41 years. This year's tour was no exception.
The tour is an organized ride from Carleton University, in Ottawa, to Queens University, in Kingston, and returning the next day. Attracting riders form all over, the tour accommodates 2,000 or so riders over four routes:
The Classic, by far the busiest route clocks in at 177km each day.
The Century, really the Classic route with the start moved to Perth. Still a respectable 100km each day
The Cruise, a more southerly route a little longer, maybe a little flatter then the Classic. Officially 179km each way.
The Challenge, 225km of hilly Eastern Ontario roads. Starting with the Classic, this route takes a northerly detour through Almont, Elphin and Boilingbroke before rejoining the Classic route before Westport.
This year I road the Challenge route on Saturday and the Cruise Sunday. Both days were brilliant. The weather was overcast, with a short period of light rain on Saturday. The rain came towards the end of my eight hours in the saddle, not so heavy as to make riding miserable. Just enough to motivate to end the ride as quickly as possible. Sunday was sunny and hot, a beautiful day with the danger of over heating. The Cruise route had good shade and everyone in our group managed to remain well hydrated. We finished strong and together. A great ride a great tour. Thanks OBC and the legion of volunteers that make this fine event possible.
I didn't bring my camera, so I'll link to a Fliker slide-show of the Ottawa Bicycle Club's Rideau Lakes Tour through the years.

If this inspires you, register early. The Tour sells out every year.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cycling Culture or Cycling Infrastructure Which Comes First

A question flloated through my twitter feed this morning:
I quickly sent off a response: "Infrastructure; You don't need cycling culture. Citizens choose transport mode that works. Infrastructure tilts balance 2 bike".
Cycle Ontario responded: " but would the culture not create the need for the infrastructure thus making the political decision easier"?
Here we have it the classic chicken and egg dilemma. If we build cycling infrastructure will cyclists appear, out of nowhere to use it? Making the case for cycling infrastructure self evident. Unfortunately, it takes huge political effort to get even the most basic infrastructure built. Once built, as we've seen in Toronto, cycling infrastructure remains vulnerable to political fashion and whim. Wouldn't a vibrant cycling culture make the political heavy lifting easier? A vibrant cycling culture might be able to mobilize votes, or exert political pressure through lobbying. Votes and lobbying are the fuel of the political process, and probably not something "cycling culture" can deliver. I am not sure there is a "Cycling Culture" as a single thing that can be harnessed or mobilized. As Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize states in the tongue in cheek, 18 Ways to Know That You Have Bicycle Culture. You likely have a vibrant bicycle culture if you never think of bicycle culture, and just ride your bike. 

There is a larger question of just how do you grow a bicycle culture. Portland's department of transportation published a neat graphic illustrating the four types of cyclists, by proportion of population:
If you focus on culture first, you're getting the <1% "strong and fearless" to convince "enthused and confident" 7%, and ignoring the 60% of "interested but concerned". I see a very big problem counting on such a small group to do any political heavy lifting. When you deal with the reality that this small group is split into several "cultures". Ottawa's cycling community supports the Responsible Cycling Coalition and Cycling Vision Ottawa. The former group is solidly against infrastructure believing, sincerely, that cycling infrastructure is a threat to cycling. The later group advocating strenuously for cycling infrastructure. If you are counting on "cycling culture" to deliver infrastructure, you had better get the right one.

If culture is not the answer, then is it really a case of "build it and they will come"? In a word no. Even is the most successful North American cities infrastructure has not pushed cycling's modal share above 10%. It is not enough to make cycling seem safe and comfortable, it has to make sense as well. Once again Copenhagenize has a good guide:
Private automobiles are a convince, there is no reason to prioritize them as well. The answer is not cycling infrastructure in isolation but in combination with a public transit and walking strategy that returns the city to a more human scale. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Great Day

Sunday May 20 was a bright and sunny day, between two elite cycling races in Gateneau PQ. With several elite level female athletes in town, Fast and Female sponsored an event for girls 9 and up. This was a chance to meet up with some accomplished women athletes hear some inspiring stories. Go for a ride for ride and practice some cycling skills.
I signed Darling Daughter up, and myself as a parent volunteer. We finagled a ride across the river to the event but planned on riding home. The event was very good. We had a bi-lingual introductory presentation. The girls were divided into groups and worked on girl power themed posters, it was very cute, being possibly the only male parent volunteer I did my best to stay out of the way. Then we went out for an hour-long ride. I was very impressed by both of the ambassadors who guided our little group. I was even more impressed with Darling Daughter, she's still not completely comfortable on her new bike, and an hour ride is long, for a nine year old. She did great, riding up and down hills, following instructions and doing drills. The ambassadors had the girls practice changing gears, riding with one hand, emergency stops, riding two abreast and touching the rider beside them. It was fun.
After the ride there were more presentations and a dance (zumba). Darling Daughter really enjoyed then event, Cath and Jenny (our ambassadors) were great and made a positive impression.

When the event finished up we set off for home. It wasn't the most direct route but we were able to take multi-use recreational paths all the way home. It was great.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A New Bike!

I bought a new bike this weekend. It wasn't my first choice of bike, honestly it wasn't even my second choice. That is O.K. it's not a bike for me.
My Darling Daughter has outgrown her 20" "Cream Soda", truthfully she had outgrown it last year.

DD's bike, Purple 20" Cream Soda
Darling Daughter's Purple 20" Cream Soda
A 24" bike would work for her, but not for long. That is the trouble with kids is they keep growing, and parents are always trying to plan ahead. I am a "Serious"* cyclist so I looked for a suitable road style bike, preferably a cyclocross bike. There was some trepidation because last fall Darling Daughter borrowed a Redline Conquest 24 and participated in a local cyclocross race. This wasn't a spectacular success, the race was a bit much for her. Still, I remembered it fondly. I found a bike that I thought would be perfect at REI, the Novara Pulse a small frame cyclocross bike sitting on 26" wheels. I was excited, this would be the perfect bike. 
Of course it wasn't the perfect bike at all. Its first and fatal flaw was it only existed on a website  Darling Daughter  couldn't see or touch it. It is hard to get excited about a smallish picture of a bike. The next flaw was price, it seemed expensive. While other options would turn out to be more expensive, they didn't have the additional problem of cross border shipping. I was negotiating successfully, making progress against the objections and building enthusiasm when the Novara Pulse sold out. Well, that was a set back, and a blow to internet shopping. All was not lost, the whole family visited a local bike emporium and proceeded to check out actual physical bikes. This confirmed what I already knew, 24" bikes had no room to grow into. 700c bikes were to tall and 26" wheel bikes were as Goldilocks would say "just right". And Darling Daughter fell in love with one bike in particular. 

Darling Daughters new Trek 820
Not my first choice, but it is not my bike. It is miles better then the little 20" bike, as it fits. We've already had longer rides and she is really enjoying it. So a hardy welcome to the newist bike in the family fleet.

* not backed up in results of any sort.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Solution for Scary Bridges?

There are a lot of bridges in Ottawa, and bridges are uncomfortable places for cyclists. Why bridges are uncomfortable is a complicated question. One factor that comes up frequently is there is not enough room, cyclists can feel squeezed and trapped, they try to share the lane but the lane is often narrow.  Drivers, for their part may not realize how wide the lanes really are. By trying to drive in the same lane as the cyclist, they reinforce the cyclists feeling of being pushed to the curb. A local Councillor has proposed a simple change to traffic signs on two of Ottawa's bridges (City to Install Cycling Markers on Two Bridges). The proposed changes are simple, really just a clarification, new signs will mark the outside lanes as no passing lanes. I believe this will be a improvement over the current share the road signs, pictured below:
Bank St. Bridge over the Rideau River.
The cluttered signage is confusing and contradictory

Bank St. Bridge over the Rideau Canal

The existing signs on the Rideau River bridge are confusing with a share the road sign directly above a "No Cyclists" sign. The signage over the Canal is less cluttered but not as very prominent maybe to the point of being invisible. Cluttered, confusing or invisible the result is the same, the signs are ignored and cyclists  take to the sidewalk.

Cyclists riding the sidewalk cross the Rideau River bridge

I don't like to be a finger wagging scold, I understand that there are several reasons why this couple chose to ride the sidewalk. Road condition is probably not even the main reason in this case, access from and to the multi-use paths is probably the main consideration in this case. Still cyclists do not belong on the sidewalk. This is even more important and more clear on bridges, not only is sidewalk riding a danger to others it is dangerous to the cyclists themselves, so anything that might help encourage cyclists to stay off these sidewalks is worth a try.
Not everyone agrees of-course, many people will agree with James McLaren, president of the Heron Park Community Association. Mr. McLaren doesn't see this a workable solution, he is worried that it is unrealistic and will be a burden on cars to ask them to change lanes to pass a cyclist on the bridge. Some of these people will see this as a silly extension of the "War on the Car", holding up traffic and causing congestion. My experience says different, I ride across these bridges frequently, the Rideau Canal bridge daily. I ride far from the curb and on these narrower lanes most cars change lanes to pass any way, formalizing this behaviour will help all road users, and if it helps join communities and encourage active transportation all the better. After all this proposed change is just communicating the rules of the road as they are: Cyclists need to be passed safely and to pass safely on a narrow lane a car must change lanes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cleaning up Winter's Worst

Spring has arrived in force here in Ottawa. A little over a week ago our family was heading out for vacation in a light snow. When we returned home after a lovely week away, there was no snow on the ground and day time temps were in the 20's. Perfect spring weather has arrived and bikes were being pulled from winter storage.
I didn't put my bikes away perfering to rid through the winter. This has one major drawback, it leaves your bike looking like this:

Partially inspired by  Kathleen Wilker's Blog Post, I decided to take advantage of my free time and good weather to clean my winter bikes:

Both bikes received limited care over the winter, a bit or oil on the chain a wipe down when it was warm enough, and I thought about it. So not enough to to fend off all of winters damage, but enough to keep it superficial. My commuter received the most use and therefor the most care. The chain was a bit rusty and the chrome was a bit dull but a bit of soap and water and some light oil for the chain and all was good, well not quite as new. The Ute was a little worse. There were several stuck links on the very rusty chain. A layer of grime and salt on every surface, the Ute definitely took the brunt of a winter's riding. The aluminium frame should clean up nicely, but the chain? Maybe I'd have to replace it, so with nothing to loose I tried to clean it up and un-stick that chain. It took a few rounds with Park Tools "Cyclone Chain Scrubber" (any chain scrubber should do) and a bit of light oil and I got one revived extra long chain.

Just in time too. Back from holidays with an empty fridge and nice weather means. the Ute is ready for a grocery run, and resuming its role as school bus. Now if only my work schedule would co-operate.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What to Wear for Winter Cycling

Winter in Ottawa has made the slow inevatable turn to longer days and better weather. Still,the roads look like this:
Tempratures are warming, but still near or below zero. There is ice, slush and puddles every where, the roads are still narrowed and the edges are the sketchest parts. It is no wonder that many people park their bike in November and maybe think of it again in April, or May...
Add to this the "advice" that starts round September for what to wear. There is always one article in the local paper that seeks to demistify winter cycling. Usually they manage to make wintercyclists seem utterly and compleatly "other". There is all that expensive specallized clothing. The winter cycling shoes, waterproof pants and jackets. The layers of clothing required are in itself daunting. Wool or synthetic base layer cycling shorts, mid layer then a heavy sweater and finally a waterproof outer shell... No single piece costs under $100. Well, that's enough to limit my winter cycling to this:
Well, let me assure you, winter cycling is not that complicated. There is one bit of atire that is absolutly a requirment for winter cycling. in truth I'd recomend these for a commuting cyclist regardless of the season.
Yes the only important bit of winter clothing is mounted to your bike. Truthfully valuable in any season, fenders. Fenders will keep your clothes dry, in most conditions, limiting the requirement for water proof outer layers.Add a set of platform pedals and you can use your favourite hiking or winter boot, same ones you put on to walk to the bus or shovel the drive way. The rest of your cycling outfit, honestly it is nothing special. Dress as if you were going to walk the same time (not distance). Most often you will find you've over dressed for your ride, and you'll be opening zippers when you get the chance  The only caveat is your hands, I have warm hands a thin wind-blocker glove is all i need, most of the time. If you have cold hands mittens are a good idea, but a good pair of gloves are more flexible. That's it winter cycling demystified, wear what you would to walk the same amount of time. Use fenders/mudguards and platform pedals. You'll be fine.
The winter is long and dark, lights are a good idea. Getting outside and  keeping active is important to getting through this dark season.