Thoughts on Cycling

Julie's BikeOver the past two years, I’ve cycled more than I have in the rest of my adult life combined. We had bikes on Malta, and I regularly used my old clunker to get exercise or to ride into town for supplies or a movie. Here in Victoria, my Dad kindly loaned me his old bike, and I use it pretty much along the same lines.

Becoming a regular cyclists has made me more observant of some cycling-related behaviour. So, in no particular order, some random thoughts on cycling:

  • My new favourite pet peeve is asshats who cycle on the sidewalk. As somebody said on Twitter when I complained about this: “it’s called side-walk, not side-ride”. If you can’t cycle on the road, then leave your bike at home. When someone’s riding on the sidewalk toward me (and they’re frequently grinning like an idiot), I refuse to change direction. If they run into me, I’m pretty sure they’re going to end up worse off.
  • There’s an odd camaraderie among cyclists with which I’m uncomfortable. They always want to chat with me when we’re stopped next to each other at an intersection, or when we happen to be locking up our bikes at the same moment.
  • As you probably know, there are a lot of retirees in Victoria. I’m often struck by how many more elderly men I see out riding than elderly women. Why is this?
  • I still think Critical Mass is a lousy approach to cycling activism. When I think of Critical Mass, I think of this insightful comment that Christine left on my blog three years ago:

I watch these guys go by, yelling “we’re not holding up traffic – WE ARE THE TRAFFIC!” and I wonder about the definition of traffic, and whether they fit into it. Before they got there, traffic on my way home consisted of people obeying traffic laws, and doing their best to get home in time for dinner while allowing others to do the same. Critical Mass riders seem to take glee in subverting all that. They are the traffic? Huh. How is it, then, that they storm through lights and disregard numerous traffic laws, getting away with it just because there are so many of them?


  1. I walk along Powell just about every day, somewhere around Commercial Drive & Victoria Drive… and I just about get run over by some asshole on a bike every. single. day.

    I get that it’s not a high-foot-traffic area, and the road traffic is fast & lacking in bicycle room, but I am starting to get seriously annoyed by almost getting killed on a daily basis — I often walk with my headphones on, and don’t hear the whir of the wheels (especially over the heavy traffic) until it’s past me. Once in a while, I hear a “passing on your left!” which usually comes out of nowhere, startling me enough that I’m more likely to accidentally walk in front of them rather than avoid.

    Seriously, there are a million side streets around there that are perfectly bike friendly and almost completely car free, since Powell isn’t really. Why can’t they just use those?

  2. The Critical Mass folks are just like any other zealots. They think their actions in support of their cause – whatever it may be – overrides everyone else’s rights and conveniences. There is a name for people like that and it’s not “politically progressive eco-warriors” – it’s “jerks”.

  3. I think your discomfort with cyclist small talk is probably simply an extension of your discomfort with small talk more generally. But I agree: just because I’m on a bicycle doesn’t make me part of some secret fraternity. (I’d probably find that little wave annoying if I rode a Harley too.)

    As for the old-men-vs.-old-women cyclists, I’m just guessing, but it could be a holdover from the days when riding a bicycle was considered unladylike. On the other hand, anyone who’s 65 now grew up in the sixties, which was a little past that era, so I could just be talking out of my lycra shorts.

    When you’ve cycled for a long time (I started commuting by bike in 1989), you internalize and may come to resent how oppressively car-focused everything is in the city, and I think Critical Mass is an attempted expression of that frustration. In other words, I understand where it comes from. I still think it’s a lousy idea. As a cyclist it’s possible to get ticked off and start thinking that all car drivers are assholes, but that’s not true. It’s profoundly unhelpful to turn the tables on that skewed perspective and get “revenge” by making cyclists assholes too. I’m sure many regular cycle commuters are embarrassed by the spectacle. (Then again, I’m glad the activists aren’t Hummer drivers.)

    It would be better, I think, if the Critical Mass phalanx really were traffic, i.e. if the thousands of cyclists rode in a line rather than a mob, following traffic rules, stopping at lights, and so on, while traveling to a destination. That would show how large numbers of cyclists could really fit into our road infrastructure, and highlight inadequacies in the current system. Right now Critical Mass feels more like it’s trying to be inflammatory, like an Orangemen’s march.

  4. The Critical Mass folks and the general overzealousness-bordering-on-proselytizing of many of the area’s cyclists is what is keeping me from becoming a more avid cyclist. I bike because it’s cheap and because I like how it feels (except when I’m on hills). I’m not trying to subvert some major paradigm.

    Jentzen, I have another name for the Critical Mass people: “Critical Massholes”.

  5. Darren, you’d hate me. I’m a frequent sidewalk cyclist. Maybe I wouldn’t be if I lived in Vancouver or Victoria, but I find that the drivers here drive a little too close to me for my comfort. I rode on the sidewalk in Grande Prairie too, which was DEFINITELy not a bike friendly city.

  6. I often wonder why cyclist think that they are above the law. I know that when there is no other traffic around, I will slow down and ride through a stop sign. If there is traffic then I will stop and wait my turn at the intersection and I never ride through red lights that is just asking to be hit.
    I guess it is similar to motorcyclists that weave in and out of traffic and are an accident waiting to happen. I ride both bicycle and motorcycle defensively, but will use the space that I have as best as I can.
    As for the sidewalk warriors I never figured that one out. They usually have more riding gear then most people on the road, so why they can’t ride on the road is beyond me.

  7. I think the reality – as a three season commuter in Ottawa, is that there are idiots in cars, on bikes, and that walk. Period. It’s really a no win. I watch cyclists do stupid stuff – run red lights, etc and often just shake my head. Funny thing … when I’ve watched stupidity and reacted (with a head shake or arms giving the “why” stance) after a twit runs a red, and a driver sees me react that way, I often get a nod like “Oh, okay, you think the guy is an idiot for doing that as well! Excellent”. But I can say the same driving and walking. Sadly, the idiots continue to flag our attention, so until they all fade away, we are stuck with them.

    I do like the irony of you not liking small talk, but having a blog … with open comments. 😉

  8. Don’t get me started on Critical Mass, they are nothing more than bullies on bikes. You can’t even cross the street on foot when these assholes are riding. I like to ride my bike, and I sometimes commute from Strathcona to UBC on it. Its a blast. I also ride my bike downtown all the time, simply because it’s easier and more fun than taking my truck. I think that cyclists truly are the king of the road, and it is time they realized this. People who drive, simply don’t have the time, the good health, youth, place to change or shower etc. You should be truly thankful if you can travel by bike on a regular basis. Cycling beats transit hands down, as it is quicker in a lot of cases, and you get a seat!
    What really gets me is the “holier than thou” cyclist lobby that seems to run city hall these days. You also see some cyclists going out of their way to inconvenience car traffic, while riding to work I have seen some cyclists go out of their way to activate pedestrian stopwalks on 4th Ave. This is bullshit, we all have to get somewhere, and we all have the same right to the road, its really not a good idea to raise the frustration level of car drivers higher than it already is. Cars are not the problem anyway, as a cyclist, I find it’s the buses that peeve me the most, and they aren’t going to go away. I think that drivers need a voice at city all, just like the cyclist and pedestrian groups. If we declared a free parking day say, the same day as Critical Mass, I think city hall would start to listen.

  9. On the older-man vs. older-women point:

    I don’t know how well this explains that observation… but I was talking recently to a researcher with the Cycling in Cities project at UBC ( who noted the demographics of cyclists in Vancouver…

    Kay Teschke said cyclists here skew young, and male: risktakers, as she put it. She compared this to more bike-friendly cities in Europe, where the demographics are more even across the board — men and women, old and young.

    She noted that if a city wants more cycling, then it needs to build routes that are safe not just for the risktakers, but for kids biking to school, and seniors out for a ride.

    Certainly, the young/male bias isn’t absolute. Take me as an example.

    But if Victoria is similar, then there might be fewer older women cyclists because they don’t feel safe enough.

  10. I would love to have mandatory licencing of cyclists. Just like a drivers license, you need to go through a writen test and a riding test. If you want to bike anywhere on a major road.

  11. My pet peeve is cars that drive down the bike street (37th at Arbutus is my personal hell) and don’t seem to notice the bikes they cut off, repeatedly. Oh, and then there are the cyclists with no helmets wearing flip flops. Do they have a death wish? I have been a casual bike commuter for the last year and find that there are idiots on bikes as much as there are fools in cars.

    Why can’t we all just get along?

    I do love the new Central Valley Greenway running under the skytrain. There are no cars, few pedestrians at my commuting hours, good signage and crossing lights, paved road, and did I mention no cars? I ride it regularly from Commercial to Boundary and it’s the best part of my commute.

  12. I agree with you 100% Darren. I am a frequent cyclist and I hate people who ride on the sidewalk, I ride quickly on the road, but if I ever need to ride on the sidewalk I ride very slowly and respectfully of the pedestrians. If you don’t have the balls to ride with the traffic then don’t go so fast on the sidewalk!

  13. And what is with the critical mass? I am all for bikes, would love to see more roads be bike only – but how does PISSING OFF all the motorists by blocking them help your cause?

  14. I remember hearing urbanist Enrique Penalosa speak at the World Urban forum – he is a a huge proponent of building bike infrastructure that meets the needs of the majority – that is those of us with a healthy respect for cars. His measuring stick is also the child riding to school: Build it safe enough that parents will let an 8 yo ride to school alone. The cyclist-as-an-equal-to-the-car theory works for so few people that I am thrilled to see this evolution in cycling mantras.
    In Canada Montreal has been putting in physically separated bike lanes, and while searching for a photo of the them (Boulevard Maisonnueve in particular is aweseome), I came across this Vancouver-based site that references them and seems to show that Vancouver is moving in a similar direction:

  15. Nobody talks on bikes in Dublin.

    People walking on the cycle lanes in Dublin (which admittedly are painted on the sidewalk) drives me slightly potty.

    Getting soaked everyday here in Dublin in our monsoon season.

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