Cycling Chronicles Vol 11
What makes a memorable bicycle ride? Most people think only of epic rides as being memorable.
However, cycling being what it is, an up close and personal way to travel, lends itself to the pleasure of seeing things and talking to people you normally just pass by in a car. As you become more comfortable on a bicycle, especially at slower speeds, you can enjoy the countryside and the neighbourhoods you are riding through. Even on routes you have ridden before, you will notice something new.
The other aspect of cycling is that you are visible and accessible to others on the roadway and sidewalk. Although there can be bad aspects to this, my overall experiences have been positive. For example, while doing a track stand, waiting at a red light at Bloor Street and South Kingsway in Toronto, I had a driver of a van tell me how much he loved cycling. He then recounted a story of his youth, becoming the age class champion in track cycling in Trinidad. This all transpired in the time it takes for the intersection traffic light to go through its phases.
On another occasion, a gentleman engaged me in a conversation about the pleasure of cycling, again through the open passenger side window of his trade van, while in stop-and-go traffic in downtown Toronto. He asked me if I knew a certain bicycle shop owner, who was originally from Treviso, Italy. When he found out I did, he immediately asked me to pull over at the next street, so we could talk.
It turns out that when this gentleman was a new immigrant to Canada from Poland, this bicycle shop owner and bicycle racing sponsor, had taken him under his wing, culminating in the bicycle race of his life. It was the annual Quebec City to Montreal bicycle race, recognized as the longest single day cycling race in North America. The gentleman explained that although he did very well in the race, since he had no citizenship status in Canada, he was not eligible for the prize money. Life got in the way, and he had drifted away from bicycle racing and had not ridden in years. I explained to this gentleman that the bicycle shop owner had recently retired and closed the shop to spend winters in Treviso and summers here. Upon parting, the gentleman made sure I knew what a great person that bicycle shop owner was, and how welcome he had made him feel in Canada.
My point here is that any ride can turn out to be a great and memorable ride.
It is not about how many kilometres you cover or how many metres you ascend, but how you feel about the ride, during and afterward.
An example of this is something I experienced on an evening ride in late November of 2021. I had decided to attend a live music concert at the Rose Theatre in Brampton. This was a momentous occasion for me. I have always been a lover of live music performances, but because of the pandemic, I had not been to a live concert in twenty-two months. I could not resist this one, a tribute to the late Canadian jazz icon, Moe Koffman, with a band that consisted of highly regarded musicians that had played with Moe. The band was led by Moe’s grandson.
My wife was out of town on family matters, so it would just be me going. I checked the weather forecast. There was a thirty per cent chance of snow, with no expected accumulation. As I set off on my 1990 Raleigh single speed cruiser bike, I felt a little consternation about being with a crowd of people. The Raleigh was the obvious choice for this ride since the roads were damp and there was a chance of precipitation. This bike is equipped with Kevlar belted tires and wide fenders. Just the thing for riding on wet, snowy roads and not worrying about getting dirty. The Kevlar belted tires meant there was less chance of getting a flat tire. The generously upholstered sprung seat and padded hand grips, along with the upright riding position, made riding this bike akin to lounging on my living room sofa.
I proceeded out of my neighbourhood to the Central Park Drive bike lanes. The temperature was just under the freezing mark and my clothing choices seemed perfect. Since there was no wind, this temperature seemed comfortable. I turned left, onto the bike lanes on Howden Blvd., one of the only up hill sections of my journey.
As I made the left turn onto the Vodden Street bike lanes, it began to snow. Very light, small flakes began to fall, floating straight down, melting to water as they hit the pavement. The sounds of Brampton at night became muted and slightly distant. The city was fairly quiet. There was traffic, but it seemed calm and orderly. I felt a sense of relaxation and detachment in the perceived safety of the bike lane. I was plenty early so there was need to put any effort into the pedals, it was just a case of enjoying a peaceful evening with the magic of snow gently falling.
I made the left turn into the bike lanes of Centre Street, for a short stretch, before turning right on Nelson Street East. From there I crossed the Scott Street bridge over the Etobicoke Creek. This cyclist and pedestrian only bridge was an excellent connection to the pathway running across the south side of Rosalea Park. I was pleased to see the steep section of path was free of snow and ice, as I zipped across to the Y.M.C.A. parking lot and out on to Union Street. I caught the green traffic light at Theatre Lane and glided down the underground parking garage ramp, right to the bicycle rack beside the Rose elevator vestibule. I looked at my watch and discovered I had arrived earlier than I expected. It had taken me roughly the same amount of time as driving, and yet, I felt like I had hardly expended any energy.
The expanse of the theatre, just before showtime, contained just 112 people. That, combined with the fact that I was able to sit on my own, along with the COVID restrictions in place, served to relieve my consternation at being in a crowd.
The concert did not disappoint, with the musicians, who possessed many years of experience, eager to show off their chops, reminding me of how good live music can sound and how much I had missed it.
Once the concert was over, even with unlocking my bike and putting my winter gear on, I was first up the ramp and out of the parking garage. I retraced my route, using the on-road bike lanes on the way home. It was still a magical night with no wind and a very light snow falling. As I cruised home, in no particular hurry, I thought that cycling doesn’t get much better than this. The fact that I had the ability to get where I wanted to go, using infrastructure designed for that purpose, just added to the pleasure.
What I would say to all of you is, not to look too hard for the pleasure of cycling in speeds and distances. That pleasure is front of you all the time. It is about interaction with your environment and fellow human beings.
by Steve Stoller
Previous blog posts by Steve: