Monthly Archives: February 2012

Off to Mexico

Cycling in the snow

is surely lots of fun,

but down in Mexico

it’s almost never done

courtesy of

Actually my fishing days are long gone. Instead I plan to rent a bike.

courtesy of

There will be a post about that when I return.

Meanwhile, enjoy your February, and ride safely!


Mountain Biking for the Road Bike: Safe Riding in Snow

Before I came to Toronto from Cape Town, my daily bike ride on my beloved (stolen-in-Toronto) Cannondale M700 took me up to Tafelberg Road on the northern slope of Table Mountain, then down the zig-zag of loose sandy paths toward the city.

Anonymous rider at the top of my old trail

I never dreamed I’d be riding in the snow one day. Nor did I realize that the years of mountain biking would serve me well in the snow.


Here are a few simple snow-riding tips that come straight from the mountain bike

  1. Look ahead. Concentrate your attention on the middle distance. Brake before you need to
  2. When you’re in the snow, or crossing slippery ground, slow down using your rear brake
  3. Get into a low gear. Use the smallest front chain ring if the snow is thick
  4. Keep moving, not rolling, but pedaling (hence the low gear)
  5. If you start to slide, stay with the bike, keep your feet on the pedals, lower your centre of gravity
  6. Stay inside your comfort zone

The above doesn’t apply to ice. For ice there are only two rules

  1. Use ice tyres
  2. or else, stay off it

Failed technologies

My friend John gave me this book for my birthday, and I can recommend it to all you urban cyclists out there looking for a chuckle about the culture you love so much

Bike Snob

You can also find the bike snob blog here.

The book begins with a note of deference to the Amish, who look carefully at technological innovations before deciding to adopt them or not. According to BikeSnob, the Amish provide a carefully tuned “technometer”, if I can put it like that, for what is useful and what is failed about technology. This is what BS says:

“The Amish have been ‘keeping it real’ longer than almost any other group of people in America, and they’ve done so by shunning frivolous modern conveniences. Just a few of the things the Amish refuse to use include:







Nautilus equipment

plastic surgery

Ludacris albums.

It might seem crazy to live a life without these things, but if you really think about it you can do without all of them. People managed for millennia without electricity, and they were just fine (apart from the darkness and cholera). Also, zippers are just dangerous buttons, telephones are satanic devices that vibrate seductively in your pocket (anything that vibrates is evil), automobiles are simply buggies that are too stupid to avoid collisions themselves if the driver falls asleep, and the rest of the items on that list are just things people use to try to get other people to have sex with them outside of wedlock.”

The point is (you’ve guessed it) the Amish do ride bicycles.

You may not agree with every item on the list (I’d keep electricity, provided it comes from solar or wind; and computers … well, I’m using one right now), but you must admit, there is wisdom in the principle. That is, not every technology needs to be made, sold and used, just because it exists. Some technologies are magnificent, beautiful, ingenious. Others are simply failures.  If the past 300 years have seen the world change dramatically thanks to new technologies, then sooner or later, for the Darwinian sake of our species, we will have to find a way to decide how to identify and abandon a failed technology.

What would the mark of a failed technology be? A few possibilities – I think a technology can be called a failed technology if it does one or more of the following things

  • increases inequality in the world,
  • does irreparable damage to the environment,
  • makes life more stressful,
  • makes people angry and frustrated while they are using it,
  • makes the world uglier,
  • is harmful to your health,
  • is likely to kill, injure or otherwise harm other people,
  • etc., etc.

There are probably a lot more points that can be added to the list.

If you look around for what people generally think of when they think about failed technologies, you usually come across things no-one ever really used or cared about, mainly because they tried to do things that weren’t important (the talking desktop scheduler), or they solved non-existent problems (egg-slicers). There are even those that seemed to be what everyone needed, for a while, then it turned out that they were riding a wave that looked big, but was about to get swamped by a much larger one (the Blackberry, the Wang word processor). These are more like marginalized than failed technologies.

What I’m talking about is the technology that fails yet thrives, that does the kind of damage I list above, but which, somehow, we can’t get rid of.

Think handgun, think automobile.

Cyclists on Sidewalks: Part II

Analysis of social phenomena can be a complicated business. Sometimes you look at behaviour patterns and you think: “That person is an idiot.” Then you look a little deeper and you see that they are behaving rationally, given the structural constraints on their choices. So, instead of criticizing the “idiot”, think about what needs to change if the choices available to them are going to change.

If you fail to see this, you can easily draw the kind of conclusions this well-meaning cyclist does when debating when, how, and why to ride on the sidewalk:

Urban Scrawl: Confessions of a Sidewalk Cyclist

Cycling on the sidewalk

Cycling on the streets of Toronto is at best stressful, at worst dangerous. Not everyone wants to subject themselves to the risks you’re exposed to when you share our streets with cars. So cycling on the sidewalk seems to be a good alternative. You could even say that in the car-dominated city it’s a rational choice. Particularly in parts of our city that were designed and continue to be maintained as if cycling were not an option. Unfortunately, these are often the poorer areas, where cycling is an important means of transport.

There’s just one small problem, pedestrians. The sidewalks were made for them, and they include the frail, elderly and children.

It is in the interests of all cyclists to keep the sidewalks safe and enjoyable for pedestrians. The more people walk, the more liveable our city becomes. Walking needs its own advocates. It slows down life, it opens the senses to the world, it creates social encounters, no matter how fleeting. Michel de Certeau put it so beautifully in 1980 when he called the walkers the “ordinary practitioners of the city.” In his view, walkers write the text of urban life. “Their knowledge of space is as blind as that of lovers in each others arms,” and their movements are like poems, “in which each body is an element signed by many others.”

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a pedestrian will be injured, even killed by a cyclist. In New York City, the estimate is that between 500 and 1,000 pedestrians are injured by cyclists annually. I couldn’t find statistics for Toronto, but it could be between 150 and 250, going on population alone. Over the past several years, there have been some high profile cases of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists riding on the sidewalk.

Last year, Nobu Okamoto, a 74 year old man died after being struck by a cyclist on a sidewalk in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood. But cyclists are afraid to go onto the streets.

Sidewalk Cyclist

You can legally cycle on the sidewalk if your wheel size is less than 24 inches. A City bylaw allows cyclists with a tire size of 61cm (24 inches) or less to ride on the sidewalk. The intent of this bylaw is to allow young children to cycle on the sidewalk while they learn to ride. But the spin-off is that if you ride a folding bike, you’re OK.

I stay off the sidewalks at all times. As far as I’m concerned, sidewalks are pedestrian spaces. Well, there’s one exception. If I’m pulling my daughter in the bike trailer (which I do twice daily, between home and day care), I take the sidewalk. Then, I stick to a few simple rules, which are rather nicely formulated at Commute by Bike.

Interactive map of fatal and non-fatal collisions

Last Friday, the Globe and Mail published an interactive map of cycling collisions in Toronto.

image by santra krishanu from

You can use the Reader Report tab to add your own collision details (please ride safely!).

Note the way the collisions follow the main traffic arteries.

The message is clear. There are no safe cycling routes in our city.