Yvonne Bambrick holding a copy of her new book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide: Need-to-Know Skills and Strategies for Biking in the City, in Pamenar cafe in Kensington Market.
Q&A with new author and cycling advocate Yvonne Bambrick
Interview and photos by Jenna Campbell
Yvonne Bambrick's new book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide: Need-to-Know Skills and Strategies for Biking in the City, is a how-to source of information on cycling for all road users. The book includes a section on winter cycling, which was the timely topic of this interview. (Stay tuned for our upcoming full book review.) Bambrick grew up biking in Toronto and was the founding executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, now Cycle Toronto. She is currently an independent urban cycling consultant, an event photographer, and the executive director of the Forest Hill Village Business Improvement Area. She is also a co-creator of the popular Pedestrian Sunday event in Kensington Market.
dandyhorse: What was the “gap in bike education” you refer to that pushed you to write The Urban Cycling Survival Guide?
The catalyst for me was reading yet another of the predictable annual stories about whether or not cyclists should be licensed. I don't believe licensing is the answer to enhancing safety for cyclists, but I do think the fact that it keeps coming up highlights the persistent lack of knowledge for many around cycling rules and the need for better information about how to share the road and be part of traffic on a bike.
Q: What do you think is the most important piece of information in the book for cyclists to know?
I think the whole thing is pretty important, but the two key sections are “Navigating the Streetscape,” which is about the rules of the road and what to do. The next section is “Common Cyclist Setbacks”… things to do if you’re pulled over by police; if you crash; if your bike is stolen, and there is a segment in here I’m quite pleased with about sharing the road as a driver. This is not just a book for cyclists, it’s a book for everybody – my goal was to provide the essentials for new and would-be riders, and for those already in the saddle.
Q: When did you start cycling in Toronto?
On the back of my dad’s bike as a baby. I kind of went everywhere with him and have been on a bike since.
Q: When did you start cycling year-round?
I moved to Australia in 2000 and I sold the car that I owned to help pay for my masters degree. I only started riding year-round there because the weather was totally manageable. When I got back here in 2003, I decided I was just going to keep riding.
Yvonne Bambrick in her winter cycling gear.
Q: Back in Canada from Australia in 2003, how did you keep warm during your first winter cycling?
Layers are always the answer in winter and I've never been one of those people who wears specialized cycling clothes. I just wear what I have. So, at that time, I had a big poofy jacket and big gloves and a hat and ear warmers… that was the number one piece for me, having earmuffs.
Q: How would you rate Toronto’s cycling infrastructure to other cities across Canada?
It’s a very bike-able city, but it’s not particularly bike friendly. We’re getting there, we are. We made relatively good progress this last four years considering we could have done a backslide, a major backslide.
I think one of the real gaps is that our fledgling network doesn’t extend to and within our suburban communities. It’s not just about getting people to and from the suburbs via bike infrastructure, it’s really about allowing people within suburban communities to move safely by bike throughout their own neighbourhoods. There’s lots of room, it doesn’t cost much, and extending the network would make a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of Torontonians.
Q: What are the benefits to riding throughout the winter?
Predictable travel times, not being stuck on transit, maintaining your autonomy, having fun, and you get to maintain a healthy habit year-round. Riding through the winter is also one of the best ways to beat the winter blues.
Q: What should cyclists do to prepare their bikes for winter?
Winter tires can be handy. Some people just have a beater (crappy) bike and that’s that. The one thing to really keep in mind is your lock. It’s good to have a little de-icer in your bag in case your lock freezes and the key won’t work – can save you from having your bike stuck and [freeze] locked somewhere. A bit of hot water can help in a pinch, but be sure to dry out the lock indoors once you get home. In advance of the winter, get a tune-up, brake check, etc... do one in the fall and in the spring and you’re good to go.
Q: How did you choose the title for your book?
I wanted to address the fear factor without it being overwhelming. Shit happens on the roads [no matter what vehicle you're using], and even when you’re walking. So, the term ‘survival guide’ felt like I was saying, “yes there are risks, but it’s doable if you know what to expect, and if you learn and understand the rules.”
Q: Where can our readers buy your book?
It should be in bookstores by March 1, but can be ordered online here and delivered sooner. Right now, we’re working on the marketing plan and planning on doing other book launch events in North America, too. I'm having a launch party on April 9 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.
Q: Any final tips of advice for new winter cyclists?
Just ride whenever you feel comfortable doing so. If you’ve never ridden on snow, practice on quiet side streets first – try stopping and turning – get a feel for it before heading out on main streets. Dress and ride for the weather, always use lights at night, ride predictably, and walk your bike on the sidewalk if the road gets too nasty. Bikes are so awesome and so empowering. You can’t beat the autonomy of the bicycle — it’s your choice, your power, your route. You’re in your own hands, which is kind of amazing.
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