Tammy tries out the Brodie Argus touring bike inside Bateman's bike shop in Toronto before hitting the road.
SERIES: Tammy and Emily's great commute
Riding to work with Brodie bikes
by Tammy Thorne
Last week, something great happened. One of my coworkers, who has never biked in the city and before Monday had been taking the TTC to work, rode to work with me. Emily is a new bike commuter. You can read her story about her first ride here.
We are lucky to have been given a couple of sweet loaner bikes from Brodie. She's got the Romulus and I've got the Argus. I am delighted to have sooo many gears. I sometimes like to refer to myself as 'Granny Tammy' and I am proud to report that I now have use of a Granny gear -- and so, for the first time since I started working in midtown in December I can actually stay in the saddle going up the Poplar Plains hill! The triple chainring and all the sweet Shimano components make it a smooth ride -- even up steep hills.
We are biking from the Annex to Eglinton and Mount Pleasant. It's entirely uphill -- so it's not the most pleasant commute for a first-time commuter. But Emily is a fit environmentalist with a great attitude and inspiration in the form of her almost-90-year-old grandpa who is an avid cyclist.
We also have a bike-friendly work environment that includes secure parking and shower facilities.
Secure indoor bike parking is an important component of encouraging people to bike to work.
I enjoy encouraging new cycle commuters every place I work (and pretty much every place I go!) I started doing it years ago when I was working at U of T and lived in Parkdale. Along with a half-dozen other seasoned bike commuters, I used to participate in something we called Bike Friday. We would post our commute routes online and invite local cyclists to meet up on Friday mornings and we'd bike together into the core. In Parkdale we were lucky to have Alternative Grounds donate free coffee and muffins to fuel up our small group. Our MP Peggy Nash even showed up and joined in on the ride for a spot on MTV once!
dandyhorse also did an amazing 'dandyCOMMUTE' series in 2013 for which we received dozens of contributions from all over the city and beyond!
For my new commute -- which I now enjoy doing with Emily -- we ride out of the Annex, one of the most bike-friendly wards in the city. Emily and I both live on a blue-signed route (route 16 I believe it is) and it is littered with potholes and tar snakes of various degrees of viciousness.
Typical Annex area side street. This is part of blue-signed bike route 16.
We are forced to ride Dupont for a short bit before we hit Poplar Plains Road. The unsignalled intersection at St. George and Dupont is a total deathtrap for cyclists and the curb lane is more akin to the skills section of a dirtbike track than a city street. The holes and debris in the gutter along the very crowded and fast moving street certainly add a degree of thrill as we try to make eye contact with every driver trying to turn left onto Dupont from St. George and those trying to turn south from Dupont onto St. George. And as we all know, all drivers are NOT created equally. We even witnessed a women checking her phone while driving WHILE waiting to make the left turn there. Her distraction gave us an 'in' to also turn but it was one of the scariest moments for me as people who text and drive will often hit the gas pedal as they look up BEFORE they actually look around or check their mirrors. It's terrifying. But, hey, we made it through to pedal another day. Still, this is probably the worst part of our commute -- and we're still downtown! (Insert frowny face here.)
Then we head up Toronto's first ever bike lane -- Poplar Plains and into a leafier part of town. The bike lane is lovely but the hill is not. Until I got the Brodie test bike I was using my everyday bike "Pinky" -- a single speed. (The single speed actually has two speeds: sitting and standing.) Even standing I would rarely make it to the top and usually would walk the bike for the last stretch. I'm fond of saying "There's no shame in walking." And there are a couple of other points in this commute where the hills are less steep but the incline is long and arduous so for those of you who are deterred by a few hills on your commute, I can confidently say the key to a happy commute is: Gears! Cheers!
So once we make it up the BIG hill (think of it as a warm up for the rest of this all-uphill 40-minute commute) we hit St. Clair. Oh, St. Clair, what a poke in the eye to cyclists you are.
When the St. Clair right-of-way was built there was clearly not one single thought put towards cyclists. It is narrow and fast moving and includes zero concessions or infrastructure for cyclists even though it is a major connector route.
Perhaps most insulting is that we are now expected to "Walk our Wheels" for this small section of sidewalk adjacent to a new condo development site to get to the light that crosses near Dunvegan at the gorgeous Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. If there are no pedestrians on the sidewalk I suggest that we do roll to the light. It's tricky and there aren't any alternatives. And so since we have to walk, this adds time to the overall commute and we lose any momentum we might have built.
And now we start the truly midtown section of the commute past so many giant homes which appear to have no one in them. Perfectly manicured lawns, many many lanscape workers, nannies walking designer dogs and a few other cyclists make for great scenery as we continue to head north. The intersection at the top of Dunvegan where we turn east on Killbary is also tricky. Motorists are often distracted and in a hurry -- and as it appears to be out of fashion to use your indicator -- we really take our time at this 5-way stop. We indicate our direction, stay in the middle of the lane, and attempt to make eye contact with drivers. It is trickier on the return (heading south).
Facing west (above) at the corner of Killbary and Dunvegan.
At Dunvegan on the way home, we need to take the lane on uber-bumpy Killbary to turn south. Some motorists don't like that. Even though this is a signed route for cyclists, tolerance for cyclists still appears to be low in this neck of the woods. (And, yes, there are a lot of trees in this wealthy part of town.)
This is what it looks like on both sides of Killbary in the curb, for the entire length of the route from Dunvegan to Oriole Parkway.
Once we get past Oriole Parkway though, we're in the homestretch. We cut through a cute park (Oriole Park) that asks cyclists to use the west-side path. Unfortunately the city has a fence as you exit so two cyclists can't pass through at the same time. Not sure what that is all about. The park also has one of those adorable mini-libraries we see popping up all over town.
This little library features Nicole Richie's autobiography and a book from the Babysitter's Club series.
We then head over and up Duplex and across Soudan (since Eglinton is out of commission until the beautiful big bike lanes are installed with the new crosstown LRT.) The intersection at Soudan is unpleasant for the uninitiated. We make eye contact with drivers here and look in all directions before moving through. There was some construction at the corner mid-week but the construction workers were particularly kind and one noted to me "you can go on the sidewalk here." A dangerous suggestion to be sure -- but he was trying to help.
Probably the most terrifying for both Emily and I -- new and experienced cyclists would agree -- was being behind a big dump truck. As we were completing our commute one day and nearing the office, the dump truck in front of us was dripping hot, gravel-filled cement 'droplet's' as it slowly chugged along in front of us. The small pick up truck with contractors inside that was following behind was beeping like mad, trying to get the truck to stop and pull over. I too was yelling: "OH MY GOD! WATCH OUT EMILY!" But we didn't get burned and the truck eventually pulled over. There are now bits of hardened cement/gravel mixture along that bit of Soudan though. A shame really since that is one of the ONLY smooth streets in our entire commute.
Probably the best part of our commute (besides Nicole Richie's face in the little library in the park) is the downhill thrill that is Russel Hill!
Emily enjoys the speed that the Romulus provides as she tucks in for the rush.
Great job Emily on your first week of bike commuting! You are a natural! When we finished and pulled up to the apartment building, Emily heard a kerkaaa in the sky and pointed out a red-tailed hawk. For me, someone who has been commuting by bike for over 20 years it is new and exciting to be biking with a conservationist who can point out different bird species.
Emily is a new cycle commuter in our city. She is biking it and liking it! Her overall observation from our first week on the road: Intersections are dangerous.
You're right Emily -- intersections are where most of the car-bike collisions happen in this town.
We need the city to provide a minimum grid for cyclists of bike lanes that are protected from vehicular traffic on major roads and connect to bike boulevards; quieter side streets. Right now we enjoy a mish-mash of bumpy blue-signed routes and bike lanes that abruptly end, leaving new cyclists like Emily in the middle of traffic without any reprieve. We can do better Toronto!
Related on the dandyBLOG: