Revolution, Reform and the Role of Bicycles in Toronto

"Female cyclist wheeling bicycle up muddy hill on St. Clair Avenue West 1907" from City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, Item 0022

by Duncan Hurd

"Two legs, two pedals, a crank and a chain, two wheels and a frame. A revolution that keeps me arriving," sings Evalyn Parry to a group in Trinity Bellwoods park for the Women and Bicycles Picnic hosted by HerStoriesCafe.

Organized by Rose Fine-Meyer and Kate Zankowicz, the free picnic featured a talk by dandyhorse senior editor Steve Brearton and performances by Evalyn Parry and Clay & Paper Theatre's CYCLOPS troupe.

Taking the group through the past 140 years, Brearton establishes a link between the early rise in popularity of the bicycle and the reforms that lead to greater freedoms and equality for women. Unlike riding a horse, where a woman could still wear a long flowing dress and ride side saddle, riding a bicycle required more practical attire. The rise of "bloomers," a style of baggy trousers, is directly connected to growing numbers of women choosing to travel by bicycle in the late 1800s. This reform in fashion provides the legs required to further the cause of equal rights activists while the bicycle provided their mobility, allowing women to freely move around the city, to meet, to discuss, to unite. As a result, early women's independence was asserted by the bicycle Brearton tells us.

With these reforms also came resistance; from doctors who felt that bicycle riding was too dangerous for the "weaker sex" and from opponents who believed that less constrictive clothing for women could lead to immoral behaviour. Nearly 120 years later and this opposition still exists today. In June 2011, a women was reportedly stopped on her bicycle by police in New York City and threatened with a ticket because her skirt could distract drivers and cause collisions. "Women have legs for use like anyone else," was a reaction to women riding bicycles in the 1880s shared by Brearton and is a sentiment we still seem to be grasping today.

Long skirts and heavy fabrics made clothing restrictive. "Yonge Street at Queen Street [1908?]" from City of Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, Item 493

Performing from her critically acclaimed show, SPIN, Evalyn Parry introduces our group to Annie Londonderry, the first woman to ride a bicycle around the world. A adventure undertaken by a bet, Londonderry's ride, as imagined by Parry, paints us a picture of a savvy self-promoter who occasionally bends the rules (and the truth) to achieve her goals.

Londonderry's travels can be seen as a mobile marketing campaign, one not only for bottled water and bicycles but also for women's dress reform. An ever evolving wardrobe, one borne of the need for better mobility, brings with it shock and outrage from conservative communities more than a century ago. “To be free, a woman needs mobility, she needs to use her legs, her legs, her legs, her political legs,” sings Parry.

Bringing us back the the present, CYCLOPS perform the song "Bells on Bloor," a call to action to continue the political push for practical cycling improvements. "The current and former representatives for the Toronto Cyclists Union are women. Many of the city councillors who push for cycling infrastructure are women," responds Brearton to a question about the ongoing connection between women and bicycle rights. The bicycle has been a tool for change for more than 100 years and in a time of rising gas prices and frustrating commutes it still has the power to change lives.

Evalyn Parry performs for the crowd in Trinity Bellwoods Park for HerStories Cafe, photo by Tammy Thorne

For more information on future events visit

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Bike Spotting: What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane?

What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane? What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane?
What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane? What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane?

On July 13, 2011, Toronto City Council voted in favour of installing physical barriers on the existing Bloor Street East bike lane that extends from Sherbourne in the west over the Prince Edward Viaduct to Broadview in the east. Our Bike Spotting team took to the street to see what people on bikes think about the plan: What do You Think of the Plan to Install Barriers to Separate the Existing Bloor Street Bike Lane?

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An Exploration of Toronto and Pie by Bicycle

Delicious pie a la mode at The Canadian Pie Company, photo by Hyedie Hashimoto

Ask us at dandyhorse what the best way to see and learn about your city is and we'll always tell you it's by bike. Of course, all of that pedalling can sure make you hungry and that's why any ride we go on must include plenty of food.

Hyedie Hashimoto, founder of the Toronto Cupcake Ride, knows that the pairing of food and bikes is a perfect match. While the Cupcake Rides are typically a ladies-only event, Hyedie has teamed up with Joe Travers of to run several co-ed rides. Their latest, Sweet Ride: Pie Edition, took a hungry and adventurous group across Toronto to explore a few distinctive neighbourhoods and to eat some delicious pie.

For photos and a recap of the event visit: Sweet Pie Ride Report


dandyhorse magazine is proud to announce that Hyedie Hashimoto will be designing our upcoming FOOD Issue with guest editor Bob Blumer of the Food Network.

Find out why food and bikes are the perfect mix for Hyedie in her Heels on Wheels profile from the Spring 2011 issue of dandyhorse.

Hyedie Hashimoto photographed by Molly Crealock

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3,2,1… Polo Toronto!

Ngaihon Choo's very Toronto wheel cover and Shane Murphy's West Side Maniacs wheel in back at Scadding Court.

Story by Colleen Kirley
Photos by Christopher Kaiser

It’s eight p.m. at Scadding Court and the autumn sun has already set behind the trees of Alexandra Park. It’s dark, except for the large spotlights beaming down on the ball hockey court. Six men sit on single-speed bicycles - three on each side of the court. With white knuckles (covered by gloves if they're smart) they grip their handlebars.

A twenty-something girl on the sidelines cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “THREE, TWO, ONE…POLO!” and players from each side pump their legs hard, racing into the centre of the court, charging at the ball like knights at a joust.

A young guy with a blue bike and no helmet hooks his homemade mallet around the ball and smacks it across the court. Two opposing players follow the ball as it hits the boards, pedalling hard on its tail. Scraping down the wall, the only player on the court wearing elbow pads manages to free the ball, but not before a member of the other team crashes into his front tire, bringing both men to the ground.

Mallet building

One player topples over onto his side, his bike crashing on top of him. He lies on the ground clutching his shoulder tight to his chest. The other player has jolted forward, over his handlebars, face-planting on the concrete. A teammate drives around the pile of bikes and limbs, scoops the ball from underneath, and the game continues. Crashes like these are a regular scene in the sport of bike polo.

Bike polo is a rough, gritty reinvention of the traditional game of polo most commonly played on horseback by the British upper-class. In a time where everything is pushed to extremes, bike polo is no different. This obscure sport mostly goes unheard of in Toronto, but in the past few years – this past summer especially – it’s finally starting to gain the attention it deserves.

Hugo of Paris at Northside Regional Qualifier July 2011 in Dufferin Grove Park

The game is played three on three and the first team to score five points wins. You can only score by hitting the ball with the narrow end of the mallet – using the wide end to score (known as “shuffling” the ball) forfeits the point. No player is allowed to touch the ground with any part of their body, so if a player falls off their bike – which is a usual occurrence – the player needs to “tap out” of the game by announcing that they have fallen. They need to ride to the centre of the court and tap their mallet on the centre line to “tap back in” and continue playing.

In bike polo some contact is allowed, but only mallet to mallet, bike to bike, or player to player. Accidental contact is part of the game and players all have their fair share of collision stories. “I’ve been hit in the face with a mallet,” Christopher Kaiser, a 24-year-old Toronto-based player and photographer says. “It can get pretty physical.” Players wear minimal protection and even if the hits aren’t intentional bikes can get tangled up easily and knock players off balance and to the ground. Kaiser said that he’s been crashing a lot in the past few weeks, “I’m just banged up in general.”

Jonathan of Ann Arbor's injury at Northside Regional Qualifier July 2011

The history of bike polo can be traced back to the 1890s and was played as a demonstration, non-medal game in the 1908 Olympics held in London, UK. The recent resurgence of the sport is credited to young cyclists who became intrigued with the old sport in the late 1990s with teams forming worldwide. Bike polo didn’t reach Toronto until around 2005 when Navid Taslimi, a then 33-year-old bike messenger, stumbled upon an impromptu game being played on the streets of New York City.

Navid Taslimi at Scadding Court

In New York for the 13th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, Taslimi watched a man make a polo mallet out of an empty Sapporo can and broom handle that he found in a nearby garbage can. A group quickly formed and began playing. Taslimi didn’t really understand what he was watching, but in getting a closer look, he realized that he was sitting in on his first game of bike polo.

When he returned to Toronto, he brought his friends together making their first set of mallets out of ski poles and short pieces of ABS plumbing piping. Bike Polo Toronto was born, and the players started learning the rules as they went along. “At first we only had three or four people – not even enough to have a proper three on three game,” Taslimi says.

Today, new players must learn the game quickly to be able to keep up with the veterans. Members of Bike Polo Toronto introduced welcome nights as an opportunity for new players learn the rules of the game and experience game play without feeling intimidated by the skill and intensity that the experienced players possess.

Rob watches Fall Ballin' 2010 at Scadding Court

Christopher Kaiser started playing after seeing a bike polo championship in Toronto in 2008. He heard about the game while he was working as a mechanic at La Carrera Cycles on Harbord Street. “It seemed like a lot of fun. I saw the people who were crazy into the game,” Kaiser says. “I got hooked, and after that – I started playing.”

Playing three to five nights a week the league plays for a growing number of fans who sit in and watch the games. “Some of the regulars don’t even know any of the players,” Taslimi says, sounding surprised.

While the sport of bike polo is on the rise in Toronto it still has a few obstacles to overcome, such as finding a dedicated playing court. At Scadding Court the ball hockey and bike polo teams work with each other to set playing schedules. The league has also recently started playing at Dufferin Grove Park, and has worked with the staff to secure dedicated playing time on Thursdays and Sundays. In other cities, such as Ottawa, dedicated polo courts are starting to appear meaning that players don’t have to deal with the scheduling problems the Toronto league has when sharing the public ball hockey rink.

In addition to finding space and time for games Toronto players are face another challenge. Scadding Court is made of slick concrete, so whenever it rains, they have to call off games because the court won’t dry fast enough. “Unless someone wants to go out and squeegee,” Kaiser says, “we usually can’t play.” Plus, the courts get turned into an ice rink once the temperature drops past zero, ending the season.

Kevin (left) defends and Ngaihon (right) squeegees at Scadding Court

For winter games, Taslimi is considering moving polo to indoor gymnasiums, either at a local school or YMCA. The players will have to temporarily switch their bike tires to grey wheelchair tires so they won’t scuff the gym floor, and they’ll have to rent out the space, but Taslimi seems confident in the size of the league and the amount of money they can raise from players.

Along with their Facebook page and Twitter account, Bike Polo Toronto recently created a web site to keep players up to date with events and news about the club. The symbol for the group, naturally, is the letters ‘T’ and ‘O’ made from an upside-down mallet and red rubber ball.

Adam of New York City (left) and Eric of Chicago (right) at Northside Regional Qualifier 2011

The Toronto league has now hosted two largely successful tournaments, with players coming from all over north America and as far as Paris, Geneva, and Sydney. Most recently Toronto held the Northside Regional NAHBPC Qualifier, which was a qualifying tournament for the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship, which was held in Calgary. “The whole club is really coming together,” Taslimi said. “I’m there five nights a week – polo has totally changed my life.”

Emily of Toronto at Northside Regional Qualifier 2011

On this night, while the weather is still playable, they get the most out of the court. A boy on a dark blue bike with a thin frame extends his entire body off of his bike, reaching his mallet out as far as he can stretch. He lightly taps the ball into the net and the force knocks him off his bike with a “thud” so loud that you know he’ll be feeling it still the next morning. “At least I got the point,” he yells victoriously from the ground.

Maija Eliashevsky at Bikeapalooza 2010 in Waterloo, ON

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Bicycle Film Festival Gets Toronto Talking

Bicycle Film Festival panel, photo by Erin Simkin

The Bicycle Film Festival's fifth run in Toronto kicked into high gear on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at the Gladstone Hotel. The gallery space in the halls of the hotel's second floor hosted Back Breaks, an art show featuring a collection of illustrations, textiles, photographs, sculptures and vintage bikes giving us a glimpse into the past while celebrating the present and future of two-wheeled transportation as well as a panel discussion.

The show, curated by Kirsten White and Patricia Youn, featured artists Gillian Goerz, Jonathan Robert, InkYung Choi, Linda Varekamp, Kat Verhoeven, Janet Bike Girl, The Deadly Nightshades, Dmitry Bonderanko, vintage bikes donated by FLASHBACK, Mark Charlebois and Jessie Durham,

Propped against one wall, early bicycles made of wood and steel on display look uncomfortable and uninviting but they also remind us of the initial fears we had when learning to ride a bike and allow us to see just how far we've progressed. Nearby on the gallery floor sits a child's tricycle beneath hanging quilts, handmade and featuring bicycle designs by Linda Varekamp, a pairing that connects us to the the support of other people, each skilled in unique ways, required to keep us riding.

The panel discussion this evening, Building Bridges: How to tell good stories and win over non-cyclists at a dinner party, moderated by urban cycling consultant Yvonne Bambrick, looked at how we express our opinions as people who ride bikes and how to maintain a civil discussion in tense situations.

On the panel were dandyhorse magazine's editor-in-chief, Tammy Thorne; James Schwartz, founder and editor of The Urban Country; Dave Meslin, founding publisher of dandyhorse and founder of the Toronto Cyclists Union; and Shamez Amlani, co-founder of Streets Are For People!

"Building bridges, as well as going under and over them, are all things I'm very concerned about as a cyclist. As a cycling advocate and media professional I am constantly amazed at the incredible amount of negative - and just plain incorrect - information that is being disseminated by the mainstream media about cycling in Toronto," says Tammy Thorne. "We try to create positive stories that are also compelling and informative with dandyhorse. I think our Bike Spotting pages do a great job at giving cyclists a larger voice. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the regular people out there riding their bikes who are just as passionate about bike lanes as I am."

Each panel member took turns discussing personal challenges they've faced, from tense yelling matches on the roads to negative feedback from associating themselves with motorists. The assembled crowd groaned or clapped in agreement revealing many similarities in the challenges people who promote riding bicycles face.

Dave Meslin spoke of approaching bicycle transportation concerns not through conflict but by looking for solutions that promote sharing. James Schwartz relayed his experience with Toronto Star columnist Jack Lakey, The Fixer, and engaging him in looking for solutions to cycling problems rather than simply bemoaning them. Shamez Amlani reminded us all to keep our egos in check when discussing the many benefits of bicycles as transportation. And Tammy Thorne told us that some of the best ways to promote bicycle and pedestrian activism is to find examples of people leading exemplary lives, such as New York photographer Bill Cunningham.

Read more from the panel discussion at The Urban Country.

Photos from Back Breaks Art Show by Anna Gagno:

Highlights from the panel discussion Building Bridges: How to tell good stories and win over non-cyclists at a dinner party by Lisa Logan:

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