This Road Continues One Block North, by Christine Bruce
Review by: Steve Brearton
Photos from: Christine Bruce
Cycling by its nature is a solitary pursuit: one person, one bike. Toronto boasts a rich cultural environment, but few have chronicled Toronto's cycling community.
Magazines have been first and best at capturing the spirit and personality of city cyclists. During the '90s Hideous White Noise and Chicks United against Noxious Transportation (C.U.N.T.) zines offered a fun slice of current happenings in bike culture, a kind of entertaining, uncritical safe house where cyclists felt understood. Those publications helped knit together a disparate group and helped create the beginnings of an identifiable cycling culture in the city.
Along with Critical Mass, Alley Cat races, Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, Community Bicycle Network and BikeShare (the first one) they signalled the nascent stirrings of a connected community. Beginning in 2008, dandyhorse magazine picked up the torch from HWN and C.U.N.T. Now we have another voice for Toronto cyclists. And this time it’s personal.
In 2011, Christine Bruce spoke to cyclists in the city about their bikes and their experiences. That year, one might have gone go to unlock their bike and found a card that read “Hello! I am writing a book on cycling in Toronto and your bike caught my eye. If interested contact me for an interview.”
Bruce interviewed nearly one hundred and fifty riders, among them couriers, activists, mechanics, politicians, bicycle builders and more. She talked to “anyone who wanted to tell a bike story.”
This Road Continues One Block North (TLAC Studios, 485 pages, $28.99) is the product of her efforts. Sixty short profiles of people, events and places with some nifty extras, including a charming Cyclist’s Map to the City of Toronto and terrific photographs.
We learn of the bike enthusiast who “takes his bike to bed with him,” the Bicycle Ninja, the two women who, at 46- and 68-years-old, “make a pact to circumnavigate all five Great Lakes,” and answer the question of how Councillor Mike Layton and his dad Jack spent their vacations - often on bike trips.
Of the subjects you’ll have seen riding around town, some are famous, but most of them you won’t know. All, however, convey the near daily wonder of riding in the city. Listen to Tom Juzyszyn, who says, “I go to work. I cook. I see my friends. But I cycle everyday. I think while I ride. Things happen when I’m on a bike. Make your life as happy as possible, without hurting others. And ride. Riding will fix it all.”
Bruce’s celebration of everyday cycling is a love letter to the joys of cycling; those moments we re-capture the wonder of learning to ride or that spark we felt upon seeing the bicycle meant for us – reoccurring themes throughout.
One of the strengths of the book is Bruce learned about bikes and the community as the project evolved. Like an explorer travelling through unmapped territory, her process of discovery unravels through the pages. The results are big on wonder and barren of the petty divisions that can sometimes make bicycle commentaries painful.
Individual chapters provide insight into how cycling shapes our daily life, but taken together they communicate a shared love for all things bicycle. She looks for connections, rather than divisions. And that’s Bruce’s point – cyclists have more in common than we think.
“Despite what many will tell you, the community is woven together inextricably,” she writes in the foreward. “Most cyclists are eager to make a difference, to contribute to something larger than themselves.”
Perhaps that’s why the content features so many individuals and organizations who believe the bike is the perfect vehicle to change attitudes and lives. There’s Martin Courcelles of the Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club that twins sighted riders with sight-impaired cyclists on tandem bicycles and Dave Meslin, founder of Cycle Toronto among other achievements, who advocates for others to advocate for themselves.
But there’s much more than that. Bruce has a fine eye for detail and does a lovely job capturing the style and attitude of individuals and by dipping into the book – and that’s the best way to read it – one sees the fascinating diversity within cycling in Toronto.
It’s a good read and an essential primer for those interested in bicycles. It’s also hopeful. Something often in short supply in Toronto’s bike community. City-building consultant (and former manager of transportation of the bike-friendly city of Bogota) Gil Penalosa reminds “we have to realize a bike is a thing of the future, not of the past.” This Road Continues One Block North offers all the best reasons why cycling will endure.
This Road Continues One Block North by Christine Bruce is available at select bike stores or through Christine Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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