What started as a simple mode of transportation became my way of life. I grew up riding my bike in rural Ottawa and graduated to Gatineau Park as a young adult. Now living in Toronto, riding remains a part of my daily routine: my bike and body are inextricably entwined.
Cycling provides an unmatched sense of freedom. I love the feeling of wind in my hair. I love the challenges and rewards cycling offers. I love to climb and I adore the descent. I love the sense of comradery and community linked with cycling. I love cycling's ability to clear my mind. For me, cycling is a form of meditation.
More recently and regularly, this meditation is interrupted by uneducated motorists and the lack of cycling infrastructure. With the surfacing of a poignant video capturing a dangerous taxi driver intentionally swerving to hit a cyclist, I am further questioning how bike-friendly Toronto's streets are.
While this video captures but the end of an altercation, the exchange that lead to it proves that division and disrespect remain at large between motorists and cyclists. To me, this frightening incident highlights one important fact: we must remain calm and considerate when navigating the city's busy streets. People are unpredictable; as a result, we have to be defensive in all our actions. As motorists, as well as cyclists.
By law, cyclists have the same rights and duties as operators of motor vehicles.
As a commuter turned road cyclist, I have logged countless hours and kilometres on the road. I have had many close calls and taken a few falls that have left my body (and ego) bruised. I've been in accidents with vehicles (controlled by steering wheels, as well as handlebars) and other incidents related to Toronto's infrastructure, most recently a spill caused by streetcar tracks. Based on these run-ins, I have outlined three key components to ensure safe and confident riding.
1. Safety preparations
No matter your bike function -- commuter, sport, mountain or hybrid -- it should fit you perfectly. Seat height and proper handlebar positioning are essential to optimize bike control and handling. Equip yourself with lights, a bell and a helmet before hitting the road. In many provinces including Ontario, it is the law that cyclists under the age of 18 wear a helmet yet many riders choose to go without.
2. Rules of the road
Riding in a straight line and conducting shoulder checks are advised. Continuous swerving causes uncertainty and confusion for all on the road. Knowing and using proper hand signals also ensures optimal awareness of a cyclist's surroundings.
3. Plan and review routes
Bicycles are by definition vehicles; therefore cyclists should position themselves on streets accordingly. When in traffic, I urge cyclists to ride least one metre away from parked vehicles, as they pose a threat. Ride defensively and attentively.
In addition to these suggestions, be considerate when riding. By law, cyclists have the same rights and duties as operators of motor vehicles. The same rules of right-of-way, traffic signs and signals, apply to cyclists as apply to motorists. By keeping calm behind your handlebar, you are ensuring a safe and respectful road for all travelling it.
On the topic of infrastructure, advocacy groups are doing wonders to promote the need for and increase the amount of protected bike lanes throughout the GTA and beyond. Education and funding remain significant components in driving change. That being said, attitudinal and behavioural changes are still needed.
As a cycling enthusiast driven to create positive change for Toronto's cycling community, I ask that you join me in supporting initiatives such as The Share the Road Coalition and Cycle Toronto. In addition to promoting road safety and improving cycling infrastructure across the GTA, these organizations are committed to providing cyclists and motorists with the knowledge to ride responsibly and respectfully to avoid risky encounters.
Cycling is a fun, healthy activity and an inexpensive way to travel. Through education and the promotion of increased cycling infrastructure to incentivize people to choose this sustainable form of transportation, we are making the world a better, healthier and greener place.
Hyper alert to the dangers faced by cyclists, I will continue to cruise the streets on my commuter with increased vigilance and care.
Ride responsibly and confidently.
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Figuring this out is the first step to choosing a great bicycle for your body and your needs. Different bikes work best in different situations and on different terrains. Figuring out where you'll be riding is where you should begin. Think about the terrain you'll be riding on: roads, paved trails, unpaved trails, off road? What kind of distances will you cover? Do you hope to use your bike for a variety of purposes, or plan to stick to one kind of riding?
Hybrid bikes include a variety of flat-handlebar bikes that are versatile and have a reasonably fast speed, according to Bike Radar. They can work for a variety of different situations, and offer a combo of decent speed with the more upright position of a mountain-style bike. It might be a good option if you want decent speed, but aren't looking to race. "City cyclists need something with a strong frame and powerful wheels," says Wesley Flippo of Peace Bicycles. "City bicycles are made for the rider to be upright so that motorists can easily spot the bicyclist."
If you plan to ride on roads, you feel comfortable riding on skinny tires, and you don't mind being pitched forward, Bike Radar suggests that a road bike may be for you. You'll definitely get a speed advantage over other models. But those thin tires and light wheels may not be the smartest choice if your city has a pothole problem. A touring bike is another option for city commuting: not as quick as some models, but good for the average rider, and a bit sturdier than your average road bike.
"For people who are new to biking (or returning to biking since childhood) and interested in riding bikes in the city or on paved trails on the weekends, I recommend a step-through bike," says Melissa Davies, owner of BikePretty.com. "But please don't call it a girl's bike!" This style of bike is popular in cities around the world, Davies says, for men and women, and while they aren't built for speed, they offer a lot of stability. "The up-right posture of the step-through provides maximum visibility while riding, which is a huge plus if you're biking near city traffic, or if you want to take in the scenery on a nearby rails-to-trail," Davies says.
If you're an experienced cyclist looking for something simple and quick, Bike Radar says to make like a bike courier and look into a fixed wheel. These bikes require you to pedal if you're moving — you can't just coast down hills, and you'll likely end up flying over the handlebars if you try. But that also gives you a lot of control and the potential for plenty of speed. And without a bunch of gears to worry about, a lot less can go wrong with this model.
If you plan to take your bike on trails (or off of them) or if you live in an area that really needs to invest in road repair, a mountain bike could be for you, Bike Radar says. They have sturdier frames and thicker tires, making them better for uneven surfaces. But they can run more slowly on pavement, and they are heavier than other models, so you might not want this model for city riding. You need a very different kind of bike for riding on trails than you do for city streets. "You'll need something that has gears for climbing hills, better brakes for making rapid stops, and a shock-absorbent frame to maintain comfort during your ride through the off-road," says Flippo. "Thick tires are also an essential for anyone looking to stray from the pavement."
Foldable bikes are an option for those who are concerned about space, travel frequently, or want to be able to get bikes on transit or into a small office. They're a good model to consider for those who ride bikes to commute or as a means to get around urban areas, but won't be appropriate for racing or trail riding. And Fat Bikes are becoming increasingly popular with some people. These bikes have extra-thick tires, making them a good option for people who want to ride all year round — the traction makes them usable over snow in a way that regular bikes never will be. They may also be a great fit if you want to do all-terrain riding. And if your needs are very particular, you could look into a custom-built bike. If you want to go this route, Bicycling.com suggests talking to a few different builders to get an idea of their specialties and how that fits with your needs.
Do you need dozens of different speeds for your bike? Just the one? Consider the terrain you'll be cycling on when making your decision. "Definitely buy one with at least three speeds if you live in an area with moderate hills," says Davies. "Although you don't have to go gear-crazy. I live in San Francisco and my seven-speed step-through has all the gears that I need."
Planning a cycling vacation, or want to spend your weekends on two wheels? Consider a road bike, Flippo says. "The most important thing to consider when buying a road bike is the fit," he says. "You need a frame that is comfortable and the right size, or your comfort and overall ability to ride for long distances will be hindered." Test a road bike for at least a mile before purchasing, he says, to ensure it's a good fit for you.
What you spend on a bike can vary hugely, from $100 for a Canadian Tire special to thousands for a high-end or custom model. Bicycling.com recommends prioritizing your spending based on how you plan to use the bike. Keep in mind that components like gears and breaks wear out more quickly than frames. They generally recommend investing in a quality frame above all else, but there are exceptions. For example, if you plan to ride long distances or very frequently, it may be worth your while to invest in parts you'll have to replace more often than the average person. And if you shop in the fall or early winter, you may be able to save money, because you'll be buying in the off season.
And of course, a helmet is essential. You may want a recreational, road bike or mountain bike helmet, depending on your bike and how you plan to ride it. Recreational helmets are a good choice for many, whereas road bike helmets are more aerodynamic. Mountain bike helmets are designed for slower riding and rougher terrains. Your best bet is to go to a cycling or outdoor gear store, explain your needs, and get fitted for a helmet that will keep you comfortable and safe.
Follow Chloë Hill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Chloeritahill