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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