Cycle pooling, briefcase bikes, and other tips for urban riders
Q. I want to start riding to work. What kind of bike should I get?
A. With Bike Week kicking off on Monday (May 29), there’s no better time to honour our two-wheeled friends.
According to World Watch, choosing to ride instead drive a 6.4-kilometre round trip keeps 6.8 kilos of pollutants out of the air, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide. Plus, you’ll save a hell of a lot of money in fuel (or transit tokens). Bicycles actually outsold cars in the U.S. last year for the first time since the oil embargo of the 70s. Pretty impressive.
There’s a confusing world of bike-buying options out there that needs decoding: commuter bikes are for upright, shock-absorbent comfort-cruising, road bikes for speed, hybrids for on- and off-roading, and mountain bikes, for, you know, mountains and people who want to look like they ride up mountains.
Nor is your selection restricted to plain old two-wheel standards. For those who think sitting upright is just too much work, there are recumbents. They come in two-, three- (trike) and four-wheel varieties. There are even tandem recumbents and recumbents specially designed for people with disabilities. (Check out www.bikeroute.com/Recumbents/ for more info and links to dealers).
Streamliner recumbents are enclosed to protect you from the wea-ther. Known also as velomobiles, these kind of marry the pedal power of the Flintstones with the space-age aerodynamics of the Jetsons.
Then there’s your regular tandem, the quintessential bicycle built for two. If you have children, it can free you to ride around town at adult speed without worrying about the little one trailing behind on his or her tricycle. Attachable trailers are another good option.
Ever seen those guys in suits on tiny little bicycles? They’re riding what I call the quirky businessman’s bike. It folds up to briefcase size so you can take it on transit one way, then bike home, or vice versa. There are fold-up tandems for the family on the go.
Keep in mind that if you’re new to cycling you might want to sign up for one of the city’s Can-Bike classes, designed to build confidence and road skills. Classes for adults and children, and women (www.toronto.ca/cycling/canbike) are held at community centres around town. The Community Bicycle Network offers workshops on maintenance (like Wenches With Wrenches). CBN’s ToolWorks program lets you borrow equipment, tools and experts to tune your ride most Saturdays.
Speaking of tune-ups, you can keep your wheels running smoothly without resorting to petroleum-based lubes. Yes, they’re hard to find in the city, but hardcores can cut ties to the oil industry altogether by ordering biodegradable veg-oil-based bike oils (www.greenoil-online.com).
Find comfort in numbers by joining a network of commuter BUGs that would be bicycle user groups. Or start your own (www. toronto.ca/bug). Also look into group evening and weekend rides with the Toronto Bicycle Network, Canada’s largest recreational cycling club (www.tbn.ca).
Buying used is a great cheap way to give bikes a second life. But if buying outright is too much of a commitment, you could pay 30 bucks or more for a season pass from BikeShare and borrow a bike when you need it from one of their many hubs (416-504-2918, www.communitybicyclenetwork.org). The ultra-kind folks at BikeShare will also give you access to their yellow fleet if you volunteer anywhere for four hours. Isn’t that nice?
Remember, in this province only cyclists under 18 have to wear a helmet by law, but everybody should.
What about electric bicycles?
A few readers have written in to ask if battery-powered bikes are eco-friendly. In case you’re wondering, they’re bikes you have to pedal, but when you get to a hill the motor kicks in to give you a boost. Proponents say turning to e-bikes over driving means less resource consumption and reduced pollution. But they rely on rechargeable batteries, which themselves have toxic components and supposedly die after a few hundred charges. (Be sure to bring them back to the retailer for proper recycling.) The other eco minus is that rechargeable batteries draw on socket power (from nuke facilities, coal plants, etc) when you could just as easily be using pure pedal power. So use your damn legs! However, if you’re ill, have limited mobility or strength or just need to travel further than you can possibly pedal, these aren’t a bad option. (If distance is a barrier to riding a normal bike, know that buses on seven TTC routes now have bike racks on the exterior .) Plus, you can now buy an electric bike that has solar panels built into its wheels ! The new Ontario-made EV Sunny Bicycle will go up to 30 kilometres per hour. You can buy one for about $1,300 or get a kit for $800 to convert your old bike (www.therapyproducts.com/products_sunnybike.html).
But – and this is a big but – while you can buy ’em here, it’s not yet legal to ride electric bikes on Ontario’s roads (same goes for motorized Segways and Go-Peds). BC and Quebec are the only provinces that really allow them. However, for those of you truly dedicated to the liberation of power-assisted bikes, as they’re also known, a campaign is under way in Ontario to change that. (See www.evco.ca/ebike.html.)
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