While we battle here for every metre of space allocated to bike travel, it's shocking to hear there are bicycle lanes in Norway north of the Arctic Circle.
Don Sinclair and Marianna Di Iorio and their kids, Stephanie and Lucas.
Don Sinclair and his partner, Marianna Di Iorio, are relating anecdotes from their annual summer bike tours through far-flung countries like Portugal, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Austria and Germany.
"Turkey was insane, with very narrow roads and so many cars," says Di Iorio, "And we were in Bulgaria in 92, which was just after it opened up."
But it's the tidbit from their Scandinavian excursion that really catches my attention.
"It was like being on top of the world," says Di Iorio. "But it was incredible to realize that even there they had bike lanes." The question she leaves hanging in the air is "Why can't Toronto get its act together?"
Di Iorio, Sinclair, their two children, 10-year-old Stephanie and eight-year-old Lucas, and I are sitting around their north Toronto kitchen table. A bike trailer, which they hitch up whenever they go grocery shopping, sits by the front door. A pair of tandem bicycles lean against a fence in the backyard.
"They say people don't ride in the winter here, but people do, and if we had better bike lanes you'd see more," says Sinclair, who doesn't own a car and, like the rest of his family, cycles year round. "There are days in the winter when I don't ride, not because I don't have control but because car drivers don't have control," adds Di Iorio. "I mean, we rent a car when we have to, but I'd be miserable owning a car. Besides, they break down.
"We could either go on a summer holiday or own a car. It was a choice for us and not a very difficult one."
In a few months, the Di Iorio-Sinclair family will cycle 800 kilometres from Milan to Paris. The trip will take them about three and a half weeks.
"It's not very far, especially compared to some of our other trips," says Sinclair, a professor of fine arts at York University. "But it'll give us a chance to hang out in Paris for a while, maybe catch a stage of the Tour."
The Tour, of course, is the Tour de France, and the conversation turns briefly to Michael Barry, a pro rider from Toronto who will be in this year's peloton and in the hunt for the yellow jersey.
Sinclair and Di Iorio have been longtime cycling enthusiasts. "I used to ride 60 kilometres every day to get to work for a summer job," says Di Iorio, a kindergarten teacher.
The couple made their first big cycling trek together in 1991. They spent four months pedalling 10,000 kilometres from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Arizona and Colorado and back. "It was incredible to see that diversity of terrain desert, mountains, the coast from our bikes," says Di Iorio.
"It's the best way to see the world," says Sinclair. "You look at guidebooks and it's all about the big cities, but the best times for us have involved seeing the places in between, what happens along the road and who you meet and what you see."
"I remember camping in Telluride, Colorado. There were these little waterfalls from the snow melting in the spring runoff, the air was cold and crisp, and we were whooshing down a hill," recalls Di Iorio. "Another time we came out of the desert and hit a pine forest; we could smell it and hear the birds. Cycling puts you in the environment. You don't just drive past it."
The family has endured torrential rains on these journeys, but bad weather has never made them wish they were travelling by car. Not that they haven't wished for a ride once in a while. Sinclair says, "We've had breakdowns..."
"Bike breakdowns," Di Iorio clarifies good-naturedly.
"... where we wished for a car to come past to help us out," Sinclair says. "And there were times when the campground or motel couldn't come soon enough, but that's all part of the adventure."