Monday, 29 July 2013

Living the bike share dream in Montreal

Two weekends ago, I had the incredible privilege of returning to a city where I spent much of my childhood, and experiencing it in a whole new light. My parents grew up in Montreal, and as such, nearly all of my extended family continue to live there. Meaning while growing up in Ontario, I spent many weekends and extended vacations visiting La Belle Province. This time around, with our kids enjoying cottage life with my parents in the Laurentians, Chris and I enjoyed two wonderful days exploring Montreal as tourists, on our favourite means of transportation... the simple bicycle.
Picking up our first set of bikes for the weekend
Cruising along the separated lanes of Montreal's Le Plateau area
Thanks to Chris being part of the Cycle Chic Republic, we were able to connect with Anne of Montreal Cycle Chic, who set us up with two complimentary BIXI keys for the weekend. How absolutely wonderful to be able to experience a bike share system that has been growing and thriving for five years. Being big proponents of the impending Vancouver bike share system, we were in heaven: being able to easily check out an upright bike, ride to our destination, then simply dock the bikes and move on with our day. We knew we would love the bike share system, and Montreal's BIXI did not disappoint. 
Hanging out on Sunday with our new friend from Montreal Cycle Chic
A handsome self-portrait
What I found most amazing, though, is how many Montrealers we witnessed using the bike share at any given moment. All throughout the street were people of all ages using BIXIs to get around their beautiful city. We had even heard stories from our friend how they know people in the city who sold their personal bikes and rely exclusively on the bike share to get around. It was easy to see why: BIXI Montreal offers 400 stations throughout the city and 5,000 bikes, meaning that you are never far from a station and a bike to get you where you want to go.
This dapper fellow looked very cool on a Bixi
Barely tall enough to ride but enjoying it nonetheless
Experiencing Montreal on a bike was a dream, especially having spent so many visits using the Metro to get around underground. I travelled to many new and familiar places on two wheels, seeing one of my favourite Canadian cities up close and personal. The bike share was just an added bonus. It made me so hopeful for what Vancouver's bike share could become. For now, I feel lucky to have had the experience I did riding around the streets of Montreal the way locals do, on a BIXI bike, in the sunshine, with a smile on my face!
Riding a Bixi - there's nothing to it!
Outside Club Social on Rue St Viateur -
a certain M. Coville-Andersen's favourite viewing spot in Montreal
One last shot before ending a perfect weekend in Montreal

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Familiar City Seen Through New Eyes - Toronto, ON

All set for my two days of bike riding
in Toronto!
The Velo Family is currently on holidays, enjoying some quality time with our families in Ontario. It had been wonderful catching up, starting with relaxing on Lake Ontario with my in-laws, and now spending some quality time with my parents at their lake front cottage in the Quebec Laurentians. Every trip back East is special, since our children don't get to see their grandparents, aunt and uncles very often due to the distance and the expense of travel. For my husband and I, however, this trip was extra special for two reasons. We would finally be able to enjoy an extended amount of kid-free time, and we would be doing so in two cities full of memories for us - Toronto and Montreal.

As the opening leg of our trip had us just a short jaunt away from Toronto, that is where we spent our first mini-holiday without our children. Chris and I spent four amazing years in this city while studying at Ryerson University. In that time, however, we were never able to completely appreciate the city and the bike culture it had to offer. Believe it or not, we actually didn't ride all that often, what with Chris not owning a bike and mine sitting comfortably at my parents' home the first three years of school. We tended to stay within our school bubble, as most students do, and my limited experience in the city on my bike didn't leave a very lasting impression.

So when we arrived in Toronto last Saturday, we headed over to rent some bikes from a shop called Set Me Free on Roncesvalles (I still can't pronounce that properly) and experience what the city had to offer two bicyclists from the West Coast. At the shop, we were told they had many a mountain bikes to rent. Instantly, my heart sank. Mountain bikes? In Toronto, a city known for it's vintage bike culture? After some puppy dog eyes, and pointing out I was in a skirt, the guys at the shop had a peak in their older stock and found not one but two beach cruisers! Luck was on our side, and I was grateful. We spent the next two days riding from West to East and back again, taking in the city we had known with a fresh set of eyes and ideals while cruising around at a slow pace.
Chris cruising through Cabbagetown, keeping cool in
extreme the heat with some bare arms!
What we found was actually surprising! In a city currently notorious for being less than bike friendly, at least if you follow the politics, bike culture was thriving. Every where you looked there were people on bikes. On Queen West, there were, of course, the fashionable twenty and thirty somethings riding their upright city bikes, but what amazed us was the sheer number of them. So many that at any time you could see three or more cyclists waiting together at a red light. That many not seem like many, but this was literally happening all day long, not just rush hour, and on a Saturday and Sunday. Outside of the trendy areas, we were surprised and in awe to find riders of all ages hoping on bikes to ride in their city. 
A typical site along Queen West
The biggest eye-opener happened when walking to brunch on Sunday. We saw a man, likely in his mid-to-late sixties, walk out in a nice shirt and pants, hop on his bike, and head to what we can only assume was his weekly Church service (we were in Little Italy, so the assumption seemed fair). In all my six years in Vancouver, I don't think I have ever once seen a sight like that, and with two small children who seem to not sleep past 8:00am, you can bet I've been out and about our city around Church time on a Sunday morning.
Riders of any age were out and about the city on their
bikes, no special equipment needed.
I loved riding through Toronto and seeing so much I had missed during my university years. But I think what has stuck with me most is that even in a city where cyclists are fighting for their own space on the road, rubbing shoulder with cars, trucks, and fast moving steetcars, in face of all this adversity, their bike culture is big and strong. I'm sure every one of those people would love to have the separated lanes we have in Vancouver and for which I am so grateful, but not having them doesn't stop them from riding a bike. It makes me wonder...if Toronto's next city government is as pro-active for bike infrastructure as Vancouver's is, could Toronto become the North American Copenhagen? For all the wonderful bike riders we met last weekend, I will keep my fingers crossed, because they deserve it!
Bike traffic!
One of the many sadly underused Bixi stations.
Don't worry, there's hope to be found in other Canadian cities. Stay tuned to find out!
Just taking a couple of dogs for a walk in Trinity Bellwoods Park
One of our lovely hosts for the day Sunday, Yvonne, with Bonnie the dog
taking in all the sights from the comfort of her basket!
Riding along on of the only cycle tracks in Toronto along Sherbourne Street
I don't know if it's there yet, but with this kind of attitude
and bikes abound, it could be!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Joy of Conversational Cycling

The ultimate in conversational cycling; riding with
2000 plus people for the annual Bike Rave!
If you've ever ridden a bike with someone, chances are, you already know what conversational cycling is. Quite simply, it's the act of riding alongside someone and having a conversation while you bike to your destination. It doesn't involve any fancy riding techniques, any preparation or pre-planning, and definitely no special equipment. Just a willingness to travel at a comfortable speed and enjoy a conversation with a friend. For me, something so easily done is actually one of my favourite parts about riding a bike, because not only am I out on two wheels, but I get the chance to catch up with my husband, my children, and friends, including those I haven't had a chance to connect with in a while.

The week before school ended for my daughter, I travelled by bicycle to Third Beach to meet with her class for the annual primary beach day. My trip there was so relaxing, riding solo along the seawall with only other bike commuters, runners, and the occasional tourist to share my trip along the water with. When it was time to come home, my ride was equally as pleasant, but I had a nice treat with about a third of the way to go. While waiting at a light, a friend, contributor for Spacing Magazine, and fellow parent came up next to me. As we were both heading back the same way, we subsequently had a great conversation about how the school year had gone, travel plans for the summer, and chatted about work and life. It was such a lovely way to catch up after a busy school year, with our daughters in different classes this year and therefore not having as much time to chat at drop off and pick ups. When we parted ways, we were both left smiling and waving goodbye, and it certainly was a great way to close out a day well spent.

It's almost a little funny that we classify this type of cycling, because it really is no different than having a conversation with someone while walking, taking transit or driving. But I guess there is something about sharing the experience of riding a bike with someone that makes it special, at least to me. I've written before about how much I love late night rides with my husband, because it gives us a chance to have a quite conversation without our children's noise in the background. Even riding with my daughter is such an amazing way to listen to her stories of her day, answer her far-outreaching questions and for me to offer a few life lessons. While my son isn't riding on his own yet, I'm sure you may have seen me riding along the seawall with him in the trailer, sharing a completely illogical but amusing conversation about whatever he is fascinated with at the moment (currently, that revolves around if all the trees died, we would "pop" into outer space and have to share a space suit).

I cherish every moment I spend on my bike, and the times I get to share that with others is truly special. Whether it's a ride to the store, the beach or anywhere in between, being able to have a thoughtful, or even silly, conversation with someone during that trip is definitely a perk. So next time you're out with a friend on a bike, take a moment to appreciate what your doing. Find enjoyment from the fact that not only are you sharing what could be a great conversation with someone you know and care about, but you're also sharing the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Our own worst enemies

I'm taking a bit of a departure from the velo lifestyle for this post, feeling pretty strongly that what I will write here is important. Instead of bikes, I would like to focus on what it is that women, be them young, old, mothers, daughters, wives or anywhere in between, are up against.

Last week, while celebrating the one year anniversary of my blog, I retraced some of my steps from the previous year. I travelled by bike with my children to meet my husband for lunch, just as I had the year before. The weather was in our favour, and things were shaping up to be quite wonderful. As my children and I neared Granville Island, I realized I had forgotten all about the water park being open, and said so begrudgingly to my daughter. Knowing of her love of the water slide and playing in the spray, I instantly saw the disappointment on her face and promised we'd try to come back with our swimsuits during the weekend. When that answer didn't change her being on the verge of tears, my mom voice came out, and I sternly said it was not right of her to get upset at me for something out of my control, and that she would need to let it go, as I had already worked hard to take them on a special trip to the park and to see their father.

That's when the most shocking parenting moment I've had happened. As I looked up, a woman on a bike passed and made a hand motion for me to "calm down". If you're a mother, I can only assume you can understand my instant defensive switch, telling this woman to mind her own business. She then proceeded to stop and publicly scold me in front of my kids, telling me I am not allowed to bully my child. While trying my very best not to scream at this complete stranger, I politely reminded her that this was my daughter, not hers, at which point she turned to my daughter, apologized for my being mean to her, got on her bike and rode off.

I was stunned, and left standing them with tears of rage and confusion in my eyes. What had compelled this women to think it would be appropriate to chastise me for trying to teach my child a bit of understanding, and to show her mother a bit of respect when things happen that are out of her control? She had no idea what had led me to this point of frustration with my child. That I had just spent the better part of the week taming two children ready for a break from the school routine, or that just prior to this encounter, my son, sitting behind me in the trailer, had only just finished yelling at me that I was wrong about trains having wheels. It amazes me that somehow, this woman forgot that although I am a mom, I am also human, and can only take so much abuse, even if it is from my children.

I am still puzzled, five days later, but it did bring to light this bigger issue. It seems that we, as the female of our species, have this natural tendency to point out other women's flaws. Even though we struggle together to end the gender gap, fight as one for a woman's rights to freedom and to choose what we do with our own bodies, for some reason, women tend to be very judgemental of each other, and vocal about it. From the clothing we wear, to the size and proportions of our bodies, and even to the way we each choose to live our lives, women seem to struggle with accepting our differences.

Now please don't get me wrong, this is a pretty broad generalization, but before getting angry with what I'm saying, just think about it for a second. Have you ever caught yourself looking at another woman and questioning why she chose to dress the way she did? How many times in the last year have you compared yourself physically to another women, be it friend, family or complete stranger? Or seen the actions of another woman and thought to yourself that she was doing it all wrong or you could do it better? I won't lie, I am guilty of all those things, whether they were thoughts I kept to myself or said out loud to my husband or friends. But after my most recent experience, I've started to question my own actions.

Why do I care how other women are dressing, how physically different they are from me, or that I do things differently as a mother and a human being? I shouldn't. Simply put, I am the person I am because that's the path I have chosen for myself, just as the women around me have chosen their own paths. No two of us will ever be exactly alike, because each of our individual experiences had laid the foundation for lifestyles and choices we have made. 

Let's face it. Although women have come a long way from our counterparts one hundred plus years ago, there's still work to be done. It helps no one if while we are working to make things just a little bit easier for our daughters and grand-daughters, we continue to scrutinize one another, and it belittles any achievements we've made for our gender so far.

Moving forward, I pledge to try harder as a woman to accept who I am, emotionally, physically, professionally and so on. I would ask that if you are a woman reading this, that you try to do so also. We won't always agree with what other women are saying or doing, but that doesn't give us the right to openly shame, criticize or talk poorly about them behind their backs. If each of us, as much as we can, start supporting the women we know, helping when it is asked of us, and congratulate each other's efforts even if we are still waiting to achieve our own goals, then perhaps we can start moving past being our own worst enemies. As a mother, I need to be the example to both my children of a supportive, confident and accepting woman. I know and understand that my daughter won't be exactly like me, and if she is to accept who she will become, then I need to accept who I am and the women around me are, imperfections, differences and all!