I've been cycling to work for the past two weeks. At about 25 kilometres per leg and on mostly flat terrain, it's not a challenging ride. But I have learned a great deal.
Let me start by saying I'm a car guy - the faster the better - and a business guy, an entrepreneur. Want to call this a rant from a tree-hugging lefty? Think again.
After about 10 commutes, here are my top three insights:
Pick the right bike
I initially thought commuting with a $25,000, 12-pound super road bike was smart. If (when?) I can afford a supercar I will surely turn it into my daily drive.
First day of the commute, first sign of trouble: My front wheel got caught in a drainage plate at the entrance to a parking lot. The result was a flat tire and $4,000 damage to the front wheel, and a call to my wife to come and pick me up.
Since then I have been riding a mountain bike with big tires and a go-anywhere attitude. It probably weights twice as much as my road bike, but drainage plates or potholes will no longer catch me unprepared. Plus, training on such a beast makes the weekend rides that much more enjoyable.
Share the road, or the path
Most commuters on four wheels are extremely generous in providing passing space. They have been patient when the light turns green and give me ample notice when turning.
What is troubling is the behaviour of professional drivers at the wheel of delivery and garbage trucks, taxis and a police car or two – in non-emergency situations. Many came awfully close to me, crossing or entering the road or turning without signalling, forcing me to stop to avoid an accident. I saw a few staring at me in their back mirrors as the whole thing was happening. So it's difficult to imagine that they didn't know what they were doing.
Do their driving habits change when they drive a "work" vehicle? I understand they're in a hurry to get somewhere, but shouldn't these heavy users be role models? After all, they are the "professional drivers" and the rest of us are the "amateurs."
Half of my commute is on paths and while professional drivers may feel entitled, I discovered they are far from the worst culprits. That title goes to the pedestrians on mixed paths, particularly the dog walkers. When the dogs are leashed – about half the time – the owner is often on one side of the path and the dog is on the other, with the leash crossing over. Some profusely apologize, others get angry. It might be time for a Share The Path campaign: The basic rules should be similar to the road – common sense and courtesy are the pillars.
I obey all stop signs when I drive, doing my very best to avoid rolling stops. My bike commute made me realize that most drivers – amateurs and professional - roll their stops, effectively treating them as yields. I started to do the same thing with my bike and it's actually a lot safer. There's no need to unclip and lose attention. It's also a great deal more efficient because I can keep some momentum.
Just because others do it does not make it right, or legal . But in a country where most provinces allow turns at red lights, shouldn't we revisit the laws dealing with stops signs? If we're not ready to turn them into yields – and possibly invest in the lovely roundabouts that are all over Europe – can we at least follow the state of Idaho's lead and allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields when traffic conditions allow?
Candidates, municipally and provincially, are most welcome to share their views on that.
Julien Papon is the founder of Toronto-based Vitess Bicycle Corporation (www.vitess.com), a premium cycling brand.
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