After some careful observation I decided to try a bit of Toronto-style cyclo-commuting. But first, I felt the need to get a bell for my bike There are just too many people coming and going to and fro to be without one, AND there’s a $90 fine for not having one, so my first stop was a bike shop just a few blocks away.
I am not a helmet Nazi. There are times when a helmet may not be necessary, like when you are in your house or walking to the mailbox, or casually riding an upright bike in a sleepy neighborhood. But I WANTED to wear my helmet for my inaugural toe dip to test the waters of cycle commuting in Toronto. I wanted full body armor like a huge bomb casing with cut-outs for head, arms, and legs.
The ride to the bike shop was short and strange. Never before have I encountered so many practical (as opposed to recreational) cyclists on the road. In fact, I was one of the few recreational riders out there at morning rush hour, but I disguised myself as a commuter by wearing normal-people clothes and a backpack.
Once properly “ding” equipped, I followed some bike commuters around just to get the hang of commuting in a city with so much going on. It was pretty crazy, but everyone else looked like they thought it was no big deal. Unlike any other urban area I’ve ridden in, here you don’t want to go fast for the most part. Again, there’s just too much happening everywhere. Going fast just means less time to process what’s going on and how to deal with it.
By following riders, I was hoping to learn proper cyclo commuting etiquette, but it was kind of a free-for-all… some riders stopped for lights, some didn’t, some rode in marked bike lanes, some didn’t, some rode through pedestrian crosswalks, others dismounted and walked, but amazingly the motorized commuters did not seem to get upset by the lack of consensus. It was a dance they had all done before. No one knew which steps were next, but once it was clear which step was needed at the given moment there was no hesitation, the dancers flowed smoothly.
At first, I latched on to slower riders and followed them. Unfortunately, I found I was usually following women that were less aggressive, though to be sure, competent commuters. After several blocks I felt that they might think I was stalking them, so when they turned abruptly I took that as a hint that they were getting suspicious and I continued traveling straight. Sometimes this got me into trouble as the bike lane, or road, would end, or the lane would get ugly with construction, tracks, or other obstacles.
Sometimes the sidewalk was the only logical place to end up; but that is illegal, sidewalks are for pedestrians. Fortunately, that law didn’t apply to me. In order to accommodate children being able to ride on sidewalks rather than in the street, the law in Toronto is written to allow bikes with wheel diameters of less than 64cm to be ridden on sidewalks, as most adult sized bikes have wheels larger than this… but not my travel bike, it has kid sized wheels! I did not abuse my free pass, but at times I certainly took advantage of it!
Following the paths of least resistance and avoiding turns and routes that I was not sure of the legality or prudence thereof, I ended-up pretty far from the hotel. I was not dressed properly for extended riding, in jeans, normal shoes, and a jacket that was getting to be too warm, so I latched onto a serious looking road rider wearing a bike racer costume (a fellow recreational commuter) that seemed to be heading in the right general direction. He made some odd turns, but I stayed with him and the wisdom of his route became clear. He got me back to familiar territory and from there I managed my way back to the hotel.
“What about the bell?” you ask? “Did it save your life?” That story will be told in the next exciting installment…