Friday, August 30, 2013

Inspiration City: Montreal

From Saturday until Tuesday, my husband and I traveled to Montreal, Quebec. I was surprised, given Canada's reputation for long winters, and what I would assume would be substantial lake/river-effect snows, to find a remarkably bike-friendly city. So, while I suffer back in the Midwest with near-100° temps, I'll share what I saw, and photos, too.

Montreal has a bike-share program (exactly like the Divvy Bike program in Chicago, or the CitiBike program in NYC). They are grey bikes with red logos and are called "Bixi Bikes". There are stations all over town, so that you can rent a bike in one part of town and drop it off in another with little difficulty. Trucks come around periodically to relocated extra bikes to empty stations as needed. (The one below had just been "restocked".)

Bixi Station by Day
Bixi Station by night.
The Bixi bikes were equipped for all riding conditions in the same manner as other bike-share-style bikes, and featuring many things that consumers have to pay extra for on entry-level city bikes or when outfitting nontraditional city bikes (mountain bikes, road bikes) for regular city/commuter/transportation use (whatever your bike means for you, insert here - we all use our bicycles in different ways). They featured pedal-powered, blinking, front and rear lights (to make you visible; the light was inadequate to help you see anything, so you had to rely on adequate street lighting, which was plentiful in downtown Montreal). The bikes had front racks for bags or purses, and covered chains and skirt-guards to keep your apparel clean. 
Riders on Bixi Bikes
Rows of Riders in Montreal
Rentable bikes near the river in Montreal
Tandem riders in Montreal
Parked bicycles
Parked Bikes in Old Montreal

We saw a fair number of people riding the Bixis, and a lot of people had their own bikes, too. Drivers accepted the bicycles, and even in our scramble to find the tiny road names and decipher new (to us) direction signs, we were easily able to drive and watch for bikes. This was largely due to the fact that there were so many bikes. Volume increases safety for everyone by increasing awareness to the presence of and visibility for all bicyclists. 

Even when folks weren't riding their bikes, there was abundant evidence of their presence, as bikes were parked all over town. There are those electric parking meters for on-street parking, and they have loops added to the posts that show your space identifier (e.g., M031), so riders can lock up there, too. Bike racks were plentiful, and people locked to fences, sign posts, etc., too. There was not too evidence of theft, but we did come across a sad blue bike that was rusting out because its back wheel (the more expensive wheel, with the gearing) had been stolen. I tried to snap a photo, but it didn't turn out. Still, most of the bikes locked up appeared to be in pretty good condition, well-maintained, and probably used on a regular basis. 

Montreal makes gracious accommodations for bicyclists in the form of dedicated, distinct, well-marked - and sometimes - protected bike lanes. You can easily see some of them at work in the top and second photos of riders (protected lane). There are huge bicycles painted in the lanes to make them easy to see (especially as compared to the small road signage). The protected bike lanes are two-way, so that the bikers are completely separated from traffic. This made for some interesting intersection set-ups, but they clearly mark the way for bicyclists, and it all seems to work.  

I would love to see lanes and really obvious intersection markings like this on Manchester, Brentwood, Hanley, and Clayton roads, where bikes are less common, the roads are not very safe for riding due to lack of bike lanes and shoulders, and cars travel at pretty high speeds (35mph is a terrifying prospect in the age of distracted driving). The great thing about the protected lanes (as opposed to "sharing the road" model that we often use here in St. Louis) is that people on slow bikes (Bixis, uprights, Dutch-style, cruiser, or due to the physical limitations or desires of the rider) don't have to try to keep up with traffic. When I ride to work, I'm terribly aware of my few minutes on McKnight Road and Clayton Road, where traffic averages 30-40mph. In both cases, the morning commute is preferable (and really feels fine), because traffic is staggered, people seem more relaxed, and they can easily go around me in the second lane in each direction. At 5:00pm or so, everyone is leaving at once and between the rush to get home and the dense traffic,  I feel (as I'm wheezing up Clayton Road for a couple blocks at 5mph) like I'm an inconvenience and at a higher risk of getting hit because someone doesn't leave me enough room. (Seriously; I'm only on the road for a few blocks and I am probably going to switch to the sidewalk for those few blocks for the commute home because it's so unpleasant; I hop up onto the sidewalk for the crosswalks to cross Clayton anyway, since neither crossing point is a major intersection.)

Speaking of hills, Montreal is relatively flat near the river, but this region of Qu├ębec has these random little "mounts" (big hills out of nowhere), which often serve as the name of the town: Mont Royal = Montreal, Mont Ste. Hilaire = the town of same name, etc. As you approached Mont Royal, you rapidly had very steep hills, and we saw about half a dozen people hop of their bicycles and walk up the hills. No shame in that - I have to walk up one of the hills on my way home, especially when it's hot. And my hill was smaller.

As we were in the city for less than 24 hours each time, with a pretty strict agenda each day, I did not have the opportunity to rent and ride a Bixi myself, but one of my traveling companions, who went up a few days early, did ride one, and we bumped into him next to the Bixi station in the top photo. I took the opportunity to ask him about his riding experience. He confirmed that the roads become very hilly very quickly as you move toward Mont Royal, and that underneath the plastic Bixi covers, the bikes feel pretty stiff and failed to offer a particularly-smooth riding experience (in other words, it's no Pashley or Workcycles Oma), which isn't terribly surprising (cost control). Still, he offered that it was an amazing way to see the city, get out and about for a bit, and get a little exercise in the process. No one can argue with that.

Anecdotally, helmet use among Bixi riders was rare; use among other city-type bicycles (bikes clearly used for transportation) was about 50/50, and close to 100% on road bikes where folks were kitted out in lycra outfits and clearly going for speed.

We're back in St. Louis, and the temperatures have been holding steady this week in the high nineties, which is pairing with some leftover crud I developed due to a severe seasonal allergy attack while I was in Canada (much more foliage, and much closer to autumn), but rumors speak of a break from the high temperatures by Monday, and I am crossing fingers for the opportunity to spend some time on the bike again soon. 

Happy riding!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ninety-Degree Weather and a Mantis

This has been a disappointing week, in terms of biking. Heat and humidity have returned to St. Louis (hopefully, temporarily), I spent the first part of this week not feeling well enough to bike to work, and the rest of it not being able to control my schedule enough to allow me to bike to nearby meetings, or attend this month's bike events, and I am generally frustrated as a result. I am really looking forward to autumn weather...and settling into the routine. We'll see if it shows up in September, or if St. Louis offers us an Indian Summer that stretches into late October (hardly uncommon).

In the meantime, I offer you an amazing photo of a praying mantis on ferns (source, other great photos).

Friday, August 16, 2013

August Events for Women Bicyclists

Hi friends, and happy Friday! 

I don't have a lot of riding stories right now, because despite the amazing weather we've had this summer, certain scheduling and other events in my life have conspired against my bicycle riding hopes. Never fear, fair readers, as this is temporary.

I wanted to update you about the August events through Trailnet's Arch Women and Cycling Savvy.

The August Lunch Meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 from 12:00-1:00pm. This is a brown-bag lunch event. This month's session will address body image -- specifically, the conflicting messages that we, as women, face, and how if affects how (and how much) we eat, and how we determine what is "healthy" for ourselves. This is often a really important topic for active women, since we need to healthfully fuel our biking habit! The lunch is at the Railway Exchange Building downtown, in the 12th Floor Lobby. (Map)

Do you wish you felt more confident on the road on a bike? Cycling Savvy is hosting their Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling course on Thursday, August 22, 2013 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at 6174A Delmar in University City (Map). The course costs $15, and is described as follows:
Through guided discussion with video and animation, this session familiarizes students with bicycle-specific laws, traffic dynamics and problem-solving strategies. Students discover that bicycle drivers are equal road users, with the right and ability to control their space. Bicycles are not needed at this session.

The next Trailnet on Tap meeting is Wednesday, August 28, 2013 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. at Urban Eats Cafe (Map). This month's topic features similar concerns to the women's lunch meeting. Personal trainer Tracy Herold will discuss how to be healthy whatever your size and physical condition, and the role active transportation plays in your health. RSVP on Facebook if you plan to go!

Hopefully, if your schedule allows, you can make one or more of these events. 

Cheers and happy riding!

Image Source
Article from Bike Radar about "How to Lose Weight Cycling"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Locked Up vs. Locked In

Sorry for the Monday post, after proclaiming Friday would be my posting day. I started this, and then got distracted, and then went out of town for the weekend! Whoops. 


Bike security is a meaningful issue for those of us who ride. I have had two bikes stolen in my life (lucky so few) and I'm very careful with my Linus and Trek bicycles. This means, generally, and whenever possible, they live inside, rather than outside. This protects them from inclement weather, as well as theft. What does this mean for me?

1. At Home. My bikes come inside with me. They don't live in my garage. I keep an "active" bike on the main level, and "dormant" bikes in my basement. This is also part of why I purchased a Linus "city" bike instead of a heavier, more traditional bike, like a Pashley or WorkCycles Oma (that, and I didn't want to take the >$1000 plunge until I had a better sense of which bike works to get me to work, around my neighborhoods, and out for fun - this may well end up being three different bikes).

2. At Work. My bike comes inside with me. I am fortunate to have my own office, and an area where I can stash my bike so it's out of the way.  This is in front of my credenza, which I face from my desk. I am in an older office building, which is probably the only reason I have enough room in my office for me, my desk, and my bike. Many newer offices are barely larger than cubicles. The rest of the office layout is such that I would have a hard time finding a place for my bike inside. In that case, I'd either have to find a place to lock up outside (on my surface lot or in front of my building); neither has a particularly appealing place to lock up. Maybe at a parking meter? So I'm thrilled Fleur can come inside. (The plastic on the seat is a super-sexy shower cap. See how I'm wearing white pants? Yeah, I rode in those. Not worth any chance the leather would bleed.)

3. At Church. Inside, again, most of the time. The first time I rode to church, I locked Fleur up outside, but there are no bike racks near my church (!!) and I was worried she was blocking a major entrance for people who need the accessible ramp, and that's no good. The second time, I took her upstairs (and way out of the way) and locked her to the upstairs railing. This is fine, but required me to shove her in the elevator, so the next time I was there for Sunday worship, the Children and Family Ministries Director suggested I stash it somewhere out of the way on the first floor, so now I do that on Sundays. I still lock her up, even though she is inside (you never know; I'm not worried about fellow congregants or well-meaning visitors, but there are people who abuse the safe and trusting environment of a church during worship time to look for unattended purses... and sometimes bikes*). I take a large enough bag to accommodate my helmet and her lights, which I remove any time she's parked outside, no matter how short the duration (lights and locks are the most important things to spend money on, after all). For evening meetings, and for choir practice this fall, she just sits in the room where I'm meeting or singing. On Sundays when I sing, I'll lock her up in the same manner I do for summer worship on Sundays. You'll all be tickled to know that my music director hums the "Wicked Witch of the West/Almira Gulch" music at me whenever he sees me arrive on two wheels. He thinks he's pretty hilarious. (OK. He's pretty hilarious.) In other news, I might have figured out my Halloween costume this year. 

4. Errands. I haven't done a ton of errands so far on Fleur, but when I have, she gets locked up outside the building where I'm "erranding". This has included meeting a fellow blogger for coffee in Webster Groves, and two trips to my nearest grocery store. No issues any of those times. My rules for outside lock-ups are this: (1) in a visible spot near a main door and (2) locked to something more substantial (read: harder to cut through) than my U-lock. I generally only use the U-lock, but remove the lights and anything else I wouldn't want to replace (e.g., I'm okay leaving the seat and mirror and bell, which would be hard to remove, and my wheels and seat are not quick-release, so I don't sweat those). I lock through the rear triangle so that my frame and my rear wheel (the more costly of the two to replace) are secure. I generally don't take my cable with me since I haven't grown terribly accustomed to parking Fleur outside where she'd need the extra security; I made this call after talking to some other bikers about their security measures. As I widen my area and ride more (hopefully in the fall), I'll probably start taking the second lock, but it seems largely redundant when you're not in a high-crime area, or perhaps when you are... if someone truly wants Fleur, they will take her, whether it takes them 30 seconds to cut through one lock or 60 seconds to cut through two. Part of item ownership is taking good care, but not being so attached to the item as to be unable to part with the thing. Also, I have a good set-up to ensure I always have my U-lock, and the cable isn't quite as convenient. You can see from the above photo, and in this detailed photo from a prior post that I tuck my U-lock in my rear-rack bungees. I keep the key on my keychain, which is on a carabiner, which I clip on my front basket while I'm riding, and onto my bag or person when I'm off the bike.  

5. Fun Rides/Exercise. When I ride to Grant's Trail, I ride to/from my house. No locking needed. When I ride on Creve Coeur Mill Trail or other more-distant trails, I drive to/from the trail and so the bike is in my car before and after the ride.

That's that, for now! Cheers and happy riding!

*Sadly, we've had folks wander in and take everything from wallets to gifts under Giving Trees that were purchased for poor families, including children's bicycles. So while I'm trusting, I'm also cautious. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Yes, I sweat when I ride to work. But it doesn't last long. And the ride is worth it.

Of course I sweat when I ride to work: it's summer in St. Louis, Missouri. But this summer has been much cooler than average, so I've actually had the opportunity to ride in some upper-60s/lower-70s temps, as well as testing the 80s and 90s I expected this month. 

The unofficial rule list I've cultivated for commuting this summer seems to be:

  1. Anticipated daily high no higher than 90°F.
  2. No thunderstorms in the forecast between 7:30-9:30am or 4:30-6:30pm.
  3. No heavy rain in the forecast for the same timeframe.
  4. Get out the door by 8:00am.
Honestly? This last one is the hardest. I have a hard time getting moving in the morning, and making sure I am ready to hop on the bike instead of into the car is one more excuse to keep me from going. Will this shirt work? What about this skirt? These pants? Which helmet? Oh, I need my gloves. Wait, I forgot something else...I make riding to work a bigger deal in my head than it is and, frankly? the ride gets easier every single time I do it. After a nearly 20-mile bike ride for fun this past Saturday (returning in a strong headwind; something I don't have to deal with, really, on my commute, due to the neighborhood streets I frequent), today's 6.5-mile jaunt felt borderline leisurely

That said, the trail I ride on has no meaningful hills except for a few rolling streets in the 2-mile ride to/from the trail-head. 

That said, there are a few points in my commute route where I'm a-huffing and a-puffing. I cannot reach the top without breaking a sweat, no matter the gear I'm in, and I suspect, no matter the outside temp. In some cases, I could be standing on the bike, pedaling my heart out, and it's still a solid minute or more of continued exertion. 

So, I glow buckets.

The thing about riding is that you have a lovely breeze on you as long as you're moving. And then you stop, and your face starts to get red, and the sweat really starts to pour, and you're just bloody hot for about 10-15 minutes. If I'm someplace where I plan to lock up my bike outside, this is a great reason to take my time locking up the bike. This is also a great reason to get where you're going 20 minutes before you need to look presentable. Because really, that's all it takes. If you're staying somewhere hot, outside, everyone else will be sweating anyway. If you're going in side, chances are the a/c is set to "arctic" and you'll cool down faster than you expect. When I arrived at the office Wednesday, I had maintained a slow-enough pace and kept well-enough hydrated that I wasn't too red-faced, but I was sweaty and my hair was pretty wet underneath (at the nape of my neck). But this is what I looked like just 10 minutes after I arrived at my office:

I still *felt* warm, but really, I looked fine. I even biked in the clothes I was wearing, and didn't need to change my top at all. So if you're just starting, in the summer, like me, then YES it's hot, but it gets better, and really, you look better than you think you do...or will in about ten minutes.  And no, I didn't touch up my make-up or anything - this is whatever was left from what I put on in the morning (my normal mineral foundation, powder blush, lip balm, and mascara).