Keeping it Wheel: Life in the Bike Lane

By Rachel Horner

Cycling in Toronto has exploded as the choice alternative to motorized transit. Although getting around by bike has always been the perfect compliment to an eco-friendly, economical, and healthy lifestyle, it is only since the wild fluctuation of gas prices that motorists have sat up and taken notice of the bicycle and the increasing number of cyclists on the city’s roads.

When I was a child, I’d spend every waking moment on my bike. When puberty struck, the bicycle became a source of social awkwardness and a hindrance to looking cool. The echoes of the taunts about my helmet haunted me from bike rack to door step. My shame on two wheels sat in my parents’ garage collecting dust for the better part of my adolescence.

In my early twenties I rediscovered the joy of cycling, recapturing the feeling I had known in my youth. I went all-out this time. I spent an entire paycheque on a three-speed cruiser with a cushy, shock-absorbent seat, a bell, a removable basket, and a helmet with a flaming skull on the front. It was, and is, my pride and joy.

If you haven’t been on a bike in awhile, fear not. There are plenty of Toronto-based groups with dedicated members and experts eager to share their love of cycling and local cycle-culture. The first step is to get yourself a bicycle (if you don’t have one already).

Types of Bikes for the Urban Cyclist

ROAD BIKE: There are a variety of categories for road bikes: touring, racing, and sport. But they all share some common qualities. A road bike will range from 12 to 21 speeds. They are either built for speed, as with the racing bike, or comfort, as with the touring bike. The sport bike is a clever combination of the racing and touring bike, therefore making it a versatile vehicle. These bikes are great for long rides and long distances.

HYBRID: If the mountain bike and the road bike had a love child, the hybrid would be it. This is the perfect bike for riding around town and taking care of business — it is best for short rides and commutes. Generally a hybrid will have 21 gears and an upright riding position. Hybrids have inherited the sturdiness of the mountain bike, but are lighter weight, although with slightly less zip than the road bike.

Cycling in Toronto doesn’t have to just be about transportation: many people have turned to cycling to express their desire for a more sustainable way of living. Groups such as the Toronto Cyclists’ Union advocate creating infrastructure exclusively for cyclists, and improving the safety of cycling in the city. Although the Toronto Cyclists’ Union is relatively new on the scene, founded in 2008, they are sure to make a positive impact for cyclists all over the city with their ambitious “Paint the Plan” campaign.

The best places for newbie cyclists to get information are probably online and at their local bike shop. Most community groups have a site that provides accurate and up-to-date information about the activities and collective concerns of their members. Similarly, the City of Toronto’s website has all sorts of useful information ranging from course listings, route maps, bicycle registration, and theft prevention to register your bike with the Toronto Police, lists of bylaws, and other necessary resources for new and veteran cyclists.

Bike Repair Courses

Bicycle maintenance doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. With a few basic tools and a little patience, you can help keep your bike in top-form with some very basic techniques.

For example, cleaning your bike chain takes just a few easy steps and items you likely already have around your house: a mild citrus solvent, a sturdy rag, and your favourite type of bicycle lube (don’t even think about replacing bike lube with your preferred brand of cooking oil or motor oil). For greater ease, turn your bicycle upside down so the saddle and handle bars are supporting the rest of the bicycle. Spray the rag with the solvent and hold the rag around the chain, wiping away all the excess grime that has accumulated in the teeth of the chain. If the chain is more pigpen-esque than you had previously imagined, a little dish detergent in water will help where the solvent might have failed. Once your chain is clean, apply the bicycle-specific lube of your choice.

Another easy way to maintain your bicycle is to check your tire pressure before you set out for a ride. The air pressure gauge for your tires should be located on the sidewall. Keeping the right amount of pressure will ensure that your tires last longer and that your ride will be easier. You can pick up a tire pressure gauge at your local bike shop and most hardware stores.

The Multi-Tool: Your New Best Friend

Forget about spending hundreds of dollars on tools to keep your bike in shipshape. For the savvy beginner, the best investment you can make is purchasing a multi-tool. Not only do they have all the necessary allen keys and screwdrivers you will need, but they are portable and affordable. Brands that come highly recommended by local enthusiasts are Crank Brothers [] and Topeak.[] Recommended: Cyclemania at 281 Danforth Avenue.
For those who want to get zen about the art of bicycle maintenance, you might want to check out the resources below:

The Community Bicycle Network
761 Queen Street West, Toronto
The Community Bicycle Network (where Wenches with Wrenches is housed) offers courses with experienced mechanics and limited class sizes. Not only will they save you money on your future repairs, they’ll also instill you with a sense of pride and confidence. The CBN offers more than just courses — they also provide inexpensive bicycle rentals, used bicycle sales, and skills courses on navigating the urban landscape by bike.

Wenches with Wrenches
Run for women, by women, Wenches with Wrenches hosts a variety of workshops that make basic bicycle repair and maintenance skills accessible. At the same time, the workshops draw on the tradition of knowledge-sharing between women who have gathered together in a safe, friendly place — much like a stitch n’ bitch, but with a more bike-centric theme.

Courses by the CBN and Wenches with Wrenches are offered at various intervals throughout the year. Check their website for the latest news and schedules.

Get Involved!

They may not be in Greektown, but they’re good eggs — Wenches with Wrenches and the CBN seek volunteers to help keep their programs running. It’s a great opportunity to get your hands dirty and make a difference in your community. Please see their websites, listed above, for more details.

Don’t Get Busted

Think riding a bike makes you immune from the rules of the road? Think again: not only do you have to obey regular traffic laws, but there are other laws that apply specifically to cyclists.

  • According to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, it is illegal to have a defective bell on your bicycle — this seemingly minor infraction could land you a hefty fine of $110.
  • Bill-124 was adopted by the legislature and came into effect on October 1, 1995, requiring cyclists under the age of 18 years to wear helmets.
  • Riding a bike makes you a part of traffic, and you can therefore be charged with offenses ranging from careless driving, to operating an unsafe vehicle — both have expensive fines attached.

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