Wrapping up the university-proof bike

When I started at the University of Waterloo five years ago, I bought a cheap Supercycle Tempo to use for daily commuting, given that I didn’t want to leave my expensive bicycle parked on campus all day.  I have extensively modified it over the years, aiming to create the perfect university bicycle.  I have now finished my studies, so here is a look back on the life of my primary vehicle over the last five years.

FinalBike_lowBack

The final product.  Latest changes include new handlebars, front basket, and a replaced front fender

Utility

As my primary vehicle, this bike has endured all that Canadian weather has to offer, from scorching summers to icy blizzards.  And a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the has bike covered over 2,500km in commuting alone – not even including other trips such as grocery shopping, visiting friends or exploring the city.  After all my modifications, it has become a practical machine, routinely carrying upwards of 18 kilograms (40 lbs) of groceries.

The first goal of the bicycle was to not get stolen on campus, so I gave it a unique paint job to make it stand out.  And while many of my friends’ bicycles were indeed stolen on campus during my five-year university career, this bicycle is still in my possession – making it fundamentally a success.

One of my favourite additions was the front basket, which added a whole new level of convenience to the vehicle.  It meant that I could always conveniently carry miscellaneous items, even when I didn’t happen to have panniers or a backpack.  And if I started feeling warm while riding, I could toss a jacket or gloves in the front without needing to pull over.

DSC_0055

There are countless uses for the front basket.

The main utility problem I have had with the bicycle is its lack of chain guard.  There is a large plastic ring around the front cog which keeps pants away from the chain, but occasionally I still find grease on the bottom of my pants.  Sure, I could tuck them in my socks before riding, but that adds up to a lot of effort given the number of short trips the bike does.  I’d rather my bike conform to me, rather than me having to adapt to it.

 

Cost

I bought the bike because of its irresistibly low price – $150 at 50% off ($300 normal price). But in the end, that turned out not to be a great economic decision.  Over the lifetime of the bike, I had to replace virtually every single part, either because the original was such poor quality that it was a major nuisance, or because it was so poor quality that it failed from routine use.  And as-purchased, the bicycle lacked essential items such as fenders, racks, a bell, lights and a basket.

Fortunately I had access to several free parts, otherwise the Supercycle would have turned out to be an disturbingly expensive purchase.  Here’s a quick overview of how much it might have cost if I had paid for all the changes I made.  Numbers in brackets are estimates for parts I actually got for free:

  • ($40): replace the horribly uncomfortable seat
  • $70: add front and rear lights
  • ($40): add front and rear fenders
  • ($30): add rear rack
  • $20: eliminate faulty derailleur and convert to single speed (I got a new single-speed freewheel for free)
  • $50: replace handlebar with a more ergonomic one
  • $30: replace broken bottom bracket
  • ($20): replace broken front fender
  • $50: add front basket
  • $150: replace wheels

(Prices do not include HST)

So what appeared a $150 bicycle actually turned out to cost more like $600 considering the lack of quality or standard features.  Then there are routine maintenance costs such as replacing worn brake pads and punctured inner tubes, which probably added another $50 per year, or expected purchases like panniers and winter tires which would add anywhere from $150 to $300.  That’s a lot of money to spend on a bike which has the bumpiest ride quality I’ve ever experienced.

The future: Fix or nix?

Today the bicycle sits in several pieces in my garage – I have not ridden it since moving out of my student house in Waterloo.  The rear fender is broken and there are several broken parts in the brake system.  So the question now is whether to replace those parts, or to end the constant cycle of repairs by buying a proper quality bicycle.  I’m leaning toward the latter, because as much as I’m proud of all the effort that I and others have put into the Supercycle, I’d rather a bicycle that doesn’t require all that effort in the first place.

Posted in Waterloo | 4 Comments

Gaelen Merrit’s Open Letter to Waterloo Region Record

My <Gaelen Merrit> open letter to Waterloo Region Record:

I am writing this letter in response to Paige Desmond’s article regarding the recent abolition of the “no cycling two abreast” bylaw in the Region (http://m.therecord.com/…/6688588-side-by-side-cycling-gets-…), and in general the majority of articles written by this newspaper on the topic.

The article does not provide an opinion/quote from a) a qualified expert on the subject or b) the opinion of someone most affected by this change – a cyclist! In fact, the only quotes are doomsday reckoning “cyclists will be dead right” and “we already have it hard enough with cyclists riding single file!” types.

You do realize the inflammatory nature of these articles do NOTHING to a) remove the completely unnecessary tension between the motorist and the cyclist that all too often results in the cyclist being “dead right”, b) educate all parties on what ACTUALLY is safest or c) encourage more people to lose their car dependency and increase the share of sustainable transportation in the region.

So here I am, providing you with some fact/evidence based content, and providing you with the opinion of a cyclist who spends more time riding regional roads on the bike than most people drive.

FACT: The highway traffic act does not prohibit two abreast cycling. The OPP has made this ruling in many jurisdictions ON THE BASIS THAT RIDING TWO ABREAST IS SAFER – for these (and many more) reasons:

a. Long single file lines cannot communicate or move as a unit to help drivers pass (think like a game of telephone).

b. Long single file lines cannot maintain a perfectly straight line and will unknowingly wave/swerve into traffic during a pass (think like a “snaking” effect).

c. Long single file lines force motorists to pass over longer distances and at higher speed.

Point c here can’t be stressed enough. It’s the law (for good safety reasons) that motorists must give at least a meter of passing space, and when they can’t give that, they have to wait until it’s safe to do so. So, on regional two lane roads this means the motorist has to at least put some of their vehicle in the oncoming lane to pass the cyclist. So, it follows then that you need to pass cyclists the same way you pass a tractor, Mennonite buggy, or a slower moving car – wait until it’s safe to move into the oncoming lane, and pass them. Why motorists don’t mind waiting behind all other vehicles but blare the horn, curse, threaten, throw objects and in some extreme cases actually physically run cyclists off the road, is in part DIRECTLY attributable to the inflammatory journalism this paper engages in.

FACT: The Waterloo Regional Police have acknowledged that they support the OPP’s interpretation of the highway traffic act, and therefore agree that groups of cyclist travelling two abreast is the safest option. They have confirmed that they will not enforce the two abreast bylaw in the region since it a) contravenes the HTA and b) it is not an evidence-based bylaw that maximizes safety for all road users.

And now, my opinion from my eyes on the ground: I am one of Ontario’s top road racing cyclists, and I commute year round by bike to/from work. Last year I rode 23 000 km outdoors, the vast majority of it on regional roads. In rain, shine, snow, day, night, whatever. I can tell you from my experience the greatest threat to my safety on the road is the entitled motorist who reads your articles(and your comments section) about this subject and interprets the cyclists riding in front of them to be a radical fringe special interest minority group fighting insidiously through political channels to obtain more than their “fair share.” They see this as a threat, and as such respond with aggression, misguided (and highly illegal) vigilantism and as such the most vulnerable road user is further victimized. I also see coworkers, friends and family all saying they want to try riding to work/getting groceries etc. but don’t because of the way they expect to be treated by motorists.

The media is a very powerful tool, and the way this paper writes about cyclists directly endangers me on the road. That one quote from Les Armstrong in the article pointed out that “drivers and cyclists need an education program for this to work.” Guess what? YOU could be a part of that education process. YOU could write about just why cyclists are fighting for this two abreast bylaw to be removed (I even gave you the answers listed above). YOU could acknowledge that a group of cyclists riding in a pace line are simply enjoying the same rights that the motorist enjoys, and that writing that “they’ll be dead right” is victim blaming at its finest, and that brand of journalism absolves the motorist of all actual personal accountability for the way they treat cyclists on the road. YOU could acknowledge that the bike in reality already owns just as much of the road as the car and the Mennonite buggy and the tractor, and the change in behavior needs to come from the less vulnerable road user or else we’re going to a) continue putting cyclists in coffins regardless of what laws we pass or abolish and b) have a hard time getting people to try sustainable transportation in the region.

Thanks for reading.

Link to the Record Article – http://m.therecord.com/news-story/6688588-side-by-side-cycling-gets-regional-approval

 

 

Posted in Bicycles, Community, Kitchener, News, Safety, Vent, Waterloo, Waterloo Region | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

King Street Culture Shock – in the midst of LRT construction

I got my first taste of the new King Street between William and Union. It’s going to be culture shock for drivers, from 4  lanes to 2 narrow ones and multiple 4 way stop signs.

Yet still zero cycling infrastructure. I’m guessing the final implementation will also have zero cycling infrastructure.

Riding the narrow lanes last night, my impression was that there’s not enough room for a cyclist to ride a meter from the curb and be passed by a car with a metre of space.

You know what that means? ‘Take the Lane’ baby.

IMG_20151116_002114

‘Don’t design streets that make the 5% already cycling marginally safer. Build them to entice the other 95% onto a bicycle’ via Modacity

Posted in Waterloo | 5 Comments

Unfortunate

It happens to many of us. It’s not just the monetary value that causes the hurt. Our bike no matter the style becomes part of us, we personify our ride. It shares our memories of grand adventures, and beautiful scenery and near death experiences (whether on the roads or in the hydro-cut).

Whenever we get contacted by someone who’s had their bike stolen we’ll post a picture and description of their bike, in hopes that someone might see it before it’s chopped up and sent away for parts. All bikes are special.

Hi, My bike was stolen yesterday at around noon in the Bridgeport and Devit area. Any help would be greatly appreciated. This bike is the things that gets me through tough times.


12182884_530680457108516_3347470109548112813_o

It is a greyb.org bike frame <top speed 70 km/hr a cross between a motorbike and an e-mountain bike>, custom batteries, custom everything. It was a prototype. It’s 52V battery. Has alarm. Fenix headlight. dual hydraulic disks brakes. The rotors look like gold saw blades. Leather seat. Cycle Analyst V3. 26″ Tires, 44mm rear rim, 20mm front axle. Black duct tape covers the hard plastic sides, Velcro straps hold the covers on. Ebikes.ca motor controller. LED Strip turn signals. This hurts me to describe. UGH. Hope this helps! Thank You kindly for Your help!

12107998_530762357100326_3434916557344905826_n

Posted in Waterloo

Addressing Region’s concerns about off-street bicycle lanes on University Avenue

The Region of Waterloo is reconstructing University Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way, and rather than building off-street bicycle paths that would be accessible to people of all ages and cycling ability, staff are recommending on-street painted bicycle lanes.  Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind this decision.

In my first post about this project, I responded to the rationale given in the public consultation materials to dismiss “cycle tracks”: that they are expensive and difficult to maintain in winter.  In short, while these are both true about the version of cycle track they considered (immediately adjacent to the roadway), neither applies to a bicycle path that is on the boulevard away from the roadway – an option they do not seem to have examined.

Then when the project came before Planning and Works Committee, the position was:

A cycle track was also considered is not recommended for this location because University Ave. both north and south of the project currently has on road bike lanes and it makes the most sense for this portion of University Ave to maintain an on-road bike lane for continuity with the adjoining sections.

When I went to the committee meeting and questioned this rationale, Commissioner Thomas Schmidt clarified that moving the bicycle lane off the main roadbed for this short segment was undesirable because it would create conflicts and complicate intersection design.

I expect that the underlying assumption here is that the same type of facility be used for the entire segment, both at intersections and mid-block.

Given the long distances between conflict points (intersections and driveways), this is an unnecessary constraint on decision-making.  The typical explanation for maintaining consistency is for the visibility of cyclists by motorists.  But with cars travelling upwards of 60 km/h and cyclists travelling around 20 km/h, a motorist who sees a cyclist mid-block would be long gone by the time the cyclist arrives at the intersection.

As a result, we can consider the mid-block and intersection designs independently from each other, and simply switch facility type shortly in advance of the intersection if necessary.

Protected mid-block, on-street intersection

Protected mid-block, on-street intersection

On-street mid-block, protected intersection.

On-street mid-block, protected intersection.

From the perspective of mid-block design along University Avenue, I don’t see any way  new conflicts would be created by moving the bicycle path from one side of the curb to the other.  In doing so, the bicycle path does not cross paths with any other road user.

So Regional staff’s concern about separate cycling infrastructure must be entirely based on intersection design.

As Commissioner Schmidt said, separate bicycle paths do indeed complicate intersection design. Since bicycles travel several times faster than pedestrians, bicycle path crossings should be designed to accommodate this rather than simply using a repainted version of the standard crosswalk design.

But this extra effort in design pays off with a result that is safer than could be achieved with on-street bicycle lanes.  For this reason in the Netherlands, intersections are often built with separate bicycle paths even when streets leading up to them have on-street bicycle lanes or even no bicycle lanes at all.

Over on The Ontario Traffic Man, check out the detailed explanation of one way we could safely incorporate separate bicycle lanes into the Keats Way & University Avenue intersection.

Potential protected intersection design design (From OntarioTrafficMan.wordpress.com)

Potential protected intersection design design (From Ontario Traffic Man)

KeatsUni_WatBikesASignals_SE1

Posted in Waterloo | 6 Comments

University Avenue Reconstruction update

Last week, I criticized regional staff’s recommendation of painted on-street bike lanes in the planned reconstruction of Universty Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way.  The matter was about to go before the Planning and Works committee for approval.

Here is the road cross-section the report recommended:

UniversityWestROW

I attended the P&W Committee meeting to delegate on behalf of TriTAG, a transportation advocacy organization for more balanced and efficient transport in our region.  My main points were:
– The notion that off-street bicycle paths would disrupt the continuity of cycling along the corridor is factually incorrect.
– A fully off-street (i.e. in-boulevard) bicycle path would have neither of the disadvantages staff used to dismiss cycle tracks: it would not be any more expensive than on-street lanes, and it would actually be easier to effectively maintain in winter.

The full text of my delegation is included at the bottom of this post.

Here’s what I had in mind:

UniversityWestTriTAG2

Continue reading

Posted in Waterloo | 3 Comments

Region of Waterloo recommends ingraining sub-par bikeway designs

University Avenue is planned to be completely reconstructed between Keats Way and Erb Street.  This is great news, because the street is currently in poor condition, and is of a rather unpleasant design as well.  But rather than improving the cycling infrastructure on this rather unpleasant roadway, the Region has decided that the status-quo is good enough. The current layout is of one mixed traffic lane in each direction, with a narrow paved shoulder signed and marked as a bicycle lane, and a wide gravel shoulder beyond it.  If not for the standard concrete sidewalk on the south/east side, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an 80 km/h rural highway.

University Avenue looking south-west (from Google Streetview)

University Avenue looking south-west (from Google Streetview)

A major contributor to this rural feel is the fact that there are no driveways or building faces along the street.  All the adjacent properties are accessed by and oriented toward the local streets on their other side. Cycling along the road in its current state is not a great experience.  Traffic moves very quickly (as you’d expect with such highway-like design), and passes very close by.  But when I’ve ridden the segment, the high-speed traffic has been the least of my concern.  There is often a sprinkling of loose gravel in the bicycle lane that requires my full concentration, since there’s a risk that the tires could lose grip at any moment. And that’s just the warm months.  In winter, the shoulder is basically unusable due to the accumulation of slush and snow.  Even when the bicycle lane gets cleared by the snow plow, it quickly becomes covered again as passing cars spray salt, gravel, sand and slush to the side. You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to see how all these issues can be easily solved during this road reconstruction.  And by a single change too: moving the bicycle path off the main roadway and onto the boulevard along with the sidewalk.

Separate bicycle path on Lakeshore Blvd E in Toronto.

Separate bicycle path on Lakeshore Blvd E in Toronto.

Riding along a pathway well away from the speeding cars would be completely stress-free. Since there are no driveways, there would be no interaction with car traffic whatsoever. The curb and gutter that will be built along the edge of the roadway would catch the road grime kicked up by traffic before it gets to the bicycle path.  And the space between the bicycle path and the roadway would provide plenty of space to store the snow cleared off the road. And here’s what the Region is recommending for cycling infrastructure in the upcoming August 11th Planning and Public Works Committee meeting (This item starts at page 146):

3.3 Bike Lanes On-road bike lanes would provide an important connection to the existing onroad bike lanes on University Avenue both north of Keats Way and south of Erb Street. Bike lanes are also present on Erb Street east and west of University Avenue. The alternative being recommended by the Project Team is a buffered bike lane. The buffered bike lane would be built as an extension of the asphalt roadway surface but would be separated from vehicles by a buffer (double painted line) and possible “rumble strips” ground into the asphalt surface between the double painted lines.

This is a buffered bicycle lane:

Buffered bike lanes under construction on Highway 7 in Markham

Buffered bike lanes under construction on Highway 7 in Markham

(Don’t mind the pylons, the road was still under construction at the time.) Unlike a separate bicycle path, it does not move cyclists far enough away from motor traffic to have a pleasant ride, perhaps having a conversation with someone they are travelling with. Nor does it provide any kind of barrier that keeps road grime from accumulating along the bicycle path.  And as a result, it is pretty much impossible to keep clear in winter. To add insult to injury, buffered bicycle lanes require a large amount of roadway space (the lane width plus the painted buffer), which is very expensive to provide, unlike a simple asphalt path separate from the roadway. The justification the Region provides for insisting that cyclists be on the same roadway as cars is the most absurd I have ever seen in a Canadian traffic engineering report:

A cycle track was also considered is not recommended for this location because University Ave. both north and south of the project currently has on road bike lanes and it makes the most sense for this portion of University Ave to maintain an on-road bike lane for continuity with the adjoining sections.

This comment suggests that the Regional staff are unaware of the fact that an on-street bicycle lane can be seamlessly connected to an off-street bicycle path.  To learn how to connect an on-street bicycle lane to an off-street path, I’d recommend that they take a look at this excellent post by Mark Wagenbuur in the Netherlands. Transitioning onto and off of the street is not complicated, we have proven we can build smooth transitions here in Ontario too. The picture below is of a perfectly smooth transition from an off-street bicycle path to an on-street buffered bicycle lane on Queens Quay Blvd East in Toronto.

Perfectly smooth transition from bicycle path to bicycle lane - Queens Quay Blvd, Toronto

Perfectly smooth transition from bicycle path to bicycle lane – Queens Quay Blvd E, Toronto

Funnily enough, this particular example actually doesn’t exist anymore because the buffered bike lanes have since been replaced by an off-street bicycle path. Maybe the Region is aware of the fact that on-street infrastructure can be seamlessly connected to off-street infrastructure, and their argument is merely about consistency. But that argument comes down to “the bike lanes along the rest of the street are scary, so this part should be too!”.  Which is also too absurd for me to say much more about. According to the project overview, here’s where we stand.

6. Next Steps Staff is now presenting the Recommended Design Concept for Council approval. Subject to approval of the Recommended Design Concept by Council, a Notice of Completion will be prepared. This Notice will be circulated to potentially impacted property owners and agencies. The project file including all information made available to the public and the assessment of the alternatives considered will be made available for public review. If no unresolved concerns are brought forward within the 30 day review period, preparation of the detailed design for the proposed works will be initiated. Construction is currently scheduled to be undertaken in 2018.

Funny how repainting an existing street to allocate space for bike lanes takes countless community engagement sessions and long council debates, while multi-million dollar road construction projects get rubber-stamped with little thought.

Posted in Waterloo | 5 Comments