There was a recent article in Hush Magazine by a Vancouver based writer who described Toronto and Montreal as “Two of Canada’s Great Cycling Cities”, and contrasted them with Vancouver which I view as paradise on two wheels. It’s an interesting take on the cycling scenes in TO vs. Vancouver. One of the assertions is that:
“The simple act of getting on a bicycle in normal clothes (and nothing else) remains a defiant act of rebellion; one that invites strange looks, unsolicited safety advice, and the occasional traffic stop by the Vancouver Police Department. It is a remarkably frustrating and isolating experience, shoehorning those who do cycle into the all-pervading sporting paradigm. Worse still, it turns many away from cycling altogether, wrongly believing that dropping $300 at Mountain Equipment Co-op is a prerequisite to even giving it a try.”
In my rides around town, I have certainly noted a large number of cyclists wearing bike specific clothing, and comparatively few people riding beaters and bike shaped objects when compared to Toronto. I wanted to see what the typical commuting cyclist looked like here, so I planted myself at the north end of the Burrard St. Bridge at about 8:30 this morning.
Here is a video of a slice on the cyclists coming off the bridge in the inbound direction.
Certainly there is no shortage of comparatively fit looking cyclists.
I also took pictures of 24 consecutive cyclists on the outbound direction, a few minutes after I took the video. Of this very small sample:
- 5/24 have fenders
- 11/24 wear some sort of lycra
- 1/24 was a single speed bike
So some of what was reported in the article is borne out by this small sample. Certainly compared to downtown Toronto, there are fewer single speeds, and fewer cruiser or beater type bikes.
However, neither city can be fairly characterized by a sample at a single location. If you were to be up early enough Sunday morning in Bloor West Village, you would conclude that almost all cyclists in TO are MAMILS that hang out by Starbucks, along with one geeky looking guy on a pink bike buying baked goods. On the other hand, on Queen West at midday, you’d see a lot of single speeds and bikes with flower bedecked front baskets.
Even along my commute to work everyday, the blend of commuters evolves. At the start, where I am about 9 km from the city centre, many cyclists do wear bike specific clothes and have more speed oriented bikes. As you move further downtown, you see shorter distance commuters, and thus more people in regular clothing, and more cruisers, beaters, and single speeds.
In Vancouver, who you see on a bike also depends on time of day and neighbourhood. Yesterday I was biking along the Adanac Bikeway, and the people riding in the same direction included a wiry shirtless guy with a flowing mane of grey hair and a huge bag of empty cans on the back of his bike who very kindly showed me a short cut to the beginning of the Adanac trail, a guy in regular clothes riding a Dahon, an older gentleman on a clapped out Supercycle, and a messenger Grrrrrl with lots of tattoos would would have fit right in in TO except for the fact that she was wearing a helmet.
Here a few more shots of “typical” cyclists from today, but further away from the bridge:
Many more non lycra clad cyclists at Vancouver Cycle Chic.
So the Hush Magazine article is a great starting point for discussion, but I think that it is overly simplistic to say that the sport/recreation orientation of many Vancouver cyclists is a liability. Having lived in California for about ten years, I’d say it is just a West Coast thing, where the outdoors and recreation are just a larger part of the lifestyle. Nor is it a clear conclusion that the helmet law here is suppressing the vibrancy of Bike Culture. There are many aspects of culture, both high and low, that are more diverse in TO or Montreal than Vancouver, simply because of history and proximity to other large urban centres.
The ultimate route to a “vibrant bike culture” is the integration of cycling in everyday life, beyond just one aspect such as commuting. The rise of utility cycling will naturally lead to more people cycling in street clothes. Better indicators of “bike culture” are people shopping on bikes, and more families with kids on the streets.
With the superior bike infrastructure here in comparison to TO, the potential for growth is huge.
To close, here are some more photos taken around town, starting with a couple of sights along the Adanac Bikeway. These bikeways on lightly trafficked streets have a great combination of signalized intersections, and features that block thru car traffic over longer distances. This was my favourite: not only is there a bikes only cut through at the end of a cul-de-sac, there is also a foot operated bike pump.
The other thing that I noticed was that in my short ride in the vicinity of the bridge, I must have ridden over six or seven traffic counters. Obviously the city is continuing to collect a lot of data on traffic patterns in this area.