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Back on the Bike

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Have you ever noticed that people aren't talking with their neighbours anymore? There is a growing concern that as a society we're losing our sense of community

Have you ever noticed that people aren't talking with their neighbours anymore? There is a growing concern that as a society we're losing our sense of community. Instead of relaxing on the front porch, open to spontaneous communication with neighbours, the predominating car culture forces us to zoom through the streets, straight into the garage, giving us little to no interaction with the people or landscape of our community. Cycling benefits our community, reducing traffic, noise and air pollution, as well as individually benefiting our health, fitness and quality of life.

Avid cycle commuter Kari Hewett says it's a more empowering way of being in your community because you can interact in a more spontaneous fashion...it's a wonderful way to meet people.

Riding a bike allows us to cover greater territory than on foot and to experience a wider array of places, sights, smells and people. As I bike to work, I get to experience the gardens and trees changing through the seasons and to smell fresh bread as I cruise by the bakery each morning, enthuses Kim Hendess, whose bike is her primary mode of transportation.

Though most people are convinced that travelling by bicycle is undoubtedly healthy and inexpensive, many feel it is simply not a feasible form of transportation. But the bicycle is the most efficient way to travel, often faster than a car, for urban destinations within 10 kilometres (six miles). This makes it an ideal mode for short trips. It could take 20 minutes to ride the bike to work, rather than 30 minutes by bus and including time for parking 30 minutes by car.

So How Do You Get Started?

There are a couple of steps that can make the transition to cycling for transportation much easier. No one is saying get rid of your car and do all your travelling by bike that's just not practical for most people. "Start slowly," says Peter Ladner, president of business in Vancouver Media Group and long-time cycle commuter. "Halfway is OK." Evaluate how much driving you do in a week and whether any of these trips could be done on a bicycle. You could start by just biking to your closest destinations, to the video store, to the kids' school, to the corner market, to a friend's house, maybe to work.

Take your bike into the local bike shop and have them tune it up to ensure it is in good running order. If you've never ridden a bike or haven't pedalled one in a long time, it's wise to get an experienced friend to go over the basics with you. Many community centres offer courses on cycling safety. Start on quieter side streets until your confidence increases. Seek out urban bike paths. Remember you can cross intersections by dismounting and walking your bike as a pedestrian. Always ride in a straight line and use hand signals so your movements are clear and predictable for other drivers and bikers.

You'll be amazed at how easy and enjoyable it is to ride a bike you'll wonder why you never started earlier. You'll feel the invigorating health benefits. As you become more comfortable riding you will also find you have more time because you are getting your exercise while you travel and you won't have to make extra trips to the gym. You will save money and you won't have to worry about parking spots and traffic jams.

Best of all, you'll be connecting with your community, meeting people and developing an intimate connection with the landscape establishing a kind of front porch in motion.

Pedal Primer

One in four Canadians cycle as a form of recreation, according to a 1994-95 Statistics Canada survey. Factor in those who hop on their bicycles to keep fit, to commute to school or work, or to go shopping or run errands, and that's a lot of pedal power. According to surveys conducted by Decima Research from the mid- to late-90s, somewhere between 40 and 65 percent of Canadians are non-competitive cyclists.

Cycle Safety

Cycling is as safe as you make it. A bell or horn, which is required by law in some provinces, is meant to be used as a signal or warning. For example, if you want to pass pedestrians or other cyclists on a trail, you should alert them by ringing your bell. In many provinces, helmets are required by law for children but not for adults, most likely because governing bodies don't relish the idea of being criticized for infringing upon the rights of adults. However, as the US Olympic Committee points out in its book, A Basic Guide to Cycling, your first concern should be for your safety not your rights." A helmet is your best insurance against a head injury; it can literally save your life.

The following are a few safe-cycling tips that should help you feel more confident as you head out on your two-wheeling excursions:

  • Remember that, in all provinces, the laws that apply to motor vehicles also apply
    to bicycles.
  • Learn and use hand signals.
  • Ride in single file.
  • Be visible. Wear bright clothing in the daytime; wear a reflective vest and use lights and reflectors/reflective strips on your bicycle at night.
  • Walk your bike across busy intersections.
  • Walk your bike through or around road hazards such as ice, mud, sand or potholes.

Recommended Resources

CycleCanada is a comprehensive website that offers links to cycling clubs, a bike shop directory, information on cycling/touring routes, photo albums of bike tours, and the CycleCanada Directory, on which you can find almost anything related to cycling in Canada. Bicycling Life is billed as "a Web site for everyday bicyclists." It's a fun yet informative site that offers articles on different aspects of cycling (ie, winter cycling, commuting), cycling tips, and even a Q & A forum.

Source: Cynthia Dusseault

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