This was a week of highs and lows. I interviewed several very creative people who take the basic bicycle design and make it their own. I heard from two of our strong advocates, getting their views on cycling in Toronto. I even spoke with a new cyclist, someone who only learned to ride last year, as an adult.
And then, I experienced firsthand a Ghost Bike Ride.
On Monday, I was invited to watch three people build what we know generically as ‘tall bikes’. These two men and a woman were working on a couple of projects for the Bike Film Festival opening, which occurred at the Gladstone Hotel on Wednesday evening. I attended and was met by the Chandelier Bike, Lock Bike, Version 2, and one of the designers’ own Tall Bike.
These three designers are self-proclaimed punks, and their mission is to change attitudes regarding bikes in this city. I think they have already succeeded, and am proud to call them friends. Want to see a tall bike for yourself? Come out to a Critical Mass. Almost certainly, someone will be riding a tall bike. They just give you butterflies.
On Tuesday, Yvonne Bambrick asked me to meet her at The Garden Car in Kensington Market. Yvonne is the Coordinator of the Kensington Market BIA, in addition to being the Founding Executive Director of the Bike Union, the Market Car Couturier, a freelance photographer and an active urban cycling consultant. When Yvonne gives her opinion, people listen. Not only did she share her perceptive views on the history, the current affairs and the future of cycling here in Toronto, she also wanted to share the benefits of festively decorating your bike. If you know me personally, you will know that I am a tomboy, and that this aesthetic has never appealed to me. Listening to Yvonne has changed my mind. I like it! Well, maybe not on my bike, but it’s awesome on yours!
On Wednesday, I was invited to Harbourfront Centre where I met with Heather Rathbun. Heather designs the most elegant silver and gold jewelry based on the bicycle design. She was wearing a piece whose form—two spoked sprockets, each with its own pulley mechanism—reminds me instantly of a Penny Farthing, with a large front wheel and a smaller rear wheel. Everything moves. It is functional jewelry! You can’t imagine how I wanted to walk off with her entire inventory.
For more details, visit www.heatherrathbun.com. Prepare to be tempted.
On Thursday, I met with a man who has built four of the most interesting contraptions I have ever seen. They remind one of something out of a Dr. Seuss book, and are aptly named Zoossemobiles. This man has taken these bikes to such countries as these bikes to such countries as Austria and warn-torn Bosnia where Separatists from Quebec and pro Canadian Unity supporters rode the Zoossemobile. The vehicle transported Jews and Arabs physically in the Kensington Market festival of lights, and in spirit to a similar festival in Haifa Israel where Jews and Arabs sang a marriage song in each other’s language. Children love these bikes because musical instruments are attached at odd angles and you can climb the bikes and feel a part of whimsy. This man is also responsible for the creative bike lock-ups that are now appearing around our city, in places like Chinatown and in front of the ROM.
I have only just begun attending some of the organized cycling events in town this year, as part of my research for this book. As part of that research, I asked the members of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) to alert me if we had a cyclist death, so I could pay my respects. Toronto’s first Ghost Bike Ride for 2011 occurred last Friday morning, a week to the hour from the time of impact.
Eighteen cyclists accompanied the Ghost Bike from Bloor and Spadina to the corner of Greenwood and Plains Road, where Jack Roper died last week. The book includes a chapter on this ride. In this chapter I have included a few of Jack’s bike stories, with which I was honoured when I met his friends at his favourite coffee shop the next morning.
When the Ghost Bike Ride ended, I met with another of our big advocacy names. This man sits on many of the city committees attempting to draw attention to the needs of cyclists when infrastructure decisions are formed. His hours on our behalf are long and frustrating, but he has had some success stories, one of which he shared happily. The best part was the way this man loves to superset the English language with his own, perceptive adaptation. Did you know we have been living in an age of carruption?
Finally, on Friday evening, I had the great pleasure of meeting a young woman who has just learned to ride a bike. She is 28 years old. She had an accident on her trike as a tot, and then spent years walking past the Canadian Tire bike racks wishing she could try one out. Her assumption was that she had an overprotective mother, but that was not the case at all. As an adult, she would ride the streetcar, and she would see women on vintage bikes with wicker baskets; “I want to be like that,” she would sigh.
Here is a perfect example of how Yvonne’s bike decorating succeeds, of how people who take the challenge to commute downtown to work is inspiring, and of why people like my advocates who build tall bikes and who sit tirelessly on committees should continue to do so. Because it gets new people out on a bike.
I applaud you all. Thank you from the bottom of my little cotton socks.