The last time I saw Joe Tavers—a.k.a. Biking Toronto—was at my neighbourhood’s Bike First Friday Breakfast. Today though, we’re meeting to chat over a coffee downtown. He’s locking up his bike out front of the coffee shop and grins through the front window at me, sheepishly.
“Usually I park in the underground lot at work, so I’m uncomfortable leaving my bike on the street,” he explains.
Brian, another cycling friend, happens by and joins the conversation.
We find a table with window seats inside a coffee shop so we can watch Joe’s bike. Joe is all enthusiasm for the project, but isn’t sure that he has any bike stories. Secretly, I find this part endlessly entertaining. Here we sit, me a keen cyclist and Joe a bike advocate with a popular cycling blog, neither sure how they got to this place and only one of us certain there are bike stories in abundance.
Joe is from Newmarket and has always been an occasional commuter and recreational cyclist, but nothing more. He tells me he used to live in Little India, where he commuted by TTC to his office at Bay and College. When the city tore up the TTC tracks for repairs, his commute became a brutal experience. It occurred to him to try cycling. At first he was only doing the cycle across occasionally, but pretty soon he could see the benefits of this choice and it became a habit.
“You know, lots of cycling stories begin this way,” I say, and he relaxes a little.
Joe and his wife and daughter live at Danforth and Woodbine. He always cycles into work now, because the Bloor Viaduct is accessible and he enjoys the trip across town.
“Tell me about your bike,” I say.
He does a shoulder check: the bike is still there. He tells me no one ever believes him when he says this, but his first bike was an adult-sized mountain bike from Toys R Us. It wasn’t quite big enough, but he used it happily for a year. His next bike was a Raleigh purchased at Canadian Tire.
“I rode that bike into the ground,” Joe comments. He commuted on it through winter snow and salt, and hardly ever cleaned it. I suspect he feels guilty, but in my experience bikes like hard use. They seem a bit like working dogs in that the more time you spend with them and the harder you work them, the happier they are.
“My bike,” Joe tells me, “took the abuse well, considering I only spent about $100 on it.” This confirms my suspicions on bikes being like dogs.
In 2008, Joe bought his first serious bike: a hybrid Trek 7100. He wanted to be able to move farther with each pedal stroke, on something lighter than the Raleigh. The Trek is a fine looking bike and in good shape for having been ridden every day for three years. At the same time, his wife—a ‘gearhead’ who spent her teens with perma-greased nails—also bought a Trek.
All this seems like a modest love of cycling.
“How does this translates into the development of the website BikingToronto?” I ask him.
“Well, it’s not so much the bike that drives this as my daughter,” he explains.
Frustrated at being unable to find information on cycling in the city, Joe decided to launch Biking Toronto in late 2005. This site brought together as much Toronto cycling content as possible onto a single website. At first, the website was a casual project, but it grew into an increasingly popular blog and cycling forum site. One topic of great interest for Joe was cycling safety. The site encourages people to become involved and advocate for better infrastructure. He then set up a Twitter account to help push content out to social media sites, making it easier for others to access the content he’d collected. When his wife was expecting, he realized his legacy: to advocate for improved safety in Toronto now, thus enabling his daughter’s generation to enjoy cycling.
Joe and his wife are currently considering carrier bike options, in particular where a child can be transported on the front of the bike. They haven’t found many options but their goal is to travel to Toronto Island for picnics. At the moment, he’s considering a Nihola. A Nihola has three wheels, two of which are positioned out front. Resting atop the two wheels is a compartment.
“It’s large enough to hold two kids and a case of beer,” comments Joe playfully.
Brian, who has been very quiet until now, suddenly pipes up that he’s ridden a Nihola before.
“It’ll easily hold two kids, and you can place the case of beer on the rack below,” Brian recommends. “In fact, the two kids can each hold a case of beer in their laps!”
The boys are getting silly. Seeing that impatient look on my face, Brian casts about for something useful to offer.
“A Nihola turns on a dime,” he suggests. “It has a great turning radius.” Brian tells Joe that, even if you accidentally ride the bike into a tight corner, you can lift the front wheels and turn the bike using the back wheel. It’s a resilient design. Joe has visions of riding kids across to the Big Carrot for shopping trips.
And while Joe is doing another shoulder check on his bike, Brian adds one more mischievous comment.
“You can get a Nihola up on two wheels,” Brian says. “That is, if you like tricks.”
Joe’s eyes twinkle as he ponders this. Maybe not with the kids in it. Or the beer.