Cyclist Profile — Luis the library clerk

During Bike Week, and possibly beyond, I will feature some cyclist profiles here on the wire. These will be profiles of regular people who ride bikes in the city. There might be the odd courier or cycling advocate thrown into the mix for good measure but, by and large these will be ordinary people who just want to ride.

Cyclist Profiles are a regular feature on I Bike TO.

Name / Occupation / Age
Luis/ High-school teacher in training, Beer Store minion, Library Clerk/ 23

What do you use your bike for?
I use it for travelling to school and work, to let off some steam in the evening by the lake, and for exercise every day.

How often do you ride?
Seven days a week, all year. I think I might actually prefer riding in the winter, but nothing beats bike riding on a humid summer evening in Toronto.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle and what made you decide to do it?
I’ve been commuting by bicycle since around… grade 11. So about seven years now. To be honest, what first led me to a bicycle was my father’s refusal to show me how to drive when I turned sixteen. He wouldn’t even let me get behind the wheel while it was parked. …so I decided to go for what I thought (at the time) was the next best thing: a bicycle! I can still remember the feeling of first getting on that far too large Canadian Tire bike – the city seemed to literally shrink, and I felt like everything was accessible to me. I continue to commute by bicycle because I find it incredibly enjoyable and cheaper than transit. But mostly because it’s fun.

Can you give a brief description of your route?
For school and work, I travel for about 8 km. Rogers to Oakwood, Oakwood to Davenport, and then Davenport to any number of streets in the downtown core. When I volunteer, I travel about 20 km. Rogers to Oakwood, Oakwood to Davenport, Davenport to Bloor, Bloor to Dawes, and Dawes up to almost St.Clair. And lastly, for soccer games, it’s about 10 km. St.Clair to Jane, Jane to Eglinton, and Eglinton out to Centennial Park.

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
It’s fun! Helps me save time, money, and gives me lots of regular exercise. On even the worst days in frigid February, about five minutes into the ride I am reminded of why I could not really travel any other way.

Any advice for new riders?
Take a day on the weekend to plan out your commute and estimate the time it will take you to get where you need to go, as well as what streets feel most comfortable to you. It’s hard to get a sense of what traffic will be like until you’re actually in the thick of it on a weekday morning and evening, but it’s better than going in unprepared. Always have lights with you, just in case you’re out later than you think (cyclists without lights at night are incredibly hard to see). Also, try and ride defensively and make sure drivers can see your intentions, whether that means hand signals, or making eye contact.

Don’t forget to have fun and take your time. Get creative and find new ways home once you feel more comfortable. It might take you an extra fifteen minutes, but you’ll learn about some of the hidden neighborhoods in the city.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to get on board their bike?
You will save a considerable amount of money, be less stressed in the morning during your commute, and your health will improve. Also, people will think you are crazy or dedicated and constantly shower you with admiration. It’s good for your ego.

What do you like about biking in Toronto?
The different neighborhoods in the city make every ride unique. You always know what’s going on in the city when you ride your bike. You’re not removed from it like you are in a car, so if you can across some sort of festival, you can weave yourself into the middle of it — unlike being in a car. At night, down around King when all the traffic is gone it’s very claming to ride around in the middle of the street, especially on a warm night. It’s hard to describe the feeling in words.
And dislike?
There are so many CARS. The city keeps growing and everyone seems to keep buying a new car or two. Also, the way road work is coordinated between the city and different companies drives me crazy. Newly completed roads are seemingly uprooted a week later, and almost always in the bike lane. The police also don’t seem to be very well read in the rights of cyclists.

Where is/are your favourite place(s) to bike in Toronto?
I was born and raised in the west end of the city, but I love riding in the east end. Down by the Beaches, and Queen East especially. I am also really enjoying the lake again these days, but that’s purely for recreation.

What’s your favourite cycling street in Toronto ? Why?
College Street, I would have to say. Although in the summer it can be a bit monotonous with the long line of cyclists. Not that it’s a bad thing, though! But I can really feel the ‘cycling’ community on that street because of how many people ride, and it is pretty bike-friendly in terms of the bike lane (except when being used as a parking lane).

What’s your favourite piece of cycling kit/clothing/gadget?
I think I would have to say my balaclava. Someone always has a comment about it. But really, I’m an incrediblely large bike nerd, so anything to do with bikes enamors me. I keep all bike parts in a box, just because. Especially cogs. I am currently trying to devise a use for all these old parts and the old tires and inner tubes I have. Some kind of personal art project; maybe a father’s day gift!

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs?
None.

Favourite bike stories?
In my last year of high school my friends and I (most of which are not regular cyclists) decided to get on our bikes and ride as far west along the lake as we could. We ended up in Port Credit, which I didn’t know existed until then and gave up our quest for glory when we saw a pizza store. It just reminds me of how on a bike, you can travel with eight or nine friends together and still be able to communicate with one another and interact with everything around you.

I also remember SARStock, or whatever it was called, and biking along the closed highway. I didn’t go to the concert, but a friend and I took full advantage of a road normally closed off to us. Like a glimpse at a future with less cars!

Scary bike stories?
Three years ago I was riding west along Davenport, just past Oakwood, when a rather large SUV made a left turn in front of traffic into one of the driveways off the street. I ended up slamming straight into the passenger side of the car, cracking my helmet cleanly in the middle, but also hitting my face and elbow against the car. There was no way I could have seen the driver and his intention to turn, as my line of vision was cut out by the cars travelling beside me, and they gave no intention of slowing down for a left-turning car. I don’t remember very much after that, except having a firefighter hover over me asking if I was all right. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance (not fun). The officer that met me at the hospital had me give a urine sample (to check if I were under the influence, I think) and asked me, “So where’s this supposed helmet you were wearing?” It was under my bed. I felt like I was being accused of being careless. She informed me that the driver was charged, based on witnesses at the scene, but advised me to expect a subpoena in a few months as “drivers always contest incidents with cyclists.” That day never came.

There was also the time I catapulted myself over the handlebars of a poorly put together bike in my first year of university. A week after a kidney infection, I decided to get myself a new bike in time for spring (the previous one was stolen during my winter commute), and on the way from the store I turned only to have the handlebar completely come off the fork which sent me flying over the bars. I cut my face open pretty badly (no helmet) and still have a Harry Potter-esque scar on my head, which is especially visible when I’m doing any kind of exercise.

How could the City help you enjoy riding more?
Four things: Get rid of parking on arterial roads – all it does is slow down everyone else and put cyclists in danger on being struck by careless door openings. Put bikelanes on the side of the road where the parking ‘lane’ used to be. Make those bike lanes wider than they currently are, but not as wide as a road lane, which will allow drivers plenty of room. Aggressively educate the public, as well as the police, about what cycling entails, the rights of cyclists and be consistent in enforcing existing road laws.

How did you start biking?
My mom used to take me to ride in a laneway. No training wheels. I fell a lot. I think I started comparatively late; at 8. I wasn’t allowed to do much with it though, just ride back and forth on my street. So, not surprisingly, I stopped riding at around the age of 10.

What sort of bike do you ride?
Currently, I ride a Fuji road bike that has been re-painted black, with red tires. I got rid of the derailleurs, changed the handlebars, and put on a chain tensioner so it’s now a single speed and more fun to ride.

Helmet or no helmet?
Helmet, though I am completely cognizant of their limits, and don’t see them as a total safeguard against injury. I will occassionally ride without it, though, down by the lake.

Bikelane or no bikelane?
Bikelane, provided cars do not park in them and they are not put in the path of opening doors. One thing that concerns me about bike lanes is that they create a mentality in drivers that they are the only area in which bikes belong – as soon as a cyclist leaves the area (because of a parked car in the bikelane, for instance) they are yelled at for not staying in their lane and that they should get off the road, etc. So that part concerns me, though at the same time, in seems like the only way to protect cyclists is to segregate them somewhat. I am somewhat torn on this issue. I know I don’t want to be put in a secluded area and told I can only ride here and here. I pay for the same roads cars are on.

Anything else?
I sometimes try and count how many heads I see inside the cars beside me on the road and I am consistently surprised by the amount of four seat cars carrying a single person.

I understand the priviledge I have in living in Toronto in terms of being afforded a choice in commuting methods that others do not have (I don’t know if I’d be able to bike to school in Toronto if I lived in Stouville…) but it just seems ridiculous at times. I’m not anti-car – I try and remember Jane Jacobs’ point about how the motor vehicle was supposed to revolutionize travel in the city, where ten horse and buggies would be replaced by a motor vehicle. Instead, each buggy has been replaced by a single car, and in some cases, two or three. It isn’t responsible or sustainable. Buses have engines, and they’re great. But they also carry a huge number of people. Also, when the hell is someone going to start making some legislative noise about trucks and side guards! Also, bring back the old parking meters to save paper and give cyclists a secure place to lock their bikes. Oh, and one more thing, when locking to a street pole or a bike ring, please lock your bike with the chainring out. With the chainring in, a lot of space is taken up and it is difficult for another cyclist to lock up next to you because of that crowding.

7 comments

  1. I feel for Luis, at work people think I am a nutbar for biking all year round, but at the same time they admire my will for not giving into the auto culture. I will get a car when my joints hurt, ’till then keep on biking!

  2. I cycled 9km to work at an elementary school, living in Brampton for a year. Living in the city again (thank God), though I car pool, I often ride the 45km home.

    In the same way, people thought I was as much nuts as admirable. Fun to be the renegade. I think I have accomplished three things: my health, an example of other options to car-bound suburban youth, two other teachers now regularly commute to school by bike.

    My work is done there. Time to make the same thing happen in my new school in Port Credit!

  3. Wow – it’s always helpful to hear of how some folks are making a lot of extra effort to go a long way, and it puts a few of our little commutes in perspective.
    A lot of time in transcripts too, thanks.

  4. What an eloquent and thoughtful commentary! Hey, Luis, can I have your phone number? 😉 We can go for rides together… 🙂

  5. Riding a bike to work makes you sweaty. You can carry way more stuff like a change of clothes that won’t be wrinkled from being stuffed into a backpack, or office equipment etc. You can scoot across the city if need be on an errand. Like say from Scarboro to Brampton. You mostly have to live in the city to ride to work although some people in the burbs take a bike at the local GO station or whatever.

  6. When counting cars with single occupants, bear in mind that many of them started out their journeys with many more occupants. But after dropping of the spouse at work or at a transit stop, and dropping of the kids at their respective schools, and dropping of the baby at daycare, many cars arrive at their final destinations with only the drivers left in them.

  7. Sue > While I don’t don’t your assertion is the case *some* of the time, I don’t think it is many. Driving on highways and around town itsw easy to see that *most* cars are single occupants. Just drive on the 404 to see the ratio of people driving by themselves and how many are in HOV lanes.

    If I were to picky, Sue, I’d suggest you provide stats to back that up since experiential observations would conflict with your point.

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