Winter cyclist profile – Geoffrey, Bike Pirate

Name / Occupation / Age
Geoffrey Bercarich/ Student / 23

What do you use your bike for?
I bike to and fro between York University and my home at Queen and Shaw.

How often do you ride?
Every chance I get I ride my bicycle.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle?
Since 2001. I started riding a Bike Share bike to and fro between home and high school.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
It’s cheap and effective. It brings speed, liberty and freedom to persons in transit. You’re not trapped in a tunnel or encased in a car’s cage.

When did you start commuting in winter and why?
Since 2001. I never saw a problem with riding in winter.

What are the biggest challenges for winter bikers in Toronto?
The disappearance of poor city street infrastructure under plowed snow, like bike lanes and much needed curbside. You must take your place as a cyclist in the lane-way, sometimes blocking the cars.

What could the City do to make winter biking better?
Plow the roads to the curb. Plow the bike trails that are not connected by roadways.

What reaction do you get from co-workers?
Same as in summer; disbelief that I ride a bike. More so in winter than summer. People at York University do not ride bikes, and I am taking environmental studies.

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle in winter?
The speed of getting through slow, bogged down cars in traffic. Every car in winter
is slower and on alert for snow and ice that can brake their car’s… paint.

Do you use a different bike for winter riding?
I constructed a special bike for winter. I constructed it from a donated frame from Bike Pirates. I built new wheels with a fixed gear for added breaking power, and used special touring tires for good traction. It’s my winter bike so I clean it every night after my daily ride.

Can you give a brief description of your route?
It’s 20 miles. I try to avoid hills as much as possible. Biking up to York I go up Caledonia, until the 401. Then I’m stumped by car traffic. I get by.

Where are your favourite places to bike in Toronto? Least favourite?
The Martin Goodman Trail. I learned to ride a bike on that stretch of pavement. It’s unfortunate that there are extra poles that are designed to catch cyclists in their ride and cripple them. I have had friends hit hard by these traffic calming instruments near the Queen/King bridge that links to the lake shore. The Martin Goodman Trail has been, and is, my least favourite and also best place to ride.

What do you like about biking in Toronto in winter? And dislike?
The feeling of a simple life. There are greater opportunities to be the only vehicle on the road during the dead of winter. It’s my dream to ride on a car-less road.

Have you ever combined transit and biking or used a bus bike rack?
No, I don’t trust bike racks. Subway travel is hard to handle with the bike.

What’s your favourite piece of winter cycling clothing?
A proper shirt is key. Wool it up over winter, it can save your life.

Any bike gadget/gear winter cyclists should not go out without?
Gloves. Some people get desperate and use cooking mitts — and they do the trick to stop wind chill. Always were tights or long underwear to help keep your knees warm and in proper rotation.

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
Bike Pirates. I got a good winter bike there. The Community Bicycle Network helps me stay informed with bike mechanics.

Favourite winter bike stories?
The winter storm before Christmas that stopped all cars in their tracks. I used their tracks as a bike plow system to do my “Holiday Shopping”.

Scary winter bike stories?
Every time you fall (you fall a lot more in winter then in summer) it’s no good, but it’s easier to fall on ice and snow then asphalt, I think.

Anything else?
Look into the Martin Goodman Trail traffic calming posts in front of the Boulevard Club (page 2, item 2) on Lakeshore. Cyclists are the only real traffic calming tool.

Make it safe for bicycles and you will calm car traffic to a safe pace.

12 comments

  1. I really like this profile, just because it’s interesting to read about “regular” people who do “regular” interesting things when it comes to public spaces. It’s a connection to the city and a feeling of community that is oft missed in urban spaces.

    I just have two other questions for Geoffrey though–if he doesn’t trust bike racks, how does he store his bike when he goes places?

    And I think a better question to “How often do you ride your bike?” would be: how often do you ride in a car or take public transportation? (You know… Just to see the contrast.)

  2. RE the Bike Pirate,

    I have cycled all my life and did not own a vehicle in Toronto until over 30 but after 30 years of cycling in Toronto and 5 near death experiences, I am not a fan of squishing or mixing bike lanes into already conjested streets. On top of that the reality is that there is simply not a demand and bike lanes only give bikers an unwaranted sense of entitlement to do stupid things that irritate drivers and hurt the cause.

    Last week I was driving home to Bloor West from my office in Mississauga and got into a traffic slowdown on Dundas West during a snow storm. The cause was a cyclist in a situation described by Geoffrey where the bike was taking up a full lane. The kicker was that the bike had an occupied child seat on the back. I and every other pissed off driver passing by considered the biker competely irresponsible.

    I also live close to Runnymede Rd. where there is a bike lane that I bike on frequently and drive beside on a regular basis and summer or winter seldom see a cyclist.

    We need to rethink the whole idea and create a system where like Amsterdam bikes and cars mix only minimally and this is where one of Geoffry’s comments is valuable.

    Why not invest in better bike corridors like transit corridors in our valley system that already have trails that could easily be upgraded and maintained to funnel bikes from the north and feed down to lakefront and easy access to downtown. The Humber and Don offer easy solutions to a system that creats new bike only infrastructure that does not multiply the hazards on our roads.

    Outside of the obvious safety considerations this idea would not involve constant battles with vehicle owners and businesses opposed to bike lanes on their streets and create a much more efficient bike only system.

    Dave McD.

  3. Why does every driver who complains about the ‘danger’ and ‘irresponsibility’ of cyclists have to be so completely unreflective? Here are some things drivers can reflect upon: maybe the cyclist rides in all weathers because he cannot afford otherwise; a car ruins cities, society, personal wealth, health, the environment and international politics; it isn’t bikes that should play nice with cars – better they just try to live – but cars that must play nice with cars; bikes take up a lane because they are legally entitles to three feet on either side (look it up!).

    Wait, I get it: to be so dangerous and irresponsibile as to drive you have to be completely unreflective.

  4. ‘Dave McD’ doesn’t realise what makes cycling safer in places like Amsterdam. I have not been, but I doubt that the infrastructure to completely separate bikes from cars exists: there could neither be bike lanes to all destinations, nor separation at all intersections.

    I did live in Japan, and what made cycling there safer were three things: a far higher proportion of adult commuter-cyclists, not having the presumption by the police that the cyclist is at fault in most collisions, and a frankly better street-level civil society than what ours has devolved to since the 1970s.

  5. >>Heather
    I think he’s referring to the bike racks on the front of buses that let you stow your bike while you ride inside.

    >>Dave McD.
    There’s no point in using anecdotal evidence to describe a lack of demand for bike lanes. And while your ideas for bike corridors has some merit, there simply aren’t enough valleys in Toronto create a usable network. Most people’s destinations are nowhere near a valley, so they’re going to have to use a road sometime.

    Cyclists and drivers have the same right to get places safely, so both groups have to be accommodated. It’s best not to think of interactions between the two as “battles.” Just think of them as opportunities to cooperate and share the roads.

  6. It is kind of a catch 22 the best thing to make the roads safer is to have more cyclists out there, but it is not safe for most at present so it appears to non cyclists like only crazies are out there, so why make it safer (better plowing bike lanes etc) if there are not enough bikers.

  7. Hi Dave McD.

    I use that Runnymede bike lane. I would suggest that one of the reasons it is not in frequent use (yes, I also rarely see other cyclists using it) is that it is a challenge for cyclists to get to. It takes some creative routefinding to use Runnymede for a ride of any length unless you happen to need to go straight south to Lake Ontario–and there aren’t too many employers along that route. This is a good example of the need to connect all the fragmented segments shown on the city’s bike map into a cohesive network.

    Something else I would like to respectfully point out: trails in the river valleys are great sometimes but they are undesirable other times. As a woman commuting through the winter in the dark at both ends of the day, my lovely spring-through-fall rides to work through the Humber trail system have to be put aside in the interest of safety. In the winter I need to ride somewhere that is ploughed and has lighting and passers-by.

  8. it’s a super-long haul by bike up to York – that’s quite a feat.
    I wonder if the Spadina subway numbers are such that it could let cyclists get on it at Dupont in rush hours…
    As for making room for bikes and transit corridors – hmm, Bloor eh? And it’s absolutely not okay to suggest that pesky/irresponsible cyclists only deserve to have facilities in ravines – there are big equity issues with that eg. women might not like cycling along in a ravine at night. Or in the day either.

  9. The idea of corridors is interesting. But placing them in the valleys is a terrible idea. Most cyclists would still have to use major streets to get to their ultimate destination points, and ravines involve hills, which on a daily basis discourage cycling, especially in slippery winter conditions. But let’s not throw out his idea of corridors. Let’s turn Yonge and Bloor streets into pedestrian zones, closed to all motorized vehicles, except local delivery trucks. Cyclists would have a centre path, like so:
    http://flickr.com/photos/dombroadley/79527363/

    The more you invest in it, the more demand you generate. Of course few are going to ride anywhere on a regular basis if it’s too dangerous or frustrating.

  10. thanks for the picture AR.
    local pics that would be fun include some of the St. George St. southbound bike lane where the city has been unable to plow out any of the parking bays so at least last night, the cars parked so far out into the bike lane one couldn’t even do white line riding, it had to be a “take the lane”.
    Is Geoffrey still doing the winter riding? as the pic seems to be less wintry than it is now. As there are nasty bits of ice lurking well away from bank/road edge
    it’s likely less safe for longer hauls unless one is quite speedy.

  11. I commute to York from Yonge and Davisville. Things are OK south of the 401, but north of it there are few “bike routes” and the pavement is markedly more deteriorated.

    The comment about adults on bikes (in Japan, Europe, etc) hits home. Until a reasonable portion of the driving population recognizes bikes as legitimate modes of transportation drivers will continue to marginalize the rights cyclists have on the road, and continue to overstate their own rights.

  12. The comment about adults on bikes (in Japan, Europe, etc) hits home. Until a reasonable portion of the driving population recognizes bikes as legitimate modes of transportation drivers will continue to marginalize the rights cyclists have on the road, and continue to overstate their own rights.

    Couldnt say it better. Quoted for truth.

    Oh and Dave McD. is a dinosaur juice addict shill.

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