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I want to ride my bicycle

Friday, one of Canada’s major Internet providers had a country-wide outage, which affected (as in, disabled) my home service. As a result, I went to the office to work. Although they use the same provider, so things weren’t entirely normal there either, even after they routed us connectivity through our European office.

But this post isn’t about that.

Last night (Internet still out), we went out for a patio dinner at S&V Uptown, and the food was just lovely.

Me in front of plate of pickerel
(Also, I have a new dress)

But this post isn’t about that, either.

It’s about the fact that I rode a bicycle to both of these locations. As I did to a friend’s house when we there for dinner last month. As I did to Shopper’s when I had to do some errands. And just out for the heck of it Friday night (when we had no Internet, and therefore no TV).

Now, I’ve hardly become a hardcore cyclist. None of these places are particularly far. None of these trips were undertaken in especially bad weather.

But, the fact that I happily opted for the bike when the car was right there… is a change. And not one brought about by high gas prices. The key factors?

It’s an e-bike

With any electric bike, you get assisted peddling: an electric battery motor that helps you move along at your set speed as you pedal. It’s way less work—Jean (who also has one) went biking with a very fit friend who was riding a conventional bike, and thereby realized just how much help one gets from the motor.

Being less work means you end up less sweaty and can wear kind of normal clothes, even if heading somewhere that showers aren’t readily available. (I managed the dress by wearing exercise pants underneath, that I removed once at the restaurant parking lot.)

But what with the pedalling, you are still getting some exercise. Definitely more than just sitting in a car. (Per the video at the end, more than I thought.)

The type of e-bike we got

And the particular type of electrical bike we got, the Rize all-terrain fat tire bike, is very sturdy and stable. This is important for me, as on a standard skinny tire bike, I’m rather wobbly.

It’s also good on gravel, can handle bumps, mud, grass, light snow (yes, I’ve even ridden it a bit in winter!), even ice (to a certain point, anyway). I personally don’t particularly enjoy bumpy or icy trails—it’s just jarring—but the bike can handle it. Jean loves taking it out on rough trails. I do not. But I do love not having to worry about cracks, bumps, or soft patches on the way.

Waterloo has pretty good bike infrastructure

Years ago, when we did make a little effort with standard bikes, I absolutely hated driving on busy city streets. The cars just felt too close, and fast, and it was just uncomfortable.

But over the years, the city, and the region, has done a lot of work on both bike lanes on city streets and walking / biking trails you can use to avoid the streets. And Jean is really good at finding those and mapping them out for me.

To get to the office (admittedly not far), I only have two very brief patches of bike trails on somewhat busy streets. The rest is all trail.

To get to downtown Waterloo, we have a lot of options while still staying mostly on trails and a few quieter streets. To downtown!

And although we haven’t tried this yet, the region’s Ion trains are built to accommodate bikes, given another option for travelling some distance with the bike when time is short, or weather turns, or some such. (Also not yet used but available: a hitch to attach the bikes to the back of the car.)

Bigger picture?

I got the idea for the e-bike after reading about someone who explained that their e-bike was a key component to them being able to give up their car. (Another was living in a city with decent transit.) While I wasn’t looking to give up my car, I did like the idea of having a bike for those trips where walking would take too long, but could be easily accessed by bike.

I mentioned it to Jean, who also got intrigued by the idea. After trying out a friend’s e-bike, he became genuinely enthusiastic about it. (And lucky for me, then did all the research on which one we should get.)

Since getting them, and finding that they do replace some car trips (along with just being another option for getting exercise outdoors for its own sake), I’ve been interested by articles pointing out these vehicles could be a key component to a greener future in general.

Like Forget About Electric Cars…Electric Bikes Are the Future of Urban Transportation (writing is a bit awkward, but it makes good points)

With due respect to the electric cars for what they have got to the table, electric bikes are the most interesting thing to happen concerning urban transportation. Electric cars help to reduce CO2 emissions and prevent global warming and so on but they don’t answer the question of un-ending traffic in the cities or the countless number of lost hours on the road. So, after all, the benefits of electric cars in cities have been somewhat shadowed due to those reasons.

Sithara Ariyarathna

And from CBC: E-bikes, not electric cars, may hold the key to greener transportation

Electric cars have long been viewed as the most effective way to decarbonize the transportation sector, but Macdonald believes people are waking up to the benefits of a smaller, stealthier ride. For one thing, they’re cheaper: Whereas the lowest-priced electric car is about $30,000, a new e-bike is in the $1,000-$5,000 range.

Macdonald said a typical adult rider can get a range of about 30-40 kilometres on a single charge, which makes e-bikes well-suited to the average daily commute (provided the weather is nice). If you get a slightly larger e-bike with a bit of storage, you can transport your groceries and even other people.

“It’s not that [e-bikes are] going to replace cars wholesale, but they’re going to replace trips made by cars,” said Macdonald. “A $3,500 [US] e-bike is going to allow many families to think about going from two cars to one car.”

CBC News

Waterloo Region’s various investments in active transportation have engendered a fair amount of whining from some drivers, who’ve felt it’s been a lot of money for a minority, and who don’t like their driving encumbered by reduced lane widths and such.

I never joined in the whining (at least not publicly!), but I also never thought that infrastructure was for me. I never figured I’d be strapping my laptop into a backpack, putting on a helmet, and riding to the office.

If you build it, at least some of us will come.


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Commuter challenged

Last week I attempted, for the first time, to participate in the Commuter Challenge. More people than I expected haven’t heard of this before, but the idea is that, for a week, you try to get to work by some way other than by driving yourself there. As part of the company “Green Team”, I felt I should try to participate, even though I really like the convenience of driving myself to work and back.

I don’t live far from work—Google Maps reports that it’s 3.7 km, one way. Cycling would be the most logical alternative mode of transport, likely not taking much longer than the drive in rush hour.

The problem is, I’m not much of a cyclist. I don’t feel in shape for the activity, I do not like driving on the sides of city streets, I don’t want to feel sweaty at work all day, I don’t want to feel obliged to have to bike home again if it’s raining by then.

Next up: the bus. Grand River Transit has developed a new EasyGo system that is pretty cool. You enter your start and end locations and times; it gives you the full bus route to take. Unfortunately, that also revealed a slightly absurd, 30-40 minute itinerary, with one or two transfers.

Telework was an option. While I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to work at home the whole week, I did have a laptop and a method of connecting to the work network, so that was my method for a couple of the days. For the others? I finally went with “get a ride with husband” in the morning (which he helpfully pointed out just meant that he had to drive a little farther before going to work), combined with walking back home. Which took me 40 minutes.

Happy news was that I did get my exercise in, and on days I probably otherwise would not have. The weather proved to be cooperative—didn’t get rained on, wasn’t ever excessively hot or cold. Except for the one spot with the pond Canada geese and their chicks, and the (live) groundhog I saw one day, the walk route itself was rather uninspiring, even boring. But the iPod proved a helpful tool for dealing with that.

The challenges? Well, it made doing errands pretty tricky. Cats ended up chowing down on yellowfish tuna in olive oil because I wasn’t about to cart home a bunch of can cat food from the store near the office, as I usually do. Telework Monday I drove myself to a medical appointment and back; otherwise I would have missed too much work time. Right after walk-home Tuesday I got into my car for an event in downtown. Though the bus route to there was very good, the bus options home were not. Wine bottles to return to the Beer Store near work? That didn’t happen either.

I also had to really downsize the amount of stuff I normally carry. For the most part, this just proves I normally carry way more than I need. But keeping a bag lunch at proper temperature and weight—tricky. The glass bottled water I used as an alternative to plastic? Too heavy to consider. Carrying my laptop and accessories and papers so I can work effectively at home? Not practical— hence my using the ride option as well.

So, unfortunately, I’m unlikely to stay with regular alternative commuting options. But I will work at home more often, as possible. It’s good to know that walking—and even transit—are actually possible on days the car is in for servicing, or whatever. And walking made it clear that plenty of people deal with the busy city streets by riding their bikes on the sidewalk, so though you’re not supposed to do that, it maybe makes biking an option.

It was good to try it out. If you didn’t participate this year, look out for out next time. Gas ain’t getting any cheaper…