Thoughts on Commuting by Bike in the Suburbs

1.  Distances in the suburbs are longer.
No matter how you slice it, 12.5 km (not including the vertical components, which are considerable) is a long way to go twice a day. When you expect everyone to get everywhere by car, or even bus, such distances are unremarkable, but on a bike it's a serious commitment

2.  Overall vertical vector matters.
However hilly the road may be, if there's an overall downhill trend going one way, and a corresponding overall uphill trend the other way, you'll notice. If you live in the Ferrel cell and your downhill-trending leg is eastward, so you have the wind at your back going downhill, and in your face coming uphill, you notice that too.

From this, I have developed what I think should be every cyclist's motto: Always live uphill from where you spend your days. The reason for this is that if your trip out in the morning is going to be downhill, it's fairly easy to choose to ride your bike. And then in the evening, when both you and your bike have to get home, you just have to suck it up and ride uphill. I have had the excellent sense to live uphill from my various school/work for the past seven years and it has served me well.

3.  Desolation is not a cyclist's friend.
Seriously. If your bike breaks down on the side of a major suburban road, ain't no one there to help you. Not that I needed help, or would have accepted had it been offered, a mis-shifted chain is a fairly easy fix, but if it had been something more major I would have been royally screwed.

4.  Other suburban cyclists are completely fucking insane.
In downtown Toronto you rarely see a car doing more than about 50 km/h; there's just too much traffic. I'd estimate roughly 30% of the downtown cyclists wear helmets. On the major street I ride along out here, although the speed limit is 60, people regularly do 70 - 90 km/h. On the way out in the morning I didn't see a lot of other cyclists, but coming home this evening I saw several, only one looked over 25 and he was also the only one other than me wearing a helmet. And a lot of these helmetless kids rode on the street.*

5.  Bikes are asshole magnets.
Apparently there's nothing like a sweaty woman on a bicycle, red-faced and grimacing, wearing incredibly unflattering gym clothes and an enormous backpack complete with waist strap to really bring out the catcalling urge in jackasses.

Okay, I don't honestly think that what I look like has anything to do with it. I think the driver/cyclist and pedestrian/cyclist dynamic just lends itself really well to that kind of jackassery. One of you is whizzing by the other at high relative speed, which adds to the anonymity, and a person on a bicycle is less maneuverable and less able to respond verbally or manually, and therefore less able to meaningfully object than a person on foot. I think a lot of this is also true of the driver/pedestrian dynamic but since we don't do a lot of walking out here in the Grey Wasteland, I haven't been catcalled in a long time. It's been nice.

6.  People in the suburbs drive while unconscious.
It's the only explanation I can think of for how someone turning right, or stopping at an intersection, or pulling out of a gas station, can completely fail to notice the bicycle that is about to be RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Seriously. Downtown drivers have this problem to, but not nearly to the same extent. If you ride in the suburbs, invest in the loudest bell you can find; you'll need it.

And those are my observations on suburban cycling. I biked 25 km today and I'm tired. I also think I could use a shower.

*I ride on the sidewalk. Not only because, as mentioned, people drive way too fast, but also because, this being the suburbs, nobody actually walks anywhere.