Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

and Happy New Year. I'm about to leave for a land without internet, so this is going to be a fairly boring blog for about two weeks. In fact, work in January is going to be nuts, so I'll hardly be posting then either.

If you're looking for somewhere else to "click" - Canadian readers might like to sign a petiton which asks the Canadian Federal Government to promote cycling as a preferred means of transportation. If you're not so much into the online thing, you could wait until a paper version is ready for signing at the Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton Mountain Equipment Co-op stores through January and February. If you're in Toronto and shop at Grassroots, you can sign there in January and February as well.

There are lots of reasons why people like me and Joe and Griffin and Minus Car and SnakeBike and CleverChimp and Treadly and all the others (there are TONS - just go through the links on one of our blogs) are trying to live with as few car trips as possible.

For me, I ride because I think peak oil is inevitable, I think sprawlurbia, which is caused by cars, is hideous, I think we're well on our way to another Easter Island style catastrophe and that someone somewhere has to make a stand. Filling up with gas strikes me as putting money into the pockets of corrupt morons like this, and heck, I just really like biking.

Actually, this post pretty much says all I have to say about this issue. But a picture, or a video, is worth a thousand words.
I do everything I can to minimize my car trips, because cars cause global warming, and global warming is killing these guys. You can either say "yes" to this, or "no" to this. I vote "no".

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Napoleon in Moscow

This post has nothing to do with biking, or with the Promotion of Cycling in Canada petition which is headed towards 2500 signatures, and which you'll be able to sign with old fashioned ink at a few of the MEC Stores across the country in January and February, and at the Bloor and Danforth Grassroots Stores here in Toronto.

Instead, this is just something I found funny in my current book. I'm reading Moscow 1812 by Adam Zamoyski right now, and really enjoying it. He's a good writer and this is one of those episodes of history - of human suffering - that we here in North America in the 21st century just can't believe really happened.
WAIT - I've got a picture of the wrong Napoleon, this is the one I mean:

Actually, this isn't about Napoleon, this is actually about Francois Joseph Lefebvre, one of Napoleon's Marshalls on the Moscow campaign.

Here's the situation: Napoleon took about 450 000 soldiers into Russia without much of a plan for what to do when they got there. To his surprise the Russians didn't really want to fight, they let him go hang out in Moscow for a while, and then winter hit and the French start freezing and starving and they begin this unbelievably horrific retreat out of Moscow in late fall / early winter.
For lots of bad logistical reasons, they have no food, start throwing their guns away because they're too heavy to carry, their horses die by the thousands, and these poor bastards are reduced to eating stuff like this:
First melt some snow, of which you need a large quantity in order to produce a little water; then mix in the flour; then, in the absence of fat, put in some axle grease, and, in the absence of salt, some (gun)powder. Serve hot and eat when you are very hungry (pg 401).
Hell, these guys were doing even worse things, and cannibalism isn't even the one I'm thinking about and am too polite to describe here (think horsies).

Anyway, the French are dying like there's no tomorrow. They're walking barefoot through howling wind and snow, various Russian armies are lurking to the sides and behind them. Lots of the French are deserting and running to the Russians begging to be taken prisoner, and to stop this, to keep his troops together, Marshal Lefebvre gives his version of the classic old "morale boosting Hurrah Hurrah!" speech like the one in Henry V.
You know the one - Henry is at Agincourt and outnumbered by the French, Westmoreland laments that they don't have more men, and Henry (or rather Shakespeare) says:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

It's the speech that every war movie - from Braveheart to Lord of the Rings - tries to imitate. Anyway, this is Marshal Lefebvre's version in the snow in 1812 with his men starving to death.
"Grenadiers and Chasseurs, the cossacks are there, there, there and there," he said, gesturing to the four points of the compass. "If you do not follow me, you are f---ed. I am no ordinary general, and it is with good reason that in the army of the Moselle I was known as the Eternal Father. Grenadiers and Chasseurs, I say to you again: if you do not stay with me you are f---ed. And anyway, I don't care a f--k. You can all go and f--k yourselves." (pg.383).

And give the man credit, his unit stayed together better than most.

On a totally other topic, here's one example of why a bunch of us are vegetarians. And I'm resisting the urge to make an editorial comment, the whole story is just appalling.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a citizen for boysenberry jam fan

The cycling petition is still going strong, sign up and tell all your friends.

One of the gentlemen at Bike to the Future in Winnipeg sent me the Amsterdam Declaration which I'd actually never heard of before.

We, the participants at the World Cycle Conference VĂ©lo Mondial 2000, assembled in Amsterdam in June 2000, proclaim that people (including children) should have the right to use bicycles when they want to. We declare that the use of bicycles requires greater acceptance and promotion by all relevant organisations and governments world-wide and call for action.

Right on.

Canada - at least Toronto and Durham where I do my cycling - sucks because girls here don't bike in large groups like these girls below do in Malaysia, Amsterdam and Firenze. Maybe this fight to promote cycling will take us places we never even dreamed!

I need to pay more attention to the awesome (biking Toronto) groups in (bike Toronto) Toronto that are (take the tooker) doing really (cycling cog) great things for (tcat) cyclists, and that I haven’t (Toronto cycling committee) mentioned, mainly because (CBN) I’m a moron.

I need to open my eyes more often.

I've been doing more reading and still fail to see why raising gasoline taxes won't a) ease the transition into peak oil b) raise money that can be funneled to alternative transportation c) wean people from a dependance upon fossil fuels which is destroying the earth.
Heck, Europe, the U.K. and Japan tax gasoline at double (and more!) the levels we do in North America, and they're surviving. They have highway tolls in most of those places as well.

And here's a random one which is open for criticism - if the Highway Traffic Act (in Ontario), says that I belong on the road, and most municipal bylaws will fine me for being on the sidewalk, why don't I have the right to feel as safe on my bike on the road, as motorists do?

Doesn't the fact that many people shun cycling because they don't think it's safe, mean that the streets and highways have been built in a way that discriminates against any non-automobile traffic?

Should we be able to sue municipal and provincial governments for discriminating against us?

And finally... because the environmental news just keeps getting better, we in the west should start preparing for millions of environmental refugees to start leaving their homes because of droughts and desertification caused by climate change.

The number of people fleeing the spread of deserts or climate-change impacts such as drought and flooding is likely to hit 50 million within a decade and soar to between 135 million and 200 million by 2050, (said) Zafar Adeel, a director of the United Nations University.

Yes, Mr. Corcoran, the status quo IS working, everything will be fine. Let's not try to curb consumption or anything.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Merry Christmas, Yoko

I get Newsweek magazine amongst some others, and though they've never heard of Canada I really enjoy reading it. They have a video clip right now where they set Danish photographer Jan Grarup's photos of refugees from Darfur against John Lennon's "Merry Christmas / War is Over" song.

I don't really know anything about Darfur, although I did read the Genocide in Slow Motion article in Maclean's a week or so ago. I also just came across Sudan Watch which provides updates on events there.

It's odd - the planet is big enough that half a world away someone's life is being absolutely torn to shreds, and here at home, completely oblivious to Darfur, my main worry is if the wind is going to be against me tonight on the bike.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

You know you're a cyclist when...

The petition to promote cycling in Canada is up over 2200 names! Let's force the Feds to come out and say that they want more bike commuters on the road!

I've had a bunch of "you know you're a cyclist when..." ideas in my head for a while now, and I've finally decided to write them up. Out of curiousity though I just googled this phrase to see what's out there, and there are some good ones:
At Bicycle Trip in Santa Cruz I like - When someone asks for advice on buying a bike, you either:
a) ask, "How many thousands do you want to spend?"
b) assail them with so many questions about intended use, riding style and the like, not to mention such personal questions as pubic bone height, that you make buying a bicycle sound like rocket science and unintentionally put them off the idea.

When that same person reacts by saying, "It's only a bicycle," your jaw drops and your eyes bug out

And at some weird Polish wiki I like both these:
your first inclination upon hearing the numbers 36x24x35, is that it's a funky new triple chainring setup offered by Shimano, instead of the measurements of the hottest Playmate of the Month.

your wife says "if you buy another bike I'm going to leave you" and you think "I guess I'm going to miss her."

So, if you're bored, do a google search and you'll find lots of pages on this theme, but here are the ones that have been in my head for a while:

You know you're a cyclist when...

  • Walking out the door in normal clothes, instead of your cycling gear, is a strange, foreign experience

  • When you see a roadie going by you first check out their bike, and then their legs, to see if you could take him (or her)

  • Anything that makes you lose momentum better get ready for a few choice swear words

  • When a newbie says something like "is my butt ever sore from yesterday's ride" old memories get stirred up and your eyes mist a little bit. "Oh yeah," you think. "Some people's butt hurts from cycling - I'd forgotten all about that."

  • You've cursed headwinds so many times, in such unbelievably foul language, that you really deserve to have your mouth washed out with soap for the rest of your life

  • Your heart deflates faster than your tire when you look down and realize that you're flatting

  • You wish that more people had flagpoles on their lawns, because you need to check flags to confirm your suspicion that you're not just fat and out of shape, but rather that you're biking into the worst headwind the planet has ever seen, and even Lance himself would be tempted to dismount and walk the rest of the way home

  • You've ridden through large patches of broken glass - unable to avoid them because of traffic - wishing with every ounce of your being, that you could pound the s#*t out of the f#$&*n as$#%*e that caused the glass to be there

  • Despite the fact that you're a cycling God with cut legs and a trim physique, there have been times when you've bitten off way more than you can chew, and upon getting back into the city you have VERY HAPPILY drafted an 80 year old guy on an old creaking beater in order to make it back to your apartment

  • It's been years since you felt self conscious about standing in line at a little country bakery wearing your helmet, Oakley's, tight jersey and shorts and clickety clackety shoes

  • You've taken small bumps by momentarily moving your weight from saddle to pedals so many times that you don't even notice doing it anymore

  • You've experienced that bitter irony of cycling - when you're on the road suffering through a ride that you really had no business attempting, and every part of your body is screaming "GET US HOME RIGHT GODDAMN NOW!!!! You realize that there really is no way to get home but to just keep pedalling, "surviving" more than "cycling" your way back to your front door

So those are mine - there are probably tons I've forgot, let me know what yours are.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Large print giveth and the fine print taketh away

The petition to promote cycling in Canada is now up over 2000 signatures!

In all honesty, the video that Bike Refugee has up in this post pretty much brings a tear to my eye (at least during the parts where Dar Williams is singing.

A co-worker forwarded me this photo. I have no idea where it came from but it made me laugh.

These are the only two photos from yesterday morning's ride which are at all worth posting. This is the Danforth at around 5:45 a.m. Sometimes it's worth it to be up and on the road this early because you get these big four lane streets all to yourself. Sometimes I wait-out a red light (the ones I stop for) by doing figure eights all over the place.

This is at the intersection of Taunton Road and Stevenson in Oshawa. I'm on Taunton for about 1 km during my commute and it's a typical Durham (I refer to Durham as Mordor in my head a lot these days) nightmare - four lanes of doom. Stevenson is a quiet road that is fairly relaxing to be on. However, right at the corner they're going to put in another auto dealership. Yep. That's what Durham needs. More cars. Not only are there no bike lanes in Durham, there aren't even any bike parking posts, but they can't get car dealerships in fast enough.

I've mentioned Lester Brown's Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble before, but here's a quick thing I found interesting: in Chapter 9 Feeding 7 Billion Well Brown writes this -

One of the questions I am most often asked on a speaking tour is, “How many people can the earth support?” I answer with another question: “At what level of food consumption?” At the U.S. level of 800 kilograms per person per year for food and feed, the 2-billion-ton annual world harvest of grain would support 2.5 billion people. At the Italian level of consumption of close to 400 kilograms per year, the current harvest would support 5 billion people. At the nearly 200 kilograms of grain consumed per year by the average Indian, it would support a population of 10 billion.

I think we North Americans generally know that our diets are off the scale (when I worked in Japan, my students who had travelled to the U.S. said that they were shocked by the serving sizes presented to them in restaurants), but wow, 400 kilograms per year more than Italians? Yikes!

And finally, Thomas Homer Dixon has an article in the International Herald Tribune called The End of Ingenuity. In the big debate over whether or not peak oil is happening, and how much fossil-fuel energy actually is left to this planet, Dixon says we should stop being distracted by gasoline prices (i.e. gas prices go down, so we have lots of oil, gas prices go up, get the horses out because the party is over).
Instead, he says we should look at EROI, which is the amount of energy you have to PUT IN to something to get energy OUT of it.

For a modern coal mine, for instance, we divide the useful energy in the coal that the mine produces by the total of all the energy needed to dig the coal from the ground and prepare it for burning - including the energy in the diesel fuel that powers the jackhammers, shovels and off-road dump trucks, the energy in the electricity that runs the machines that crush and sort the coal, as well as all the energy needed to build and maintain these machines.

So the nightmare is when the EROI ratio is 1/1 - you get no more energy out of something than you put into it. From the 1970's to today, EROI has fallen from about 25/1 to 15/1. The EROI of the Alberta Oil Sands is about 4/1.

Oil is ending. But that's okay. Oil is for sissies anyway.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Everybody makes history

The Canadian petition to promote cycling is just over 1900 names! Sign up fast and tell all your friends.

I took a few photos on my ride today, but won't be able to post them until tomorrow. In the meantime I thought I'd play along with Griffin's tag game. Griffin by the way has a super-duper awesome photo up in this post.
I don't usually do these chain email things, but Dave in Winnipeg did it, so I figured I'd play as well.

P.S. Dave's blog has a great link to the Winter Challenge Series. Basically it's a fun contest where you accumulate points for how much winter biking you do. The rules are at the bottom of the page, and number seven is this:
7. Indoor spinning, weightlifting, roller riding, swimming, etc. do not count. Be a pussy, if you must, but don't expect to be rewarded for it.

Hopefully I'll remember to play and use my commuting to rack up massive points. : )

So Griffin's game, here's how she described it:
Here's how it works:
List six weird things about yourself. Strange habits, likes/dislikes, et cetera.
Pick six victims to tag likewise. Leave comments so they’ll know what’s up.
Describe how the tagging works.
I am tagging cyclingdave, John at Bike Year, Wisteria, Trista at Accedent of Hope, Tuco, Tim at Bicycles and Iceicles.

So here are my six weird things.
a) I'm probably a bit too anal about doing the dishes, and putting out the recycling etc.
b) At home, with Annalise, I like talking like Tarzan. For example if Anna takes the jar of pecans out of my hand and says I can't have any, I'd probably respond: "Why me no have pecans?"
c) For a guy who bikes as much as I do, I'm a truly hopeless bike mechanic.
d) I get up at 4:00 in the morning. It's been a few months now, and I still have trouble believing it myself.
e) If there was an award for the vegetarian who eats the least fruit and vegetables, I'd probably win. (me eat much cereal!)
f) My biking style depends on my bike. Just before I had to retire the Cannondale in favour of the new Kona (with it's full fenders), I was taking dangerous routes home and racing and purposefully annoying guys who I thought were bad drivers. Now on the Kona hybrid, I just toddle along.

For my "tags" I'm hitting Melissa, Jenny, Sascha, Marc, Darren and Mark.

Sometime soon I'm going to do some serious research and write a post about raising gas taxes. A bit of a summary of the gas tax issue is here, and over here Terence Corcoran from the National Post will tell you why raising Gas Taxes is the worst thing in the world we could possibly do.

I really don't see how raising gas taxes isn't a win-win situation though. Even if it winds up hurting the economy, can't we argue that a slow down is a good thing?

And P.S., am I crazy or is it not vaguely discriminatory for North American society to be set up so that a motorist can feel safe going from Point A to Point B, but not a cyclist (or a skateboarder or inline skater)?

Why roads for cars only?

Friday, December 01, 2006

God keep you safe, my friend

There's lots of news!
The cycling petition is over 1500 names now. Curt Harnett, the Canadian Olympic track cyclist signed (around #285), and there is "a" Mary Walsh from Newfoundland who signed (around #1405).

God knows if it's our favourite warrior princess from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, but it'd be very cool if it is. (Just in case - thanks Mary!)

The trick with this petition was in finding an MP who would present it to the House. That is now taken care of, thanks to Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow! I emailed a few different MPs and heard nothing from them, and then broke down and wrote an old-school paper letter to Ms. Chow's office, and heard back from her almost immediately, saying she'd be happy to present the petition.

There is one catch though, but it isn't really a big one. As some of us had feared, you can't hand a print-out of an online petition w/signatures to an MP - House of Commons rules require a traditional paper & ink petition w/signatures. SO I now have to do a bit more work getting that done. I'm not too worried however. You only need 25 signatures for the petition to be valid, and I know I can get tons more than that amongst the Toronto cyclists alone.
I'm starting to dream big though, and am envisioning the first few pages of the written petition to be full of the signatures of notable Canadian sports figures. Mike Barry, arguably Canada's best current pro-cyclist, has agreed to sign (I just have to mail a paper copy to him and have him sign and send it back to me). I'm also hoping to get Steve Bauer & Curt Harnett to sign the paper one, and I might even have an "in" with some other Canadian Summer Olympic athletes. As well, after reading a story in the Toronto Star yesterday about how the World Cup of Skiing is being devastated by climate change, I might be able to entice some winter athletes to sign.

So anyway, blah blah blah... the petition is going well, and despite the fact that I have to put together a written one, Ms. Chow's office has said that she will be able to acknowledge the signatures on the online version (I.E. "Mr. Speaker, I have a petition which was signed by 300 people in Toronto, and 2000 people across the country via an online version").

Hmm... and I was interviewed in the Memorial Muse a few days ago and came off a bit goofy I think. The "kind of think that possibly maybe we might..." line near the end is pretty classic. And the petition should get a big boost when Get Out There Magazine writes it up in their Jan/Feb issue.

And why the "god keep you safe" subject line? Well I got hit last night. That's not entirely accurate since I did the hitting, but never-the-less, a Diamond Taxi and I came to be on far more intimate terms than I'd have liked last night.
I was heading west on Gerrard Street in Toronto, coming close to the Carlaw intersection. Gerrard is a four lane street (which sometimes allows parking so it's actually just a two lane street). Approaching Carlaw however it is indeed a four lane street, and also at Carlaw it dips down fairly quickly. It was pouring rain last night, and dark as death, and this cab was pulled over to the extreme right of the right side lane, looking as though he was going to pick up a pedestrian. SO - I start passing him on the left and he suddenly wheels into a big U - Turn. I slowed down but I still nailed him.
I'm okay, the bike is basically okay (the rack needed to be bent back into shape), and the taxi driver was about as nice as he could be. He was kind of an elderly Indian gentleman (possibly close to being one of those infamous seniors who should really have to re-do their driver's exam) and as we parted he shook my hand and kind of blessed me with "God keep you safe, my friend."