My cycling buddy Malcolm and I like to think of ourselves as cautious, defensive-minded cyclists when we navigate Toronto’s streets. We often prefer travelling the lane ways rather than participate in the stop-and-start drag races on downtown roads. On the cusp of middle age, with helmets and reflective strips, we do nothing for the sexiness of cycling. We each have two bicycles: the workhorse, with basket and panniers, bells and whistles, and then the weekend wild thing – a lightweight racer meant for Keirin-style breakaway racing somewhere long, flat and quiet. After a weekend burn, we often end up enjoying a beer or three from his balcony, watching for the other types of cyclists that ride by on summer evenings. Here be some observations from the road and from Malcolm’s balcony.
The Cycle Strumpet This kind of lass wears something pretty and rides helmetless – with the wind in her hair, she might imagine she’s in the countryside amongst fields and dales, or in some 1960s French New Wave film where all it takes is a look. Maybe she thinks no harm can come to her, because she just looks so cute. Don’t get me wrong, I do love seeing these girls out and about because they brighten my day, but I’m also afraid that pretty things can break easily.
The Dandy Man The Cycle Strumpet’s male equivalent rides straight out of the back pages of Monocle magazine. Ideally, he’d rather be cycling around Berlin, or along the canals of Amsterdam with books of poetry in his basket and crumpets in his panniers. He’s looking at the birds and the sky and POW! He’s hit by a Honda Civic driven by some white B-Boys and you’ve got classic literature and English lardy baked goods all over the road.
Fixie Dicks and Fixie Chicks These urban rockets in denim cut-off shorts and cycle caps bomb about town on a tasty hand-built single-speed with laptops stored in oversized courier bags, weaving and salmoning, hopping and shouting, as though competitors in some sort of amazing race. Most are a menace to cars and other cyclists alike. Beware of some Fixies after dark, they’ll Tron you, (named after the light cycles in Tron). This happens when a rider unexpectedly overtakes you on the left, forcing you to brake before slamming into a parked car. You might also find that you get ‘drafted’, which is when some twit rides up in your slipstream like he was in a peleton and has the cheek of then ringing his/her bell.
The Lance Dentist or Architect by day and avid Lycra-clad road racer at the weekend, these men and women are predominantly over 40 and have heard that cycling is the new golf. They’ve gone out and spent the equivalent of a small African nation’s debt on all the top gear, but still aren’t sure how to take the back wheel off. All would quite gladly loose a testicle to ride with Lance Armstrong and dream that they will cycle a section of the Tour de France, one day. For now the flat run along Lakeshore to Port Credit and back on Sunday will do just fine.
The Two-Wheeled Parent What on earth would possess a parent to drag their children in a small chariot at ground level behind their bike? The law of physics means it’s always bumpy at the back, especially with Toronto’s pot-holes to contend with – it’s surprising the poor kids grow teeth. The enclosed trailer may well hide the fear and ugliness of Toronto traffic from your child’s sight, but the way some people drive it’s amazing they can even see your trailer. I prefer to strap the child into a seat on the back so everyone can see I’m carrying a live one; but even that puts the fear of god into me when I have to navigate downtown at rush hour. With speeds ranging from tortoise to lolloping dog, the two-wheeled parent can piss off other more rapid peddlers who want to pass, but of all the cyclists, this one has the least concern for fellow riders. You try carting around something that weighs like a bag of spuds, plus shopping. (Yeah, you’re right, I should probably just buy a car.)
The Meanderer This two-wheeled hominid is usually dressed in some sort of sports wear, despite lacking the physique. He freewheels at slow speed along major thoroughfares trying to catch the eye of any girl he can and occasionally utters remarks in the senseless hope that one may find him the answer to all her dreams.
The Recumbent Recumbent bikes look like a lazy-boy on wheels. The riders transmit a kind of focused serenity, much like some owners of motorized wheelchairs. Often these low riders are dressed with wing mirrors and even an orange flag raised at the back; the occupants aware that riding such a silly machine, invisible from an average car window, is more likely to get you squished. As for hills, I guess you have to get out and push.
Sidewalk Cyclist This special breed of cretin seems to think that they have the right to speed past people, young and old, without even ringing a bell in warning. Obviously nervous of traffic, some will even offer an offensive retort if you call them on their actions. Give them a ticket or make them buy a helmet and take a cycling proficiency test. That might sufficiently humiliate them enough to give up cycling all together.
The Headphonist Rather than hear the horns, or the drone and revs of traffic, this cyclist has chosen headphones over helmet with a determined lack of common sense. Some even like to sing along while they peddle, unable to hear the driver behind cussing them out, or the screech of brakes coming towards them. In a world all their own and completely unaware of what’s around them. (Full disclosure: the author is a Two-Wheeled Parent)