Cycling

Bike to Work Day, Month: Affirmation in 3 Canadian Cities

Early start on pancakes before cycling hordes fill public square at Toronto's city hall for Bike to Work morning event. 2013.

Early start on pancakes before cycling hordes fill public square at Toronto’s city hall for Bike to Work morning event. 2013.

Cycling  to work, shopping or to school, is still a minority transportation choice in North American cities.

For me, as a long-time  bike commuter for the last 22 years, Bike to Work Day or Month (depending on the city),  is not only a public event to encourage bike commuting love. This Bike to Work event, also affirms the healthy lifestyle choice for often, the lonely daily bike commuter.  Especially when I have been and continue to be, 1-4% of all employees that bike to work in all organizations where I’ve worked.

I have worked for 8 different employers in Toronto, Vancouver BC and Calgary during my bike commuting years so far. For each work location, my daily bike rides have ranged from 8 km. to 32 km. for a round trip way between home and workplace. I have trundled along by bike in all seasons and weather.

It’s been part lucky happenstance and part,  personal reminder, I make a bike stopover to participate or even better, volunteer, in a local Bike to Work event nearly annually. Well, ok. Make that at least, last 15 years out of 22 years, I’ve experienced a Bike to Work event.

Notice to encourage readers for further cycling improvement discussions in Ward 32, East York-Beaches. Area where I used to live in Toronto. Photo by J. Becker 2013.

Notice to encourage readers for further cycling improvement discussions in Ward 32, East York-Beaches. Area where I used to live in Toronto. Photo by J. Becker 2013.

Toronto- Bike to Work Mid-1900’s and 2013
For the first few  years, in Toronto when I returned to cycling, I wasn’t even aware of the event.  Toronto did have the event as far back as 1989, but I couldn’t have participated anyway.  I worked in the near hinterland of mid-town Toronto.  Away from the central downtown Toronto Bike to Work event sites.   Usually these group rides or stop points for juice, energy bar or pancakes were synchronized in early morning hours to catch passing cyclists.

It wasn’t until I had a job in downtown Toronto where I cycled 16 km. from the suburb, Scarborough to catch an hr. of morning bike commuting revelery. That’s when I did see

Bike commuters flood into downtown Nathan Phillips square for morning Bike to Work breakfast and information. City Hall, Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker

Over 1,000 bike commuters flood into downtown Nathan Phillips Square for morning Bike to Work breakfast and information. City Hall, Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker

the now defunct, Song Cycles, a locally known choir on bikes.

The choir cycled into Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall while singing cycling parodies of common songs. Here are some of the choir’s cycling ditties  –including a parody of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy but “Bicyclized” in lyrics.  We have a CD of their songs which I bought as a gift for Jack.  It appears the choir founder, Sue Zelinski moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and started up a local U.S. version of that choir.

Spin forward to 2013 where just a month ago during a visit, we cycled over to City Hall to join over 1,000 other bike commuters from across Toronto for its annual Bike to Work Day.

Some Toronto cycling councillors read declaration of cycling for transportation for the audience. Bike to Work first day. Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker. Left is Mike Layton, a councillor and son of late federal cycling political leader, Jack Layton.

Some Toronto cycling councillors read declaration of cycling for transportation for the audience. Bike to Work first day. Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker. Left is Mike Layton, a councillor and son of late federal cycling political leader, Jack Layton.

We’ve come full circle.  We returned to the city that laid the seed to our personal bike commuting  sagas.   A brilliant blue morning sky and sun beamed down on blue-T shirt clad cyclists who rode together from several different start points in Toronto.  Coffee and pancakes were served up and quickly consumed by cyclists.  There were enthusiastic podium speeches from event hosts, several local city cycling councillors and a high school troop of students with a teacher, who chose to bike to school daily.  Various cycling organizations and vendors dotted the public square for just 2 hrs. before everyone disbanded.

Vancouver, BC:  Cycling Participant and Event Feeder

Morning energy cycling information stop attracts parent with children. On rainy Bike to Work day. Spring 2010 Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong

Morning energy cycling information stop attracts parent with children. On rainy Bike to Work day. Spring 2010 Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong

Here, I’ve been both a bike commuter and a volunteer for its Bike to Work Week for different years. A few years ago Vancouver’s cycling advocacy group, The Hub (formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition), expanded to 2 Bike to Work Week events, one in June and the other in November.

The event is on, rain or sun shine. By 2009, Vancouver expanded its cycling energy pit stops for cycling information, juice and snacks to 45 (yes) different locations across Metro Vancouver into the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminister, Richmond, etc.  I have manned some energy pit stop

Manning a cycling energy and information stop by Stanley Park's popular Seawall - Seaside path overlooking Burrard Inlet. Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Manning a cycling energy and information stop by Stanley Park’s popular Seawall – Seaside path overlooking Burrard Inlet. Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by J. Chong

locations usually less than 5 km. away from home in downtown Vancouver.  Some locations served morning, pre-work cyclists while other stops served afternoon, homeward cyclists. I volunteered at pit stops, near bike routes with frequent bike commuters.

Sometimes  the ‘problem’ were non-stopping cyclists on a personal timeline before and after work.  Or cyclists that simply had to gear up to whizz up a minor road hill or avoid stopping in the rain on a red traffic light. Not every cyclist had time to celebrate Bike to Work Week/Day.

Fall Bike to Work with the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition. 2009.

Fall Bike to Work with the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition. 2009.

When a cycling energy pit stop was by Stanley Park or at a location in Kitsalano residential neighbourhood, it was easier for parents to bring along their child tucked in a bike trailer,  biking on a tandem or with  their child cycling on the wee bike.  Whether or not it was really the parent on their way to drop the child off at daycare, school or just out to beat cabin fever, it was always just refreshing to see children get their fun bike stickers, granola bar and juice. It is even better, when the fledgling cyclists drop by in steady rain.

Volunteer providing info. to bike commuter on rainy morning. Spring 2010 Bike to Work. Vancouver BC. Photo by J.Chong

Volunteer providing info. to bike commuter on rainy morning. Spring 2010 Bike to Work. Vancouver BC. Photo by J.Chong

Like most Bike to Work events, sometimes there was free basic bike safety checks and pumping up tires. Usually my bike is pronounced quite dirty if it’s subjected to an inspection.

Calgary- Bike Commuting Celebration in Need of Expansion
I’ve dropped by the main Bike to Work Day event for the past 3 years for pancakes, sausage and some chat. It has been spearheaded by a local law firm where one of the lawyers is an ardent bike commuter who partners with other parties for some funding and volunteers.

Bike to Work Day at Eau Claire Plaza. Calgary 2013. Photo by J.Chong

Bike to Work Day at Eau Claire Plaza. Calgary 2013. Photo by J.Chong

It’s done well but now Calgary’s city boundaries have expanded very rapidly with no natural barriers of large water bodies, mountains and other adjacent large cities.  Calgary is further north than Vancouver and Toronto.  Spring warmth for gardening without killing seedlings starts over a month later than the other 2 cities. But for

Still chilly early May at Bike to Work Day. Calgary 2012. Photo by J. Chong

Still chilly early May at Bike to Work Day. Calgary 2012. Photo by J. Chong

unknown reasons, Calgary’s Bike to Work Day has been within the first 2 weeks of May  –still a bit too cold to capture more wannabe cyclists.

Bike to Work participation at energy stops, is confined to downtown area. It is 1 work day, not 1 week which helps save time and energy but doesn’t kick up bike commuting

I see this cycling mother often downtown all seasons, including cycling in winter with 2 children --1 on tandem attachment and other child on her own bike. Calgary 2013.

I see this cycling mother often downtown all seasons, including cycling in winter with 2 children –1 on tandem attachment and other child on her own bike. Calgary 2013.

love or awareness. 2013 is only the second year, June has been proclaimed Bike Month for Calgary by its mayor.  While its population growth has galloped along to now over 1 million, it’s hard to know if many suburban residents en masse, have ever experienced any bike commuting event, much less a ride to work, school or even to the grocery store.

On Calgarian Margins- Car-free, Cycling Lifestyle

Handing out hamburgers over the BBQ at MEC bike fest event. Vancouver 2010.

Handing out hamburgers over the BBQ at MEC bike fest event. Vancouver 2010.

Just a few weeks before Bike to Work Day, I was featured on a corporate intranet news profile for my 30 year car-free lifestyle with cycling.  To proclaim  car-free for so long, is not something majority of Calgarians want to announce  –when our winters often dip to -25 to -30 degrees C.  Nevertheless, I received reactions from encouragement to surprise.

Bike to Work event,  is always very short in any Canadian city. Just barely a pedal crank turn in 365 days of cycle commuting love and encouragement.

Does your area have an annual bike to work event?

Bike lock up at Nathan Phillips Square before joining in for pancakes, speeches and cycling community chat. Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker

Bike lock up at Nathan Phillips Square before joining in for pancakes, speeches and cycling community chat. Toronto 2013. Photo by J. Becker

More Interesting Reading
Becker, J. Bike to Work Events: What are They For? In Third Wave Cycling Blog. May 8, 2011.

Chong J. Biking to Work- In More  Challenging and Isolated Areas.  In Third Wave Cycling Blog. May 22, 2010.

Chong, J. Children on Bikes: Cycling into the Future with Them. In Third Wave Cycling Blog. Sept. 24, 2010.

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11 thoughts on “Bike to Work Day, Month: Affirmation in 3 Canadian Cities

  1. You are amazing! Before my daughter was born I used to bike all year round. I did so until I was 5 months pregnant! I don’t bike anymore but I only use my car for distances. I walk everywhere, for groceries and supplies – it helps that I live up town.

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    • That’s great Diana that you enjoy walking. A doctor would tell one that to walk just half an hr. outdoors daily, helps keep diabetes 2 at bay. I have to say in Calgary’s frostbitten winters at -25 degrees C or colder, I feel as if I lose an extra 300 calories just to keep warm! And I walk, not bike when the roads are icy or snowy to the grocery stores, etc. I wait until our dry winter air and bright sunshine melts off the snow enough so that I can bike and have some road shoulder that’s clear for me to go there when road is narrow.

      I’m sure you walk more than I do.

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  2. Dear Jean
    It’s so good to see the Ride to Bike Week is spinning on. Many people do bicycle in the islands and some even resemble the lady with the tandem bike and child in tow. I enjoyed all the images. Hope you are having a fabulous summer so far.
    Be well and happy

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  3. I haven’t heard about the Bike to Work day in Shanghai. Worse, people take pride in driving everywhere. Owning/driving a car is considered a sign of good living. On the contrary, riding a bike is considered as “you are not doing so great!” Sad, isn’t it?
    In the late 1980s while I still lived in Beijing, bikes are the only way to commute to work for most people. I was among those who bike to work and back home. I had to say in those bitter cold winter days, it was not so fun, but other than that, I loved it!
    Now I walk as much as I can with my kids. Being 11 and 6, they are great walkers, too. When we travel, we walk to see sights. It’s great!
    Once again your passion of biking is an inspiration!

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    • I can see for many Chinese nationals in the big city, the allure of car ownership gives them the illusion of being more hip/cool and connected to the future of money, social status, etc. It is sad and many of them were healthier several decades ago.

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  4. Cool post!! I love the picture of the mom and daughter cycling together =)

    There was a bike to work week not too long ago. I’ve been working from home, so I didn’t participate…but I cheered everyone on!

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    • Yes, she’s tough. It’s actually 2 daughters. Her eldest one rides on her own bike. I’ve heard good things about Chicago’s efforts to encourage cycling for its residents.

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  5. Hey Jean. I lived in Oregon for a while, and can say that it’s the most bike-friendly place I’ve lived in the US. I also lived in Amsterdam, and I think it’s the most bike-friendly place in the world. It’s so nice to live in a community that supports cycling. Is Calgary as bike friendly as the west coast of Canada? ~James

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    • It’s going to take time for Calgary to become as bike-friendly as Vancouver BC where I lived for 8 yrs. The big prairie cities have a problem in urban sprawl, since often there’s no geographic barrier to stop their growth. I live in a cycleable, walkable neighbourhood which isn’t like that everywhere in Calgary. For the first time, Calgary will celebrate Winter Bike to Work Day/Week ….we didn’t want to sit back while Finland, Winnipeg (Manitoba), Anchorage (AK), etc. were jumping in last year! We have travelled in Oregon and enjoyed it (Portland, Eugene).

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