Riding Bicycles

I’ve ridden bicycles since I was young. I can’t remember exactly when I learnt to ride, but it was on Canadian Forces Base Shearwater.

The nice thing about growing up as a child on military bases is that the living quarters were governed by the Government Property Traffic Regulations. These regulations capped the speed limit in the living quarters to 20km/h. Automobiles also had to yield the right of way to any pedestrian on the streets. So riding bicycles on base was a very safe thing to do.

We also had yearly bicycle rodeos put on by the military police. Every kid that rode a bicycle on base was expected to take part.

And almost every kid on base rode their bicycles to school. Hampton Grey on Shearwater had a large rack. Guthrie School on CFB Namao had a large rack. And Major General Griesbach School had a large rack. CFB Downsview was the only base that I lived on that didn’t have schools on the base for the military children. We had to go to school in the local public schools. This meant crossing some very major streets like Keele St., Sheppard Ave., Wilson Ave.. No parent and no school board in their right mind would allow a child to ride to school in those conditions.

The first time I ever rode a bicycle in the civilian world was when my father was stationed at Canadian Forces Base Summerside in PEI. We didn’t live on the base, we lived in the city in housing that was on long term lease to the Department of National Defence. Military rules applied to the housing, but not to the streets. So things were a lot more dangerous but the City of Summerside was very small. There were still a lot of quiet streets and farm roads to ride on. There was also the cemetery that I could ride around in.

I was hospitalized in my first ever bicycle accident. But that wasn’t due to cars. Someone stuck a stick in my front wheel as I rode by.

When we moved to Canadian Forces Base Namao, it was safe to ride on the streets again as we lived on the base. Even when we moved to Canadian Forces Base Griesbach, we lived on base so it was safe to ride around on base. CFB Griesbach was located within the city of Edmonton, and Edmonton is very much a city in love with the automobile. Being a pedestrian or a bicycle rider in that city is very much having a death wish. It was very seldom that I rode a bicycle in the city of Edmonton.

When we moved to CFB Downsview in Metro Toronto, bicycles were my freedom. I could bicycle downtown whenever I wanted. Yes, Toronto had a good bus service, but bugging Richard for bus fare to go anywhere was like trying to wring blood from a stone. In all of the years that I was eligible for a student bus pass, Richard never got me one. And it was just better not to ask for money as you’d get a lecture of oh just how much money you were costing him and why didn’t I call my mother for money.

I would say that most of my bicycles came from scrap. Posting season on base, which typically lasted from late June to early September meant that old bicycles were often left curb side for trash, or were dumped at the large dumpster usually by the arena or the Canex. On Downsview the dumpster was over by the base auto club. Most of the bikes were in decent condition and required very little in the way of parts or repairs to fix.

I can’t really offer any explanation as to why bicycles were thrown away so frequently on military bases other than parents would promise to buy a new bicycle for their children at the new base as a means of getting the children to be more tolerant of the posting. A bribe if you will.

And no, none of these bicycles were really of any valve. Mainly Supercycle 10 speeds or Sears brand name bikes with only a coaster brake on the rear.

Riding in Toronto traffic really wasn’t bad back in the ’80s. Either that, or I was just plain lucky. There was no such thing as putting you bicycle on the bus, or even taking your bicycle on the subway. Riding to downtown from the living quarters on base which were close to Keele St. and Wilson Ave was about a one hour ride each way.

Every now and again when I had cash, it was a treat to go to Centre Island and ride around from one end of the island to the other.

One of the first lessons that I had to learn when riding downtown was how to cross over the street car tracks. Whatever you do, you don’t want to try to cross the tracks going parallel with them. You need to cross the tracks at a slight angle so that your wheels don’t get sucked into the groove on the rail. Pissed off a couple of street car drivers before I learnt my lesson.

Also, riding a bicycle on a skating rink is doable. I rode my various bikes on the ice at Nathan Philips Square a few times.

After CFB Namao, I was a very lonely child. I didn’t have any friends to speak of. But I had bicycles. And a bicycle could take me away from home and away from Richard and his dysfunctional household.

I briefly stopped riding when I was 16. That’s the year I moved out of the house and on my own. Working full time to pay rent and buy groceries left little time to ride. Bruce and Ed both helped me get my driver’s licence. Ed took me to a notary public so that I could swear that I was living on my own and thus get my learner’s permit without needing Richard’s permission. Bruce and Ed both took turns at teaching me how to drive.

I never liked driving. I never really liked cars. Cars to me always equated with anger and drunk driving. Richard was a menace behind the wheel. Angry. Pissed off. Short temper. Would dump the clutch just to own the slow poke blocking his lane. Brake checking was a hobby of his. And this was when he wasn’t drunk. There was one immature thing that he’d always do if a slow driver “blocked” him. He’d pull around in front of the driver, slow down slightly, and drive slowly to the next intersection with the intention of making the driver behind him get a red light. As soon as the light would turn amber, Richard would then gun it through the intersection.

All told Richard totalled one car in a DUI collision, caused significant damage to another one of his cars in another DUI collision, and drove yet another car into a ditch when he was drunk. The first collision sent me to the base infirmary for stitches. The second collision caused me to get a fat lip the I told the other driver that Richard had just come from the base mess. I was in the car once in Toronto when he rear ended a Jaguar luxury car at a red light. He blamed the collision on me as I had asked him for a ride to work and he was missing an episode of Dr. Who and was in a hurry to drop me off and get back home. In June of 1990, when he took Bill Parker and I to the bar at the Sheraton Inn, he rear ended a civilian police car on Keele street as we were driving towards home on the base.

All told, I’ve only owned cars for 6 years of my 33 year driving life. I had a Plymouth Horizon from the summer of 1990 until the fall of 1992. I had one Volkswagen Rabbit for a few months in 1995. I then bought a better condition Rabbit in late 1995 and owned this until I moved back downtown Vancouver in the summer of 1999.

I’ve owned motorcycles for more years of my life than I’ve owned cars, but not by much, maybe 8 years total.

And all through the years starting when I first moved to Vancouver in February of 1992, I’ve owned bicycles. There’s just something about a bicycle that makes me feel safe. And happy. And content. Maybe because it’s the only vehicle that I don’t associate with Richard.

I can go where I want, when I want. Bicycles are very simple to repair and maintain. They need no gasoline, no oil, no expensive spare parts. It’s not that I’m poor. It’s just that I’d rather eat and travel than blow my money on keeping the oil barons and auto barons swimming in pools of money.

Bicycles don’t get stuck in traffic.

I’m a bicycle rider. I’m not a cyclist. I don’t partake in vehicular cycling.

I try very hard to stay away from the word “cyclist”. The corporate media and the automobile industry have used the word “cyclist” in a very negative sense to portray all bicycle riders of every gender, age, and ability as being “cycling elites” racing around on $10k carbon fibre bicycles. The corporate media and the automobile industry love to rile up car drivers in order to thwart bicycle lanes and bicycle infrastructure in general that would benefit bicycle riders of every age, gender, and ability as there is no way for the corporate media and the automobile industry to profit from something that doesn’t benefit them.

Vehicular cycling is a phrase that I detest with all my being. Vehicular cycling calls for a bicycle rider to pretend that they’re a car and to drive like a car would. Absolute rubbish. In many states in America they have different rules of the road for bicycles. Some states allow bicycles to treat red lights as stop signs if there is no cross traffic. Other states allow bicycles to treat stop signs as yield signs. Some states even have very strict passing laws for bicycles requiring car drivers to either cross the dotted line to pass or at the least pass with 2 to 3 metres of clearance. It’s going to take a lot of effort to change provincial laws here in Canada, but they need to be changed if there’s any hope of increasing the number of bicycle riders in our heavily populated urban centres.

My ride at the moment is an electric upright step through bicycle.

Electric because at my age my knees and hips are starting to show their age. And with electric I can go for longer distances. I can also dress up nicely for special occasions and show up not drenched in sweat.

Upright because much like my knees and hips, my neck is shot. C4-C5-C6 have advanced osteoarthritis, so no more road bikes with drop handlebars for me.

Step through because this works best with my dresses. Riding a standard “Men’s bike” while wearing a dress is awkward. Riding a “woman’s bike” wearing a dress is not much better. A step through allows my dresses or skirts to hang properly.

Shopping isn’t a problem on the bike. It has both front and rear baskets. And with what I don’t pay on insurance, gas, parking, etc. I can pay to have “heavy things” delivered.

And even though it’s electric, I do most of the pedalling. I usually tootle around in power assist 2 or 3. Power assist 5 is something I usually on use on the steep hills. The more you use the power assist, the quicker you kill the battery.

I do have a motorcycle at the moment. It’s a 650cc Suzuki Burgman. It’s a step through motorcycle. Yes, it looks like a scooter, however the engine displacement and the weight of the motorcycle means that ICBC classifies it as a motorcycle. And let’s be honest, scooters don’t do zero to sixty kilometres per hour in under 5 seconds. This motorcycle has no problem keeping up with traffic on the BC highways with the 120 km/h posted speed limits.

As much fun as it is, I still only ride it on occasion. Parking is a hassle. Motorcycles are an easy target for theft. Car drivers just keep getting worse and worse as the years go by. Collisions keep increasing each and every year. It’s just not safe being on a motorcycle on the public street. All it takes is for someone to pull a left hand turn, or a right hand turn into your path and it’s game over. Or some very serious life altering injuries to say the least. Because at 50 to 60 km/h, you might not be at fault, and you might be 100% in the right, but physics and Newton’s laws don’t give a rats ass.

On a bicycle, everything takes time. You can’t race around agitated on a bicycle like a car encourages you to do.

Everything is far more peaceful and serene on a bicycle.

You can smell everything.

You can easily observe everything.

If you see something of interest, you can just pull right on over and check it out.

Cars don’t encourage that, and neither do motorcycles.

So, I’ll more than likely be riding bicycles until the day I die.

Author: bobbiebees

I started out life as a military dependant. Got to see the country from one side to the other, at a cost. Tattoos and peircings are a hobby of mine. I'm a 4th Class Power Engineer. And I love filing ATIP requests with the Federal Government.

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