What’s new in step through bikes – Joe Mamma edition

Last year, I had a lot of good response to my “Buying a step through” bike blog post.  And 2014 is looking even better if you’re thinking of buying a step through bike in Ottawa.  There are now more brands and colours (always important) to choose from.


The hop-off stepthrough test.

Last week over my lunch hour, I rode to Joe Mamma on Bank Street to try their brand new Simcoe, Brooklyn and Beater bikes.

The Simcoe and Brooklyn Bike Co. bikes give you the upright feeling of a Dutch bike, but are significantly lighter (and less expensive).  As the owner of a heavy weighted Dutch bike, both of these bikes perform equally in the zippiness department.  And while they both offer the upright look, there are a few differences that will make each bike appeal to different people.

The biggest differences are: sit uppedness (technical term), shifters and components like the tires and saddles.

Introducing the Brooklyn Willow


The Basil ‘bottle’ basket matches really well.

To me, the Brooklyn Willow is closest feeling to a Dutch Omafiets (granny bike).  Your seating position is the regal upright posture and the handlebars  are very swept back so that your arms naturally rest on them without needing to stretch.


90 degree handlebars = maximum comfort

The saddle is plush and padded – great for bumpy Ottawa roads.

The shifting is done with a twist shifter.  It’s very easy, just twist the barrel up and down.

The 3-speed does not have an internal hub and that helps to keep the price down ($530).  You can also get the 7-speed internal hub version (which comes with a rear rack) for $799.  The 7-speed has the same ride quality but with a few more in-between gears should your biking take you over some hills.

You can also buy the Brooklyn Bike Co. branded wooden crates for these bikes for the artisnal advantage.



For more Simcoe-in-action, check out Cassandra’s inaugural commute on her Simcoe.

I give it a hop-over rating of 4/5.  A great city bike.


Next up, the Simcoe Signature 3-speed


If the colour of the bike doesn’t catch your attention, then the features definitely will.  Simcoe was born out of Toronto by some knowlegable bike shop owners/importers who have seen a lot of bikes pass through their doors and felt that they could design a superior city bike without the hassles and cost of importing European city bikes.

Right away, you will notice that the Simcoe comes with some flashy accessories – notably a Brooks leather saddle.  Below the saddle, you’ll find top quality Schwalbe tires.  These German tires are the bees knees in the bike world for durable long-lasting tires .  They are known to be super tough, resistant to punctures and feature a reflective strip on both sides of the tire walls to help you be seen after dark.  They are great tires.

They are also sitting in a double-walled rims, which I am told is something many other city bikes skimp on.  All in all – these make for a solidly built wheel.

The Simcoe has a full chaincover and rear rack to match the bike.  An important consideration for people (like me) who favour the matchy matchy look.

How does it ride?

It’s slightly less upright than the Brooklyn Bike.  The molded handlebar grips are comfortable, but you could always swap them out if you wanted leather grips to match the Brooks saddle.

Shifting is done with a thumb-shifter.  Some people like thumb-shifters better than barrel shifters.  They both work well, so it comes down to personal choice. If you are an overly sweaty-palmed person, the barrel shifter may be less comfortable to use.  But women don’t sweat, so let’s move on.

I’m used to having more weight on the front of my bike (I normally carry my purse in a front basket) and  I found the steering a bit jumpy.   Pop a front basket on it and a bag and I bet the twitch would disappear.

I also give it a hop-over rating of 4/5.


Finally, the Beater Bike

This is a 3-speed internal geared no-nonsense learn to fix it yourself and take it out in the winter all-around bike.  It’s built to stand all of the abuse that Ottawa weather can throw at it (including winter).

It’s the heaviest of the three bikes (about 26 pounds), but a good budget-friendly option if you’re looking for something to get around town or if you’re looking for a second “winter bike” that you don’t mind coating in road salt.

Of the three bikes, it most closely resembles the Dutch Omafiets with its curvy frame.


It comes with battery powered lights, a sturdy double kickstand and matching rear rack.  The coaster brakes will make you feel like you’re on your first bike again.  This year’s colour is “British Racing Green”.

I think it would be an excellent university student bike.    $450/4 year degree = Less than a U-Pass.

Although it doesn’t have the higher end components like the two other bikes, it delivers a comfortable ride and still gets high marks.

For being an easy-riding budget bike, I give it a hop-over rating of 4/5 too.

Really?  They’re all 4/5?

I’m not wishy washy with the marks, they’re just all good in different ways.  And none are bad options.  It just depends what  bike suits you (and your wallet) best.

Other new stuff: Accessories

While I was at the shop, I also got to see the new Basil bags.    I’ve used the Basil Shopper tote for a couple of years now both on and off the bike.  (You can read my review of it.)  They’ve improved the design by adding a safety clasp so that it is impossible for the bag to pop off your rack (again… Ottawa potholes!) or for someone to yank it off.


Basil pannier

It’s a great grocery shopping bag, since you can also clip it onto the side of your cart when shopping.
Checking out!

It’s a great “mom-tote” with space for both your stuff and small-people stuff and it’s my go-to carry-on travel bag.  I like that it has become more than “just” a bike bag.

He also has the metal “bottle” baskets that you can pop on and off your bike (seen above on the orange Brooklyn Bike).  This means it can double as your shopping basket at the grocery store or market.  Handy.

The owner, Jose, is also a pedal parent so the shop is a good place to start if you’re looking at biking with kids.  I’ll do another post about for 2014 family biking since that was pretty popular last year.  There’s lots of cool new ways to get the kids around for 2014.

For a complete list of step through bike brands for sale in Ottawa, consult my handy pocket list.

Joe Mamma is located in the Glebe at 767 Bank Street.

View Larger Map

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What does it take to be a bike-friendly business district?

One of Ottawa’s more progressive BIA’s, Wellington-West, has decided to speak up about the benefits that biking brings to their business district.  (The Wellington-West BIA covers a 2km swath of territory from the O-train tracks to Island Park Drive. It’s the biggest BIA in Ottawa.)  As a frequent shopper in the area (who happens to travel mostly by bike) it was exciting news.  I want more than anything for this experiment to be a huge success for them.

The BIA announced this week that they want to be Ontario’s first bike-friendly district after a recent presentation from Ontario by Bike.  It’s a sign they that have a willingness to try something new.   There’s no doubt, becoming a bike-friendly district is an ambitious goal, but do they have what it takes?

Fix this and you might have a complete street.

What criteria must be met to be “bike-friendly”?

Great question.  Who knows?  I couldn’t find a list on the Ontario by Bike website.  The closest checklist I could find was for “tourist attractions”.  It includes having bike parking, cycling information, water, washrooms and an ability to talk about the Ontario Bike Network and help with surveys.

What’s the modal share for Wellington-West now?

The Wellington West BIA completed a modal survey to better understand who was shopping in their area and how they arrived.  Their conclusion?  A significant amount of repeat foot and bike traffic.

Active travel (foot and bike) represented over 50% of their business, although cycling only represented 8.5% of that number.

Here were their findings in a nutshell:

  • 51% of their customers were from the K1Y postal code.  And 16% from the neighbouring postal codes.
  • Amongst the total number of walkers, 71.2% of respondents were from the K1Y postal code.
  • 53% who rode their bikes were also from the K1Y postal code.  23% came from the neighbouring postal codes.
  • Those who walked and biked came more frequently to the area than those who drove or rode the bus.
  • 70% of walkers shopped at least once a week.  62% of cyclists shopped at least once a week.  34% of drivers shopped at least once a week.

Their survey showed that the majority of customers came from the area or nearby areas and were the most regular customers.


Is Wellington-West a bike-friendly area?

It depends on your interpretation of “bike-friendly” and who you ask.

Bike parking

Currently, the Wellington-West area has:

  • A fair amount of bike parking,
  • Four bike shops (Tall Trees, Cyclelogik, Fresh Air Experience, Right Bike),
  • A bike-share system (Right Bike),
  • Some bike lanes (Scott Street, Island Park) and the Byron multi-use path,
  • Local support (Hintonburg Bike Champions),
  • AND SHARROWS on Wellington Street (the main “complete” shopping street).

This week, new banners went up on the street poles with photos of bikes and the tagline “Where we ride”.  Perhaps, it’s aspirational marketing.  If you believe it, they will come.


Is bike parking, flags and sharrows enough to be truly bike-friendly?  Let’s look at the BIAs that neighbour Wellington-West to the east and west. (Click to enlarge the image.)


Examples A, B and C all have bike parking and sharrows.  Does the bike-friendliness of Wellington-West shine through?

(A = Westboro Village, B=Wellington West, C=Chinatown)


Maybe it’s a not-so-complete street?

The use of language around their “complete street” reconstruction in their blog post and the new imagery used on their street signs seems to signal that they have reached a high level of “bikeyness”.

During the reconstruction phases of 2008 the streetscape changed, literally. But also in another way – as a community Wellington West emerged as a complete street. Encompassing something for every mode of transportation, including the car.

Their interpretation of reality and my experience definitely don’t align.

There’s no doubt that this street encompasses the needs of drivers.  It’s a two-way road with on-street parking on both sides of the roadway. For pedestrians, there’s adequate sidewalk space that is attractive.  But, there is no space for cycling.  You are expected to “take the lane” or risk getting doored.

To me, saying that the Wellington Street reconstruction has infrastructure for all modes is bikewashing.  (Read Elly Blue’s great post about bikewashing.)

If Wellington-West if truly a “complete street”, I would expect to see the cycling and walking modal shares more closely aligned since they are both easy and free.  Perhaps these numbers tell us that the street is more complete for some modes.

Good for locals = Good for tourism

Further on, there is talk of being bike friendly to appeal to tourists and stay-cationers.  Not a bad goal, but again, this attitude misses the mark of utility cycling.  Build something great that benefits your community and nearby communities (“nearbours”!) and you will, by default, also create a great cycling experience for travellers and visitors.

To learn how we can take it to the next gear, the BIA participated in a workshop pedaled by OntariobyBike, a not-for-profit group that helps business communities grow their economic base through encouraging cycling friendly tourism  – for the traveler or stay-cationer. Take a look at some of these interesting stats on cycling tourism:

  • According to the bicycle trade association there was a 14% increase in bike sales between 2008-2009
  • Charity rides, attracting over 40,000 participants raised $30 million for charities in 2012
  • In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian visitors participated in cycling activities while traveling in Ontario, averaging $317 million
  • In 2007 Ottawa had 119 km of bicycling network infrastructure today we have 161km
  • Windsor Eats Wine Trail Rides reports that they generate approximately $10,000 in local spending on each 5-6 hour sold out tour
  • Looking across the border, the USA attributes $46.9 billion annually to cycling tourism
  • Finally, Ottawa was the first city in the province of Ontario to receive the gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community Award by Share the Road Cycling Coalition

These numbers paint a broad picture of cycling.  Too broad in my opinion to be useful for the detail oriented solutions that need to be done to make this area truly bike friendly.  Charity rides and total kilometres of bike lanes don’t tell me anything about cycling conditions IN and around the Wellington-West area.

Here’s a map that shows the potential “nearbours” to the Wellington-West BIA that are within a 5km distance from either end of the district.  As you can see, it covers basically all of the central neighbourhoods.  What is missing is the safe, comfortable, and convenient cycling space (with no missing links) to bring those customers into the area.  Anyone can bike 5km.


Because maybe “bike tourism” looks a lot more like this in real life:

Taste of Wellington West - Bike parade! - New sharrows

Looking ahead

What is Wellington-West planning to do to turn their current 8.5% cycling modal share to 18.5% or 28.5%?  It’s going to take more than good attitudes and sharrows.  (Hint’: It’s the infrastructure!)

Taste of Wellington West - Bike parade!

Because there’s a whole neighbourhood (and city) waiting for your move.

For further information on why walking and biking is good for business, see:

Also (lest anyone complain that I’m only complaining!), I’ve started tapping out a follow-up post with some ideas for how to improve biking to (and in) the area.  Look for that in the next couple of weeks.

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2014: 30 Days of Biking – Can I buy it online? edition

The last two years I have tracked my cycling in Ottawa for the month of April – including all of my spending done while using my bike. This year, I’m switching my strategy. I’m in a biking funk. I’m frustrated by the slow progression of safe cycling space in Ottawa. I’m frustrated that none of the main business districts where I shop have bike lanes (and probably never will). Most BIAs are loathe to give up the car parking. Even BIAs that are getting 9 million dollar parking garages built for them. So, this year, I’m giving up on all of it.

Instead of tracking all the “local feel good” spending like I have done in previous years, this year I’m doing the opposite. When I need to buy something, I’ll try to find it online first. (The only exception will be for groceries, I can’t get around that.) Shopping online avoids all the yucky no bike lane pitfalls. And ensure less of my money stays in the community.

Sure, our main streets have a fair number of bike racks. But in order to use those facilities, you need to brave some unpleasant biking conditions. I’m tired of pretending it’s “great” to bike in the city. If you want to toodle recreationally on a river pathway, Ottawa is ok. But if you want to shop, get kids to school, dine out, get groceries or any number of useful day-to-day transactions, the Ottawa bike network has serious barriers to make it a desirable option.

I, for one, am looking forward to a Somerset sharrow-free month! A Tyndall/Parkdale-free month! A “we just like car shoppers better”-free month.

Goodbye local spending! Hello internet.

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East-West cycling solutions needed for Somerset Street West and Gladstone Avenue

Dear councillors, planning staff and BIA members

I would like to bring your attention to the biking conditions along Somerset Street West and Gladstone Avenue and their dual roles as a heavy trucking routes and bike routes.

Somerset Street West between Kitchissippi and Somerset wards is noted with sharrow markings.  The road is also an arterial street and a trucking route.

These three designations as a cycling route, arterial road and trucking route are not compatible with its role as an active transportation route.

Here is why.

Every day, I cycle with my son to Devonshire Elementary on Breezehill Avenue (Kitchissippi ward).  After I drop him off, I cycle to my office downtown using Somerset Street.  Yesterday, after crossing the aquaduct I came to a stop at a red light on Somerset at Preston.   A large garbage truck pulled up directly to my left.  I checked to see if the driver was signalling a turn.  He was.  I realized that I was in a situation much like the cyclist at Bank and Riverside who was killed by a truck that turned right.  This driver was intent on turning right and I was in the worst possible spot – yet legally exactly where I was supposed to be.  I dismounted and moved to the sidewalk as he turned right onto Preston (another city truck route).  The driver should not have turned right.  With no advanced stop line for cyclists or segregated lane, there was no infrastructure in place to prevent such a dangerous manouever.

I feel compelled to use this route since there is a bike counter in order for my ride to be counted in the city statistics.

I cycle this street every day. This is my commute to work.  I have a right to feel safe.

I am frustrated that there is no safe East-West connection that is not a truck route.

My son and I are often passed by tractor trailers on Gladstone Avenue west of Preston Street.  That part of Gladstone is not a trucking route, but has many destinations where deliveries are done by large heavy trucks and thus does not break any by-laws.   Because Gladstone narrows as you go west of Preston Street, sometimes we choose to cycle on the sidewalk if there are no pedestrians.  We have been passed far too closely by 16 wheeled trucks.  Gladstone Avenue is marked with signs as a cycling route, but has no on-street infrastructure. There is no bike counter on Gladstone Avenue to measure usage.

This is our school route.  My son and I have a right to feel safe travelling in our community.  There is no other way to get to Devonshire.

The proposed East-West bikeway on Scott Street is too far north to be of any use for our daily school run, shopping or commuting to my workplace.

I would like to see a pilot on Somerset Street or Gladstone Avenue for real bike lanes.  Not in 2030, but this year.  Please do a trial.  Test it out.  With the LRT construction happening further north in our communities, there is an urgent need for connections to downtown and all of the destinations in between.

I would also like to propose that when roadways are reconstructed that there is a dedicated percentage of the budget set aside for active transportation on-street infrastructure.  Bike racks should be considered as part of the street furniture budget and not as cycling infrastructure.  Being able to calculate the project’s cycling budget is also good for the city when announcing how much the city has spent on cycling each year.

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Resolutions – another year on two wheels

Last year, I made a series of resolutions and didn’t do so well at sticking to them.  Who does?  Let’s recap how 2013 went…

1.Be less involved.  In 2012 I went to a lot of meetings: Bronson, Laurier, Downtown Moves, Main Street, bike things, walking things etc.  And while it was nice to get out of the house, in the end, I’m not left with much to show for these investments of personal time.  Bronson is still Bronson.  Pedestrians wait too long for pushbuttons to change the lights.  Drivers speed through the neighbourhood.  For 2013, I’m only going to get involved on projects that are in my neighbourhood or nearby places that I go to frequently.   And I’ll be going in with low expectations.  The fewer meetings that I go to, the more time I can spend biking or being with friends.

How’d I do?
Failed miserably.  Went to a lot of open houses.  Sat on public advisory committees.  Was any of it worth it?  Nope.

Don’t read the comments.  And perhaps, don’t read the articles either.

You know what doesn’t have comments?  Books.  I’ll be reading more of these and less of online Letters to the Editor. Don’t like bike lanes?  Don’t use ‘em.  I’m sure the Dutch are wrong anyway with their bike modal share of 60% in Gronigen.  You can’t trust skewed statistics like that.  On that note, bike to Gatineau more.  Up hills, around bends. Possibly wearing spandex.   Do not mistakenly purchase men’s shorts like in 2012.  Ugh.  (Damn you sale rack at Sports4!)

How’d I do?

I stopped reading the comments!  Mostly.  Life got better.  I biked to Gatineau Park.  I haven’t purchased any men’s clothing by accident!  (Though my husband bought women’s socks by accident – which was a win for me!) Success achieved.


3. Bike more.   Bike farther

Go bike camping.  Do a multi-day ride.  Probably in Quebec.  I like Quebec.  They seem more akin to outdoorsy family adventures.  I think Ontario tourism, I think Marineland.  I’d also like to do the Montreal Tour de l’ile.  I like Montreal, they like bikes.  This is a good relationship. I’ve also never tried taking my bike on a VIA train before or for that matter, biking to the VIA station.  That should be um… interesting.IMG_3987

Once the LRT is built, getting to the train station should be a breeze.  Of course, biking the 3km to get there should already be a breeze.  Cynical me says that large destinations are particularly difficult to bike to on purpose so that we will use the bus.  Isn’t that right, CE Centre (EY Centre)?  Those new Park and Rides aren’t going to pay for themselves!

How’d I do?

Did it.  Biked to Montreal on a Dutch bike!  It was awesome.  Went bike camping in Quebec!  We liked it! Did not take bike on train (VIA cancelled the bike car service).

Write more.

I would like there to be more people cycling.  I would like sensible bike infrastructure to be built without having to beg for it and for biking to be treated as transportation – not a special interest activity.  Planners, who are salaried, should do the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading traffic engineers of these plans.  Some of that might happen, but it is painfully slow.  The most effective way I can think of to get more people, parents and kids biking is to write about it.  Talk it up.  I have it on good account that at least 5 people read this blog.  And of course, just be out and about doing bikey things.

How’d I do?
Blogged on and off.  Got nominated for a Canadian blogging award.  Not bad!


5. Put your money where your bike is.

Some places in the city are woefully difficult to bike to.  Or lack bike parking.  And some large shopping centres that are located by the Rideau Canal don’t seem to care about shoppers who arrive on a bike.   Nor does their business association.  (The mall owner has Cadillac in their name – I think that says it all.)   It must be very expensive to maintain such a large empty parking garage – I’m sure the $1/hour evening rates will cover it.  And if it doesn’t, that’s ok, I’m sure the extra cost can be passed onto the retail leases.  So, I’ll take my shopping dollars where the bike racks are.  Enjoy your lucrative car shoppers during the LRT construction!  When I need to buy something at Banana Republic, I can do it online.  Who needs a mall?  Not me.   In 2013, I’ll continue my Ottawa record of never having been to Trainyards.  I don’t think I’m missing much.How’d I do?

I think I went to the Rideau Centre twice – you just can’t buy jeans online.  I wrote to the mall about their bike parking.  They said it was a city issue.  Mall releases plans for new parking garage.  Circle of life continues.I went to Trainyards.  Twice.  While it is totally pedestrian unfriendly, the kids clothing store can’t be beat.  If downtown sold kid’s shoes… maybe I wouldn’t go back.  Until then…  I bow to the Trainyard overlords.IMG_2494

6. Don’t buy any more bikes this year.

This is easier said than done.  I’ve never been mountain biking… or fat biking…  or…  um radonneuring.  Make do with five bikes.  It’s a perfect number.

How’d I do? Failed.  Bought a Brompton.

7. Decide whether to get involved with the Transportation Master Plan review.

To bother or not to bother?  The target modal share for walking and biking will be based on calculations of current trends and planned infrastructure.  It’s not an aspirational number, but merely one based in mathematical probability.  How depressing.  What’s the point?  9/10 dentists and councilors think that biking is for recreational spandexing.  I think I’d rather just ride my bike back and forth over some counters.

How’d I do? Went to an open house.  Filled in a comment sheet.  It made no difference.

 8. Knit more.

I fell off the wool wagon by getting too involved in city dealings.  That was kind of a big time suck.  It’s time to queue up some projects and start stash busting.

How’d I do? Got back on the wool wagon.  Happy days.

9. Declutter.

I’ve already given away a snowsuit.  Next: playpen, strollers and toys.   Out of basement, out of mind.  Anyone need a stroller or playpen?

How’d I do? Work in progress!  Doing it!


10. Be less cynical? Impossible.

11. Quit the kettle corn and kettle chips.

I can do this.  No, I can’t.

How’d I do? Failed miserably.  Totally 100% failed.

Popcorn run

So, 2014… what are we going to do with you?

1. Do not attend another city meeting, “consultation”, open house, “information session” etc.

What a waste of my personal time for topics that already have their resolutions plotted out in advance.  No more of that.  Do not volunteer my time at meetings where others are paid to attend.  My time is valuable too.  Overall, I feel I wasted a lot of my 2013 going to these types of meetings.  No more.

2. Plan a second summer bike trip. 

There is some chatter in my parent circle of doing the Rideau Lakes tour.  I just don’t know if I’m a “tour” person.  I just don’t get a kick out of ‘big distance’ after last year’s trip.  I think I’d rather take my Brompton to Montreal for the Tour la Nuit.  Montreal!  Oui!  Kingston?  Non.

3. Go cross country skiing more

This year’s mega snowfall has gotten me out skiing and shoop shoop shooping along the river more often already.  I seem more ski trips to Mill Street in my future.  This resolution is a keeper.

4. Advocacy?  Meh.

The city is ramping up for municiple elections.  Will walking or biking be on the agenda?  Not unless you want to lose.  Given the ‘all hands on deck’ priority that the LRT construction is currently receiving, there’s not much  appetite to bolster walking or biking infrastructure in the coming year.  What we have is what we have.  As we say to the kid, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”.  Ottawa.  It is what it is.  Neither great, nor bad.  Coasting on complacency.

Being an advocate for walking and biking is mostly unfulfilling.    You’re scorned and villified by motorists on one hand… and cursed from people who want better active transportation and don’t see any concrete action on the other hand.  It is a recipe for bad times.

I’m tuning it all out.

I’ve tossed my hand into some other volunteer opportunities that seem to make a real immediate difference in people’s lives.

My biking advocacy will consist of riding my bike.  Pretty much every day.   That will have to do.

5. Shop where the bike racks are and the bike lanes are ample.

This I can guarantee.   It rules out a lot of locations… say, Sparks Street, Rideau Centre etc.  If you can’t provide a safe way to bike to your area of town (cough… Byward Market) or at a minimum decent and plentiful bike racks, I’ll just shop elsewhere.  That’s your loss.  And for whatever I can’t find, I’ll just go to the internet.

January 24 update: After a surprise kerfuffle on the old Twitter with a local business, resolve to shop only at businesses that don’t call you stupid in public.

 6. Food blogging was a lot more fun.

Cooking and growing more food in the garden is definitely on the agenda.

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Building a city ski and snowshoe culture

Last night, two neighbours and I, met at the O-train pathway and cut a cross country ski trail to the Ottawa River and east to the Mill Street Brewery.

What could be more Canadian than enjoying a great apres-ski beer only a few kilometres from home?  And more importantly… WHY ISN’T THIS A THING, OTTAWA?  In what other Canadian city could you ski as a real form of transportation?  To a pub! In theory, using the existing pathway system,  we could ski to the Market, to Westboro or heck, even the Glebe.

What would it take to make the pathway system a year-round network with skiing and snowshoeing in the winter?  Turning the pathways into a winter activity network turns otherwise ordinary (and unused in the winter months) walking and cycling paths into a really unique experience when the snow falls.  And best of all, the infrastructure is already THERE.

All it requires is some hardy Amonte-ian (or likeminded rural Ottawan) with a snowmobile to flatten a track.  It wouldn’t take much to make a winter recreational network.   People might start to realize that you don’t actually need to drive to Mooney’s Bay or Gatineau Park to have an Ottawa winter adventure.  You can be Joe Ski or Jill Snoeshow and enjoy your winter city starting from your front door.

And I bet tourists would love it.

Get on it already, hipsters

City cross country skiing has all the elements of popular hipster culture: fixies (1 speed skis with no brakes), flannel (immense opportunity for flannel wearing – although, in a purposeful and less ironic fashion), rustic atmosphere (literally, it’s off the beaten path) and the two great pathway destinations involve craft beer and artinsal bread.


Ski conditions post weekend snowpocalypse

Ski conditions yesterday were a bit tough.  With the accumulation of snow from our weekend storms, breaking the track was a hard slog.  We put the “avid skiier” in the lead for the leg-busting task of making tracks.

While there is a sense of pride from breaking fresh tracks and being part of the artisinal Hintonburg Cross County Street Ski scene, I wouldn’t mind seeing more people embracing winter culture within the city limits.

And guess what?  Edmonton is already on top of this trend.  Look at Edmonton’s concept for the “Freezeway” – it will blow.your.mind.

If you can’t beat winter, stop throwing salt at it and embrace it.

Pros of rogue cross county city skiing :

  • It’s FREE! (A ski pass in Gatineau park is $11 per person)
  • You don’t need to drive to Gatineau Park (great for car-free city dwellers or car owners who are tired of shovelling their car out of the driveway)
  • You can make a bakery or a pub your apres-ski or mid-ski destination
  • Free parking!  Wedge skis and poles into a snowbank by the door
  • DIY track making = “rustic” backcountry winter experience
  • You get to feel like an arctic explorer… within city limits
  • Hot pretzels at the Mill Street Brewery!  (Evening menu only.)


  • DIY track making (hard work in deep snow)
  • Sometimes walkers will walk over the ski tracks
  • Twinges of resentment.  Why can’t the NCC run their ski track making machine on the Ottawa side once in a while?

Did I mention the pretzels?  Mmmmm…. hot pretzels.

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I read the comments about winter biking

The last article that I read about winter biking wasn’t bad (despite what you would expect coming from the Sun). Journalists have caught on that alienating a growing group of people who are helping to reduce car congestion by choosing other modes of travel is a bad idea.  But that doesn’t stop the commenters!


Only stupid people ride a bike in the winter. They are asking to be hit by a car. They are an accident waiting to happen.


Finland and Norway have very high shares of winter cycling.  They’re well off northern countries.  Not exactly indicative of a “dumb population”.

How many car collisions are there every snow day? Or for that matter, any regular day? You should be far more concerned about other drivers and about driving on the Queensway.

On my commute today, two drivers ran a red light in a school zone with a crossing guard.  A lady in a BMW drove by with both hands off the steering wheel as she did her make-up.  And last night, four driver’s ignored the one way signs on Arlington.

Newsflash: people on bikes are really really really not the most dangerous road users.  We’re really not looking for trouble.  Cities choose how pleasant they want to make winter cycling.  In northern Europe, they make it an easy choice.  In Ottawa, we mostly ignore the potential for full-year cycling.  With inaction, poor infrastructure and low take-up, it’s easy to point the freak finger in our direction.


Second myth: Bikes don’t belong on the road
Many commenters ask for new rules to restrict bikes from using the roads from November – May. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to restrict drivers who don’t use snow tires from driving during the winter months? Or ban drivers who text?

My biking speed is slow and steady.

Other cities with climates similar to Ottawa have high winter biking modal shares (see link above!). With safe places to bike, it’s easy to overcome the weather. If you don’t like having “slow bikes” in front of you, perhaps consider supporting efforts to fund a winter-netowrk of cleared pathway routes.


Third myth: It’s dangerous.

Some days, I’ll admit it doesn’t look “easy”… until you actually try it. On days where salt melts freshly fallen snow into a slopfest, the road looks bad from a distance. But, in reality, riding through wet slop is no different than riding through a muddy puddle. Wet is wet. But it is not dangerous.

And most won’t notice that your bike has studded tires. If you walk, you’ll hear it. The tickety tickety noise of studded wheels rolling along. Just because you can’t see them from the driver’s seat, doesn’t mean that cyclists are rolling dangerpods.

When I first got studded tires, I rode along an ice-filled pathway without any problems. I saw people walking fall down. They really do work.  For realsies.


On a cleared city street, a cyclist is no more likely to fall over than any other time of the year. We don’t “spin out”.

Here’s a photo from an ice storm last year – the city plows had salted the roadway making them wet and easily bikeable. The sidewalk, on the other hand, was a slip n’ slide. (You can see the blurred bike in the photo below.)


You see, when the roads are clear for driving, they also make perfectly good surfaces for biking. With most downtown roads cleared to the “bare pavement” level, winter biking simply means dressing for an outdoor commute. Much like walking. But better. And faster!

But the city could do a better job clearning bike lanes. It would make sharing the roadspace easier.  Gosh, it’s nice to bike on Laurier.

Rink of Dreams ride

Most days (with the exceptions of heavy snowstorms), biking is just easier than walking. Even when sidewalks are cleared, the driveway dips become icy, the slush piles up into mini Crunk Lakes at each intersection and already narrow sidewalks become narrower. Road users get better winter treatment. And engineers can’t seem to engineer away curbside rivers that invite drivers to splash sidewalk steppers.

Like on newly rebuilt Preston Street…
River Preston

Or older streets like Maclaren…
Lac MacLaren

It’s an engineering decision to slant the road towards the sidewalk for maximum pedestrian slushing…

And speeding makes it worse…  you can see the arc of slush has covered the sidewalk to the fence on Gladstone.
The splash.

Winter biking is about as freakish as cross country skiing. 

The faces of winter biking are changing.  We’ve used a trailer, our bakfiets and now our long-tails to continue riding and doing the school and daycare runs.  I may not see many parents winter biking, but…
Winter bike outfits

I am certainly seeing more women this year…

Biking canaries

Despite what people may be saying in the comments, people are still getting on with winter biking.  And it sure beats sharing a standing room only bus with a sniffly civil servant sneezing on your coffee mug.


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Biking in a snowstorm

It snowed more than we expected this morning.  We ate our breakfast at the kitchen table overlooking the street.  We noticed that the snow was coming down quite hard and no plows were going by.  We’re on a collector road that usually receives tiptop snow clearning, but not today.  The weather forecast called for rain at noon – and you could tell that the city decided that it wasn’t worthwhile to plow if things were going to get melty.

Let's do this Laurier Bike Lane

Instead, the road turned into a slopfest, the sidewalks left for feet to tromple their routes to school and work.

And while the wheel troughs left by cars would be easy enough to bike in, I knew that no one would take kindly to being stuck behind a bike on a Monday in the snow.  We saw other cyclists doing it.  But I didn’t feel like being angry at the inevitable honks that would follow.

No through traffic from Laurier to "Upper" Cambridge now

So we walked to school.  And I walked the bike downtown until I hit Laurier and Bronson.  The bike lane hadn’t been plowed, but the fresh snow hadn’t turned to slop like on the road and it was easy to bike through.  My wheels cut right through the light powder and glided quietly from stop light to stop light.  (Yes, the dreaded “red wave”.)  It didn’t matter, I wasn’t pushing the darned bike and that was good enough.

I decided to ‘bike squat’ at an underground lot – to avoid any freezing rain that might fall throughout the day.

Underground parking... a good place to hide the bike from the freezing rain in the forecast

I’m always surprised when I pull into the bike lot. I’m never the first to arrive. I’m never the lone wolf on a snowy day. Sometimes winter bike culture needs to park underground.

You know what is also surprising? My husband who hails from Australia is winter biking this year. Today he biked downtown to do some banking and meet me for lunch.

You think you can't winter bike?

And guess what? It never rained.

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Places I’ve parked my bike: Winter 2013/14

As the winter continues, I’ll keep adding to this post to document bike parking during the 2013/14 Ottawa winter.  The good, the bad, and the unplowed.

1. McNabb Community Centre (Nov.30)

Bike rack moved over a curb, into a corner, next to a garbage can and in the middle of a pile of peanut shells.

McNabb... peanut parking

Then it got worse in 2014… (January 14)

So, we had to improvise… the lot is wonderfully maintained for drivers arriving at the rink. We asked staff to rescue the bike rack out of the snowbank.



2. No parking pole on Laurier near Kent (Nov.29).  I have claimed this pole for my daily commute.



3. Devonshire School (Nov.28)



4. Tommy and Lefebvre – McLeod St. (Nov.30)



5. Post on Third Avenue in the Glebe (Nov.30)

Panniers full of gifts and groceries.


6. Skis and bikes at Art-is-in (Dec.1)


7. Shopping in the Glebe (Dec.28)

8. Across from the Manx on a street pole (Dec. 11)

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