Author: Glenn Kubish

An injury ended my bike-riding streak. Until others picked it up for me

The front tire wasn’t a front tire as much as an oversized windshield wiper clearing snow from the glass. The transformation was rapid, and complete: Now I was pedalling down a riverbank utility road, and now I was thinking how lovely it is when the brown city gets a fresh set of linens, and now my front tire was skidding across the ice hidden beneath the snow—and now I was clearly falling.

And now, sitting propped up on an emergency room stretcher, I was signing my name to a form without lifting the pen off the page before things went black under a veil of fentanyl and propofol.

The scan shows the dislocated shoulder bone back in place (it looks like a pork chop) and the chunk of bone that fractured off.

Frickity fracture

The fall happened on March 30. I was riding back home with a friend from a meeting of Coffee Outside. For more than three years a growing group of bicycle commuters in Edmonton have met on Friday mornings in all weathers and temperatures, usually in Faraone Park by the High Level Bridge, to say hello and talk about the things we have in common—the love of riding in the city, the obstacles that test that love, and coffee. Steffen and Chris bring tea, but they are outstanding fellows, so we don’t judge. Darren has retrofitted his cargo bike into a rolling coffee machine. We call him the handlebarista. Karly has the stories and timing of a standup comic. Everybody is remarkable. I always pedal off to work after Coffee Outside grateful that I’ve fallen in with a band of beauties who ride bicycles, in part, because bicycles are so easy to stop and so easily frame conversation.  Coffee Outside is a support group. It gets in you, even to the point that it was unthinkable on March 30, the statutory Good Friday holiday, to sleep in and miss spending time together.

March 30 was also Day 278.

I had pedalled a bicycle for 278 consecutive days, a streak stretching back to the end of June last year when I had decided, for no reason other than the calendar exists, to try to ride a bike each day for 365 days in a row. Okay, there were three other reasons. First, I wanted to demonstrate that bicycle riding in Edmonton wasn’t just a May-to-September proposition. Second, for myself, I wanted to see each day as kind of non-renewable resource. Under the slowing influence of Coffee Outside or not, I was feeling the days whipping by. Whipping by like the sound of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards through the spokes in my green bike’s back wheel growing up in the northeast end alleys. So the idea, back on June 26, 2017, was to write each day a thought about bicycle riding, and to add a photo or a still from my handlebar camera.

Keeping some kind of record, yes

Of course, recording the days in graphite and paper and pixel didn’t make the days go by any slower. But there is a consolation in being able to recall a fragment of July 3 or November 26 or  February 9,  in remembering what time has torn apart. It’s like standing in front of a tombstone of my days and at least knowing I was alive and aware and grateful for specific things and people on July 3 and November 26 and February 9.

July 3: Holiday Monday. I pedalled to the Sugar Bowl to meet Spell and Fitz. I wanted to show them the downtown bike network, and to laugh. Missions accomplished. “I can pedal [the two minutes] over the High Level Bridge, but then let’s stop for a drink at Cracker Jacks!” Spell said of the new wave dance club closed for decades. 

Spell, left, and Fitz, behind, on the Edmonton network

November 26:  I stopped on the snowy footpath in Laurier Park to watch the chickadees.

Handout



February 9: “Take my bike,” Pekka said as we walked along the Moscow River. It was a happy group I was part of during the World Winter Bike Congress. We had spent a couple of hours together listening to Pecha Kuchas in a bar under the Krymsky Most. Pekka pointed. “Ride across the bridge and then look out at the view. We’ll wait here until you get back.”

Pekka shoulders bike, Moscow


I stagger at sight, Moscow


This was the streak kept alive on work commutes and weekend errands. It kept going during time away spent in hideouts from Banff to Prague. The streak maintained its unbrokenness on days with rain and sun and snow and wind and dark. But it broke for good on March 30 along with a piece of my left shoulder. And a piece of my heart. I was sad. That’s the truth. I loved the watching the notebooks fill up with fragments of days I would never be able to recall without pickling them in words and images. I loved piling up the Atoma booklets and squaring them and putting them back on the shelf. I had managed to put time in space.

I announced the end.

It’s over…

The idea to include a call to action in the Twitter post was Darren’s. He was the friend riding with me the morning of the fall. He said people would pick up the streak. Darren has a lot of good ideas. You can see one of his good ideas in the Go Pro video of my fall. His good idea was to take the less icy path down the hill and not fall.

(When I play the video back and see that shiny scene and hear myself laughing like a boy and knowing now that in exactly 16 seconds I will be in agony in the snow, I hear Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream pretty much nail it.

And ere a man hath power to say “Behold!”
The jaws of darkness do devour it up.
So quick bright things come to confusion.)

The reaction to the Breaking News post took a little more of my heart with it. Friends started sending pics of their bike rides, or, in the case of the first pic sent, of reasonable facsimiles. Stacey’s pic counts because she is moving outdoors in winter and because she has agreed to ride the bicycle network with me.

Thanks, Stacey!

After that, pics came from Lana, Kory, Janet Joy, Darren, David, Karly, Tom, Chris, Doug, Shelagh, Varina, Ben, Andy, Eric, Isla, Kent, Tyler, Eden, Carson, Robby, Kyle, Kory, Claire, Dave, another David, Theresa, Abby, Eric, Nick and tell me, please, if I have neglected a friend in the honour roll. Pics came from neigbhourhoods in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Maryland, and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. More than a few came from the Oliverbahn, the stretch of protected bicycle lane that runs like an artery through Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood.

Greetings from the Oliverbahn.

I am a very fortunate recovering bicycle crasher. After the fall, I received everything I needed when I needed it. A friend with good ideas who got me to safety, and my bike to safety, too. My wife who got me to the hospital and stayed by my side and brought me a hamburger and lobbied for more painkillers. Healthcare workers who have seen way worse but knew I hadn’t felt any worse. People who have sent me messages or books or just asked how it’s going. People who gave me Percocet.  And my friends who have stopped in their rides and in their days over the last month to keep the streak alive in a bigger way.

Sure, it’s a silly streak. But it got meaningful when it wasn’t just silly me. It got real when I watched take shape the third reason for the streak. And that was in realizing this: we fall alone, and we get back up together.

Ride across the bridge and then look out at the view, Pekka said.

We’ll wait here until you get back.

This post originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. 

Why there’s value in posting all of your little daily bike rides to Strava

The icefields parkway.

I will not forget the feeling of pedaling up Sunwapta Pass. Feeling was all there was. Pain feeling. And the feeling of being alone and in a test of will against that switchbacked ramp of asphalt and stone between Banff and Jasper, Aklberta. Out of gears now. And now just trying to keep a semblance of cadence. Passing automobiles heaved. I could hear them working from behind and then watched as they moved alongside and out of sight. Don’t look up! Look down. The vicious slope is not as obvious looking straight down. Look down, look down. So, I looked at cracks in the pavement and at wooden guardrail posts and shards of shiny glass. I watched tiny pieces of highway gravel inch backward as I pedaled ahead, knees straining, lungs stretching. Wheels turned like second hands. Eternal alpine grandeur surrounded me—and I watched gravel and glass go by. I measured my progress in bits of glass and gravel. My heart pounded. Legs turned. I breathed staccato: in-in-in-out. My Miyata 1000 kept going. The sun stared. For the climb, I had written an inspirational quote from Dylan on a recipe card and tucked it in the plastic coverlet on the handlebar pannier. But literature didn’t help. Magic did. I imagined there was a piece of rope knotted to my ribcage. The other end of the rope was at the top of the pass and someone up there was cranking a spool, slowly, gently collecting me up. I invented this mechanism out of thin air. And it worked. Because I eventually made it to beautifully level ground at the top—2,035 metres—and I felt the rope slacken. Euphoria. I had climbed a pass in the Rocky Mountains on my beloved bicycle. What looks large from a distance close up ain’t never that big!

Me and my Miyata on that trip.

That was years ago when bicycle riding still meant high adventure. Those knees are over and they’re not coming back. I still ride my bike, but my trips are more humdrum. Recently, for instance, I pedaled from our house in west Edmonton to pick up chicken and fixings at a favourite restaurant on 124 St. I put those goodnesses in a cardboard box and secured the load to my mountain bike’s back rack  before popping back home down back lanes crevassed by spring thaw. No tow rope trick. No negotiation with existence.  The round trip took 46 minutes. I covered 12.4 km. And the ride included 58 metres in elevation gain.

Legging it for chicken.

The humdrumstick ride data is from Strava. Full disclosure: I have a minor addiction to the app, even though I don’t use it in the mainstream manner. Strava, or sträva in Swedish, means strive. The app is aimed, by its own blurb account, at the full spectrum of athletes “from Olympians to weekend warriors.” Testimonials from runners and triathletes and bicycle racers get podium places on its website. The Strava app lets you get competitive any time you want, says one fan. My friends on the app are routinely laying down 100 km rides in the Calgary foothills or 60 km cross-country ski tours in the Gatineaus. Before work. These are strivers. They make great efforts, they fight, they battle, and they share their stats and personal bests and calories burned with the rest of us.


Little Pharma.

Here’s a modest proposal for the rest of us: let’s share our banal rides right back! The 1.3-km pedal to the drugstore. Put it on Strava. Call it Little Pharma. The 1.1-m trip to the grocery store for milk for coffee in the morning. Put it on Strava. Ride for Beans. The short trips to the bakery, the pub, the bookstore, the florist, the neighbourhood restaurant, the bike shop, pretzel shop, the chicken restaurant, wherever, let’s put them all on Strava, or on whatever other app records our little revolutions—those destinations between 1 km and 6 km away that are reasonable to get to on a bike, especially on the weekend.

Lana, on the importance of those little rides outside your commute.

My friend Lana from Ottawa helped me see this route to stitching our bikes into our everyday lives. Riding a bicycle to work may be the bigger win, eventually bringing protected infrastructure with it, but riding a bicycle to work can be a lot of work, especially for the first-time, two-wheeled commuter. There are obstacles. Safety in traffic, changes of clothes, storage of machine, sweating of body, matting of hair, thefting of bicycle, mild ridicule, changes in weather, and so on. Bicycle commuters who have overcome these challenges risk appearing beguiling to others who see in clear sight where the obstacles lie. It’s also valuable, Lana reminded me, to encourage folks to pedal to locations that, if they’re fortunate, still sit within a few kilometres of home.

And to remember that advice myself. It’s healthy, reasonable, sensible advice. And it takes work.

It’s work because going from zero to something is just as difficult, if not more difficult, than going from something to something-plus-one. I accept that was not the language of proper physics. 🙂 Trying again: It can be work out of proportion to the distance travelled to ride a bike the few kilometres to get a prescription or a loaf of bread or 10 pieces of chicken. Once more: it is easier to pedal the few blocks for chicken if I am already the person who pedals to work. Or, again: what looks small from a distance (riding for errands) close up is actually quite big. Or, in conclusion: driving a car is pretty easy!  The real work of riding a bicycle for the mundane stuff of life is on the pre-pedaling side of pedaling. That’s where the little lazinesses lurk. That’s where the transportation status quo calcifies into place like a Latin cliche. Naming these challenges and surmounting them is the task at hand, and foot.

The mail/wine run.

My friend Tim is a great bicycle rider. He commutes, he races. Last year he rode along gravel roads from Coleman in southern Alberta to Hinton, which was approximately 687.6 km farther than my ride to Northern Chicken. I Facebooked him this Big Pedal question:

“Compared to all your striving, what is the value of someone deciding not to take the car to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and eggs, but to ride a bike there instead?”

He replied with some poetry:

“The value comes from the same things on a short ride as long. The value is created by seeing what was not previously seen, hearing what could not otherwise be heard. Those moments may not come as often on a short ride over the same familiar roads, but they are there.”

Life being life, we all have more short rides than long ones. More groceries to get than Sunwapta Passes to climb. Choosing to make the many short trips on bicycle, or even one of them, is uphill work. It’s work worth doing–and worth telling Strava about.

This post originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. You can find him on Twitter here. 

Sometimes, the person making your city better needs to be you

Photos by Glenn Kubish.

This afternoon there is again a Yield To Bicycles sign standing in its rightful place on the Oliverbahn, the stretch of mostly protected bicycle lane that runs along 102 Ave in Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood. The sign is now dog-eared, as if to mark a page that contains a lesson worth re-reading and thinking about. The sign is again doing what it was designed for, which is to remind motorists not to turn left into the path of bicycle riders like me. This is all very remarkable.

It is remarkable that Edmonton has a mostly protected bicycle path in the neighbourhood. Last year, there was no bike lane here. Riding east on 102 Ave toward downtown was a take-your-chances proposition for bike commuters who became skilled at threading the needle between parked cars on the curb and moving cars in the lane. It’s something, too, that the asphalt is clear in winter. This is because the City sends out pickups with calcium chloride sprayers onto the bike lanes before the morning commute. The brine makes it harder for ice to stick to the road. But what is most remarkable is the very fact of the sign’s re-appearance, and the work required to get it back in place.

The Oliverbahn is my straight shot to work and back. It’s familiar.  I have gotten to know the giant elm trees along the route. I don’t live in the neighbourhood, but I recognize some of the people, the regulars, the dog walkers, especially. I say hello to the crossing guards. I watch the moms linger to watch their children in the school playground after they have said goodbye. I know where the air starts to smell like pot. Not like pot. Of pot. I know the stained glass windows of the United and Anglican churches, and I anticipate the slight rise and fall of the lane, the way it bends around the bus shelter at 122 St, and the bricks at the intersection on 121 St, I know them, too. Bicycle riders will recognize this kind of inventory taking. Riding at slow speeds without a windshield means we are allowed to experience more vividly than automobile drivers the material of the city.

For those two weeks, I didn’t stop, even though I heard a new voice every time I went by. The City should fix this, I said. The people who live here should get it fixed, I said. It should be fixed, I said. It’s a safety issue! Someone should report it to 311. I said to myself indignantly, Now why wouldn’t the automobile driver who clipped it take a minute to call it in? I even swore silently at the unknown offender. It was probably one of those giant garbage trucks, I thought. Yeah, that’s it. Those big trucks that look like armoured triceratopses. That musing triggered the song by Mark Knopfler with the line about the echoes, roars and dinosaurs. And then the sound of saxophone played my inner dialogue off the public stage as I whistled my way back to thoughts of meetings today and the need to try to get to sleep earlier tonight.



Bicycle riders know, too, when stuff is out of place. I first spotted the downed Yield To Bicycles sign two weeks ago as I pedalled by. There it was, lying on its back on the boulevard snow bed, looking a bit tired and beaten, staring straight up. It stayed like that for days. I would glance at it going by in the morning, and then again going by in the evening. Other bicycle riders must have done the same. One morning it lay there under the fresh linen of overnight snow, its frame still recognizable, but barely.

As the days passed and the sign settled in, I even got a bit creative with my rationalizations for not stopping. My selfishness could be recast as a law: A downed sign will stay at rest and a bicycle commuter in motion stays in motion at the same speed and in the same direction, to work in the morning and home in the evening, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Cute.

One snowy, foggy morning, I finally stopped, briefly. The sign was being slowly buried. I leaned over my bike and dug a gloved hand into the snow and found the sign pole. I lifted it up and shook it to get the snow off. I laid it back on top of the snowbank. Someone will see it.

I started pedalling again to work.

A few blocks later, I watched as a bicycle rider ahead on the Oliverbahn approached from the opposite direction. As bike riders do, we waved hello as we passed. It looked like Wendell, I thought. No, maybe not. I looked back, but his bike was already getting smaller in the mist. Wendell was an acquaintance for awhile, maybe, what, 30 years ago? He taught me to stand up for myself. Time flies, I thought. I resolved to Facebook him. I kept riding, but felt different, unsettled.

The next morning I did stop. Why did it feel like work to stop? I took a picture of the downed sign uploaded it to the City’s 311 app.

The next day, a traffic pylon appeared where the base of the sign had been sheared off.

The following day, the sign was back in place, newly secured in the concrete median with fresh bolts and plate.

I had been introduced to Wendell in university. We seemed to be attracted to the same small protests. The power of multinational corporations, the security of food supply, those kinds of issues. He would say intriguing things like you don’t always protest because you expect to win the day. Sometimes you put a sign in the air when you realize you would be damaged by the act of waiting for others to do so first.

This piece originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. Follow him on Twitter

Face it, riding a bike takes work. That’s one of its joys

Here’s one thing about riding a bicycle that’s worth being honest about: it takes work.

Yes, riding a bicycle is all those other oft-celebrated things, too. It’s relaxing, fun, healthy, it’s sustainable and eco-friendly, nostalgic, convenient and social. Riding a bicycle is economical and efficient and therapeutic. Pedalling a bicycle makes a connection between city and rider not possible in an automobile. Riding a bicycle is exhilarating. Riding a bicycle is freedom.

It’s also work.

The work of riding a bicycle can be hidden under the poetry of riding a bicycle. I will always remember the day a friend at work texted me, after having renewed a lagged friendship with her bike, a message that was music to my ears:

I knew immediately what Laurie meant. I felt it in my old bones. A green Mustang two-speed was my first declaration of independence growing up on the streets and alleys of northeast Edmonton. That precious bike took me out of the orbit of domestic surveillance, such as it was in the 1970s, the golden age of parental benign neglect. Still, I got to the landmarks of my childhood—Bing’s corner store near Delwood Road, the St. Francis football field, the newspaper shack on Fort Road, the hills on the far side of Yellowhead Trail—by myself, or, what was better, rolling there with a gang of my friends.

Bing’s, back in the day.

These days, my red Rockhopper is my ticket to freedom. I redeem that ticket at the end of every abstract, unsatisfying and stressful work day. By the time I have pedalled my daily commute’s 10 kilometres home, under trees and sky, across real asphalt, I invariably feel better, lighter, happier. Friends who understand neuroscience explain this is because physical activity stimulates the drip-release of brain chemicals that regulate my emotions. I am not aware of these processes as they lift my mood a notch or two, but I trust there is something like this at work.

My bike at IGA these days.

The work of bicycle riding is easier to see when I contemplate what I can see and feel from the saddle. Feet press, calves fire, quad muscles lift and fall, lungs expand—and all this just to achieve a comfortable cruising clip. Confront a rise in the road or a shard of headwind and there is more work to be done. There is still more work if any level of negotiation with lactic acid is required to keep going. There is also the work of the nerves. Less so, admittedly, now that protected bicycle lanes have materialized in cities, including Calgary and Edmonton, but, still, this work of vigilance is required in what remains an automobile landscape. And, then, the work to ignore the little aches and pains that come from using our own muscles to power the bicycles that makes us feel so…well, so…freakin’ …free.

Machine, man.

When you stop to think about it, this feeling of freedom known to bicycle riders is the result of a very curious, very human kind of work: the work with—or in—a machine. Bicycle riders may sing paeans to their automobile-free mode of transport, but they benefit from a technological partnership just the same. It is just as true to say I feel so frickin’ free on this as it is to say I feel so frickin’ free when I apply to myself a prosthetic device of tubes, gears, chain, teeth, cranks, cassette, saddle, stays, cables, rubber, rims and spokes. Granted, not in the iambic pentameter of the text message, but the list of the bicycle’s artifice, all the infrastructure it needs to help produce the freedom, is also the truth.

Beautiful out there today.

These thoughts rolled around in my head today as I pedalled my fatbike along the side streets of Edmonton, the host city of a dump of glittering snow a day ago that has now turned to slurry. It is beautiful to move by bicycle in this enchanted setting. It also takes work.


Actually, these thoughts about work and bicycle riding have been rolling around in my head since Russia. Earlier this month, I joined a small band of Canadian bicycling advocates in Moscow for Winter Bike Congress 2018. It was too much fun. The closed-streets ride along the river to Red Square with my wife and thousands of others was revolutionary joy. But all of that is another story.

Shelagh in Moscow.

The last day of the conference featured awards handed out by the Winter Bike To Work Day organizers. Winter Bike To Work Day is an annual event to get people—especially in places where bicycling is still thought to simply be a summer recreational activity—to commit to ride their bicycle to work, in winter, one day a year. There is a friendly competition on the side, as participants register on behalf of their cities and cities go head to head for bragging rights. Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, won the day with 1,393 registered riders. With 1,165 participants, Denver placed second. For the record, Edmonton finished 10th, and, with 218 winter riders who worked their way to work, was the top Canadian city.

With Torrin (left) and Anders (right) of Winter Bike To Work Day.

Today, as I navigated my way on 20-psi tires back from the grocery store, I lost some of my grip on Winter Bike To Work. I mean: what work was that little word To doing? Was it a preposition indicating location; that is, the workplace? Or was it part of an infinitive verb, to work? Are we celebrating riding a bicycle, instead of an automobile, to one’s place of employment, or is the emphasis on the labour necessary to move a machine in order to be then moved by it?
I suggest we accept both readings. The first because it’s obviously true, and the second because it keeps open a path to another reason, whether in summer or winter, to ride a bicycle. We ride to where we are going. And we also ride to how we are going. Riding a bicycle imprints on us from a young age an egalitarian truth. The I doing the work is the I enjoying the freedom. Frick.

This piece originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. Follow Glenn on Twitter.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén