I’ve just gotten back from a holiday in North America. After a short 2 day stop over in Oakland to visit old friends, I spent the rest of my holiday hanging out with my mom in Chicago and my man in Montreal. Though I am American, it’s been a long time since I lived there and I was surprised to see how cycling culture has evolved.
Stepping off the plane from Auckland, the San Francisco bay area seemed like cyclist’s paradise. The first thing that struck me was the sheer volume of people on bikes. The second was how they were dressed – they were all wearing normal clothes! No lycra or hi-viz gear in sight! In fact, some of the cyclists has pretty amazing bicycle style.
The second thing that impressed me what what people were doing on their bikes. They were riding them to work, to the supermarket, they were moving large potted plants with them, taking their dogs for exercise on them, hauling stuff in trailers with them, moving what appeared to be furniture with them. I actually saw a guy riding a bike, one hand on the handle bars and the other pulling a shopping trolley loaded with bottles and cans along-side him. My friend I was staying with told me she had seen a guy riding a bike pulling one shopping trolley with his free hand, towing another trolley behind him on the bicycle.
It’s hard for me to articulate the other thing that struck me about how people were using their bicycles, but it has to do with their attitudes. They seemed comfortable on the roads, and confident. It’s as if they were asserting their rights to the roads rather than vying for space with motorists in fear of their safety or lives. In turn, cars seemed to yield to cyclists and give them a sort of respect.
I was also impressed by the number of bikes on trains and buses.
BART even provides “bicycle priority areas” in every car for people to bring their bikes on the train.
Buses in Oakland, San Francisco and Chicago were also fitted with bike racks on the front, so you could ride to the bus stop, hop on the bus and throw your bike on the rack, get off at your destination, and hop on your fabulous bicycle!
All this, and, most importantly, nobody seemed annoyed! The other non-cycling passengers didn’t begrudge the cyclists for blocking aisles or holding up bus routes with their pesky bicycles. Fellow commuters were happy to accommodate those with bikes, prams, or giant suitcases (in my case).
Unfortunately I didn’t get to do much cycling in California or Chicago, but I did in Canada!
In Montreal the Bixi bike-sharing program has met with great success. The program kicked off the summer after I left Canada for a job in Laos, but I haven’t stopped hearing about how awesome it is. For $7 CAN a day, or $85 a season, you can borrow a bicycle from any of the city’s bajillion Bixi stations, and use it to ride anywhere in town. You return it to a station near your destination within 20 minutes free of additional charges, or longer for $1 an hour (or something close to that).
Montreal has done a lot to improve their cycling infrastructure since I lived there. They have turned some 4-lane roads into 2-lane roads with a divided bike lane, added bike parking all over the city, and implemented the Bixi program. All this has resulted in a city where nearly everyone is on a bicycle! I was amazed by the number of people riding bikes; it seemed to have tripled since I lived there. Bikes scatter the lawn in Parc Jeanne Mance, where every group of picnickers was surrounded by a little pile of bicycles!
Banjos, bikes and Epic-Mealtime inspired bacon brownies… Canadians know how to party!
Montrealers seem to have pretty awesome bike style as well, whether walking or riding.
I also spotted this awesome bike accessory:
Unfortunately, I don’t know how well it work with my ladies road bike frame, so I didn’t buy myself one. However, if you ever find yourself in Montreal, I highly reccomend popping into Fitz & Follwell Cie for some seriously sweet bikes and accessories!
I also really enjoyed the lack of helmet laws in North America. Nothing is quite as exhilarating as the feeling of the wind through your hair on your bicycle!
My time in North America was short but sweet. Although the US and Canada are far from perfect, they seem to be miles ahead of NZ as far as embracing cycling as an alternative to fossil fuelled vehicles. Let’s hope we can get things rolling towards equality for cyclists on the roads of New Zealand. The one thing I took away from my trip (besides the 5 kgs I gained) was that a life lived in fear of cars is hardly a life worth living! More cyclists on the road means more awareness.. so get on your bikes!