Cycling in Canada

Eleven years ago I was introduced to cycling in Vancouver through a friend of The Man who was an active cyclist throughout the city. Together with his then four(ish) year old son, we biked around Stanley Park. I remember it vividly, because there were so many weird things about getting on a bike that one day, at least from my Dutch perspective. First of all the price for renting a bike was outrageous. For the amount we paid we could buy two second hand bikes back home. Maybe more. Then the mandatory helmets. I’ve never worn a bike helmet, not even when learning to ride one as a kid. And apart from two halves of my front teeth (a helmet wouldn’t have saved my teeth) I survived (and so have all my friends). OK, I admit, the place I grew up in had no hills and all Dutch drivers are cyclists first, drivers second. Once we got on our highly priced crappy bikes, we had to navigate through traffic. Within a hundred meters we got ourselves into trouble and entered a road clearly not meant to host cyclists. Let’s just say our trip could have easily ended that very first day of our stay in Canada. Once in the park, with guidance of our friend, all was lovely and fine. We didn’t accept the invite to rent our bikes for a longer period though, knowing that it would be too much of risk for us foreigners.

Cycling along Stanley Park driveway
Me cycling behind our friend in Stanley Park

Fast forward to last week, when I visited Montreal for a day, I noticed cycling is a ‘thing’ in this city. I captured quite a few cyclists on camera during the few hours I walked the streets. Most notable were the two child seats I came across, one even from the Dutch brand Yepp, the same one I have on the back of my bike for my Daughter. While most cyclists looked comfortable enough it doesn’t take a specialist eye to notice the roads weren’t designed for them. I wouldn’t dare get on a bike here.

Biking in Montreal

Only a few days after I left Canada, my friend Peter, who’s unconference was the reason for me being in Canada in the first place, blogged about e-bikes. During the unconference lunch break on Friday, the group I had lunch with passed a bike parked on the side walk. I hadn’t noticed it since the shape of a bike is marked as irrelevant in my brain, but one of the others took a longer look at it. It wasn’t a regular bike, it was an e-bike! Apparently this is a ‘thing’ on Prince Edward Island. Of course, in The Netherlands e-bikes have been selling like crazy for a number of years already. In 2016 almost a third of all newly sold bikes where e-bikes. So these days I’m the slow one on bike paths, being surpassed by old people who are not even breaking a sweat.

In the context of PEI I can see the value of cycling, better than in Canadian cities. Considering drivers on the island almost always stop well in advance for pedestrians who MIGHT cross the road, they probably behave careful enough around cyclists as well. So I wasn’t surprised when Peter, the early-adopter of e-things, went shopping for one. What raised my eyebrows was his experience with bike shops and that he was pleasantly surprised finding a shop that let him go for a test ride.

With a request to leave my wallet behind as collateral (a request that gave me no pause given the aforementioned geniality), I was given a helmet, a brief tutorial about how to use the bike, and sent on my way for an open-ended test ride. This is the way that testing should happen; the “no rush” is key, especially when dealing with things that cost multi-thousands of dollars.

(From The Bicycle Shops of Halifax – Peter Rukavina)

I feel sorry for Peter to disclose this is standard service with any bike shop in my country. The last time I bought a new bike and made some test drives, they didn’t even ask for my wallet.

During aforementioned unconference there was some discussion on biking on the island. People think you can’t ride one during their long and harsh winters, therefore it doesn’t make sense in investing in the right infrastructure for cyclists. Ever since I visited Umeå, in the north of Sweden, I know this is not an excuse. Just add spikes to your tires, just as you would with your car, and you’re all set.

Umea winter 2010
Bikes parked during winter in Umeå – Anna Sircova

All in all my conclusion is that riding a bike safely in various parts in Canada is still a dream. From my Dutch perspective I seriously doubt if the places I visited ever will be able to be a dream places for cyclists. Canadian roads were designed for cars. It will take a tremendous effort to ‘un-design’ that. But it’s not just the roads that needs a redesign. It will take a generation to retrain everyone driving the road, both by car and on bike. The key to Dutch traffic is that you learn to ride your bike first, even get an exam the year before you enter secondary education. Going into secondary education usually means kids have to travel a bit further to school. They will do that by bike during rush hour without parents accompanying them. The exam checks if kids can ride safely. Only after ten years of taking part in traffic as a cyclist, you learn how to drive a car. So ten years of your own experience as a cyclist makes you a good predictor of other cyclists’ behaviour. That helps you navigate through traffic with bikes passing you left and right when driving through the city center of Amsterdam, on roads that were designed neither for cars nor bikes. I can’t see how Canadians will ever catch up on this.

By |2019-06-16T19:16:49+02:0016 juni 2019|flow|0 Comments

Communication does count

I’ve often been skeptical about my own trade: communication. A lot of emphasis is being put on marketing, advertising and sales, all of which I’m not fond of, to make an understatement. But then during my very first session during Crafting {:} a Life someone reminded me of the true value of communicating the right way.

We were talking about how to learn to ask better questions and make the person you talk to feel heard. This topic was introduced by someone who works as a vet and gives classes to students. As a vet it is important to retrieve the right information of your client and make them feel comfortable. The three things he teaches his students:

  1. Gathering information through open ended questions;
  2. Reflective listening;
  3. Empathy.

During our discussion the vet revealed insurance companies lower fees for those who attended these communication courses. Insurance companies don’t give rebates for no reason, so there must be data to support that communication skills do matter. I’m glad I was reminded of this.

By |2019-06-12T21:07:55+02:0012 juni 2019|flow|3 Comments

Crafting {:} a Blog

With so many old school bloggers in the room, discussions about blogging were imminent during Crafting {:} a Life. Some never stopped blogging, but were lonely writers for a long time, such as Peter. Others have moved their writing to the corporate silo of Facebook, and then there are people who refound their joy of blogging, such as Ton and me.

I’m glad the event created a space to not only reminisce, but also project a path forwards. Reconnecting to the lost trade of distributed conversations shared publicly, using indie web technology. The discussions even resulted in Rosie setting up a blog.

One of the things that I heard myself saying during one of the sessions was to lower your expectations for sharing online. I noticed during my own FB detox that I got so used to the social media metrics of scoring views, likes and comments, that letting go of them felt like social abandonment. Now that I’ve cleansed this from my system I’m all the more focused on the few connections that matter. I’ve stopped measuring traffic and will only know if you read this when you leave a comment (or web mention). Apparently most of the bloggers in the room did the same thing, acknowledging how much of a relief that was.

Peter never stopped writing because he wanted to document his thoughts, mainly for his son so when he grew older, he could read back about the first years of his life. So his intended audience was one. The most valuable one. If I look back on Peter’s blog, that audience of one resulted in developing a very unique style. Only Peter can write like Peter about Peter’s life. That is the reason why it’s so much fun to read his blog.

For me blogging has always been about thinking out loud, because only when I try to formulate my ideas, I actually know what I’m thinking. Often, while typing, I see fallacies in my own thoughts. There are numerous thoughts that I erased and never published, because they were not holding up once out of my head. So my audience of one is me, but I do like that my actual audience is slightly bigger. The fact that Peter comments every now and then, reveals him as my most loyal reader. And I do hope that my writing is of the authentic quality as Peter’s is.

By |2019-06-12T16:06:01+02:0012 juni 2019|flow|4 Comments

Bye Bye Canada

While I’m waiting at the gate before boarding the plane that will take me home, I’m starting to realise even more how much fun I had these past few days. And that I’m really looking forward to hug and kiss the Daughter.

Piazza del Duomo – Milano will take us home
By |2019-06-10T23:53:32+02:0010 juni 2019|deze dag|0 Comments

Leaving PEI

My days on the island have come to an end. Within an hour a plane will take me to Montreal. Crafting {:} a Life has been such an amazing event. It was inspired by the unconferences Ton and I organised and Peter, Catherine and Oliver did an excellent job to translate it to their own context.

I want to congratulate the three of them on pulling it of. They, together with all of us participants, managed to create a save space within a day so that someone dares to ask for coffee conversion therapy, because drinking it was prohibited in the community they very recently left.

I hope the three of you will see the ripples this event creates in your community, both offline and online. Connections were made that will last a lifetime. I’m glad I was part of that.

By |2019-06-09T21:01:31+02:009 juni 2019|deze dag, flow|1 Comment
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