A Biker’s Diary
I spent the summer in Montreal, and in June I bought a bike and started riding it pretty much everywhere. I love it! But when I talk about my preferred mode of transportation I get reactions ranging from “Wow you’re brave! I would never bike in Montreal,” to a rushing stream of complaints from fellow cyclists which lead to a storytelling session about the crazy things we experience during our commutes.
One strange thing that happened to me this summer: on a weekend morning at around 8 am an old lady was riding her little scooter down the bike path on Boulevard de Maisonneuve near De la Montagne. I passed her, but when I stopped for the next red light like the good citizen I am, she just zoomed by me and ran the red light without even looking both ways! Then I had to pass her again, which was a little embarrassing since she had just passed me… in her scooter.
Biking is a great way to see the city – it’s a fast, convenient and cheap way to get around. I highly recommend it, even if you’re just renting a Bixi for a day. A Bixi station is actually a great place to start, as there are handy maps outlining bike paths around the city.
Some of my favourite routes include the path along the Lachine Canal from the Atwater Market to the Old Port, Boulevard de Maisonneuve through Place des Arts and through Westmount Park, Parc Lafontaine, Chemin Côte Saint-Catherine through Outremont (though it’s quite brutal), and Parc Jeanne-Mance.
Even on a bike path, at first biking can be intimidating. If you have a driver’s license, something that might make you feel more confident is if you just ride your bike as if you were driving a car – respect the rules of the road (signs and yes, red lights too), don’t be afraid to take up the lane, check your blind spots, anticipate others’ mistakes, and try to signal as much as you can. Don’t feel like a loser for following the rules! You will greatly decrease your chances of accidents (where you are most likely the one getting hurt) and hefty traffic violation fines. If you don’t know how to drive a car, you might want to read a driving manual or take a few practice tests online. When you’re oblivious to the rules of the road you risk make it dangerous for yourself and other people too.
When I am riding my bike, I expect to be cut off by at least one car or pedestrian per day. To make myself feel better, I remind myself that I can’t change other people’s behaviour, but I can avoid injuries by a) ringing my bell or yelling a lot when it looks like people are about to walk into the bike path or are if they are just idling in the middle of it and b) watching out for cars in front of me that want to turn right or left. It’s cynical, I know, but it really has protected me so far. I also learned that busses have right of way when they’re pulling out of a bus stop, and to yield to taxi drivers at all times, because they sure don’t yield to me. Once you’ve been biking for a while, you may notice that you swear twice as much on your bike than you do normally – my personal experience follows that pattern.
Another lesson that I learned – when it rains, unless you have really expensive, new brakes, they will be functioning at around 30% of their stopping power – so I drive extra slow and just yield to everyone, especially since there’s less visibility in the rain and I am bound to get cut off more often.
Despite the complaints that I might have about other cyclists, drivers and pedestrians, I’m pretty much addicted to biking – no more hot smelly metro, no more bus lines. One of the best things about biking is the adrenaline rush you get when you’re riding really fast. Also there is, naturally, an upside to all the hills we Montreal cyclists have to put up with… after you climb one, you eventually get to go back down!