Vancouver has been accused of having a “dull grey cycling monoculture.” Nothing could be further from the truth!
To prove my point, I thought I’d start out with a blast from the past: here’s a Vancouver cyclist in 1925, on a bike that was decorated to look like a horse (Copyright 2010 Vancouver Public Library):
Sadly, the technology of the times means we have lost the colours, but I am betting this cyclist and his bike were anything but dull and grey.
Moving to the present day, Vancouver is beginning to provide the infrastructure to ensure that cyclists are starting young – and of course, the young are all about bright colous and fun!
On Vancouver’s increasingly cyclist-friendly bike routes, very young commuters (usually with their parents) are becoming an increasingly common and cheerful sight:
And cyclists of all ages can enjoy the colorful beauty that is Vancouver, such as the awesomely lovely Stanley Park Seawall bike route. (That’s one of my daughters in the bright green sweater.)
Young cyclists can be inspired to cycle on by colorful sights such as the BikeArt that offers bike parking outside Vancouver’s ever popular Science World.
From Science World, you can bike on to enjoy some of the greatest cycling in the world, along the Seaside Bike Route.
Fun Cycling Events for All
Once Vancouver cyclists grow up, there are all kinds of cycling activities that are anything but dull and grey. Vancouver’s own cycling advocacy group HUB works to make cycling safer and fun, and is a starting point to find out about the huge number of fun events that populate the Vancouver cycling social calendar.
For example, Velopalooza exists to promote fun bike rides and events in greater Vancouver, organizes a big festival every June, and provides a year-round community calendar of bike rides and events (gotta love the idea of an organization whose mission is to promote cycling FUN!). One such event occurs every spring when Velopalooza teams up with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Society to organize the always popular Bike the Blossoms Ride. Here a cyclist with an interesting bike waits to join the ride and admire the spring cherry blossoms.
And here’s my wife Maggie (aka Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) during the Bike the Blossoms Ride, showing how beautiful and non-grey the ride is (my wife is beautiful and non-grey too, but that’s only relevant to me and her!).
On rides such as these, one can stop at the coffee shops dotted along the way and meet some of the fascinating people who attend our cycling events, such as these three free-thinkers who thought it would be fun to dress as angels for a blossom ride in a soft Vancouver drizzle. They were drying their wings at Terra Breads on 5th when they graciously posed for this photo:
Actually I am not 100% certain that the woman in the middle is an angel, but what the heck. Belinda, if you’re reading this, please drop me a line to clarify!
Vancruisers is a club for local cyclists who favour cruisers, including choppers, beach cruisers, krate bikes and rat rods. They host a number of fun, rainbow-coloured events. One of these is the Little 100 race. Here are some photos of the colourful (and entirely not-grey) participants, taken by Ulrike Rodrigues (who has many other great photos on her site).
And then of course there are their beautiful bikes, also photographed by Ulrike Rodrigues:
Bryn from Vancruisers tipped me off to the Wig Rides that Vancruisers holds regularly – here is a photo of some of the participants. I don’t know when last I saw such a non-boring group of cyclists!
Another fun bike activity for the fit and fearless is bike polo, shown here being played in East Vancouver!
And here’s a short video showing bike polo action:
Art is an integral part of culture, and clearly there’s no shortage of colourful artist/cyclists in our city, doing their bit to keep the cycling infrastructure colourful, as shown here in this mural that graces an otherwise rather grey part of the heavily-used Adanac bike route:
There’s even a weekly bicycle led tour of Vancouver’s public art run by ArtWheelers, which shows cyclists the outdoor art of Vancouver. Here’s a couple posing at one of the sites they visit.
Moving to indoor art, the Museum of Vancouver’s Velocity exhibit in 2009 showcased diversity in bike culture, both past and present. This photo courtesy of jnyyz (who runs the Toronto-based blog, Biking in a Big City):
Apart from art, there are also some colorful decorations: for example, the bike corral on Commercial Drive has been festooned with embroidered covers.
Speaking of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, let’s take a moment to celebrate this diverse area. Commercial Drive is so famous that when I decided to emigrate from Africa with my rather unusual family in 1998, I did tons of research and decided that the dot on the globe that we would head for was Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC, Canada. It was the right choice: despite the culture shock, we were very happy there for ten years. It’s a place where the unusual is usual – such as this stoic dog, waiting for his owner outside JJ Beans, one of Commercial Drive’s many coffee shops.
Here’s a stalwart of Commercial Drive, artist Eileen Mosca. She told me that she deliberately painted her bike to look like trash, because she was tired of having her bikes stolen. I think it looks like a work of art!
Vancouver is an Amazingly Beautiful City, a Fitting Backdrop for a Vibrant Cycling Culture
I have lived in some beautiful cities, including Cape Town and London, but Vancouver is hard to beat. It’s a stunning city to explore by bike, and to showcase our bikes. Here’s a photo by Peter Ladner that makes this point:
Vancouver’s Rapidly Improving Cycling Infrastructure
OK, so we’re not Copenhagen. Heck, we’re not even Montreal. But we’ve come a long way in the last few years, thanks to the completion of the Central Valley Greenway (CVG), and the addition of the new, improved, safer, separated bike lanes (Burrard, Dunsmuir, and Hornby). Here’s a late fall shot of a cyclist on the Dunsmuir Bike Lane, courtesy of Paul Krueger.
Our new bike lanes feature amazingly cool bike traffic signals, which have caused a bit of confusion for some.
(I’ve forgotten whose photo this is – please let me know so I can credit you.)
Because of the confusion, some friendly flag people were roped in to help out on the new Hornby Bike Lane, creating another flash of color in our diverse city (photo courtesy of Paul Krueger).
But now we’ve pretty much nailed it, and Vancouver’s streets are full of savvy cyclists. But as this guy demonstrates, they are not at all dull and grey!
Bike Commuters in Vancouver
Which brings us to probably the backbone of Vancouver cycling culture: bike commuters. Cyclist commuters sometimes get a bad rap for being a dull, grey Lycra-clad lot. Some are scathingly referred to as MAMILs – Middle Aged Men in Lycra. Certainly there are some of these, and I have no problem with them: Lycra is comfortable for cycling. (Although when I wear Lycra I think I look like a MAWIL, that is a Middle Aged Whale in Lycra, and therefore I prefer non-Lycra.) However, anyone who watches Vancouver commuters for five minutes will observe that they are amazingly diverse and interesting, and most definitely they are not all clad in Lycra.
Not only are Vancouver’s cycle commuters diverse, they are also smart. I met this ingenious commuter on the Central Valley Greenway; he told me he made this trailer for less than $20.
Vancouver Bike Politics
Local bike activism is led by heroic organizations such as HUB, and hard working committees such as the BCCC (British Columbia Cycling Coalition). These are mainly comprised of ordinary cyclists doing long hours of unpaid work, such as hosting bike-to-work stations in the rain, or lobbying the authorities for improved cycling facilities, or raising money.
The bike politics of Vancouver sometimes get combative, as some local businesses are hostile to bike lanes. They fear that the loss of a few parking spots will lead to a loss of revenue for them. I actually researched this, and found that there is no lack of parking in downtown Vancouver. In fact, the good news is that there is an embarrassing abundance of parking in Vancouver, as more and more people make the wise decision to access the city on their feet, their bikes, or transit, rather than enduring traffic gridlock and stress.
Vancouver’s Critical Mass Rides
Vancouver’s Critical Mass Rides, held on the last Friday of every month, which draw every conceivable variety of cyclists, and enable participants to show off their creative bikes:
The Critical Mass Ride is intensely controversial, but I have to say the experience of cycling freely through the streets of Vancouver’s beautiful downtown, safely encased in a mass of other cyclists, unafraid of traffic because suddenly, bikes are the traffic, is surreal and wonderful. I am certain the day will come when such experiences are common, as oil supplies run out and people move back to cycling – but I probably won’t live long enough to see that, so I am grateful for the opportunity at Critical Mass. And because we live in Vancouver, we are fortunate enough to be protected by the Vancouver police on these rides, not harrassed or arrested.
Speaking of political statements, I spotted this anything-but-dull bike parked beside the Occupy Vancouver demonstration (held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement) outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, in October 0f 2011.
Vancouver’s bike-commuter numbers are growing, thanks to recent and dramatic bike lane improvements by Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson. And as Gregor is anything but a dull, grey cycling advocate, I thought I’d throw in a photo of him. This one shows him with Brian Hever, a resident of Yaletown House, trying out the care facility’s new Duet Bike in Yaletown (photo from Metro).
The improvements in our cycling facilities give us much to celebrate. Check out Tony entertaining cyclists with a song about bike lanes at the Wentings Bike Shop (Mission) Celebration Station during the 2009 Bike to Work Week. (Not actually in Vancouver, but one of our neighbours!)
The improvements were just in time to allow us to hold our heads up in pride when the international Velo-city Global Conference 2012 was held at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver. The whole front of the building was swamped by bikes.
It was a heart-warming sight – although I had to work hard not to be a little cynical about it, because I have in the past attended meetings at the Sheraton Wall Centre by bike, and discovered to my disgust that the entire huge, empty area in front of the hotel sported not so much as one single bike parking rack! Until this conference, it seems that it never occurred to this hotel that people might arrive at their hotel on bikes, despite being situated a stone’s throw from the city’s cycling network.
Mountains and Trail Biking
Within the confines of the city, there is a remarkable amount of trail riding available. For example, Pacific Spirit Park offers endless, gentle trails through beautiful forests.
Also, Vancouver is surrounded by mountains, and no post on Vancouver cycling culture would be complete without a hat tip to North Vancouver, which gave birth to North Shore mountain biking. (Photo by Peter J. Dean.) There’s a lot of tough, technical trails for the young and the fearless-older. Hey, we’re talking mountain country, people! Born-in-Vancouver bike manufacturer Norco proudly makes bikes to meet the challenges of some of the wildest, most technical and punishing mountain bike trails on earth.
For those of us who want our trail riding to be more gentle, there are abundant choices. For example, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve offers rides suitable for the whole family – from small kids to grandmas, as well as the various weekend ninja warriors in the family – set amid thrillingly tall Hemlock Trees.
Thought I’d close with one of Paul Krueger’s great photos, taken on the new Hornby route:
Kind of says it all! However, I am very much aware that I have NOT said it all when it comes to the diversity of Vancouver’s cycling culture. Please let me know about things I have missed – I would love to add them! And send in your own photos if you’d like me to add them.
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