Andrea McPhee is a Cupcake Ride regular who started riding with us this year. In fact she came out to our Season Opener in chilly, chilly March. Since then she’s come out to a Sweet Ride and many of our summer rides.
Andrea loves riding through Queen’s Park on her commute because she finds that it’s the perfect way to gauge the seasons.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I teach math and physics at a downtown high school. I travel by bike everywhere I can, even in rain. I’m mostly a transportation cyclist, but I’m trying to branch out with more recreation rides like the Meetups and Cupcake Rides.
I’ve been commuting by bike ever since I lived in Ottawa for a work term in university. Which was a long time ago. Up until March of this year, I rode a CCM faux mountain bike that cost me $100 brand-new and weighs a gazillion pounds and hence is called the Tank, but now I have a very pretty Opus Nuovella.
I’m also rather fond of pancakes.
So this is your first winter with your beautiful, new bike. Before you got this bike how many winters did you ride in Toronto with the Tank?
At least 12 years — ever since I moved downtown. I can’t remember if I biked to grad school in winter when I lived with my parents in Etobicoke, but probably not since my mother was not exactly happy about me biking even during clement weather. The past few years it’s been harder because the Tank started not shifting out of low gear when it got too cold, which was annoying. I’m really hoping for excellent things this year, what with the internal hub and drum brakes on the Opus.
Do you ride in the snow?
Sometimes — it depends on how much snow. I’ve had some cartoon-like incidents where I’ve been literally spinning my wheels trying to climb the tiny snowy hill out of my street. If the roads are fairly dry I will bike, although the snowbanks make the streets narrower and then you are forced to interact with cars more. I’ve been considering getting snow tires, but we’ll see after this winter. I never want to feel that biking is a chore, something I have to do. If I don’t feel up to biking, I take the TTC.
Any tips you can share from your years of winter riding?
You don’t need to dress your core as warmly as you would if you were walking, but you do need to keep your extremities warm. Cars aren’t expecting people to still be biking, so you have to make sure they see you. Signal clearly and be prepared to stop completely; most streets are narrower because of snow banks and the last thing you want to do is swerve into an oncoming car because of a patch of ice or a snow rut. Stay visible. Now is not the time to by a ninja cyclist.
What’s your winter riding must have?
Warm boots, convertible thermal mitts, scarf for the face and neck, head band to cover the ears under the helmet. I can handle the cold; biking warms up the core, but it’s not fun if my fingers, toes, and ears are in pain from the cold. A hot breakfast in the morning. Lights and reflectors for visibility. This year I’m adding a cup-holder so I can have hot tea on my ride into work.
None of which you haven’t had to bring out yet because of our super mild autumn so far! It’s been perfect cycling weather has it not?
Yes! It’s been gorgeous. I haven’t had to break out my heavy mitts, scarf, winter boots, and winter jacket yet. I’d been getting along with light gloves, scarf, and spring jacket layered over sweaters up to early December, but I’ve finally started wearing my loose-weave winter jacket.
.. but the flip side is this mild weather is proof that climate change is happening. We had a pretty mild fall and winter last year too! Do you think it’s really happening?
It’s happening. I’ve been thinking for several years that the seasons have been shifting a month. We got “March” weather in April, “October” weather in November, and now we’re getting “November” weather in December,. If you think about it, it’s still technically autumn until December 21/22.
Is this one of the reasons why you ride a bike? To reduce your carbon footprint?
It’s definitely a bonus, but honestly I ride a bike because it’s cheap and efficient. I grew up in Etobicoke and couldn’t wait to get my own car. Then I was a poor student for 11 years and I learned that I’d rather spend car money on tuition, books, and food. Now I’d rather spend car money on clothes, books, theatre tickets, dance classes, travel, cupcakes, etc.
Also, I can get where I need to go so much more efficiently and quickly than I can by driving, as long as my trip is within 10 km. There’s nothing I like better than zipping past a long line of single-occupant cars and not having to prowl the streets for parking.
What are some of your other reasons for riding a bike?
I’m a very lazy exerciser; when I was a member of a gym, I went maybe twice a month. Biking everywhere rolls exercise and transportation into one. It’s how I get to eat more cupcakes. Biking gets the endorphins up. I always feel great when I get to work; even after an altercation with an idiot (car, bike, or pedestrian), I calm down much more quickly than I would if I were driving or taking the streetcar. I also like the fact that I’m much more aware of my surroundings; I notice so much more on my bike than I do in a car or even on a streetcar. I can make impromptu stops at stores I’m interested in or stop and take a picture of a sunset or something funny.
What would make bike riding in Toronto better?
In winter, I wish the city would clear the bike lanes. Last year I was excited that the Harbord lanes were clear, until I came across a snow plow pushing snow off the side walk into the lanes and another truck running over said snow and thereby rendering the lanes unusable for large stretches. I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of that. I also wish the city would break its dependence on salt; I worry about how much salt is getting into the ecosystem, but it’s also not good for the bike. I didn’t mind the Tank developing the abandoned-bike look, but I don’t want to see the Opus corrode. Denise Ing tweeted a request for monthly winter bike-washes a few weeks ago; I think that’s a genius idea.
In general, life would be better if people were courteous to each other and pay attention more. We’re all trying to get where we want to go, and nobody has any more right to the road than anyone else. This applies to cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Specifically, I’d love it if cars would learn that the turn-signal does not actually help them turn and they need to signal their intent well before the turn. And if they would stop crowding the bike lane, especially at bends in the road. I also enter my plea for slow-moving cyclists to please stop passing others at red lights. If I’ve passed you twice and the only reason you’re getting ahead is because you’re jumping the light, stop it. It forces me out into traffic, it’s rude, and it’s dangerous. Also, get some lights. Not those pointless tiny one-LED blinkers that nobody can see until you’re already upon them. MEC sells really bright turtle lights for $4 if small is your thing. For pedestrians, remember Elmer the Safety Elephant and look both ways before crossing the road, even if you don’t hear a car coming. And don’t run out from between parked cars.
We need more bike parking everywhere. There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving someplace downtown and not having a secure place to lock my bike to. And the people who put the ring and posts need to seriously think about placement; there are ring and posts that can only be used by one bike or even no bikes because they’re right up against a wall or too close to a tree or garbage can.
It would be nice to have more dedicated infrastructure, lights that are timed to bike-traffic, and some understanding that traffic-calming measures (4-way stops, 1-way streets) are there to calm car traffic and don’t really apply to bikes. We should learn something I’ve learned as a teacher: “equitable” does not mean “the same.” Bikes deserve equal access to the roads as cars, but we’re not the same as cars and some of the rules that make sense for cars are stupid for bikes. Which doesn’t mean that cyclists can act like idiots: stop blowing through red lights and stop signs!
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Andrea!
To keep up with Andrea’s adventures on and off her bike, check out her blog: PhysicsGirl on the Loose.