Get back on the bike

Rick Barnes
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

St. John's new Cycling Master Plan an inspiration

Life is grand after work. When retired, one can linger over breakfast and read all the news; go out for a classic fish and chips (maybe one with three pieces); prepare a delicious dinner with a few chocolate Éclairs for dessert.

You see where this is headed. That's right, fat: the curse of Canada's Happy Province. In order to survive the many lean times our ancestors faced, our bodies adapted the ability to store fat, and today, while we are swamped with rich food, our DNA still carries that directive - store excess calories as fat for the lean times.

Life is grand after work. When retired, one can linger over breakfast and read all the news; go out for a classic fish and chips (maybe one with three pieces); prepare a delicious dinner with a few chocolate Éclairs for dessert.

You see where this is headed. That's right, fat: the curse of Canada's Happy Province. In order to survive the many lean times our ancestors faced, our bodies adapted the ability to store fat, and today, while we are swamped with rich food, our DNA still carries that directive - store excess calories as fat for the lean times.

My suspicions about weight gain were confirmed when I saw my doctor scowling at the scales. His scowl swung my way.

"Your weight is continually creeping up. You know you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes."

He knows I'm headed for peril as sure as the sun rises in the East. Fat interferes with the body's ability to use insulin. As a result, sugars are not converted to energy in the body's cells, blood sugar rises and the pancreas works overtime flooding the body with more and more insulin. This is Type 2 diabetes, and in this part of the world, the rates are rising dramatically, and weight gain is an early warning.

There are different ways of storing fat, too. Take another person my age - Oprah Winfrey, for instance. Like many others, Oprah tends to store fat more or less equally from eyelid to ankle, which is likely not as problematic as my hardy Newfoundland body's propensity to pack fat around the internal organs of my body cavity. My ankles look the same as they did 20 years ago, but I'm growing a paunch. With my family history, even a small increase in girth, accompanied by moderate weight gain can put me on that same trajectory. The bulging belly, especially in men over 45, is the signature of a host of medical problems that can be avoided.

Outdoor workout

As we have heard again and again, exercise is the key to good health. And you can forget mowing the lawn and digging up flower beds, there's no workout there. Our species needs regular exercise that gets the heart thumping away and brings on deep, even breathing. And for me, exercise has to be fun, so, like fun guy Freddie Mercury sang, "I want to ride my bicycle."

I've had a lifelong relationship with my bicycle. It began while growing up in Chamberlains, when our bicycles transported us to and from school, earned us pocket money running errands, and carried us to our friends' houses, scattered far apart.

We were as skinny as our crossbars, every calorie burned away from pedalling uphill or pedalling furiously downhill to see how fast we could go. The three-speed "Sturmey Archer" system (developed for Raleigh way back in 1936), with the gears mysteriously hidden in the guts of the stout rear axle, never let us down. We'd be on our bicycles from Easter until the snow came in December.

Henry Chaytor, a legendary paper carrier and a friend of mine, who delivered The Evening Telegram to homes over a wide area, kept his bike on the road all winter long, pushing it through snowdrifts, the oversized basket loaded with newspapers.

We honed our cycling skills quickly. We had to. It seemed to me the road maintenance crews of the time were overzealous when it came to ditching. Workers with a Gradeall digging truck spent their summers scooping deep ditches along the roadsides, even at the expense of the gravel shoulders, which were chewed away to less than a metre wide in places. We were often forced to navigate our way along the narrow crumbling shoulders, trapped between the weekend impaired drivers and the deep brown ditch.

Grown-up rider

As an adult I rode with my children on their own bicycles. I rode to work whenever I could; occasionally I even rode my bike through the halls, studios and newsroom of CBC Television.

But over the last couple of years, I've stopped using my bicycle regularly. It's easy to find excuses not to ride a bicycle in St. John's: hills everywhere; wind that seems always to attack you head-on, no matter which direction you take; and the traffic! Some drivers seem to lack the skill of judging how much pavement they can spare you without trading paint with vehicles in the adjacent lane, and they don't want to slow down to find out. Heavy trucks gush compressed air just as they pass by - now, I know compressors have an automatic release valve, but the number of times it goes off when a truck is next to a bicycle is suspicious, especially when you know there is a relief valve within reach of the driver.

And female cyclists still get the wolf whistles and shouts. Even though I'm sure guys must know women are not thrilled by that kind of attention, yet they persist, hooting like great apes on the make. Even I've had some of that attention, back when I had more hair, blond and pulled back into a pony tail at the back of my helmet. This caused great discomfort to the excitable male driver when I pulled up next to him at a red light. He couldn't wait for the light to change so he could get away.

But most St. John's drivers are cautious and courteous, and willing to share the roads with the pedal-pushers. Unlike the Toronto drivers, who are furious with Mayor David Miller for "declaring war on the car" by agreeing to take one of the five traffic lanes on Jarvis for bicycle use. With only four lanes available for cars on the North-South Jarvis route, Toronto drivers are livid because this will add two minutes to each of their trips along Jarvis. Two minutes!

By my calculation, after a 35-year career, the 28,000 Toronto motorists who drive Jarvis twice a day will spend an extra three weeks in their cars. But hey, it's not really time lost because they will be on their cellphones anyway.

St. John's scene

Things are going to get a whole lot better for St. John's cyclists, too. There's an exciting new $6-million Cycling Master Plan in the works that will integrate 226 kilometres of "active transportation" routes connecting all areas of the city, transforming St. John's from a 1950s-style car-clogged town to a 21st-century bicycle city. You can view maps, read all the details and sign up for the newsletter at http://www.stjohns.ca.

So, I'm back on my old CCM, and when I'm out there pedalling away, taking in the sights, burning up calories and sucking back the cool, clean air, there's nothing like it.

Get ready for the new bicycle era. Blow the dust off your old Raleigh or Winkie, buy yourself a new snug-fitting helmet, and get out there and claim your share of the pavement.

After years of "get off the sidewalk!" from police; "get off the street!" from motorists; "get off my parking lot!" from entrepreneurs; "get out of the newsroom!" from the boss, we cyclists will finally be an integrated part of the city's transportation plan.

Geographic location: St. John's, Canada, Newfoundland Chamberlains Toronto North-South Jarvis

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Keith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    It's time for me to get back on the pedal bike as well. When I used to commute, I wrote the following ditty. Hope you enjoy it.

    Bike Commuters Lament

    Motors Spewing Poison Fumes.
    And Gasoline and oil consumed.
    The Rush and roar of racing rats.
    That's not where my head is at.

    Silky quiet spinning spokes
    Avoiding all the smoke that chokes.
    Pleasures of the route less used,
    feeds the soul and wallet, too.

    Trails and backwoods, now and then.
    Tranquility. The joy of Zen.
    Pedals pumping, blood a-flow.
    Cycling is the way to go.

    Count the savings. Feel the burn
    Pennies saved are dollars earned.
    Just cant beat bi-pedal power.
    Wish work had a shaggin shower.

  • Keith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    It's time for me to get back on the pedal bike as well. When I used to commute, I wrote the following ditty. Hope you enjoy it.

    Bike Commuters Lament

    Motors Spewing Poison Fumes.
    And Gasoline and oil consumed.
    The Rush and roar of racing rats.
    That's not where my head is at.

    Silky quiet spinning spokes
    Avoiding all the smoke that chokes.
    Pleasures of the route less used,
    feeds the soul and wallet, too.

    Trails and backwoods, now and then.
    Tranquility. The joy of Zen.
    Pedals pumping, blood a-flow.
    Cycling is the way to go.

    Count the savings. Feel the burn
    Pennies saved are dollars earned.
    Just cant beat bi-pedal power.
    Wish work had a shaggin shower.