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One Block North

One Block North

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One Block North

429 pagine
5 ore
May 12, 2014


In 2011, Christine Bruce interviewed nearly one hundred and fifty bicycle riders, among them couriers, activists, mechanics, politicians, bike builders and more. She talked to “anyone who wanted to tell a bike story.” The resulting book—a collection of sixty of these stories—is a celebration of everyday cycling in the Greater Toronto Area, a serendipitous journey of discovery that provides insight into how cycling shapes our daily life, and that recommends a bicycle as the perfect vehicle to change attitudes and lives.
May 12, 2014

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One Block North - Christine Bruce

This Road Continues

One Block North

Christine Bruce


Copyright © 2013 by Christine Bruce.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from Access Copyright the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Bruce, Christine.

This Road Continues One Block North / Christine Bruce.

Includes photographs, glossary, and website links.

epub ISBN 978-0-9921003-1-5

mobi ISBN 978-0-9921003-2-2

print ISBN 978-0-88179-206-5

Paperback edition designed by Overdrive Design Limited

Art director, James Wilson

Designer, Antonia Goga

Writing coach, Marie-Lynn Hammond

Editor, Nancy Wills

Cover Photograph by Antonia Goga

The text face is Lora, Copyright © 2011-2013, Cyreal, with Reserved Font Name ‘Lora’. This Font Software is licensed under the SIL Open Font License, Version 1.1.

The headings are set in Bitter. Copyright © 2011, Sol Matas, with Reserved Font Name Bitter. This Font Software is licensed under the SIL Open Font License, Version 1.1.

ebook created by Terri Rothman

TLAC Studios

R5-525 University Avenue, Mail Box 150

Toronto, Ontario, M5G 2L3, CANADA


For those who get cycling, and, more importantly, for those who don’t.



Title Page






How Now, Wrench?

Bikes with Nine Lives

Bike Bliss

The Legacy on the Back of a Jersey

The Firecrackers

Riding Through the Winter

The Perfect Dooring


Bicycles: Good for the Mind, Body and Soil

The Best Part of Any Day

The Tandem Under the Basement Stairs

Being Led, Kindly

The Bicycle Ninja

The Precocious Boy Who Would Not Fail

Not Forgetting

Riding Will Fix It All

Free. Wheels.

Hugging Their Knees in Anticipation

Substance Over Image

Something to Live For

Riding in Silence

The Coveted Parts

The Worthy Pirate

The Drain Ride

To the Moon

The Blameless Bike

Changing Perceptions

It’s About the Community

Grip the Earth and Just Hang On

The Difference Between Needing and Wanting

The Theatrical Bike

The Multi-Modal Maven

What Will Survive Us is Love

Goin’ to BAM Land

Under a Crescent Moon

The Rite of Passage

The Bike Likers

Biking—the Best Medicine

The Widow Maker

More Fun than a Barrel Full of Monkey Wrenches

The Slow Moving Vehicle

What You Don’t Know May Save Your Life

The Captains of Industry

Travelling at the Speed of Dog

The Game of Physical Chess

Riding the Wormhole

Victorian Steam Punk’d

Accidental Intimacies

Startled By Life

As the Crow Flies

The Hallowed Halls

On a Grey Day in November

The Human Megaphone

Fruit Goggles and Bicycles

The Legacy

The Murmuration

The Extreme End of Herding Cats

Creating a Bikable City

The Recovery Artist

Creating Connections Between People




The One Block North project would never have succeeded if I hadn’t built a community of impressively skilled, dedicated and kind individuals around me. For one thing, I’m a techno-peasant despite working in the software field. On top of that, I’m a feral cat. My social skills cause despair in others. And then, I have too much energy, which is exhausting to witness. One day I related the interview schedule to my friend Peter and his response was, I’m pretty sure that while I’m napping in front of the TV, your afterburners are just kicking in.

Worst of all, in 2011 I was battling an illness that made for a lot of fuzzy thinking: I had to keep pulling my brain out from under the bed and plugging it back in.

And so, if I hadn’t had a whack of cool people around me, this project would have sunk to the bottom of the dirty laundry.

First and foremost, I need to thank the bikes in the GTA: they’re an endless source of inspiration, as are their riders, who graciously agreed to tell me their bike stories and who then gave me the names of other cycling enthusiasts. I’m particularly grateful to the couriers for giving me some of their valuable time and for sharing their wisdom and tremendous talent.

Miss Jackson, my Rocky Mountain Stratos bike. She’s been ongoing bliss, since 2001.

My favourite mechanics Rob and Jamie (at Bateman’s Bicycle Company) kept Miss Jackson tuned and safe, which in turn kept me moving.

Peter Rogers, an interface designer, blogger and a very patient soul, helped me with Twitter, with the blog, and with tone in the stories. Most days, he either encouraged or applauded, depending on how things were progressing.

Amanda Gomm, a community environmental activist, was an even bigger cheerleader, who let me practice my interviewing skills on her. She routinely sent me encouraging emails that were perfectly timed to offset the mail I received that reminded me that not everyone wants to spend time with a feral cat.

Katie Sandwell, one of my best friends, is a committed food activist. This brilliant woman provided templates for the waiver forms, made recommendations for tone and voice in the book, and regularly wanted to hear how things were developing. She reminded me that feral cats have a place in this world, too.

Brian Francis is a best-selling author and an uber-patient teacher. I attended a creative writing course he taught at Harbourfront Centre in 2011 and I came away feeling more confident in my new-found creative writing abilities.

My writing coach is Marie-Lynn Hammond. A Canadian folk singer-songwriter, broadcaster and playwright, Marie-Lynn is also an astute and generous writer and editor, whose advice formed much of my thinking as together we massaged the stories into chapters for the book.

Tania Howells, an artist of great whimsy.

James Wilson, Sylvia Nan Cheng and Antonia Goga, an extraordinarily gifted design team who gave beauty and sophistication to our project.

Building on the work of Marie-Lynn was my copy editor Nancy Wills, who helped me track down those things that go ‘bump!’ in the book.

When my daughter Megan was two years old, we travelled most places by bicycle; she sat in back in her child seat. One day on our way to an event, we rode through a park in Kingston, Ontario. It was one of those ‘the Sunday morning after the Saturday night before’ days, meaning there were several overturned garbage cans. We were both a little sickened.

The precocious voice behind me whispered, Someone should do something!

I grimaced.

My husband was waiting for us at an event, which was due to begin in fifteen minutes. Besides, both Meg and I were wearing pretty spring dresses. And frankly, the thought of my getting involved—and being considered peculiar—worried me.

And yet, as a new mother dedicated to being a good role model, I couldn’t just ride on. So I stopped and leaned the bike, with Meg on it, against a tree. And for the first time in my life, I did the good citizen thing: I tidied up my public space.

In 2009, I was hearing all these great bike stories while volunteering my time at valet bike parking events. Someone should be writing these stories down! I’d exclaim. (See? There’s that ‘someone’ thing again.) Craig Barnes’s eyebrow would rise and he’d say, Yes! Someone … If it weren’t for the fact that Craig Barnes believed I could do this, I’d still be standing around listening to great bike stories.

This book would never have happened if my daughter’s and Craig Barnes’s voices weren’t whispering at the back of my mind.

Someone! Someone! I hear daily. That someone should be me.


At fifty-five years of age, I still like to be active. It was on my bicycle that I fell in love with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and its cycling community. As most Canadians know, that’s a radical statement because Toronto is the city that the rest of the country loves to hate.

I lived in Toronto proper for eleven years, and during that time I never heard outsiders say a single good thing about this city. Yet from people like me who moved here and made the GTA their home, I heard nothing but good. And that doesn’t surprise me. This extraordinary city has allowed me to be myself. It has fed my soul. It has sparked my creativity. It has accepted me, warts and all. And yes, it has a good bike infrastructure, on which I’m proud to ride.

This project, which started out innocently enough—to collect bicycle stories—began at a valet bike parking event, where I was volunteering. As I took the bikes from the riders I’d often comment, Nice bike!—which prompted virtually everyone to spontaneously share an inspiring tale of things they’d done with their bicycle. My goal became to collect as many GTA bike stories as I could, hoping to inspire non-riders or ex-riders to join us. By the end of the year, the bike book project became a lot bigger than I could have envisioned.

A couple of challenges presented themselves immediately. First of all, my daughter correctly pointed out that since I didn’t even know what a fixie was, I was hardly the right person to be writing this book. And I didn’t know the community, so reaching prospective interviewees would be complicated, especially for someone as shy as I am.

The thing that made both these challenges easier for me is that this project has always been about the bikes. Sure, it’s also about the people who ride, but for me the essence of a bicycle isn’t nearly as intimidating as the people or the technology. I realized how true this statement was one day mid-project, when I pulled up at a stop light in the midst of a mass of cyclists. A bike I’d interviewed the month before was part of the mass.

Oh, a John Deere bike! I mused. I know who rides this. With that, I looked into the eyes of the cyclist a little sheepishly, since she’d been the second thing I’d noticed.

On every street there are bikes, like dogs waiting for their owners outside coffee shops. Approaching any bike that looked like it might have a story attached to it, I left a business card on the frame. It worked! Every week I received several touching email from cyclists who were flattered that I found their bicycle worthy.

The legitimacy of this project was invariably impressed on me during the interviews. With a simple card, I unearthed someone who could explain how to ride in any weather intelligently, someone who’d built and ridden an unusual design, someone who used a bicycle in their line of work. Playful stories. Stories of remarkable courage or devotion. Life and death stories. At the end of each interview the person, with no encouragement from me, would offer a string of suggestions, other cyclists I should interview. Have you talked to Mez? so many of them would say. Such suggestions—people like Dave Meslin—were the most satisfying finds, the people heavily involved in advocacy, a tireless community that until recently had been completely invisible to me, quietly volunteering on my behalf.

Because of my methodology, the order of interviews was pretty random. It was like being out on a meandering bike ride with friends, just enjoying the scenery. I kept bumping up against messengers, but if I’d imposed an order on my interviews, it would never have became apparent how key messengers are to our fabric in Toronto, and to the fabric of North American cycling.

Also, I was originally afraid to approach a name. However, by the fall I knew enough about the community that I was acutely aware of their contribution and their importance to this project, which was when my capricious approach changed gears slightly.

And despite what many will tell you, the community is woven together inextricably: in the final month, whenever an interviewee would begin the litany of names I should approach, they were all people I knew, sometimes better than the interviewee. The final story in this collection, one I stumbled on like so many others, this final story somehow brought everything together organically, far better than I could have done. I’ve imposed very little order on this project, even during the editing process. It seemed important to let things evolve serendipitously, just as the Toronto cycling community does. Just like a naive reader’s understanding might evolve as they accompany me.

During the interviews, I’d note a few identifying features about the person, because there’s an unspoken covenant: that I need to share details you can hang your hat on and make the story come alive. However, I didn’t want readers to feel too far removed from the experience, as if what had occurred was only possible for the person being interviewed. To disprove that and to give myself an advantage during the writing process, I attempted to recreate whatever it was my interviewee had experienced. I climbed on that tall bike, or rode to that accident site. I cycled in winter, against my inclination. With each interview it became apparent that the reason I’d never done these things before was that I’d perceived them as too hard or too unlikely. But in reality, they aren’t.

So my portrayals of each person I interviewed remain incomplete, encouraging the readers to use their imaginations and, I hope, begin to insert themselves into the rider’s story. In the same way, I was repeatedly urged to insert my reaction to the stories I heard.

I learned a lot of things about bikes and about the cycling community: for instance, cycling really does make a body healthier, as evidenced by the fact that virtually every interviewee had distractingly attractive hair. More importantly, I learned to develop a conscience. It’s hard not to when you ride alongside kind and generous people who suffer from someone else’s half-knowledge, whose opinions were formed too quickly or in some vacuum.

You see, despite the fact that I approached this book through the bikes, I was beginning to identify with the cyclists, becoming attached to the imagination demonstrated by people who value their independence.

You can do that? I kept wondering.

Every one of the stories collected in this book is true. I’ve listened to earnest young men, to women much older and braver than me, to children just learning to balance on two wheels, to incredibly skilled teens, to men long past retirement age. I’ve listened to anyone who wanted to tell me a bike story. The bikes in these stories range from hand-built to store-bought, from inexpensive to high in both quality and price, but it doesn’t seem to matter: every bike is categorically and unconditionally loved.

All of the stories celebrate life and are intended as a snapshot of what occurred in the GTA cycling community in the year 2011. It wasn’t humanly possible to capture everything, but I’ve tried for both breadth and depth. Some of the people have since changed jobs and, sadly, some of the bicycles, and even some of the people, are now gone. I collected nearly one hundred and fifty stories, which caused despair in both my editor and my book designers. Any stories that couldn’t be included in this book have been posted to the blog,

Most cyclists are eager to make a difference, to contribute to something larger than themselves. We are all connected by a passion for cycling in the GTA and by the pure joy of being five years old again. Without prompting, most of those I interviewed said they felt exactly that joy when they set off on their bike. The best part was how the vast majority of interviewees would begin by telling me they had no bike stories. All I ever had to say was, Tell me about your bicycle, and my interviewee would, within minutes, take me on an unforgettable adventure. I got used to that happening, but the person was always surprised. People don’t realize how inspiring the simple act of being on a bicycle can be.

The bicycles became a conduit for the stories, and now I have become a conduit for building community. If these stories inspire one person to think differently about what it means to be outside on a bike, if they make one person feel just a little prouder to be a Canadian—or a Torontonian—or if they challenge one person to try something they never thought they could do, then it’s enough.

To help my reader understand the Toronto cycling experience—which differs from that of any other city because of its unique blend of climate and geography, and economic, political and cultural trends—I’ve included both a map and a glossary. And while Toronto and its cyclists are my inspiration, I discovered in my recent travels through Iceland, Mexico and Indonesia that anyone can find themselves intrigued by, or even reflected in, these stories.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your helmet and let’s set out together. Because as many Toronto street signs indicate, this road continues one block north.

How Now, Wrench?

On a cold patch of ice under a night sky, she met The Wrench. He was only vaguely aware of the woman’s presence as she positioned herself behind him, between bikes, bags and tires. It was obvious she didn’t belong there as a competitor. Occasionally interacting with the race official, she otherwise kept to herself.

The oddest collection of cyclists she’d ever seen were doing warm-up circuits around the makeshift station, their tire studs thudding into the ice. There was a young woman on a unicycle, groups of laughing men in long johns and tuques, and a boy wearing little more than a grin. A small crowd of spectators were huddled together. The odd time, someone would slide off their bike and the crowd would gasp and encourage the rider. They say ice rash is far worse than road rash, yet the bravado had an appealing boyish quality to it.

Moments later, the race marshal called for the first three competitors to take their places. The Wrench began working more feverishly on his upturned bike. He was wearing a fleece and simple jeans, and his hands were bare and greasy. The woman couldn’t help being a little smitten with him.

Standing in the centre of the Dufferin Grove rink, she noticed the crisp air was tangibly awash with adrenaline. Her friend Craig Barnes—a retired bike messenger—had invited her here tonight, knowing she was writing a book about the local cycling community.

Known as Icycle, this is an annual event: all bike couriers in town are invited to come and demonstrate their skill, their speed and their stamina on the treacherous surface that is an ice rink. Although she knew about similar events, the Alley Cat races, for instance, and the recently popular bike polo events, she had never heard of an ice race before Craig’s invitation. However, as she looked around she couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to miss the spectacle, the exuberance, the pure joy of showing off on a bike.

She had met Craig a few years previously when she’d volunteered for his valet bike parking events. Valet bike parking, as the name implies, is an enclosed pen manned by bike-friendly individuals who park bicycles in orderly rows and then babysit them while their riders are shopping or enjoying an event. Craig’s goal—on behalf of the Toronto Cyclists Union or, the Bike Union for short—is to give people a chance to enjoy events without fear of bike theft. Bicycles also translate into less traffic congestion.

At Icycle, Craig was the referee. For the self-conscious woman keeping a respectful distance from the competitors, Craig was the reliable contact in the midst of the racing circle. Between races, he nodded at those that she should approach. On hearing that Craig had recommended them, the competitor’s suspicion would be replaced with genuine pleasure.

It was bitterly cold on the ice, even though she wore several layers. The Wrench was furiously replacing his back tire. Several discarded tires lay beside his bike. Looking more closely, she realized with a start that these were not typical studded tires: they’d been customized. In fact, every competitor had painstakingly inserted a unique pattern of screws into their tires. Most bike tires had hundreds of screws in them. The track is uni-directional, but the race marshal—someone she knew only as Derek—always waits until the last minute to decide which direction a given year’s race will take. As a result, competitors are left to guess which side of their wheels will need more screws. Suddenly, the crowd began to freak out. Craig pointed to one of the competitors on the track: he was using a new pattern, one that allowed him to lean into turns without falling.

Back behind The Wrench, the woman stepped around him to watch his progress. Finally satisfied with one of his tires, he positioned it on his lean bike.

Her first thought, Heck, even I could put that tire on, collided with a second thought. There’s no derailleur! When she inquired later, she discovered that this was a fixie.

A fixie (or fixed-gear) is a bike that has been modified to do one thing: go. All speed-related gadgetry has been removed, so there are no shifters or cables, and no derailleur. Fixies have no freewheel, so the bike can’t coast: the pedals are always in motion when the bicycle is moving. On a fixie you have one speed, and once you get going on such a slimmed-down bike, that speed is Fast. Being fast to the couriers doesn’t mean being stupid, though: most everyone had brakes at Icycle, and the woman loved watching them screech to a halt on the ice surface.

Once the tire was in place, The Wrench adjusted the chain; then, he jumped on the bike and sped off between races for a leisurely warm-up lap, jeans, bare hands and all.

There had been a few men’s races while The Wrench worked on his bike. The race marshal would call three or four names, line them up at the start with a wonderful combination of pomp and haphazardness, and send them off for seven laps around the rink. You could hear the screws grip as the studded tires bit into the ice for more power.

A few of the competitors wore costumes, which eased the hormonal wash. The woman spotted a Spartan outfit featuring a beaten-up red broom head glued to a helmet, another with green bug feelers swinging wildly in the cold air, and a female rider in a pink tutu. What was in short supply was the technical gear. The level of respect afforded each competitor, regardless of age or sex or skill level, was strong and alive.

Spectators would shout encouragement, or would good-naturedly razz members of the current group of competitors. If someone fell behind, their greeting at the finish line was no less warm than if they’d won convincingly. The woman found herself cheering ever more eagerly, and soon had less trouble approaching the riders with a business card. At this stage, no one was required to prove anything, yet there were clear titles, waiting to be seized.

During a short break inside, the woman tentatively approached a young female courier she had seen on the ice earlier, without knowing she was one of the competitors about to take the ice for the Women’s Finals. The cyclist returned the woman’s advances with polite antagonism. In the cycling community, bike couriers are like the goalie on a hockey team. Approaching one at any time is complicated, but before a competition it could be considered a form of soft suicide. Like the bikes on the ice tonight, a courier’s cycling experience is minimalist. The courier mindset is dedicated to profitability rather than pleasure, exercise or environmentalism. By virtue of the many risk factors and the sheer volume of time spent on a bike, couriers deserve the space they demand. For the woman, the competitor’s response was a lesson in humility.

Fifteen minutes later, an incredibly expanded and tense crowd offered little standing room. In their midst, the young female courier was streaking around—not on the single rink that cyclists had previously raced around but on a double rink: the final races had been increased from seven laps to twenty-five laps. The three women finalists were supremely talented and ferociously beautiful. Their faces were chiselled determination: they looked steely, sustaining a focussed composure throughout the race.

The last race of the night was the Men’s Final. And there, still distant and glorious, was The Wrench. He sat casually perched on his bike at the start, confident in himself and his equipment. From the moment the first screw from his perfectly tuned bike ground into the ice, The Wrench was in control. The woman found it hard to take her eyes off him as he swept the course. This was his race.

On a victory lap, he searched the crowd for what appeared to be his girlfriend and then cycled across to her. The Wrench smiled broadly and modestly, his affection for her equalling the intensity he had demonstrated only a couple of hours earlier, poring over his bike.

And then, the wash they had all been drawn into suddenly ended.

Fortified with potential interviews and a respect for this extraordinary cycling community confirmed, I walked to the subway. It had been an eye-opening night, intimidating yet refreshing. Am I a cyclist? I wondered. What is a Toronto cyclist? Is it someone who earns a living on a bicycle as much as those who cycle leisurely along the bike paths? Should I include the spandex crowd? The BMX crowd? And what drives a man or a woman to customize a bicycle for an ice race? Who are these people?

I went home and started writing.

The Ice Emperor, Alberto de Ciccio

Photograph by Warren McPherson

Bikes with Nine Lives

Andrew McGill is officially the first person I know who takes his bike to bed with him.

In Kensington Market, I find our meeting place by its logo: a coffee cup surrounded by electrons. Andrew calls it the Atomic Café, but its real name is Ideal Coffee.

When we are seated, Andrew tells me he is finishing his thesis year at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts in the New Media option. He looks every bit the impoverished student being held together by a passion for his studies and a love of bikes. He’s skinny as a rail, with dancing eyes and a ready smile, and a distracting tangle of dark hair that curls around his face. My impression is that Andrew is an imp. I’m about to discover that he’s also a rescuer of bike souls.

I’m not sure how to proceed with the interview process. Because it seemed to work at the valet bike parking events, I simply say, Tell me about your bike. Andrew responds that he’s had several bikes, and looks uncertain.

Well, why don’t you tell me about them all, in chronological order? I suggest, happy to just let serendipity take over. Since this is an early interview, I decide to just listen, interjecting only if I don’t understand something.

Andrew begins, happily. In his second year, he spotted a handsome brown Eaton’s Made in Canada road bike, locked up, stranded and broken down, but lovely nonetheless. For eight months, Andrew walked past this bike, sad at its fate. One summer evening, it was tagged for removal. Andrew contacted the authorities and inquired about adopting it. Apparently, that’s not how things are done in this town, so rather than lose its company entirely, Andrew prepared for a guerilla assault.

By 7 a.m., it was mine, he confides. I wrote on the frame with a Sharpie, to forward the relationship. Andrew dubbed it the Canada Bike.

You named it! I say, laughing. "My bike is named Miss Jackson. Miss

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