Kacper Niburski / Silhouette Staff
My bike is hardly fashionable. Each time I ride the metallic mammoth, the gears remain a curious experiment long forgotten, the chain rattles back and forth like the coming of the Grim Reaper, and the seat shifts, slithers and shakes uncontrollably.
I’ve had it since I was eleven and I remember the same things it remembers. The bright sun. The blue sky. Birds singing. Cities fading. Races. Friends. Dares. Accidents. Sadness. Pain. Happiness. Smiles.
I’ve also forgotten what it has forgotten. In the cascade of time, my bike and my memories have corroded. Somewhere in between the kaleidoscope of recollections and the imaginary games of knight jousting with pool noodles, I became bigger than my bike. Mountains became hills; hills became lumps; lumps became flat fields.
I’ve grown, and with my growth, the mysticism and thrill of everyday – like the vibrancy of my bike – has been lost. Salt now licks the wounds of both each winter, and I wonder if my bike will survive until spring. I wonder if I will too.
Because nowadays when I ride, my knees buckle, I feel uncomfortable in my seat and the timelessness I once felt has been replaced with the realization that time always passes. I’m getting older and my bike is too. It, like me, is becoming a fossil that’ll one day be dug up in somebody’s garage.
Yet despite looking no different than the functionless disaster of two hula-hoops strung together, I still maze my bike to school everyday. It’s not because of what my bike has been through nor is it because I hope to rekindle that childlike majesty of freedom. Though I could argue that I still feel like I’m flying through the guileless air while I’m cycling, this wouldn’t be the truth. I just don’t have brakes anymore.
Instead, I cycle every day because besides being the most efficient, healthy mode of travel, it is incredibly accessible. Sure, I’m far from the ideal, Hollywood-esque hip cyclist; I wear sweat pants and clothes that could easily get stuck in the cranks, I drift along with no hands on my handlebars and I’m an organ donor waiting to happen. No doubt.
But in a city like Hamilton, even with such inept cyclists as myself, I feel as though biking should be the norm if only because cars seem so entirely superfluous. Bikes are the engines of invention without the need for pollution. Grant Peterson said it best: “Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world.”
I’ll grant there are geographical, topographical and economic considerations to be taken into account when deciding on bicycling. In Hamilton alone, one cannot easily cycle from the Mountain (where I live) to McMaster. But these are not good arguments against biking; in fact, they suggest the opposite. They are consequences of a city trying to backpedal in an attempt to go forward.
Hamilton has rarely had pro-bike policies. Take Main Street West or King Street West as examples. Despite being the main roads for a zoo of students, both fail to accommodate cyclists with bike lanes. Even in the core of McMaster, bike lanes are not indicated by signs but by basic suggestion. This is commonplace throughout the city. In the downtown core, a report by the city of Hamilton, “Cycling Network Strategy”, found that the most common accidents happen in those without bike lanes. More importantly, however, was the finding that people do not cycle due to a combination of lack of convenience and perceived safety concerns without bike lanes.
Certainly, these concerns are pertinent to a would-be cyclist. At the same time, however, it is worth asking whether bike lanes are the best measure for all Hamiltonians. Without a doubt, it improves cyclist’s accessibility by slowly developing a well-integrated network that is both perceived to be safer and convenient.
Yet while increasing the perception of safety, some studies have found that bike lanes make riding less safe as they follow loosely fitting vehicular policy. This forgets that reconstructing roads with segregated bike lanes removes parking lots in front of already struggling downtown businesses, which suggests an equity and economical regression for the whole community.
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer in this debate. Yet even with such ambiguity, the biking culture seems to be growing in Hamilton and McMaster especially.
This is seen in the development of the Arts and Science class 3BB3, where students have the chance to investigate the political, social and economical ramifications of the bicycle. In the coming weeks, they will present a “Bike Rodeo” in front of University Hall that is meant to engage both the McMaster community and the broader city with pro-bike spirit and knowledge.
While a small accomplishment in its own right, the Rodeo is the tricycle wheels needed to put Hamilton’s cycling zeitgeist on the right track – one that even my clunky, dilapidated, jarring stead, with all it’s bumps, scratches and memories, will be able to fit into. At least, until the next winter.