This is my regular work commute: I start on Charlotte Street in north end Sydney travelling south. From there, in spring, summer and fall I turn west down York Street, then south onto the Esplanade. York Street has a relatively steep downhill grade, however, so, in winter, I'll keep going on Charlotte and turn west on Dorchester Street instead, which also puts me on the Esplanade. Once on the Esplanade, my route to work is pretty much down a single street. The Esplande becomes Kings Road after a short distance, and Kings Road ultimately turns west. After five kilometers on King's Road, I generally pull into the Sydney River Subway for breakfast which is virtually directly across the street from my work. Once I've eaten, I pull back out onto the road, head west about 50 meters, then turn south onto Kimberly Drive. My work is off that street. Coming home, I use the reverse of the same route (sans the stop at Subway) unil I reach the Esplanade when I turn east onto Townsend Street, then north onto George Street. At the intersection of George and Dorchester Streets is a restaurant named Jasper's where I generally pick up my last meal of the day. From Jasper's, I pull out of their parking lot onto Dorchester heading west, then turn north onto Charlotte Street which brings me back home again. :) Naturally, if I have other errands to run and such, my routes are modified to accommodate the additional destinations but, under normal circumstances, that's my route. Most of the streets are reasonably cyclist friendly with the notable exception of Kings Road which is, particularly for a four lane road, quite narrow even for cars. Riding Kings can be hair raising sometimes but, if you stay vigilant, it's not too bad.
My current bike is a CCM Riot mountain bike which features dual suspension. Having been brought up in the "10-speed" era, and not having ridden a bicycle regularly for over a decade prior to this, this is my first new bike since the early 1990s. I not only ride the bike for commuting and for pleasure, but I also eat healthy, having almost totally eliminated junk foods. I eat Subway salads and salads at a local restaurant throughout the week and, on the weekend, I have a pizza or two as a treat (provided the weather's good so I can get out and pedal off the extra fat ;)). I pleasure ride only in good weather, though I COMMUTE in ALL weather. My bike is my vehicle in the same way a car is for most people. I have rather poor eyesight and can't see well enough to operate a car. However, I CAN see well enough to ride a BIKE safely. Bikes travel slower, so I have more time to notice potential hazards and avoid them. However, lack of respect for cyclists is something that frustrates the living hell out of me. As a vehicular cyclist, I have a strong interest in the rights of the cyclist on the road, particularly since some of my route is not, by and large, cyclist friendly. Also, with the condition of the roads around here, full suspension is all but essential.
When I was a kid, I used to LOVE cycling. My bike was more than just my transportation. It was one of my favorite things to do. Not that I was a particularly skillful rider, mind you, but I DID love speed. The faster I could get the bike to move, the better. As a result, I particularly enjoyed riding downhill, especially before I was old enough to operate a "10-speed" or any bike with shiftable gears. My favorite bike as a child was a 60+ pound bike that was designed to look like a motorcycle (ironically, if I remember correctly, it was ALSO made by CCM :)). I LOVED that thing, since it actually included working shock absorbers, just like a real motorcycle. Because of that, it was, bar none, the most comfortable and stable bike I ever rode up to that time. I would ride that thing through virtually ANYTHING, and used to relish in off road riding and jumping. After I outgrew the faux "motorcycle" bike, my uncle got my a hub-shifting three speed. I never liked that thing much. As I remember, the shifter never worked quite right, though I DID love the ability to shift gears without having the bike in motion. Still, the range of gear ratios was naturally limited with only three speeds, so I far preferred riding my uncle's 10-speed. Unfortunately, the 10-speed handled rather poorly on gravel, and there were quite a few gravel driveways in my neighborhood. After the three speed, I finally got my first mountain bike. It was low-end but fairly tough. It was a bit heavy for a shifting bike, but at least it had twelve speeds. It was a fairly nice bike when new, but after a while, it became clear that it was NEVER going to shift right. No matter how much you adjusted the rear derailleur, it either wouldn't go into first or wouldn't go into sixth. So I adjusted it to go into sixth. Second was sufficient for most hills in my area, anyway. :) However, the heavy steel construction and relatively poor gearing system really frustrated me, finally to the point of giving up riding altogether around 1992 or so. I missed cycling, but I couldn't bear the thought of having to deal with that awful bike again. The gearing and the incredible effort it took to ride that bike drove me to distraction, and I couldn't afford a decent bike. I tried to ride it again in 1996, but by then the bike was in even WORSE shape. I finally gave up entirely. For many years, I barely even thought about cycling. I have a heart condition and don't have quite the endurance of most people to begin with. My legs, however, had always been strong and my endurance respectable despite it, mostly thanks to the cycling. However, after I gave up on it, my physical condition went to hell. I gained weight, and my endurance took a dive. I could still walk great distances, but it would exhaust me, and I couldn't run very far without getting winded. Then, in December 2001, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. After a few months of experimenting, it became clear that medication was overkill, lowering my blood sugar dangerously, so I tried to control it entirely with diet. That was only a partial success, insofar as I was slightly overweight, so that complicated the controlling of my blood sugar. Plus, though I'd modified my diet significantly, it still wasn't perfect. I still had an unfortunate weakness for greasy fast food... :/ Then, in the spring of this year, I went through a period where I was depressed and eating very little. After a while, when I came out of my depression, I was shocked to discover that my weight had dropped from 215 pounds to 190! When I realized I had lost the weight, I was bound and determined to KEEP it off. Instead of taking the bus to work, I started WALKING. This kept my weight down, but the one frustrating thing was how LONG it took me to walk from home to work. That's when I started thinking about cycling again. I asked around a few bike shops, but I was shocked and dismayed to discover that getting a reasonably decent bike was going to set me back at LEAST $300.00, probably more, and THAT would be without the extras (i.e. carrying packs, lights etc.) I would require. Considering how frustrating cycling was for me the last time I tried it, I wasn't willing to blow that much cash on something I might get frustrated with and give up on like before... Then one day early this summer, my fianc?e and I were walking to a local bar and grill for supper and we passed a 15 year old 12-speed standing at the side of the road with signs on it: $20.00. I thought to myself, at THAT price, how can I lose? Even if I got frustrated and gave up again, I'd only be out a piddling $20.00, plus the price of a set of lights, batteries and a lock. I snapped that bike up on the spot. To my great good fortune, although this bike was old, it was originally a VERY high quality bike, costing close to $600.00 new, and as it was the primary vehicle of its previous owner, it had been VERY well maintained. I had never ridden on a bike of such high quality before. The derailleurs worked FLAWLESSLY. I'd never had ANY multi-speed bike with such accurate shifting. The bike's only major flaw was mild warps in the rims that were virtually unnoticeable when riding, anyway. So, THIS was the first bike since that faux motorcycle that didn't frustrate the living bejesus out of me. With its narrow, high pressure tires and total lack of suspension, it was certainly a rough ride, particularly on Sydney, Nova Scotia's notoriously bad streets. However, having been raised in an era when virtually NO multi-speed bike had any kind of suspension, this was not unexpected. But the gearing system was pure heaven. Pedaling it was astonishingly easy. I rode that bike every chance I got. I rode to and from work. I rode out to visit my Grandmother in Coxheath (a good 12 kilometer ride each way) several times. I even rode it to the DRIVE IN movie theater once trying to find some friends I couldn't reach on their cell phones (I found them :)). However, as the bike wasn't designed for rough roads, and as I hadn't lost my taste for speed, I beat the living hell out of it. Eventually, it began to develop problems... Then came September 16, 2003, the day I will forever call the Day from Hell. SO many things went wrong that day that this was the day that SHOULD have driven the cycling spirit out of me once and for all. The previous morning, I had awoken to find my front tire flat. Fortunately, I live literally less than two minutes walk from Me Buddy's Bike Shop (yes, that's it's NAME... ;)), so I left it there overnight to have the tire repaired. On the morning of the 16th, I went to pick it up, but didn't have the cash on me to pay for the repairs. Fortunately, the guys at the bike shop knew me and trusted me, so they let me take the bike to go to the credit union to get the cash. On my way back from the credit union, I stopped at the intersection of Bentick and Pitt streets and was waved through by two kind motorists who had stopped to let me cross. Not wanting to keep them waiting, I stood on the pedals and BOOTED it across the street as quickly as I could... I forgot about the curb. The sides of this street sloped down on both sides to the point where the curbs were virtually invisible. Now, if you know the area, this isn't a problem. Dooley's Pool Hall parking lot is right across from the intersection, so long as you enter the parking lot at its curb cut, you're fine. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to properly judge my position before crossing and, by the time I realized I was headed for the curb, it was FAR too late to stop. WHAM! I gouged the inside of my thigh good on something as I slid forward off the seat, colliding violently with the handlebars, JUST averting crushing my family jewels on the handlebar post. I felt the back wheel bounce a full three times before the bike finally came to rest. Shaken and embarrassed, I meekly pulled my bike over the curb. It seemed fine at first glance, so I continued on to the bike shop. Unfortunately, as I rode on, I knew something was DESPERATELY wrong, but I couldn't figure out what. The bike just didn't feel right. It wasn't balancing the same way it was, and it was brutally clear from the THU-THUMP THU-THUMP THU-THUMP feeling when I'd apply the front brake that the front wheel was pretty badly warped... The guys at Me Buddy's Bike Shop gave the rim a brief inspection and declared the bike safe to ride, though they strongly recommended I take the bike in for a FULL inspection come the weekend. So, I rode off to work. The whole way there, the bike continued to feel weird, as if it was pulling or leaning to one side the whole way. Now, I keep my bike in my office with me at work. At one point, about 1:00 in the afternoon or so, I look back and notice that the paint is flecking off the top of the frame on both the upper and lower bars right at the handlebar post. Fearing the worst, I inspected underneath and, sure enough, the frame was pretty seriously bent. As this bike was my primary transportation, this was like a car breakdown for me, so my supervisor agreed to let me go back to the bike shop and have it looked at. When I got back to the bike shop, they weren't entirely confident they could straighten out the frame, but they said they'd do their best. In the meantime, I go home only to have my fianc?e tell me three things: 1. The phone is out of order. 2. She needs new glasses (set us back $150.00). 3. She needs a new WHEELCHAIR (potentially, if not covered by her mother's insurance, could set us back $2000.00+... AMERICAN...). Basically, a lot of bad news all at once to add to the fun... To add insult to injury, after going down to the superintendent's apartment and calling from there for phone repair, I return upstairs only to discover that the phone wasn't down at all. The phone in the bedroom had just been kicked SLIGHTLY off the hook... so I call the phone company back and tell them I no longer need a repair call... this was all the more embarrassing when this had actually happened before and I never even THOUGHT of the possibility in all the kefuffle... So anyway, the guys at the bike shop manage to straighten out the frame, but warn me that the frame would now be weakened, and another mishap like that could destroy the bike permanently. So, somewhat more slowly than usual as an added precaution, I take the bike back to work. Nothing else happens until around 8:15 that night. Unbeknownst to me, my impact with the curb had not only damaged the rim but the TIRE as well. Without warning, the tire EXPLODED, all 75 PSI of air pressure suddenly released in an 8' by 12' office... Once my ears stopped ringing, people started poking their heads into my office to see if I had set off a gun or something. The bang was sufficient that almost EVERYONE throughout the BUILDING heard it... totally freaked out and shaking like a leaf, I called my supervisor at his home (my shift ends before his) and say, basically: "That's it. I've had enough. I just want to go home." He manages to calm me down and convince me to stay out the remaining 45 minutes of my shift... The next day, I realized I had two choices at this point: give up cycling, as this bike was obviously in no condition to be ridden for much longer, OR... take the plunge and get a NEW bike... Cycling had given me SO many benefits by this point. I felt better than I had in years. My strength was up. My stamina was up. I could pedal for a half hour and hardly feel it. I was getting from place to place with remarkable speed, and a bike gave me virtually the same freedom as a car: the freedom to go where I wanted, WHEN I wanted without having to wait around for people to drive me, for taxis or for busses. So, I decided not to let it beat me again. I went for the new bike. And that's how I came to be the proud owner of a new CCM Riot. :) Actually, truth be told, I was originally going to purchase a Supercycle Hooligan. However, Canadian Tire happened to have this one CCM Riot, a discontinued model, still in stock, and they gave it to me for $225.00. The bike was originally listed at $399.00. Not only did I get a good deal, but I was also fortunate not to have gotten a Hooligan. I've seen PILES of those things in for REPAIRS at Me Buddy's Bike Shop... they tell me the Hooligan is a piece of junk. They see a LOT of them... It was like the Riot was meant to be mine. Riding the Riot was like having the best of both worlds. The great ride of the suspension system I loved so much on that old faux motorcycle coupled with the speed and versatility of a full fledged multi-speed mountain bike. I had a few problems with suspension squeaks and the front derailleur, but these were mostly "breaking in" issues that have long since been resolved. The CCM Riot is, bar none, the best bike I have ever had. I LOVE riding this thing, and I look for ANY excuse to take it out these days... And that's how I became a cyclist. :)