Photo: Cycling in Toronto: A personal reflection

By Gideon Forman

I'm mostly a walker and runner, not a bicycle rider, but I find myself drawn to cycling nevertheless. Why is that?

I like what it does to Toronto, my city, and appreciate the cyclist's physical presence. The steady pumping of thighs as the rider progresses up Beverley Street, up St. George, at human speed, human scale.

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Smoothness is part of it. The sleekness of rider and bike. The quiet. At age 54 I am sensitive to loud sounds.

The lack of exhaust. Yesterday coming home from my jog, I found the summer night fouled by a single truck turning onto Christie. Though cyclists occasionally pass wind, they don't poison the air shed.

Bike culture is making travel safer, fostering a reduction in speed limits on many streets (just approved by city council). Lower speeds soothe the anxious and are a brake on motorized vehicles' destructive power.

Some bike lanes are demarcated by rectangular planters, a physical barrier to protect two-wheelers from four. The planters are filled with purple flowers that provide a landing spot, a habitat, for butterflies and bees. Cycling culture promotes pollinator culture.

Bike riders exude a vulnerability (not unlike that of bees) that makes them attractive. They must achieve balance, and if it is lost they fall. They move through the precarious world working to remain upright; at times they come close to succumbing to gravity.

We all have the possibility of crashing down; bikes wear this on their sleeve. Their susceptibility to failure mirrors our own. A little push can make them topple. We feel a kinship.

The automobile is too heavy to lift but the bicycle comes up easily in one hand. Imagine something so light yet robust enough to carry an adult. Bikes have the relative strength of ants.

It's exhilarating finding a non-motorized conveyance in a city full of motors. Power is almost a legal requirement today, but the bike defies this. It reminds us of the self-propelled past — which many of us would like to taste. Bringing us to 19th century Toronto, the bike provides a brief sanctuary from modernity.

I'm drawn to cyclists' sociability; I see three riding together, talking and gesticulating as they roll — which car drivers cannot do.

I'm drawn to cycling's simplicity. There is no ignition. There is nothing to ignite; one merely climbs on.

Because cyclists aren't enclosed — don't sit in a box of glass and steel — they appear accessible. A cyclist would hear me, the walker, if I called out in need.

July 21, 2016

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