OK, I admit, this is barely a Team Lope ride report. But I wanted to post a bit about my trip, and I wanted to focus on my observations and experiences regarding bikery, and I represented Team lope out of country, so here we go.
Montreal is an interesting city. I’d been there once before, in October or November, and it was very cold and rainy though not yet snowing. It’s like much of the northeast in that it’s hot and muggy in the summer, and snowy and cold in the winter. It’s unlike much of the northeast in that it’s winters apparently compare with siberia. But we went in August, and it was a dream. When we left, SF was still in a cold, spitting, foggy, windy summer spell, and when we arrived in Montreal, at 7pm it was still 85+ degrees. For the 7 days we were in country, it was only below 70 once, and that was Sunday evening, in anticipation of a thunderstorm, which quickly passed. The rest of the time, 80s and 90s and above. The city is the oldest Canadian settlement, originally French, though actually originally indigenous, but that was pre-Montreal. The French settlers badgered, kidnapped, and eventually made moderate peace with the native americans, and the strategically located settlement on the shore of the St. Lawrence river became a booming fur trading enclave. After attempts by the young Americans to both encourage revolution, and later conquer, Montreal, the results of the ‘French and Indian War’ led to France giving up Montreal to the British, where it was absorbed into British Canada along with the rest of what we call Quebec today. The fur trade declined, industry moved in, and Montreal became a railroad and sea shipping hub, before development in other parts of the country overtook it as the most important trading city in Quebec. This is relevant to this report in a number of ways: the fur trade history of the town made for some amusing street names and the like in our exploration, the industry along the river led to the fairly recent development of parkland, and the French core of the city lends itself to a European flare for not only cooking, language and culture, but bike use as well.
We spent most days walking around town, until we were sunburnt, blistered and exhausted. Fortunately, I had booked a VERY luxe hotel on the edge between Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal) and Downtown, which offered a clean, cool, relaxing shelter from the combined overload of tourist traffic, unrelenting heat and sweat, dodgy parts of town, etc. We wandered during the day, and were pampered at night. This made for happy wifebot(tm) who needed the relaxing, luxurious escape more than she needed exploration and adventure, despite the stated contrary. She’s been insane at work and in school, so this was a critical element to the trip. Plus, being on the fringe between more populated areas, it was a perfectly located hotel, an old building renovated with a minimalist interior, in the edge of Vieux-Montreal but outside of the crushing tourist heavy center of old town, so it was quiet, beautiful, and three blocks from the water, which was wonderfully convenient.
People in Montreal use bikes more than anywhere I’ve ever been. It was awesome. It reminded me of pictures I see of Copenhagen, and certainly the unassuming willingness to hop on a bike regardless of age, gender, lifestyle, clothing style, weather condition, etc was very similar to what I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe. However, I’ve never seen anything this dense with bikes. The infrastructure completely supports bike commuting, and int he right way from the start: bike lanes on wide streets, not crammed onto the tinier, Medieval style streets nearby, and as we see unfortunately too often around here. The lanes are wide and clearly marked, I mean OVER marked. There are lights with Bicycle signs attached to them to warn cars to watch for riders. There are bike racks situated multiple locations EACH block in most parts of the city. And very well designed ones, too, so they are subtle and unobtrusive. And the parkland I mentioned before, along the river? Imminent domain, or something similar, in the 70s allowed Montreal to reclaim some 50 or so miles of river’s edge industrial land and convert it into meandering bike paths and park area, a route popular not only for tourists on rental bikes, but for commuters as well. You frequently cross to one side of the river or the other, across short bridges or along locks, and it’s wonderful to be able to spend that much time on the bike without a car threatening your backside. Additionally, you can ride on the major bridges connecting the islands. Picture riding on the Bay Bridge to get a sense of it.
One interesting thing about all this bike-friendliness? This is NOT the bike culture I know, though I appreciated it for it’s functional simplicity. Bikes are tools here, and largely disposable. I believe it has to do with a limited amount of interior storage space in many of the dwellings I saw in my travels, as evidenced by exterior access stairs to second story entrances of the common two-story residential apartments (as opposed to an interior stair in a lobby, as we have here more often) and very, very few garages and storage spaces to be seen in many of these residences. And in front of virtually EVERY home were one or more bikes chained to the fence, railing, stairs, whatever. And rusted to near collapse, presumably from being stored outside, in rain and later freezing snow. It’s a functional simplicity that I have trouble parsing, though I of course understand it: the disposable bike as vehicle, not as fetishized hobby or enthusiast object. These bikes get ridden until they collapse, and then get replaced. The vast majority were ultra-cheap MTB/touring bikes from China, covered with rust and peeling Excitement graphics, with shocks and knobby wheels and the like. But lots and lots of ‘Amsterdam bikes’ as well. I did see a smaller number of real road bikes, though some of these were rusty and locked up outside. But in the Mont Royal park (an Olmsted park like Central Park or GGP, built up the side of what was once a small mountain, now a large hill) for example, and along the water, I saw several road riders on nice bikes in full kits blasting by, so it’s still a part of Montreal life, in fact probably at the same frequency level as you would see in most cities. The difference is, everywhere ELSE you look: beater bikes replacing cars. Another thing I saw frequently was Frankenmodding of bikes to make riding minimally inconvenient for the rider. These might be ridden by a 60 year old shirtless man, or a mother of two with kids ON the bike… things like an erector set style clustering of bar ends ganged together to bring the handlebar height to mid chest sitting upright, or milk crates on platforms anchored to the front and rear of a shopping bike ridden by a sun-soaked young student. It was really great to see so much diversity in rider demographic, and ingenuity in modding these bikes for personal use, in a lowest-common denominator craft way. And the lack of prideful bike culture was noticable. We joke around about the preening fixie urbanites, or the ultra-spendy expensive bike riders or whatever other cliques we see in SF, and the lack of ANY of that was refreshing to some degree. I have to admit, I’d have liked it even more if these were all there TOO, but still. So most of my trip, i kept my eye out for fixies. Being so close to NYC, and almost entirely flat, you’d THINK there’d be a ton. However, the total number I saw in 7 days I could count on my lazy left hand. Even the bike messengers were riding Amsterdam bikes or beater touring bikes. I think the effort to MAKE a fixie just doesn’t even enter the zeitgeist here. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode, where fixies were wiped from existence. Not a well-watched one, i’d imagine.
Anyway, a great trip! On to the photos…
This was the first fixie I saw, which gave me false hope. This was day two. Note it’s apparently a ‘police’ fixie, a small irony you won’t see much in SF. I saw this bike locked up different places downtown in the same general area throughout my stay, so it was either a messenger or a local worker.
This is an example of the kind of Amsterdam bike I saw everywhere. I’d say the ratio was about 40% this kind of thing, and 60% outrageously hideous MTB with peeling Excitement stickers. This doesn’t count as a fixie. One did, but only because they swapped out a dead coaster with a plain rear hub, but I couldn’t tell if it was a simple 10-speed freewheel or not, and it likely was… I was just desperate. Anyway, I love Amsterdam bikes, and my own RedBike/Wobbly Goblin ™ is one. And the best lasting factor fromt his trip is that wifebot(tm)s fear of cars seems to be partially alleviated by her comfort level at riding upright instead of in road position, so she has an interest in me renovating an old upright for her! BIKE PROJECT!
This was taken a half-block from our hotel. Families riding together were a common site, though frequently on far more beaterish/ Burning Man bikes than these fine pieces of equipment.
OK this guy doesn’t count, but it was hilarious. I had never seen anything like it. It was basically a motorized wheelchair. But it was fully enclosed in a red plastic shell with a clear glass bubble cockpit, kind of like a disabled one-man Smart Car. ANd he would motor along the sidewalk and then lean on his horn until people got out of his way. This went on for several blocks, his path of travel so impeded by pedestrians, bikes, lamp posts, whatever, that he was only marginally faster than walking speed. Here, though, I was slayed. Note he’s slowly, methodically, righteously cruising through a red.
This shot was taken outside of the Mont Royal subway station (the metro was great… easy to navigate, frequent trains to the tune of 3 minutes or so… and clean)… isn’t it great to see the massive number of bike racks along the station, all occupied? This is in the ‘college town’ area, near McGill university, where the bike use was understandably pretty heavy.
This was sot on the way up Mont Royal park, a long winding path that leads to a summit view point. Many, many riders taking this path, though we were walking it. Anyway, here we see a bike, yes, but I was particularly amused to see the local SCA chapter hard at practice. This led wifebot(tm) to exclaim soon after, as we wandered among the tall maples: "these forests are full of pixies, faeries, trolls… and your other friends." She continued to mock my tourney days the rest of the afternoon. I explained that costumes, wrong facial hair, and accents aside, it only takes about 15 minutes to becomes completely, competitively obsessed with melee combat. But anyway, those who know, know. I did this for years, I freely admit. And I was genuinely bas assed, too. So there.
Here’s my second fixie photo… this guy was working his way up Mont Royal with a real fixed gear in hand… he was taking stairs to vertically traverse some more crowded bike paths covered with awkwardly weaving tourist riders. Anyway, evidence!
On our way back down, we discovered that the tourney practice we saw on the way up had grown to be a massive championship, with 40 or more fighting at one point simultaneously. Multiple families and groups of students were sitting, drinking beers and watching. Tattoos, bikinis, a few faire maidens, and lots of unwashed Samhain type guys… anyway, pretty cool. Took me back. Wifebot(tm) just twitched and looked around for germs…
This is what I’m talking about with the pleasantly OVER marked bike pathery. Where do I go? To the left? Really???
In Mile’s End (kind of like the Mission) an Iron Maiden, seen…
This is a good example of the bike rack you find every 20 feet or whatever. It’s a slim black pole with a low-mounted lock ring and a larger cube cap to it. The ring doesn’t always occur, but the cube is the best, because it’s larger than a Kryptonite by like 3 inches. Perfect. And subtle. And everywhere!
This was a series of subway ads that made liberal use of Marve characters. For a country so obsessed with criminalizing file sharing, they aren’t entirely unfamiliar with the concept of copyright infringement…
This one was great. The top and down tubes had been bent twice, like it got run over, but it was still functional and being ridden. It was like a lightning bolt when viewed from the top. By the rust seen, this damage occurred one or two seasons prior…
This photo I like for three reasons: it’s an example of the well-equipped Amsterdam bike, with fenders and custom bar tape and the like. Also, it’s an example of how you just find these bikes chained to the fronts of every residence, willy-nilly. And it’s an aesthetically pleasing bike to boot. Unfortunately, it looked reasonably new, no rust… so this is probably the bike’s calm before the storm. Literally…
Best Montreal-bot seen on the trip. Wifebot(tm) chittered ‘klik klak bonjour arrrrrr!’ the rest of the trip at random hours.
Third genuine fixie seen… and this time, actually customized. Even a fine choice of U-lock…
Fourth! Note here this is a very small rider. Kind of like what Mister 99 would have looked like.
Wifebot(tm) and I went to several historical and anthropological museums while in Montreal. In this one, journaling the culture of Montreal citizens over time, I came across my first historical bike references… I did see some bikes in photos elsewhere, but not directly referenced in the display…
As you can imagine, I did consider being banished from the city for snatching this boneshaker and making a run for it.
Part of an exhibit on the specter of naval travel when settling Montreal over the first few generations coming over… these illustrations were presented as fact at the time. I love them.
Here we are, setting out on our all-day ride up and down the St. Lawrence river. Though not visible here, I was well-equipped with cheese.
As you can see, I was not equipped with a fixed gear. These bikes were pretty comfy, though around hour six the big seat was chafing and my knees and hands hurt from the positioning of the ride. But still. Also, note that I was forced to carry BOTH U-locks.
This is the northernmost tip of the Montreal side of the St. Lawrence pathway, which ended in a manicured, peaceful park and estuary. It was pretty cool to imagine ships passing through this larger mouth of the river in years past. Obviously the river continues for a great distance beyond, but this was the end of the road for us.
I mentioned earlier that the biking signage was great. Here we have one of the frequent level change warnings, which cracked me up. Because, you know, it’s not OBVIOUS. Also, I love the dish mirrors around tight turns. We were riding during the work week, but I bet this is insane on the weekends. When we were walking along the water on Saturday, it was like a Critical Mass of tourists on bikes and Segways…
This was my favorite sign (up to the right just past wifebot(tm)… I think it means that the road is slippery, but it looks like it’s warning you not to ride on railroad tracks where a seismic event has ruptured the rails… or something…
All aboard the R3 Express! Next stop, Awesomeness!
I posted the toast pic from this for Go Dorito earlier, but not an hour after I tole wifebot(tm) my sole evening objective was to get a lager under an umbrella… and sure enough, the AMBROISE distillery! We enjoyed Apricot beer pints in the sun, and it was very, very good.
I spotted these dodgy fucks in the duck, transporting a dodgily-obtained CRT on a low-rider bicycle bicycle.
This guy I had to shoot across the river (narrow part) to get this guy… a beautiful red and white fixie… looked like it was bought that way though. Still, FIVE!
I love the signage like this. It makes you feel a little less like a fringe member of the commute, you know? Cars still almost ran me over… but at least they had more warning not to do so.
The tallest robot I saw on the trip… and a tripod, to boot! Klik klak bonjour arrr!
We close this escapade with an amusing sight: tattoo parlor ads ON semi-trucks.
Anyway, there you go, Montreal the bicyclist friendly city that isn’t so friendly ON the bikes…