Five Things to Know About Riding in Toronto
Posted on 12 August 2016
1. RIDING IN TORONTO IS AWESOME
Every year tens of thousands of new students arrive in Toronto to discover the TTC kinda sucks, driving is even worse, and walking works (but takes forever). But a bike? A bike is awesome.
Here's a fun social geography when it comes to living downtown Toronto. If you're coming from the suburbs or a driving-town you're about to discover that living downtown means that (up to) 90% of your life is lived within a 7-10km radius of home. In that radius neither walking or driving make sense, the TTC doesn't link door-to-door, but a bicycle is perfect.
But the best thing about riding in Toronto is the million other cyclists out there. In less than ten short years the streets of Toronto have been completely overtaken by cyclists - building security and safety in numbers and with that, more and more bike lanes (including the brand new one right outside our front door!). There are moments that Toronto feels not unlike Amsterdam. So welcome! It's amazing.
2. GET A DECENT BIKE
We suggest keeping it simple, and buying new rather than used (unless you really know how to assess a bikes condition). The long reason for this is that the bike industry in North America has a bad habit of assuming that everyone lives in cities like LA or Detroit. That means the bikes they think you need are generally casual recreational use, not city biking. A large percentage of of the bikes we repair daily are in pretty bad condition - beaten up by potholes and eaten up by rust. That's the used bike market out there.
The bikes we import and sell are actually made for city riding (believe it or not, that's what separates us from most other shops), meaning they generally have the gears you need, tough steel frames made for locking next to poles all day, and (usually) featuring smart things like fenders, racks and chain-guards. In Toronto a simple one or three speed does the trick perfectly. And, many are on sale!!
Is a good bike expensive? Well yes and no - depends on your perspective. If a bike can truly multi-task 90% of your daily transportation for 3-4 seasons per year then that's a great deal. A Metropass is $1344 a year and only lasts one year - that's expensive! A good city bike is half the price of a metropass and will last many decades. Buying a good bike usually means more money for clothes or fun. Although the funnest thing you could probably do is go on a bike ride. Just sayin'
3. DEFINITELY GET A GREAT LOCK
We get asked this question a lot, and one of our most-read blog posts is about bike theft. In sum, your neighbourhood bicycle thief is generally someone who lives on the street, steals from the street and sells on the street. That's really a nice way of saying: your local bike thief is a drug addict. Why your bike and not something else? Well, because your bike is the only thing you own in your life that isn't locked behind a keyed door - it's an easy target. So, to protect it your lock better be killer.
The logic may seem strange, but a recent study in Montreal showed that cheaper bikes are stolen far more often than expensive bikes. You probably think a more expensive bike gets more money. But the bike is only worth a hit of drugs, and that means the opportunity lies in how easy the lock is to break. People who buy better locks don't get their bikes stolen. Why? Because it's way too time, risk and expense to break a better lock if the end result is the same hit of crack. They don't teach you that in economics!
So, what's a good lock? A better question is: how do thieves get through locks? While everyone knows cable locks just get cut, a lot of urban-myths surround U-locks. Many people think the thief is using liquid nitrogen, lithium-ion grinders, or hydraulic car jacks. This is simply not the case. In our twenty five years of business all we see are customers bent U-locks, the result of a "leverage attack" using nothing more than a crowbar. Again, it's a crackhead.
A good lock will be both leverage and cut resistant. And yes, they do exist - and they work. No matter what bike you buy, used or new, Canadian Tire (not good!) or a bike shop, make sure you buy a good lock. They start at $89.99, but this time of year we also put them on sale!!!
4. MAKE SURE YOU'RE STREET LEGAL
There are two groups of people that attack new cyclists in Toronto every September. The first are bike thieves. They capitalize on the fact that you probably never really thought about your bike lock because it always worked well at home. With a huge market of locks that are easy to break, they go on a rampage stealing bikes for drugs. Every year in September, there are a spike in thefts (which is why we put locks on deep discount, we hate letting the bad guys win).
The second group of people is - if you can believe it - the Toronto Police. They know that you probably don't know the laws around lights and bells, so they make sure you know by providing tickets for $110 for no lights and another $110 for no bell. Welcome to Toronto. Every September the Toronto Police puts bike traps on the street and give a rude welcome to all students who just finished paying their first-and-last-months rent. Thanks guys, really awesome.
Nonetheless, you absolutely need lights and you need a bell. A bell is a polite way to warn other cyclists of your presence and lights are supremely important because cyclists tend to blend into darkness like chameleons (we've almost hit other cyclists at night, on our bikes! because they're so invisible).
So lights and bells. We put them on sale this time of year because we want you to be safe! Check out our sale section here!
5. FIND TOP SECRET RIDES FOR FUN
Toronto has so many hidden gems! Here are some of our faves.
1) The Leslie Street Spit: made of construction rubble from the construction of Toronto's first subway (and today from all those condos), "the spit" is a car-free strip of land that juts out into Lake Ontario and offers amazing views of Toronto as well as amazing views of the lake.
2) Cherry Beach. Yes, you can swim in Lake Ontario! (And Cherry Beach is the cleanest of them all). Nestled in Toronto's old Industrial Portlands you ride by a huge old coal powerplant, grain elevators and the outflow of the Don River. This area won't look remotely the same in a decade, so enjoy it while you can.
3) Toronto Islands. You get to take a ferry, you can ride on car-free paths. There is old cottage housing that isn't divided by roads but by sidewalks (cool!) - there's a nude beach, an amusement park, and some of the best views of Toronto everywhere. It's a gem and it's so, so close.
4) Humber River and Don River. Spacing Magazine once wrote that Toronto is the most Canadian city because it keeps two stretches of honest-to-god wilderness from the Lake to the Greenbelt. Both have great bike trails. You can sometimes see deer in the Don Valley and in September you can watch Salmon jump up weirs in the Humber. It's pretty crazy to be in the wilderness but right downtown.
5) There's many more places to go but here's the best part about riding in Toronto: the neighbourhood back-streets. Even with all the new bike lanes covering Toronto, riding these streets is as close to a car-free experience you can have. Cruising down these streets you can let your eyes wander to Toronto's spectacular Victorian architecture and find yourself relaxing before an early morning class or exam.
We hope that helps! Many of us at Curbside are current students or former students and, we totally get it (we're also the closest store to UofT). That's why every year we throw Toronto's biggest bicycle Back to School Sale with the best deals to get you started!