An ode to Ottawa cycling: Gordon Smith reflects on the city’s two-wheeled culture

Gordon Smith is a 23-year-old man with little rest; boyfriend (wink), web designer, runner and bike racer. He is the founder of the Human Powered Movement, an organization dedicated to improving persons and community through non-commercialized fitness avenues. He is also running 23 marathons in 2011.

Cycling is, as the philosopher Wittgenstein (a bicycle owner himself) might have said, another way of ‘being in the world.’ The cyclist’s personality combines the rationalist and the rebel; a public spirit and a free spirit of being.

Gord in France

I like to think my cycling personality is just that. I cycle because it is the cheapest, quickest, most hassle-free and ecologically defensible means of getting around Ottawa, but also because it accords the freedom to breathe in nature and all her splendour.

Futurists once predicted that two-wheeled human-powered pedalling machines would quickly evolve to the extent that we could harness the kinetic energy required to hurdle down highways at 50 miles an hour. A provocative notion, but the automobile arrived before any significant genetic mutations occurred. And ironically, many persons have been experiencing a physiological regress since.

No matter what you do, cycling is tethered as the ideal vehicle of travel in a bike friendly city like Ottawa, a city itself that is kaleidoscopic and in the process of continual change and transformation.

A view of the Laurier Avenue bike lanes

And change is certainly upon us!

Cycling-savvy Ottawa mayor Jim Watson recently unveiled the Laurier Avenue West segregated bicycle lanes, part of the city’s ambitious cycling infrastructure project. The lanes, located on either side of Laurier Avenue, are separated from motorized transport via concrete curbs, plastic poles, parked cars and planter boxes. Since its conception, more than 12,000 two-wheeled enthusiasts have sped along the route (I trust under the enforced 20 km/h speed limit) making Laurier the most highly congested bicycle pathway in Canada within its first week.

A few highlights of Ottawa’s cycling culture:

  • The city of Ottawa boasts a silver designation (3rd tier rating before gold and platinum) from the Bicycle Friendly Communities organization, an award presented during the recent Ontario Bikes Summit held in June.
  • Canada’s capital claims the highest percentage of bike commuters in the country, if not the continent. Its 170 km worth of paths make it easy to get from point A to B, though two-wheeled traffic declines between December and March.
  • Ottawa is home to numerous Canadian National Cycling Team members, and also nurtures new talent through countless cycling clubs, locally sanctioned races and an ample supply of inexhaustible volunteers.
  • The Capital Bixi bike-sharing program, run by Montreal’s Public Bike System Company, launched in May, with 10 stations all within close proximity to Parliament Hill. A total of 100 bicycles serve downtown Ottawa and Gatineau.

The Capital Bixi station by Ottawa's NAC

Over the next few weeks, I want to tell you more about Ottawa’s identifiable cycling centre.  I wish to illustrate nature’s grace vis a vis spectacular cycling routes, tell you about upcoming events and highlight commercial establishments of interest to the cycling inclined.

So I have a challenge for you, the reader: get the cobwebs off your two-wheeled contraption wedged in the hall closet. Inflate the cracked old tires enough to carry your frame and go ripping out the door. Pull up any place you damn well please – the new Laurier bike lane, Ottawa River Parkway, Gatineau Park… Gorge back a fine espresso while considering shaving your legs, learning how to play the guitar and speak Italian (cue 1979 cycling flick Breaking Away). Look at your bicycle as the facilitator of all – you’ve always had it, you always knew how and it’s about time you revisited this staple from times past.

Get on your bikes, Ottawa.

Thanks for highlighting some of the reasons why Ottawa is such a cycling-friendly city, Gordon. It’s certainly nice to see we’re on the right track! We hope to read more about your two-wheeled adventures in the upcoming weeks.

Do you have any cycling topics you think Gordon should write about? What is your favourite part about biking in Ottawa?