Vancouver’s vibrant veloculture
One of the things that elevates Vancouver to the ranks of the best cities in the world is the rich diversity of its varied cultures. That's one of the reasons why I believe that cyclists are good for Vancouver (despite that strange minority of fuming cyclophobes). The kaleidoscope of Vancouver cyclists adds further layers of fun, colour and texture to our vibrant mosaic.
Vancouver’s cycling culture has been accused of being a dull, gray monoculture. Nothing could be further from the truth. As far back as 1925, Vancouver cyclists were interesting and original. Above is a photo from 1925, showing a local cyclist on a bike cleverly disguised to look like a horse. Sadly, the technology of the times means we have lost the colours, but I am betting this cyclist and his bike were anything but dull and grey. (Photo Copyright 2010 Vancouver Public Library)
Moving to the present day, there are all kinds of cycling activities going on that are anything but dull and gray. For instance, Vancruisers is a club for local cyclists who favour cruisers, including choppers, beach cruisers, krate bikes and rat rods. They host a range of fun, rainbow-coloured events. One of these is the Little 100 race. Shown above and below are two of the many colourful (and entirely not-grey) participants, taken by Ulrike Rodrigues (see her site for more great photos of colourful cyclists).
And then of course there are the Vancruiser’s beautiful bikes, also photographed by Ulrike Rodrigues:
And in case that’s not colourful enough for you, Bryn from Vancruisers tipped me off to the Wig Rides held regularly by the group. Here are some of the participants – I don’t know when last I saw such a non-boring group of Vancouverites!
Clearly there’s no shortage of colourful cyclists in our city! But let’s not forget, we also have a BEAUTIFUL city to showcase our bikes. Here’s a photo by Peter Ladner that vividly makes this point:
Bikes have also been showcased indoors in Vancouver. The Museum of Vancouver’s Velocity exhibit in 2009 showcased diversity in bike culture, both past and present. This photo courtesy of jnyyz (who runs the Toronto-based blog, Biking in a Big City):
Moving back to the streets (in fact, taking them over for an hour or two) are the eclectic group of cyclists who participate in Vancouver’s Critical Mass Rides. Held on the last Friday of every month, these events bring out every conceivable variety of cyclists, from earnest grandparents in reflective yellow bike jackets, to exuberantly cheerful anarchists who stop the traffic to let the bike parade pass by. True, the rides provoke rage from some motorists. While most will wait patiently for Santa parades or Pride Marches to pass by, some bitterly resent being stopped for a period of one light change to allow cyclists to go by.
What these motorists fail to appreciate is that the Critical Mass Rides are just another expression of the diversity we enjoy in this great city.
I took part in one ride and was struck by the goodwill of the participants and (most) of the spectators. And apart from making a brief statement about the rights of cyclists to safe use of the streets, the event also enables participants to show off their wonderfully creative bikes:
Some of the participants in the Critical Mass Rides leave together from East Vancouver’s Grandview Park. East Vancouver is of course a wonderful example of Vancouver’s ability to accommodate diversity in an amicable way. I lived there for a decade, and was frequently witness to sights that can surely only be seen in East Vancouver. Particularly memorable was the sight of a pickpocket taking off with the purse of a member of the area’s large lesbian community – only to be aggressively run down by an entire cross-section of the neighbourhood. Her purse was returned in minutes, and the thief took off to try and find a less neighbourly place to commit his crimes.
Strolling through East Van last month, I came across this friendly woman and her colourful bike:
This is Eileen Mosca, local artist, who proudly showed off the paint job she has done on her bike. After years of commuting by bike, Eileen has grown heartily tired of having her bikes stolen, and has come up with a creative solution. As she puts it, she has painted her bike to the point where it is a “freak show” that no one would want to steal. The paint job includes the arresting words: “Thou shalt not steal.” While Eileen calls it a freak show, I must say I found her brightly coloured bike a very cheerful sight, leaning outside a Commercial Drive coffee shop on a dreary, rainy day.
It was also cheering to come across the newly installed Bike Corral on Commercial Drive. Despite the icy cold weather, cyclists kept pulling up to park, interacting cheerfully with coffee drinkers enjoying the winter sun on the sidewalk.
At first glance, all of these diverse groups may seem to have little in common – apart from living in Vancouver and riding bikes.
However, one thing that draws all cyclists together is the need for safe cycling. In that respect, Vancouver has made some giant steps over the past couple of years, with the addition of the new, improved, safer, separated bike lanes (Burrard, Dunsmuir, and Hornby), as well as the creation of the Vancouver segment of the lovely Central Valley Greenway (CVG). Here’s a late fall shot of a cyclist on the new Dunsmuir Bike Lane, courtesy of Paul Krueger.
Vancouver’s recent and dramatic bike lane improvements can be credited to Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson. And as Gregor is anything but a dull, grey cycling advocate, I thought I’d throw in a photo of him. This one shows him with Brian Hever, a resident of Yaletown House, trying out the care facility’s new Duet Bike in Yaletown (photo from Metro).
Actively drawing cyclists together is the Vancouver Bicycling Meetup Group, run by Cindy Fong, which organizes training rides, leisure rides, destination rides, touring and camping rides for Vancouver cyclists with diverse interests and cycling abilities. In this group, Vancouver cyclists from beginners to experts can get together for a convivial ride.
And isn’t that what it’s all about – finding common ground in the midst of our diversity?
Thought I’d close with one of Paul Krueger’s great photos, taken on the new Hornby route:
Kind of says it all!
If you want to know more about Vancouver's Cycling Culture, read Ulrike Rodrigues's fascinating, in-depth article.