May 12, 2019

Screen shot 2019-05-12 at 2.02.12 PMIn season, during the morning rush hour, a clump of bicycles tends to form on the west side of Bathurst St., in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in what’s known as Portugal Square. The cyclists wait for the light to change on Bathurst so they can jump onto the west end of the separated bike path, heading east into downtown.

That’s where I bumped into Gus. Gus and I coached our sons in soccer with the Toronto Soccer Club a few years ago. After an undefeated season we lost a heartbreaker 1-0 in the final.

Gus is a tough, compact guy who grew up in Little Portugal, a place where the kids often graduate from a low-slung Honda Civic with tinted windows to a Ford F150 pickup truck. I never expected to see Gus on a bicycle.

The bike path isn’t a great place for conversation. It’s actually incredibly competitive; it feels a bit like the 401 for cyclists. We chatted as best we could. The World According to Gus ended up helping me to look at my cycling self in the mirror, and admit to myself that I am not always the most thoughtful cyclist. Gus, you see, is a bit of self-loathing cycist. Put another way, he has major issues with the way most cyclists behave.

Gus wore no helmet to hide his shaved head. He rode steadilyand cyclists rang their bells as they passed him.

“I’m not in a rush,” he said. “If I get to work five minutes late, well, I should have left earlier.”

“Cyclists break every rule in the book,” Gus said. “They cut off cars, blow through stop signs and red lights. There’s this bus that always tries to turn up here – the cyclists won’t even wait for the bus to turn.”

“Don’t you hate it when cyclists ring their bell and expect you to pull over?” Gus asked me. “Imagine if cars did that. You’re going slow and a car honks at you to pass.”

I told Gus I never interpreted the bells that way; most times I think cyclists ring their bell out of courtesy to let me know they’re passing me on the left.

But in many ways Gus was right. I’d been guilty of aggressive cycling only minutes before I met Gus. At Adelaide west of Bathurst, a woman on a bike stopped at a stop sign. I stopped too, and then moved forward, impatiently, to pass her.

“Can’t you see there’s a school bus there?” she asked, motioning to a short bus waiting to cross the intersection. Too late, I realized my boorish riding.

What Gus is trying to say, my fellow cyclists, is: slow down. You’ll get there.

As cyclists, we need to count our blessings. Many Torontonians can’t afford to live so close to work that they can commute by bike. We get exercise and fresh air. Our commute is free. We can admire all the other attractive cyclists on the road. And, as a bonus, we now have physically separated bike lanes on Adelaide, Richmond, parts of Wellesley, parts of Simcoe, on Sherbourne and on parts of Bloor. Toronto Bike Share racks have proliferated across the city, allowing more of Toronto’s citizens a low-cost and healthy transportation alternative. Plus I fixed a snapped front brake cable last week at Bike Chain, a free bike repair service at U of T. All it cost me was the price of the cable and housing: $4.50.

Cyclists have never had it so good. Perhaps we can show our appreciation and ride in a civilized manner.