There’s an old English expression that goes something like this: “Don’t queer your own pitch.” Despite how it may sound, it’s actually a sporting term that, in a nutshell, warns people not to spoil the field they have to play on.
Essentially, it means “Don’t piss in your own bathwater” and applies in spades to those militant cyclists in Vancouver whose irrational hatred of automobiles and psychotic need to shit-disturb whenever possible seems to have affected their sanity. For reasons I’m not clear on, Vancouver has a disproportionately high number of in-your-face bicycle zealots who seem to feel that the rules of the road don’t apply to them and that everyone who’s behind the wheel of an internal combustion vehicle is the enemy. This attitude has made them, in many people’s eyes, another urban pest, right up there with irresponsible dog owners and people who fart on airplanes.
I’m the first to admit that Vancouver has its share of terrible drivers—I’ve got the scars to prove it—but organizations like BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation) and the monthly Critical-Mass cluster-fucks aren’t helping. Some riders think it’s time for the Critical Mass events to be discontinued because cyclists have achieved many of the things they’ve asked for: bike-only lanes on the Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir Street with more to come, dedicated bike routes throughout the city, a 10-year cycling master plan from a bicycle-friendly city council, and some $25 million set aside for future bike-route improvements”¦
And—surprise—there are plenty of bike enthusiasts out there who also like cars. Me, for one. I recently spent some time with some people who, although they’re hard-core bike aficionados, recognize the necessity of owning an automobile and admire a nicely preserved classic as much as any motorhead.
“I love bikes, but I also own a car,” explains Bryn Hughes, founder of Vancruisers.ca, a Web site dedicated to the fun and enjoyment of cruiser-style bikes made by companies like Schwinn, Electra, J.C. Higgins, CCM, and so on. “Sometimes, you just have to drive—that’s just common sense,” Hughes says. Vancruisers organizes events throughout the region on a weekly basis during the summer. They’re low-key, loosely structured affairs open to one and all, with no goal other than to enjoy the simple pleasure that is riding a bicycle on a nice day. There’s no hard-and-fast timetable, the pace is relaxed, and rest stops are frequent. These folks definitely stop and smell the patchouli oil.
One of these events was the second annual Royal City Cruiser Ride, which started at Patterson SkyTrain station in Burnaby and meandered to downtown New Westminster, where participants could ogle the hundreds of custom and vintage cars lined up along Columbia Street during the Royal City Show & Shine.
About two dozen riders showed up, and some of the bikes were absolutely remarkable, including a 1951 Firestone with coaster brakes, beach-style handlebars, and a priceless patina. There was no shortage of bikes that were at least 50 years old, and the details on some of these machines were worthy of any custom car: chrome front-fork supports, ape hanger handlebars, faux fuel tanks, tin-can headlights, “springer” front ends, Sturmey-Archer gears”¦ Lovely.
And these bikes aren’t garage queens. Their owners claim to ride them on an almost-daily basis, and in many cases have added up-to-date gearing and brakes, not to mention funky little extras like air horns, glitzy paint jobs, and illuminated valve stems and taillights.
“If it has wheels, I like it,” said one rider, gliding along on a 1950s vintage CCM painted flat-black with Day-Glo green wheels and trim.
To get into the spirit of things, I rode my cruiser down to Columbia Street with the Vancruisers and decided to take the SkyTrain back to Patterson after checking out the automotive hardware. This is part of Vancouver city council’s master plan, right—rather than driving your car, they want you to use the SkyTrain and ride your bike whenever possible.
For the most part things went smoothly, but there are some aspects that could be improved. While some of the SkyTrain lines—the Canada Line, for example—have a spot set aside for bikes, the Expo Line, which goes from Surrey through New Westminster and Burnaby to downtown Vancouver, does not. Bikes aren’t allowed onboard on the Expo and Millennium lines in the busier direction during rush hour, and I can see why. No matter how hard I tried to keep out of the way, I ended up blocking at least three seats. Fortunately, it was Sunday and there were few passengers.
Still, if you’re going to lecture people about riding their bike and using public transit, it seems to me that you have to meet them halfway, and SkyTrain needs to create more bike areas if they want people to get serious about this—maybe even a car dedicated to bicycle riders only?
Still, it was a fine way to spend a Sunday. Cyclists riding across town to check out hot rods—what’s not to like?