Smile Politely

Bike dispatch from the Great White North

(Ed. note: this is a condensed version of Joel’s experiences at Bike!Bike! For the full report, visit the Bike Project’s blog.)

Bike!Bike! is an annual conference of community-oriented bicycle cooperative shops. The location rotates from year to year; last year, I went to Minneapolis to attend, and this year it was held in Toronto.


Toronto is fairly “bike-friendly” just because of the sheer number of bikes that are used for transportation, but its bike infrastructure is nearly non-existant. We were given city bike maps when we arrived, and they were helpful for getting around the city, and they were also great-looking and well-produced. However, there’s really no point in seeking out the occasional, intermittent bike lanes that crop up on streets seemingly at random.

The main thoroughfare connecting the Bike!Bike! venues, Bloor Street, was a clinic in riding in the door zone constantly, as well as avoiding the frequent right hook opportunities. Toronto was nowhere near the bikeable city that Minneapolis was last year, but in its defence, there were tons and tons of people on bikes. Boo to the City of Toronto, and Yay to the People of Toronto.

Holy shit, that’s a huge, over-populated city. As I type this while Carl navigates a traffic jam near Gary, Indiana, I’m fully decompressed from the experience, but it was a pretty intense couple of days. Toronto is teeming with life in every corner. The sidewalks, storefronts, and streets were never empty, regardless of neighborhood or time of day. With the exception of Pizza!Pizza! And Tim Horton, most of the businesses appeared to be local, one-off deals. It’s a truly dizzying array of ethnicities, as well, which only added to the complexity. I felt completely overwhelmed.

If you go to Toronto, make sure you bring plenty of cash. Most of the businesses wouldn’t accept credit cards, and my bank apparently saw my initial ATM withdrawal from Canada for the registration fees and decided to shut down my ATM abilities. Yay! Stores and restaurants that accepted plastic were the exception rather than the rule, which really surprised me.

This being the great white north and all, very few of the buildings and businesses were air-conditioned. That was totally fine with me, but it was definitely something different than what I’ve become used to in Illinois over the last couple of sweltering months. It was in the low-to-mid-80s in the heat of the day, and there were nice breezes off of Lake Ontario in the evenings. It started getting humid over Saturday night, but we didn’t have to stick around for too much of that.


A huge advantage that Minneapolis had over Toronto is that they secured a single venue for all of the sessions and mealtimes. Toronto had two basic areas for the sessions with two single-room venues in each area, but unfortunately they were about three miles apart from one another, and the mealtime location was in a completely separate location between the two. The “Bike Bus” concept down Bloor which they encouraged — basically making each commute a mini-Critical Mass — was fun, but it was near-exhausting to rush back and forth from Bike Pirates to Campus Co-Op House to Hart House each day.

The food was fantastic, as it was last year, and was a great example of how I should eat all the time. It was vegetarian/vegan without relying heavily on starches (and very few sweets), which was great. And the volunteers did a great job of fixing enough food and keeping thing moving. Mealtimes were wonderful.

Most everyone who attends Bike!Bike! gives a lot of themselves the other 51-1/2 weeks of the year, and the strain often shows. It’s a lot of work to selflessly give of yourself in an often thankless position, and it seems like a lot of BB’ers really want their decisions and dedication validated, more than anything. That need for attention often derails discussions, but I’m glad that these folks have an opportunity to be in an atmosphere that supports them for a few days, at least.

This is probably what it’s like for anyone who’s been to SXSW or Pitchfork, but I just couldn’t get over how SUPERCOOL everyone else was. It’s like hippie/hipster fantasy camp for me, to be able to spend a few days in such a group. I know I’m a square, but it’s driven home exceedingly well during Bike!Bike!

Another thing that really worked out well (for me, at least) at Minneapolis was that the B!B! venue had free wireless available, so that I could pop out my laptop during breaks and throw up a blog post. This year, I spent all my time on breaks riding between venues and searching for somewhere to get on the Internets. Poor me. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

The Critical Mass to celebrate the anniversary of the 2003 Blackout was awesome, though, and concluded with a dance party in an underpass accompanied by a percussion troupe and fire-wrangling dancers:

Thanks to Carl Stewart for taking most of the pictures!

More Articles