Tag Archives: Toronto cycle

Braving the Eastern Front

21 Nov

Just days after we moved to Toronto in an excitable haze, the city saw its worst ever mass shooting, which was to leave two people dead and 23 injured.

The incident in Scarborough, an eastern suburb, sparked a frenzy of newspaper columns and TV reports about Toronto’s inequalities and spiralling crime.

In a city with a reputation as an orderly safe haven, in a country so polite and friendly that a standard email sign-off is “very truly yours”, the shooting was a warning against complacency. It reminded us that Toronto, like any major city, has an edgier side and contains pockets with deep-rooted social challenges.

It also slightly dampened our enthusiasm for exploring eastwards. Besides from crime, any local will tell you that if you travel east of Yonge Street you’ll either lose your soul in a strip mall or fall off the edge of the planet.

But I wanted to try my luck. That’s me all over; I’m a thrill-seeker, a Jane Bond, a…keen cyclist. Yeah, that’s right adventure-shunners, I was raring to strap on my windproof anorak, pack a mean cache of cereal bars and show those suburban bike paths who’s boss.

So that’s what we did on Saturday, and discovered that Scarborough (pronounced Scarbour-o, rather than the English Scarbour-er) really is a world away from downtown Toronto. In the sense that it took seven hours to get there and back, involving a dark, cold evening cycle home, and we didn’t even reach our intended destination. Oops.

Our journey took us up the Don Valley, through the secluded Taylor Creek Park, across a bleak no-man’s-land and up the Hydro corridor:

Hydro corridor Toronto bike cycle

Hydro = Canadian for electrical power

From there, we tried to access Morningside Park, but came up against a slight, watery, problem:

Toronto cycle Morningside Scarborough

Er, how do we get across?

Having conquered the ravine, we were cycling around looking for the trail, when I spied a small, antlered deer weaving through the trees. Ahhhh. Deer in Scarborough?! And not a gun in sight.

The plan was to carry on to the University of Scarborough campus, but it was getting dark and we couldn’t find the trail. So in a strip mall car park, we decided to head home. It was quite a picturesque ending to our trip, I’m sure you’ll agree:

Tim Hortons Scarborough Toronto cycle

At least the coffee was cheap

Despite some temporary numbness to the fingers and toes, we survived our 70km round-trip to Scarborough unscathed.

On the way back, we even saw a raccoon peering from a tree with its bank-robber eyes:

Raccoon Toronto cycle Don Valley

On the pitch-black Don Valley trail. Thank goodness for bike lights!

We probably had nothing to worry about in the first place. This rather neat crime map of Toronto shows there most definitely isn’t a clear east-west divide when it comes to violent assaults.

Clicking on the map shows that in eastern Scarborough there were 17.57 “crimes against the person” per 1,000 residents and workers in 2006, compared with just 3.7 in my neighbourhood. But then, Chinatown has a rate of 20.3 and that’s not going to keep me from my General Tso Pork.

The excellent Toronto Life magazine published a well-researched piece on Scarborough’s demographics, worth a read.

Although the route took longer than we’d planned for and there were gaps in the trail involving some busy roads, it was impressive to see – again – how well set up Toronto is for cyclists, and how quickly you can escape the dense inner city if you want to.

Here’s where we went:

Late to the party

10 Sep

“Instagram could have potentially harmed Facebook’s position, which might indicate why Facebook acquired Instagram.” Searing insight from the analysts at Distimo, that.

Possibly even more mysterious than Facebook’s long-predicted decision last week to buy the second most popular social media service in the world is my late arrival to the Instagram party.

As a keen snapper, and someone who leaps onto every social media trend with the caution of a skittish puppy, I was unusually reticent when it came to Instagram.

The photo editing options appealed, and I liked the retro filter effects. It just all seemed a bit, well, “cheaty”.

But during a bike ride up the Don Valley, I decided to give it a go – and was quite pleased with the results – particularly the size of the files and blog-friendly shape of the pictures.

Here’s a picture near the start of the trail:

Bike ride Don Valley

At this point, the grasshoppers buzzing in my left ear were competing with the asphalt roar of the Don Parkway to the right.

After around 30 minutes, the grasshoppers were winning, and I entered an area dubbed “The Projects” by my other half.

Bike ride Don Parklands

Toronto “Projects”

Although I tried my hardest to bring out the hard, concrete tones in the shot, this being Toronto – not Baltimore – the “Projects” had an undeniably pleasant outlook. Still, good effort, Instagram.

I carried on to Seton Park, which was all dappled sunlight and meandering streams:

Bike ride Seton Park Don Valley

Seton Park

Crossing the Seton car park took me, via Sunnybrook Park, to Wilket Creek, cloaked in BBQ smoke and full of families on long picnic tables. Around a week ago, I saw a beaver here too.

Turning right at the water fountain, I cycled along a shady track all the way to Edwards Gardens – a peaceful spot with primary coloured flowers crammed into every possible nook:

Bike ride Edwards Gardens Toronto

Edwards Gardens

You can’t cycle in Edwards Gardens so I wheeled my bike around and set off back home, avoiding the rabbits hopping into the bushes as I passed by.

So, in conclusion, a really varied trail, which Instagram helped me to capture in a way that wouldn’t normally be possible on my iphone. I still maintain that not playing around with apertures, focal length and ISO is cheating, but when you’re on a 34km bike ride in the Toronto heat, this is a pretty good alternative.

Length of cycle ride, according to Google Maps: 17.2km one way

Time: 1.5 hours one way

Tips:

  • Take mozzie repellent for after sunset
  • Due to maintenance on the trail that isn’t due to be completed until December, you reach an impasse before Seton Park. Carry your bike up the steps, then carry on in the same direction until you reach Tim Horton’s. Turn left down the hill, ignoring the sign saying “no bikes” (as I’m in North America, is this the point I should mention some sort of legal disclaimer? At your own peril, etc etc).

You terrify me (but I love you)

24 Aug

Despite the headline, I haven’t written a Meatloaf-inspired ballad, or penned a gushing poem on the psychology of domestic abuse. Far more prosaically, I have a new bike.

Here it is:

My new Kona Dew hybrid bike

Check out my new wheels

For the bike nerds, it’s a Kona Dew 2012 hybrid, with Shimano shifters and chainset. For the rest of us, it’s a comfortable-ish type you can use for commuting and on well-maintained trails, with enough gears to prevent too much huffing and puffing.

Aside from a few years of ambling around uni campus on my metallic purple Raleigh Princess bike, I’ve never been much of a cyclist. Too many hills and scary drivers – and that’s before we consider the dreaded helmet-hair.

Luckily, in Toronto there are hardly any hills but there are plenty of side roads in which to avoid horrid lorries and major traffic – and the frizz-inducing humidity in summer makes helmet-hair a bit of an irrelevance.

My latest purchase was also inspired by hiring a bike for the day and taking it on a fantastic, sunny, ride along the waterfront.

It was one of those hearty weekend afternoons that has you plotting a new lifestyle of 6am runs, vegan stir fries and lunchtime pilates, before you go home, forget about all that nonsense and watch TOWIE with a Chinese takeaway and glass of wine. (TOWIE, for Canadians who haven’t come across this Bafta award-winning series – truly the jewel in British broadcasting’s crown – is like The Real Housewives of Vancouver, but with less tennis and more vajazzling).

For the most part, my cycle ride followed the Martin Goodman trail east from downtown, for around 26 kilometres, taking in the peaceful Tommy Thompson Park nature reserve and the full length of the beaches.

View from Tommy Thompson Park

Looking over to the city from Tommy Thompson Park

On the way back, we cheated by skipping Tommy Thompson, though we did meander through Ashbridge’s Bay Park for a while.

I’ve created an interactive map, plotting our journey with pictures, here (requires sound, start on the green marker then click each marker in turn for the info and pictures). You should be able to add details to the map too, should you know of any points of interest or useful info that I’ve missed out.

Despite my enjoyment that day, after buying my own bike from the very helpful Duke’s Cycle on Queen St West, I realized a slight snag in my plan to become the female Bradley Wiggins; I was terrified of going out on my own.

But I’m an inpatient soul and after studying a cycle map for several hours, my terror of venturing out alone was finally superseded by a desperation to get out into the sunshine and check out my new ride.

As I’m still a scaredy-cat when it comes to roads, I decided to test the other side of the waterfront trail, heading west towards Etobicoke.

West Toronto Beach

Cyclist taking a break on the sandy beach

The sites along the way were a mixture of industrial developments, harbours, outdoor patios, shaded parklands, splash pads and sandy beaches.Humber Bay Park East

Humber Bay Park, with its butterfly sanctuary and clumps of colourful wildflowers, made for a secluded detour, away from the aggressive commuters that were starting to erode the tranquility of the main trail. I thought about reminding them of the 20km/hr speed limit, but on reflection decided maybe that wouldn’t be cool.

I was also intrigued by a warning notice to dog-owners about Coyotes. Not sure how common these are but I wouldn’t want to run into one in the dark.

Coyote noticeWild animals and maniacal two-wheelers aside, I’m now impossibly hooked on cycling and can’t wait to explore some of the ravines dotting the city. At some point, I’ll even venture onto the roads.

This is a helpful website that helps cyclists to plan the safest route through the mean streets of Toronto. And I definitely want to check out some of the recommendations here, too.

Any other personal faves/under-rated sites or routes you’d like to share? Or perhaps just some friendly cyclist-to-cyclist advice on how to shift gear without your pedals crunching arthritically in a “please don’t do that to me” sort of way? Please add your tips underneath this post!

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