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The “Big Bike” commute

I started commuting with 2 toddlers in our new cargo bike to travel to daycare then on to work a few days per week during Bike to Work Month. Both kids get very excited when they see me pull their helmets out of the closet and it is never a hassle to get out the door when they know we are ”driving the big bike”.

We chat the entire ride and I have to answer an excessive amount of “why questions” based on the many sights and sounds we experience on route. Cycling together is a great start to our day, a nice transition from work to home at the end of the day, and a huge positive influence on our mental health.

I am very grateful for the cycling infrastructure on my route and bike parking facilities at work that make it much easier to ride safely.

Shifting into a new way of commuting

Photojournalist with the National Observer, Alex Tétreault is pushing the limits of moving around his photography gear to his photo shoots and assignments – all on his bike. 

Alex started commuting by bike in 2010 during school and continued through his employment at Ecology Ottawa. He gave up bike commuting for a short while after starting photography professionally while he figured out how to carry all of his gear.

Alex has committed to riding his gear-filled bike to and from work and everywhere in between. For the majority of his work he uses two 30L panniers with a combined 50-60 lbs of gear, this holds his “base kit” as he calls it. He uses this setup for everyday assignments (days on Parliament Hill, press events, etc.), and it allows him to be highly mobile while having the necessities of general photojournalism.

When the job calls for a more formal approach – either a portrait shoot or another event that requires more gear – he will bring his flashes and lighting accessories, still on his bike.

Here’s a bit of insight into Alex’s commute:

What is the main reason for biking with your gear?

There are a few reasons actually. The first one is really to step away from the car as much as possible. I was already mostly commuting by bus, but this is even better. The second one, probably equally important for me, is that with my current work life balance, I have very little time for exercising, so the most ideal way to get some of that in is through commuting, and I really need to drop a few pounds. So biking with my gear to my assignments was, and still is, logistically a bit more complicated, but it’s the best way to get that in. I’m happy to be able to reinstate this in my lifestyle. Also, no one else seems to be doing this, so that’s neat!

What is your biggest challenge and what did you do to overcome it?

I’d say the logistics of fitting it all on a bike, so finding the right gear to make it happen. It helps when you have really knowledgeable people helping you out, but for the inserts I’m using in the panniers, for example, it was a lot of trial and error, and ordering some equipment I then had to send back because it wasn’t the right fit, and I couldn’t just shop it out in a store to try. Right now, though, the biggest challenge is less about how to fit it all on a bike, but what to do with it once on location and the bike is locked away. I’m actually still working on that last part, carrying 50-60lbs of gear in panniers up Parliament Hill every day isn’t ideal. I’m trying using a camera bag instead of an insert in one of the panniers, so I can then be work ready once I lock the bike away. Not sure about leaving panniers with inserts on the bike as I lock the bike away though.

An added challenge I’d like to touch here, and I’ve not read or seen a lot about it, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to deal with this, are allergies. And very specifically, allergies that manifest with post-nasal drip, not necessarily the sneezing side of things. Often in the morning I have to cope with post nasal drip that is so bad that it causes me to straight up choke on my commute, forcing me to stop, take a breather, some water, blow my nose. On bad mornings it can be debilitating enough to make me throw up, and that’s such a legit factor to make someone want to stop. I want to stop it all every time it happens to me. I know I’m not alone in this, so my struggle to get to where I need to be is often not physical in nature, I don’t get too tired, I’m never not strong enough, nor do I get too winded to make it happen, but the struggle against the allergies is my biggest challenge still. Prescription allergy medication, nasal spray and daily nasal saline washes are the only things that have helped me up to now, making things much more bearable, but this time of year is just particularly horrid. Don’t give up. Take your time, plan an extra 10 minutes in your commute to just stop, breathe, drink, let it pass, and get back on that saddle. If you have the same medical issue I do, that will be your biggest hurdle.

What advice would you give to others who need to commute with a good amount of gear?

Take it slowly. Try things out. Keep at it. Things won’t work right away, and it’ll be a work in progress with a lot of trial and error to see what works for you. Also plan your day, play out the scenario of what you need to bring, where and how. Where are the bike racks, where do you leave the bike at? Is the issue weight? Length? Both? At first, you might not see time savings right away as you’ll be spending more time packing and figuring things out but keep at it. Your commute will definitely be fast, but not necessarily easier right away. That will come in time. Also, as I hinted above earlier, the most complicated part of it all might not be loading the bike and riding it, but what you do with the panniers once you get where you need to be, especially if the bike rack isn’t super close to the work place.

What inspires you?

That’s a tough one. I’m not sure really. Generally, my family, wife, daughter, doggo. For work, stories of people, humans, beyond the story at hand. For biking, the environment, doing my part, hating the car culture, #autowa, health.

Here’s how he did it:

This is his “base kit”; note how well protected the gear is before he packs it into his larger panniers!

Nice and compact – the basics fit perfectly into his two 30L MEC panniers and he’s updated to a heavy duty rack

He adds this gear for portraits and more formal jobs

Even with all of his gear it doesn’t seem like much to pull around!

With a little thought it’s easy to pack this stuff up!

His ultimate goal is to become entirely free from using his car for work,  a light trailer will solve this problem.

Bike to Help! Do the RIDE!

THE RIDE – Moving. Research. Forward

It’s time to get moving for research at The Ottawa Hospital. THE RIDE, powered by Mattamy Homes, returns on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Tunney’s Pasture. This is The Ottawa Hospital’s premier cycling fundraiser, which attracts hundreds of cyclists, of all levels, each year.

The Ottawa Hospital’s RIDE for research will once again inject significant funding into key research projects such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, and more.

With a fundraising minimum of $750, THE RIDE will offer three options for cyclists including a 50KM closed route, 117KM open road route, and the Virtual Ride. The Virtual Ride is an ideal option for anyone wanting to participate in THE RIDE but perhaps is not available on September 9. Those cyclists can track their kilometers through THE RIDE app, while out cycling on weekends or spin classes at the gym.

Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says the funds raised have a significant impact on the work our researchers are doing. “Our cyclists need to know the funds they raise go a long way to support research right here in Ottawa. The Ottawa Hospital leverages every $1 donated to generate up to $10 in external funding.”

Breast cancer survivor Donna Jakowec participated in THE RIDE last year for the first time. She was ready for the 2018 edition as soon as she crossed the finish line. “I felt really well taken care of because of all of the volunteers who were keeping an eye on me. I did THE RIDE on my own and I met some great people. It almost felt like I was on a team.”

THE RIDE is proud to partner with Bike to Work Month to help get residents of our community moving. It’s a wonderful way to connect with those in Ottawa with a passion for cycling and creating a healthier city for everyone.

Be sure to register for THE RIDE. You can register as an individual or create your own team! The EnviroCentre EnviroCycles are looking forward to seeing you out there!

Meet Heidi

When did you start riding a bike?

I started riding a two wheeler when I was 4 or 5.

Do you ride for pleasure, to commute, for a workout?

Mostly I ride to commute but it’s a triple benefit since I get a workout and a lot of pleasure. It’s nice to see the city at the speed of a bike. I feel more a part of it.

What is your favourite thing about cycling?

Honestly there are a few things that come to mind – pretty bikes, being faster than walking – but over the past few years my favorite thing is the amount of time I get back in my day to spend with my family by being able to leave my office and head straight home, without route transfers, traffic jams, stopping for gas, finding a parking spot. I love the feeling of the weather – the summer heat, the cool spring air. Even the winter, when I’m dressed right.

What is your biggest challenge?

Motivation, some days. It can be hard to be inspired to push up some of those hills, or to get started, until it becomes habit for the season.

What did you do to overcome it?

I remind myself how much I love the fresh air. Sometimes I use the rack-and-ride program in the mornings sometimes, and then ride home. It’s the perfect balance since by the end of the day I really feel like I need some de-stressing.

One winter I bought an electric bike, so that I could bike in assisted, and not have to wait in the cold for a ride. It was like magic. Then when I was pregnant with my last baby, I used it to help me keep cycling up until a few days before I delivered without exhausting myself. It’s awesome to be out there doing SOME of the work, but getting all of the enjoyment of the fresh air, wildlife, the smiles from neighbors. And the thing eats hills for breakfast.

If you could give advice to a brand new cycle commuter, what would it be?

Know yourself – if you want a shiny new bike, buy it. The health benefits will pay off. If you know it’s not in your budget, seek out a more budget friendly used ride- there are tons across the city waiting for homes. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it either. The world is rife with people who will give you reasons why not to. I used to bike from Hampton Park to Canterbury as a 14 year old, because the alternative was a 3-bus combo. It took the same 50 minutes but it was more direct.

I biked from Carlingwood to Place du Portage in Hull while I was pregnant, and so many people asked about my balance and about risks. I told them I mitigate it with bright colours, lights, and the fact that I’ve been cycling (on and off) since I was 5. This is not a new skill. For me, balance didn’t seem like an issue. I take up my space in my lane, and communicate with drivers by looking them in the eyes.

There are many bikes on the road every day that commute uneventfully. People get scared because the hear about the others. And as a driver, and a cyclist, I think you become a better driver around cyclists because you learn to respect that timing and space needs are different for a bike vs a car.

Tell me an interesting fact about you that has nothing to do with cycling.

I was the English tutor for one of the tallest men in the world – Michael Ri from North Korea – during his North American attempt to join the NBA. It was the only time I’ve ever felt really small, since I am 5’10 and he’s 7’10. 2 whole feet of height difference!

What inspires you?

My husband. He took time off with our daughter to raise her, and ended up training for a half-marathon. The two of them would go running together. He’s a great role model.

Meet Michèle!

When did you start riding a bike?

The first time I rode a bike was when I was about 8 years old. We lived on a hobby farm just outside Val Cartier village in Quebec City and I decided to try my Mom’s big bike…it didn’t go very well, as it was way too big for me. We moved to Ottawa when I was 10 and my parents bought me my very own banana seat bike! I was thrilled and was always out on my bike.

Do you ride for pleasure, to commute, for a workout?

I do ride for pleasure, and I also commute to work during the summer months. Every ride is pretty much a workout for me, as I am very competitive. I completed my first Triathlon in 2010 (Esprit Sprint Triathlon, Montreal QC). I have also done a bike tour in Tuscany, Italy with @Duvine

What is your favourite thing about cycling?

I love the freedom I have while cycling, and the healthy lifestyle it brings to my life. When I am commuting, it’s such a joy to get back on the bike at the end of the day.

What is your biggest challenge?

Sometimes the biggest challenge is my deafness. I cannot wear my hearing aids while I cycle as the moisture causes issues and they can sometimes stop working. I don’t always hear cyclists or cars that come up behind me.

What did you do to overcome it?

I am very alert and aware of my surroundings and I always wear my Safety vest – @safetyvestdeaf. I also try to educate people about deafness @ottawadeafgirl,

Tell us about your vest

I found out about this vest through an acquaintance on Twitter during a Twiiter chat (#AXSChat). Colleen mentioned her vests and I decided to contact her directly to see if I could possibly be an ambassador and help spread the word. I wear it every single time I am out cycling, and also share my adventures with the deaf/hard of hearing community.

If you could give advice to a brand new cycle commuter, what would it be?

Be prepared… for rain, flat tires, and extreme heat. Pace yourself and make sure you hydrate and follow the rules of the road. Bike paths maximum speed is 20km/hour: respect that and other people on the paths and roads.

Tell me an interesting fact about you that has nothing to do with cycling.

I am a Birth Doula training towards certification. I am slowly learning more ASL (American Sign Language) so that one day I can offer my Doula services to the deaf community.

What inspires you?

People who never give up!

University of Ottawa unifies for Bike to Work

The University of Ottawa Institute of the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity have partnered up for May – the City of Ottawa’s bike-to-work month. May is a month focused on alternative transportation and sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

We caught up with bike-to-work team leader Jocelyn Lubczuk; Junior Communications Officer at the Institute of the Environment, and chatted about her team’s inspiration to bike to work.

Tell us a little about your team

Our team is called the University of Ottawa Institute of the Environment & Sustainable Prosperity.  The Institute of the Environment is a teaching and research institute within the University of Ottawa and Sustainable Prosperity is a national green economy think tank within uOttawa.

The University has a number of research centers and institutes, one of which is the Institute of the Environment. The Institute has a research component that is embodied through Sustainable Prosperity and an academic component as it offers a Master’s in Environmental Sustainability. All of us work together at 1 Stewart Street towards our mutual goal of understanding environmental problems and developing sustainable solutions.

Is this the first year that the Institute of the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity has participated?

Yes, it is the first year that the Institute of the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity has signed up for the initiative, but the passion for sustainable and eco-friendly activities has always been present within our work culture.

How many people make up your team?

Five colleagues are a part of our team. Some are first timers and others have a huge passion for cycling and bike regularly.  For example, our team member Vincent bikes to work all throughout the year, through winter and summer!

How bicycle friendly is the University of Ottawa?

uOttawa is a very sustainable university- in fact it is ranked 25th most sustainable university in the world according to the UI Green Metric World University Ranking. Recently the university has introduced bike repair stations, including pumps for tires and simple maintenance systems through our Office of Campus Sustainability. Also, the University just introduced dedicated bike lanes on campus, which makes biking through campus much easier!

What are some of the motivational techniques your team uses?

Our biggest motivator is our passion to lead by example.  All members of our bike team live a sustainable lifestyle and so this initiative was an opportunity that we were naturally interested in getting involved with. Biking to work is a great way to get exercise, and there is nothing better than combining health and sustainability. Prizes provided by the city and local businesses was a great additional motivator!

What’s your favorite thing about your Bike to Work team?

Ottawa is very eco-friendly and beautiful city to bike around.  The fresh breeze along the Rideau Canal, is a lot better than sitting in inner-city traffic jams!

The Institute of the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity want everyone to know that they are highly motivated to create a greener Canada.  As leaders in sustainability research, the team also enjoys leading by example and are happy to participate in the City of Ottawa’s bike-to-work month.  The team believes Ottawa has a great opportunity to be a leader of sustainable living and commends the city for this initiative.

Mitel has an Inspiring Bike to Work Team!

At 24 members and growing every day, Bike to Work Ottawa wanted to know what was happening over at the bike racks at Mitel.  Mitel had never joined the Bike to Work Month campaign even though there are quite a number of avid cyclists working there.


It started with one woman who came out to an Introduction to Commuter Cycling Workshop and learned about Bike to Work Month. We’ll call her Shirley, because that is her name!   Shirley told her colleagues and soon a small team was formed. As everyone started talking about bikes, an inspiring story surfaced.

One team member, had a serious motorcycle accident back in September 2014; it just happened to be on his birthday. After a number surgeries, the last one being only a year ago, he decided to buy a bicycle and a trainer this past winter and with few weeks of training at home he started to bike to work last month for the very first time. It was with surprise and admiration that colleagues saw John Thompson joining the team for Bike to Work Month.

“Despite freezing temperatures and limitations after the surgeries in his leg, he is a truly inspiration to us all, and made this simple act of creating this team even more meaningful.”

~ says team member Sam

We are so proud of the Mitel Team! Keep filling those bike racks!

I have always loved cycling…I had just forgotten

The following is a guest post from Jamie Cashin.  An inspirational story from a participant of Bike to Work Ottawa.

I have always loved cycling… I had just forgotten I loved cycling. I was late to learn how to ride a two wheeler… age 8, but when I did, there was no turning back.  At age 13 I was riding in the mornings when most teens would be sleeping in.  In my early 20s I would cycle to our cottage for supper, and cycle back into the city to go to work the next day.

In my late 30s I moved to Ottawa from Newfoundland and was riding less and less as each year passed. Each year, with less riding than the year before,  also meant added pounds. By age 45 I had reached over 300 pounds.  I was sedate, and seriously out of shape, and had been so for more than 10 years. I decided I had to do something about it and began to walk more, and eat more sensibly. By the fall of 2010 I was down to 200 pounds, and had started cycling again.My spouse gave me my first new bike since 1992 as my 2013 Christmas present, and I ended up putting over 4,500 km on it last summer, including participating in the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, a 340 km round trip from Ottawa to Kingston. I also achieved a personal goal of 200 km in one day.  I also put another 500 km on my mountain bike.

For the past 3 years I have also taken part in the 30 Days of Biking challenge, where you try to ride your bike every day in April. It gets you on the bike earlier in the year, when you need the motivation, when you need to be able to ignore the fact that it’s cold.  Having goals helps me to stay motivated, focused, and in shape.

Once I completed the 30 Days of Biking challenge this year, I needed my next goal, and a friend mentioned the Ottawa Bike to Work challenge, where you pledge to ride your bike to work rather than drive your car. The idea is to increase the number of times you cycle commute, and reduce the number of times you commute by car. It was exactly what I was looking for, so I signed up, despite having not cycle commuted in more than 15 years. A co-worker then mentioned our work team, Team Obstinate Velocipedits, so I joined that team shortly after signing up.

I got another bike, this time a commuter bike, with fenders, and other features more suited to daily commuting than my carbon fibre road bike.  I was able to average close to 4 rides a week for the month of May, including riding in the rain, something I previously avoided. My ride is 21kM from Sandy Hill to Ciena (the old Nortel campus) but I often take a longer route home. I arrive at work recharged, and there’s no stress of dealing with 417 traffic. The ride home is a reward at the end of the day.

I’m now around 210 pounds… more than I would like to be, but a lot less than the 300 I was 5 years ago! For my 50th birthday, I took 12 of my friends to an indoor bike park, my treat. This was quite the contrast to my 45th birthday which was at a pub. I am in better shape now than I was in my 30s. Cycling has been a huge part of this, and while I was doing lots of cycling after work and on weekends in 2014, it just made sense to use my commute as another way to ride.

I have seen other friends take similar paths in the past few years, choosing to eat better, exercise more, and improve their health. While not all have taken to cycling, many have, and I highly recommend it. It can start with one ride to work every other week… and can grow from there. Before you know it, you’ll look forward to the days you cycle-commute. Even though May is over, I have purchased a parking permit for the remainder of the summer, and plan to continue to commute by bike for the remainder of the summer, with a goal of a minimum of 3 days a week being by bike, and a side-goal of one full week by bike.

I am looking forward to reading YOUR story next year, and hope to give you the “cyclists wave” out there, on the road.

Jamie Cashin


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