I sweat easily, and so the day began with choosing the right shirt, one that would highlight sweat the way neon highlights Honest Ed’s store. The Sweat Test had to be objective. Measurable. It had to track the progress of perspiration.
The test was to see if it’s possible to pedal one of the new electric bicycles to work without arriving in a shirt that looked as if it had been thrown into a slough and then trampled by a herd of bison.
I chose one that was light green, the colour of a Granny Smith apple, perfect for the task since a drop of moisture would turn the offending spot bottle green.
The test had to have a standard for comparison, so first I walked from City Hall to Richmond St. and Spadina Ave. It was Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1 p.m. The temperature was 36.9 C, the hottest in history for that day. The walk took 25 minutes and the shirt looked as if it had been thrown into a slough and then trampled by bison.
There were dark patches around the armpits, down the middle of the back, and on the chest — so much dark that the Granny Smith parts stood out like stains.
The next day it was 35.2 C, and I rode several different electric bikes from City Hall to Queen and Bathurst Sts. and back. Starting time: 1 p.m. Round trip time: 20 minutes. Results: not a sweat blotch to be seen.
The only times I began to perspire were when I stopped for red lights. Otherwise the breeze generated by bicycling kept me cool.
Hence, my highly scientific conclusion: electric bikes offer a terrific way to get to work for people —
a.) who dislike looking half drowned and trampled by bison,
b.) who want exercise, not torment,
c.) who want to leave their car in the garage to help curb global warming,
d.) nobody steals their flashy looking electric bicycles, and
e.) they don’t have to push the bikes up a set of stairs because, at about 34 kilograms, they’re heavy.
The bikes are being evaluated by the Toronto Electric Bicycle Project under a grant from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.
There are two types: those with power on demand — a button that kicks in the electric motor when you press it, giving you a boost, or letting you clip along at about 30 kilometres an hour without pedalling; and those with power assist that you always have to pedal, but which kick in automatically when pressure on the pedal reaches a certain point. Like conventional bikes, all have gears — usually seven.
The cost ranges from about $1,500 to $3,000; there is a good variety of makes and models; and batteries are good for about 40 kilometres. Try McBride Cycle at 2797 Dundas St. West for more information.
The biggest surprise had nothing to do with sweating. I discovered that bicycle use in Toronto is skyrocketing.
A group at the University of Toronto keeps tabs on how people travel. It found that in the city’s core — from High Park on the west across almost to the Beach on the east, and north to Eglinton Ave. — the number of bicycle trips per day increased 3.5 times in ten years, from 3,900 trips per day in 1986 to 13,900 in 1996. (The surveys are done every five years, and the one for 2001 isn’t finished yet.) By comparison, the number of people walking to work in the same area changed very little — from 243,000 in 1986 to 286,000 in 1996.
I’m sure the increase in bicycling is due largely to the increase in bicycle lanes in the city. I’m also convinced that there isn’t a more pleasant way to reduce global warming.
In fact, I wonder why City Council doesn’t make more out of a good thing? Why not designate whole networks of streets just for bicycles, restricting motor traffic to only the cars of residents and delivery trucks. Bicyclists would be safer, motorists would be less distracted, and I’ll bet bicycle use would multiply fantastically.