Toronto resident Heather Jackson tells us why she loves riding in the city and why she chooses to ride a Brompton.
How would you describe cycling in Toronto?
The cycling experience in Toronto is as diverse as its population. You can be a recreational trail rider, or a neighbourhood cyclist who sticks to quiet side streets, or a pedal-powered commuter mixed in with motor vehicles on some of the busiest roads in North America, or a multimodal Bromptoneer who catches the train or subway into the city and cycles the last leg of the trip. Of course, you can also be a combination of all! I am.
How do you use your Brompton bike?
When I bought my Brompton, the plan was to use it for traveling (after all, I already had two other bikes - a road bike for summer, and a weatherproof tank-bike for winter), but the Brompton was so fast, fun and convenient that I found myself riding it all the time. Especially since finding bike parking in Toronto can be difficult. Downtown there are so many cyclists that the racks and posts are full of bikes almost all day! And midtown and uptown have the opposite problem; because there aren’t as many cyclists, there are very few bike racks and sometimes none at all. But with a Brompton, I don’t have to worry about where to park; I just fold it up and take it inside.
How did you get into cycling?
My second job out of university was right downtown at Yonge and Wellington. I was planning to drive there because, well, as a small town girl I owned a car and thought that’s how everyone got to work. But when I asked my boss about parking, the cost (even with my employee discount) was way more than I could afford. So I looked into alternatives like transit, but that wasn’t cheap either. And that’s when I took note of a tiny, painted bike lane on Dundas St. E, my route into downtown. I’d seen a few cyclists using it (this was long before the cycling boom in Toronto), and figured I’d give it a try. That weekend I drove to my parents’ house and picked up the pink mountain bike I’d had since I was a preteen, and on Monday morning I cycled to work… and arrived an hour early! I thought it was a mistake. I must have misread the time when I left my apartment. How did I get there so fast?! But it happened the next day and the next. It wasn’t a fluke. Cycling in Toronto, even on a clunky, knobby-tire mountain bike, is so much faster than driving or taking transit. I was sold! Even if I get rich enough to afford to park a car downtown, I’ll never go back to driving in Toronto. City cyclist for life!
What advice would you give to anyone considering cycling in Toronto?
Now is a good time to start cycling in Toronto because we are finally getting more infrastructure, like the new bike lanes on Sherbourne, Richmond, Adelaide, Queens Quay and Bloor Street, so it’s possible to plan a route with a combination of bike lanes and side streets. When I started cycling here 16 years ago that was impossible! Plus, there are more cyclists than ever before on the roads, and there’s safety in numbers. If you’re just starting out, you can rent a Bixi bike and have a friend ride with you and give you tips, like proper bike passing etiquette, hand signals, and routes with less car traffic. And finally, if you’re one of the tens of thousands of people who have just moved into a newly built Toronto condo, get a Brompton! Not only are Bromptons small and easy to store in your condo-sized closet, but then you don’t have to worry about parking a regular bike at an outside bike rack or in the condo’s underground garage where it will surely get stolen.
When you’re not commuting, where are your favorite places to visit by bike?
I love exploring cities by bike! It’s hands down the best way to sightsee - faster than walking and easier and more personal than driving around. From Toronto, my Brompton and I have taken the train to Ottawa and Montreal and Niagara. In Toronto, I enjoy cycling along the lakeshore, from the Martin Goodman Trail in the west to the newly developed Queens Quay bike lane downtown, both of which are now part of the Pan Am Path! When Toronto hosted the Pan Am Games in 2015, the city filled in the gaps between disconnected trails, extended existing trails and built brand new trails to create a big 80km path that connects Toronto from the north west all the way to the far east. Last fall, Pier and I cycled the west side of the Pan Am Path that follows the Humber River to Lake Ontario. It’s a 30km ride that takes you through many diverse areas of Toronto, and it was really interesting to see how the neighbourhoods change from north to south. Plus, the artwork on all the bridge underpasses is amazing! This fall we’d like to do the east leg of the Pan Am Path.
If you could go on one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?
Europe! Many years ago I cycled in Italy and it was glorious. Motorists were so courteous to us! I want to go back and cycle through the Netherlands, Germany and France because those countries have actual bike highways! What a novelty - wide, paved roads just for bikes. I really want to experience that. I also want to travel the East Coast Greenway from Maine to Florida.