Friday 17 July 2015

Into The Heart of Darkness

I've spent a lot of time on back roads and regional highways but have seldom ventured onto major freeways.  I'm not a fan of driving in cities, I find people to be quite idiotic and when you put a lot of them together it reaches a critical mass.  Put those same distracted idiots in giant metal boxes while you're out in the wind and the maths just don't work out, so I don't do it if I can help it.

Rather than cater to this avoidance I went right into the heart of darkness yesterday: downtown Toronto.  A Grand Lodge meeting at the Royal York had me making the 240km round trip predominantly on major freeways.

First day of  HOV with one person per box, and you wonder why
Toronto has traffic problems. The HOV lanes for the Pan Am
Games disappear when the games go, so Torontonians can
go back to their selfish, unecological ways .
Why take the bike?  Well, the Pan Am Games are on so they've finally gotten some sense and instituted HOV lanes (it took the Pan Am Games to make Toronto accessible to the rest of the province - go figure).  Fortunately for the selfish, environmentally oblivious Toronto commuters, the HOV lanes go away again when the games are over and Toronto is once again an hour further away for the rest of us.

Motorcycles are always high occupancy.  They are a highly efficient way of moving people compared to cars which is why they are so popular in places with less money than sense.  When things started to inevitably slow down (at eleven o'clock in the morning), the HOV lanes never did.  I've never gotten into Toronto so easily.  In under 90 minutes I was parked on Front Street.

Why else take the bike?  Parking a car in Toronto will punch you in the nose and take your lunch money.  Around the Royal York it's particularly expensive, often about $40-50 for a day, unless you're on a bike!  About 500 feet down the road from the Royal York there is free (!) parking for motorcycles.  

Free parking for two wheelers right on Front Street - you can see the Royal York off to the left.  I purchased a $23
club sandwich (!) with the money I saved not having to pay for parking.
What was the ride down like?  Well, the country bit was lovely.  It was about 20°C, sunny and not at all humid, a perfect day for a ride.  The 401 through Milton is alright, but when you get to Mississauga is starts to get silly and then goes bonkers around the airport.  In training they give you helpful advice like always ride on the inside or outside lane so you can take a blocking position, but that quickly becomes academic on the 401.

With lanes constantly appearing and disappearing and suddenly expanding out to 12 lanes you're playing a fool's game looking for a specific lane.  Spending your attention on what lane to ride in probably means you're not paying as much attention as much as you should to the vehicles whipping around you at 120+km/hr.  You can't keep a space bubble because the traffic is too thick and follows too closely, and you can't lane split in Ontario to get out of tight spots.  If you ride defensively (and you shouldn't if you don't), you'll find your ability to manage threats stressed on the four hundred series highways leading into Toronto.

The only incident was a guy in a Mazda who decided to lane change (no indicator, you see them less than 50% of the time) into me.  He had been twitch lane changing repeatedly so he was marked as a jackass on my radar.  When he turned into me I was easily able to avoid him, and then give him some stink eye and a head shake.  He hadn't seen me (he hadn't shoulder checked or indicated either, and he had his phone on his lap).  You always get a sheepish response from people when they make a mistake that might have cost you your life.

That much traffic is a real test of your rider-radar.  It's a constantly evolving, high speed situation, so you're always fluidly responding to variations, trying to make space, identifying idiots and giving yourself every chance of getting where you're going.  If you're prone to tunnel vision or lazy traffic responses when you ride, don't ride past the airport in Toronto.

The Concours hanging out with two
cute Italians on Front Street
From up in the saddle you have an clear view of occupants in cars.  I'd say about one in five has a smartphone on their laps and half of them are dividing at least some of their attention with it.  Ontario's distracted driving laws have driven phone use in cars underground.  There should be more OPP officers on bikes out on the highway, they'd make a mint, as well as raising the awareness of motorcycles in the minds of drivers.  Why are there no undercover police bikes?

Bike parking on Front, right there!
The ride in and out was pretty much flawless thanks to the government prioritizing access to Toronto for the Games.  I guess the rest of Ontario's citizens don't rate better access to our capital.

Once the games are over and things go back to the usual I'll be avoiding Toronto once again.

Permanent HOV lanes, the ability to safely filter in traffic and any other law that emphasizes the efficiency and agility of the motorcycle would make the Greater Toronto Area much more palatable to riders, but as it stands the mentality of Toronto commuters and the laws the government creates to support them make it a no-fly zone for me.

The Concours flirting with some Vespas. Parking for free in Toronto? Priceless!
Union Station in Toronto decked out for the Pan Am Games.
The Royal York - the grand dame of Toronto hotels, very nice indeed.
$23 club sandwich, it was good, but twenty three bucks!