The VA/VC Medical Staff Planetary Health Committee encourages everyone to take part in Go By Bike Weeks from October 16 to 29, 2023. VCH is planning a celebration station on October 20. We will feature a number of physicians who regularly opt to cycle rather than drive. Here’s what Dr. Christian Rucker had to say….
I may be a bit of an outlier as I have had a love affair with bikes since childhood. Growing up in Europe, my peers had noisy mopeds with two-stroke polluters while I was rummaging in neighbours’ barns for bike parts to build another one to ride to a swimming hole or to school in the city.
I have been in Vancouver since 1993 and this place is ideal for biking.
My usual daily commute to work ranges from 15 to 30 kilometres. On heavy snow days, I will walk, bus, use an Evo or, if there is enough magic white, cross-country ski. I gave away my car over 10 years ago but my partner has one. My children are grown and bike commuting has become a lot simpler. The days of getting kids ready, hitching up a chariot and heading to daycare or school before work are well in the past.
I love my bike commute; the effort allows me to incarnate in my body and is my baseline of physical exercise for the day. I do not mind the rain and there is no better way to accept weather than to feel all its variations on the skin. I like some adversity as I derive strength and pleasure in overcoming resistance.
Plenty of craziness can happen when commuting on side roads and the way is to be mindful and focussed. I forget other concerns and reset. Creative thought and insights happen on the bike but not as profound as when hiking up a mountain at the break of dawn at close to peak power. Then, creativity soars.
Riding in the late fall and winter requires some adaptation. Much of the wetness comes off the road and wheels. I have fenders on my bike and I customized the front fender to extend the arc forward to direct the spray downwards. Otherwise, chest and face get the full of it on the downhill. When I was younger, I opted for minimal lower body dress, surf shorts or running shorts and kept my head and trunk warm and dry. A set of dry clothes were on hand for when I was done riding. Back then, the idea of spandex bike wear seemed abhorrent. Well, I changed. When I bought my first road bike 10 years ago, along with it came padded cycling bib pants that are not very flattering in looks. I am working up to the days in diapers. Bike pants are very practical though! Comfortable on the behind, warm but not sweaty over a wide temperature range, and dry in no time when against the skin. They also do not quickly become smelly like my various MEC bike pants.
For the past four years, I have incorporated an early morning ocean swim on my way to work and winter bib pants have helped to restore warmth and to overcome hypothermia. For footwear, I prefer Blundstones and on a real wet day, Viking gumboots. They are sailing boat boots, have flat grippy soles, firm insoles and a narrow shape, just right for the pedals. For the upper body, I prefer woolen underwear and a hoodie to keep the body and head warm and a Gore-Tex jacket with hood to stay dry. On days of arctic outflows, I may swap to a down jacket and warmer skiing mittens. Layering has been a good way of adjusting to the weather.
I have had various bikes for commuting. Hard trail mountain bikes, an RC70, Surly Long Haul Truckers but I love my current carbon gravel bike with knobby Schwalbe G One size 40 tires. A light bike of eight kilograms with fenders and rack but very strong and capable of handling a shopping spree at Costco. A bit more money than my previous bikes, but it is worth the feel and enjoyment. If I could have only one bike, this one would do most of it with ease. Great for touring, commuting, shopping, and trail riding. I have a spare set of carbon wheels with size 28 tires and then it will almost race as fast as a roadie.
My pet peeve is the City’s overzealous use of salt brine. I do not see any benefit of it except that it destroys bikes. Why not keep it for the few days when one needs to get rid of snow pack? I have had my old mountain bike succumb to it and have needed expensive repairs on my Rose every year. This year, new hydraulic brakes. Talk about inflation when visiting a bike mechanic these days. Now I am fixing up an old mountain bike for this winter.
With riding my bike I can lower my carbon foot print at the same time of being utilitarian and healthy. I also try to use as much as possible human-powered propulsion for my recreation. I do not care about getting somewhere fast. As I get older, my bike rides are getting longer too. Touring the coast and Islands, rides to Whistler or the Lower Mainland. Backcountry rides into the mountains. I used to be a distance runner but biking is kinder on my knees these days. I encourage more riders to take to the streets. It will make our city more liveable. Wave to me if you pass me with your electric :}