Friday, September 29, 2023

Montreal makes bicycling look easy

Colorful bicycle in a garden.
Useful and colorful, bicycles enhance Montreal, Canada.

 It is wonderful to see a city on two wheels. My wife and I were impressed and inspired by seeing bicycling in Montreal, Canada during our recent visit. 

Not that we bicycled, unfortunately. The rental bikes available didn't fit the timing and energy we had available. 

But we walked many city streets and parks, observing the wonderful provisions Montreal has made for bicycle traffic. 

Two things immediately come to mind. 

Separate paths for bikers and walkers.
Montreal gives walkers, bikers and drivers separate lanes.

First, "Montreal" is named for Mount Royal, a no-kidding mountain right in the middle of the city. Mountains are not generally considered conducive to leisure or commuter bicycling. 

Second, snow. Montreal is in Canada. More than six feet of snow falls on Montreal in winter.

But no! Montreal's bicycling website advises that 445 miles of bike paths are useable in winter.

In fact, the dedicated bike paths are likely to be cleared of snow before the sidewalks. This is so obvious to residents that it's a recognized urban myth that Montreal deliberately clears the bike paths before it clears sidewalks.

Plantings line downtown bike lane.
Who says a city bike lane has to be ugly?

Not so, the website insists. Bike paths are useable before sidewalks simply because they are easier to clear: no garbage containers or planters to jockey around in the bike lanes. The sun helps too: asphalt bike lanes warm more quickly than concrete sidewalks.

There's no melting Mount Royal, however. Instead, Montreal's system of bike paths exploits the flat streets running around the mountain. There are bike paths on the mountain; you can take your bike on the Metro to reach them.

If you really want to bicycle up, there is the Chemin Olmsted, a four-mile-long gravel path shared with pedestrians that is said to be useable by even skinny-tired bikes. The Internet claims that switchbacks make this an easy climb but I have my doubts.

Stop light for bicycles.
Stop light for bicycles.

Montreal is working on what it calls an "Express Bike Network" of paths separated from automotive traffic lanes. It will make bicycling safer, connect points of interests, enable long-distance travel and even provide enough room for go-faster cyclists to pass.

It's impressive.

Bicycles forbidden sign.
You know you have a biking society when you see this sign.

Repair stand for bicycles.
An elaborate repair stand for your bicycle.

Line up of parked motorcycles.
Parking is at a premium but Montreal makes room for motorcycles.

Friday, September 22, 2023

A Wild Irish Girl on a motorcycle

Poster of woman riding a motorcycle.
I purchased this poster at the National Motorcycle Museum.

 Tucked away in the small town of Anamosa, Iowa, the National Motorcycle Museum was, until this month, an astonishingly vast and important collection of rare and splendid motorcycles, bicycles, memorabilia and art. 

The brainchild of collector and businessman John Parham, the museum was a jewel hidden in the cornfields. Its location was simultaneously intriguing and daunting. Away from the population centers it could never attract the kind of visitation a non-profit museum requires. 

Blogger Jorge Pullin visited, commenting that it was a three-plane nightmare that cost as much as a trip to Europe. 

The museum closed Sept. 4, 2023 and its remaining 300 motorcycles and 6,000 related but incredibly varied items were auctioned off Sept. 6-9. 

I only visited the museum once, wondering simultaneously what it and I were doing in a place as isolated as Anamosa, Iowa.

I was there with my wife, her brother and their mother on a mission to track down their family history. A stop at the motorcycle museum was a treat for me.

It was just too much to take in (watch the video to see what I mean).

But I did take away memories, a museum T-shirt, and a copy of a poster I spotted on the wall entitled "A Wild Irish Girl."

The brave girl depicted in the poster reminded me of the brave woman I married.

It's also a stirring image of a motorcycle at speed, evocative of early 20th Century models.

It's shown with an acetylene headlight, common on the very earliest motorcycles, but the gas tank is more rounded than on the early "flat tank" motorcycles.

Online references occasionally suggest that it illustrated the book "A Wild Irish Girl" by Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith, who wrote under the name L.T. Meade. (Note that the source refers to the book as "The Wild Irish Girl," but images of the book show that the title was "A Wild Irish Girl," as in my poster.)

However, that is a 1910 book, and photos of the book itself show a cover with a much more restrained portrait of a girl.

There is more than one version of the book cover online; could the girl on the motorcycle be from a later edition unknown to Google Image Search?

 I don't think so. Meade's book can be read online, and, while it is an amusing story of an attractive, independent, and stubborn 15-year-old girl, it does not contain the word "motorcycle." Or even "cycle." Or "moto."

Traffic is often referred to as including "motors," but this is obviously meant to mean automobiles. Patricia, the girl in question, and one of strong opinions, professes to "hate motors."

So, that's not it.

My copy of the poster shows no indication of an author's name (again suggesting it is not a book or magazine cover), or any artist's signature. 

L.T. Meade's book was written for young people. A more adult book, "The Wild Irish Girl," by Sydney Owenson, appeared in 1806. Politically controversial for promoting both Irish and female independence, it contained (of course, in 1806) no motorcycles.

So where did the image of the girl on the motorcycle originate? The only clue is the words "A Wild Irish Girl."

The phrase "wild Irish girl" has been around probably as long as Irish girls.

Mid-16th Century England denied citizenship to the people of the "wild Irish nation."

"The term would be appropriated by the Irish themselves in latter years, depriving it of its sting," one source notes.

There's no doubt the daring Irish girl on the motorcycle is depicted as an example of bravery. She appears to me to be fleeing, either in desperation or determination. Her goal is more important to her than the impending crash.

She's riding that motorcycle "like she stole it."

The museum's framed copy of the poster I have was to be auctioned off in company other posters of women motorcyclists, as Lot 366.

Mine is not for sale.

Follow royalenfields on Twitter