Suddenly, downtown TO is a buzzing hive of moto-coolness. Nah, couldn’t be. Could it?
There’s a lot happening in Toronto. Our roads are changing to accommodate bicycles, which is causing major traffic jams as people try to find manage or find alternative routes. Unlicensed and uninsured electric bikes float freely between bike lanes, the street and the sidewalk. I clocked one doing 65 kmh on a park bicycle path, that jumped on to Lakeshore Boulevard (which is a six-lane highway) and then crossed diagonally at a light. That’s insanity! And at the same time, the city with a shocking absence of motorcycle shops and traffic worse than LA is having an absolute surge in bike culture! How can this be?
Last Wednesday I left my house and rode down to Church Street. First I had to battle the streetcars on Gerrard and Carlton. They are nasty moving roadblocks running on metal tracks that are slippery for tires in dry conditions, treacherous when wet. Those train cars pick up and drop passengers from the left hand lane. Everyone is supposed to know to stop when they stop, and when they open their doors at designated stops. But not everyone knows that. So passengers are at risk of being hit as they step from the door and cross the inside lane. Definitely a design problem in there somewhere. In San Francisco they only kept a few lines running to entertain tourists. Not us. We kept enough to kill downtown traffic.
I made my way to Church Street to where the Amazons MC gather on Wednesday nights for tea or ice cream, to stand in the street and chat, look at each other’s bikes or enjoy pleasant comments from passersby. Next I rode west to the Madison, a rather large pub made of two very large houses on Madison Avenue in the university district. Generations of U of T students have drunk there. They age, and then find themselves attending the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group section meetings with their vintage bikes. The Old Fort York group meets at the Madison but in summer, they meet in private houses with wonderful barbecues in beautiful back yards and a street lined with interesting, well-kept vintage bikes. I can only imagine what hosting does for one’s reputation.
The Moto Social is a monthly gathering held on Wednesday nights, May to October, where all sorts (and I mean all sorts) of bikes and riders gather to schmooze, wander the street and check out each other’s bikes. Something like Port Dover, except that it’s a few city blocks and hundreds of bikes, not tens of thousands—and a lot of Ducatis, vintage Japanese marques, interesting, unusual models, some fancy customs, etc…
#TheMotoSocial began like Friday the 13th—only this group of friends started meeting in 2013 in Toronto, and was founded by Viktor and Sam Radics, who both have motorcycles in their resumes. And oh how it’s grown! #TheMotoSocial happens now in Ottawa and Montreal now as well. (Details are online.)
I headed west across Bloor for the second time since the recent changes occurred. It was well after 8 o’clock on a nice September night and the street was full of pedestrians, sidewalk cafes at capacity, bicycles, electric scooters and mopeds flying down the newly created bicycle path while cars and motorcycles crawled in the single lane available, often blocked by a left- or right-hand turn because now there are automotive parking spots that separate the car from the bike lane, which make right turns hard to see through. Talk about an urban planning disaster!
The incredibly slow traffic allowed me to chat with a Ducati Monster rider on his way to his first Moto Social. And then more bikes pulled in, all going to the same place.
This month’s location was a coffee shop called Propeller Coffee & Baddies Toronto, located in a quasi-industrial area at Landsdowne Avenue on Wade Street. The location changes every month, and gives riders a different neighbourhood to visit, a different bike friendly venue to support. The locations tend to be independent coffee shops rather than bars, so it makes drinking and riding no problem. A bit of a caffeine buzz doesn’t make one stagger or knock bikes over. Think Rise Expresso, Rooster Coffee House, Crema Coffee Co. or Dark Horse Espresso Bar. These are definitely upscale, and unlike Tim Hortons parking lots, take over entire streets!
I did see some spectacular entertainment. One or two cars were trying to leave their parking spots, having parked there unknowingly during the day. Never before has a swarm of motorcycles of every description, from vintage to sportbike to custom cruiser overwhelmed the street. Getting through the pedestrians wandering on the street already packed with bikes lining both sides was a challenge for those cars.
But the big truck with the dumpster on back was a real eye opener. Crazy! The poor driver had plans to drop a dumpster into a slot of a warehouse that was barely wider than the dumpster. And to get it there, the driver had to, oh my, drive into the crowd, back in and out, narrowly miss hitting front tires of a line of dominos with his front wheel, back, forth, back again, egads, into the slot! Many motorcycles were not hit that night. But if even one had been, it would have been a disaster. I’m glad I wasn’t that driver, with an attentive crowd watching every move. I’d have had stage fright—or is that performance anxiety?
Sometimes it’s not the main event that gets the attention, but the sideshow.
I ran into only two friends in the crowd. The one whose bike I saw doesn’t count, because I couldn’t find her. So I chatted with a co-worker. And I saw a friend I hadn’t seen since the Mods and Rockers event over a year ago. That event is another Toronto social, an entire August weekend that begins on Ossington Avenue on the block that houses Town Moto.
And now we come to Town Moto, a shop that sells gear, and supports a lifestyle. And that lifestyle has changed in recent years. Some things old have become cool—but in the case of helmets, for example, the old, cool helmets are really better hanging flower baskets than for one’s head. Who could have guessed the big Bell helmets would come back into style, along with a number of other fashion items from the 1970s? Don’t believe me? You can see them online at TownMoto.com. But if you make it a destination, you’ll find a biker hangout, a place to return to.
Times have changed, but I’m happy to report that there’s a vibrant biker scene in Toronto!