The perfect portrait of Saskatoon in the summer is that of a cyclist taking to the streets, dodging cars to the salute of a certain finger from those behind the wheel. So, is Saskatoon as bike-friendly as it pretends to be?
Close your eyes and picture this: It’s summer. The river before you reflects the blue sky above, and pelicans sore like ancient giants who betray the secret of their evolutionary journey. A breeze rushes against your face, bringing with it the scent of the city and the sound of vehicles whirling past you.
The gentle clicks and clacks and the low hum of tires against cement travel to your ears. This would be the perfect time to open your eyes. You are about to make the terrifying descent down the University Bridge on a 10-speed, and you may want to be aware of your surroundings.
In recent years, Saskatoon has made admirable attempts to make the city more
cyclist-friendly, but has any tangible improvement come from these efforts? With designated bike lanes, community groups like Saskatoon Cycles and those committed cyclists who continue their voyages during the frigid winter months, one would think this city has fully embraced cycling.
Cathy Watts, co-chair of Saskatoon Cycles, believes that the city is moving in the right direction with the sustainable transportation option, but political processes move slowly, and unfortunately, Saskatoon is just not keeping up with other cities when it comes to new initiatives.
“Cycling is a simple solution to a complex problem,” Watts said.
Saskatoon Cycles is an organization actively working to get more people on bikes and involved with their community. For Watts, cycling means more than health and getting to your destination in style — it’s about creating community.
“I am engaged with my community — if I was in a car I’d be nothing,” Watts said.
I must admit that I am not a cyclist. I resemble a baby deer riding a bike — if that baby deer had lost control of its cerebellum. In the past 10 years, I’ve been on a bike only a handful of times, and one of these occasions involved a BIXI rental on the mean streets of Montreal — which was exhilarating.
There, I was able to experience everything around me in such detail that, three years later, I can still conjure up the sights in my mind. Watts agrees that cycling is an immersive mode of transportation.
“The [thing] that happens in your brain when you’re riding your bike long distance is just a wonderful feeling,” Watts said.
As Saskatoon grows, its development continues to push outwards to the periphery. This suburban sprawl makes a cycling commute more complicated and time-consuming for those less-than-committed citizens. Watts finds that people often overestimate the time it will take to get somewhere on a bike, but she assures them that it’s often much less than they would think.
“[With] our geography and our size, [the city] has so much potential,” Watts said.
Could the car culture of the Prairies be the culprit for the lack of a cycling community? I myself would rather purchase a motorcycle than a bicycle — does that make me part of the problem?
Our climate may also play a large role in curtailing the cycling movement. Not all of us have the discipline or desire that is needed to plow through the snow on a metal and rubber stallion, but perhaps, we could ease into it.
Let’s try something new. This summer might be the perfect time to explore this beautiful city. Dust off that bike or find a rusty, orphaned machine from the depths of the internet and take a spin around Saskatoon. Trust me, even if you look like an infantile woodland creature, it will be time well spent.
Photo: Michaela DeMong