Gift Card from Santa? Here Are Three Canadian Books

Canadian books about cycling: FrostBike, Happy City and Every Day Cyclist's guide to Canadian law
Three books you should read this winter (red tablecloth courtesy of @physioKaren)
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Canadian books about cycling: FrostBike, Happy City and Every Day Cyclist's guide to Canadian law
Three books you should read this winter (red tablecloth courtesy of @physioKaren)

So now what? Your mother-in-law gave you a gift certificate (or even cash in an envelope) for Christmas and you really don’t know what to buy because you have everything already.

Here are three books related to cycling (or to the broader theme of a better city) for winter reading. All three books are written by Canadians: Tom Babin, who writes for the Calgary Herald; Charles Montgomery, a Vancouverite and our own Ottawa authors Craig Forcese and Nicole Laviolette, law professors at Ottawa U.

1 Frostbike – Tom Babin

Tom interviewed me in September 2011 when I was speaking in Calgary about cycling in the Netherlands. We had a fairly long conversation about cycling in Canada too (and this all in the boss’ time, but that is OK as I call cycling promotion ‘business development’). Here are a few quotes from that interview:

He also poo-poos that old Canadian bugaboo that it’s too cold for the country to truly embrace cycling. He tries to dispels this one, not from his time in the Netherlands, but from his time cycling through Ottawa’s winters.

“There are nine months of the year in Ottawa where it’s possible for most people to cycle,” Moor says. “There’s this thought that it’s really cold all the time. The real reason people don’t cycle is because the routes aren’t cleared in the winter.

“You see people on ski slopes, skating on the canal in Ottawa when it’s -25 C. So it’s not the cold, it’s the maintenance (of cycling routes).”

Perhaps I sowed the seeds for Tom’s winter adventures  in that interview 3 years ago. His book is pleasant light reading. What I liked most in his book is not only his winter cycling adventures, but even more the transition from a somewhat North American view to cycling as mostly a sport activity to understanding the North European approach to the concept of cycling as a way of getting around. His Aha Erlebnis comes when he visits Europe in winter and is being picked up at the airport by a Finn on a bike.

Although a small airport, I was surprised that a bike path made its way to the front door of Oulu [Airport] International. This I had never seen before. “Of course,” Pekka said to me as we glided onto the path. “How else are we going to ride a bike to the airport?” That was my first encounter with a trait that would crop up during the next week; something I ‘ll call Scandinavian practicality. When it came to cycling, questions that seem endlessly debated at home had already been settled here, and when I raised them, like I did in this instance, the answer hit me with a dose of obviousness. Of course. (…) Back home, the response to such questions tend to be long-winded, semi-philosophical forays into questions about an airport bike path’s viability, or its influence on motor vehicle traffic, or its impact on taxis. Here, I would soon learn, such questions seem simplified. Want people to ride bikes? Make it easy for them.

After Oulu, Tom visits Copenhagen on his way back to Canada:

I arrived at the Copenhagen airport. Within minutes, I was riding the metro into the city, which, not incidentally, was suitably efficient for a country with a reputation for design and economy. I climbed the stairs from the underground stop in the city and when I reached the surface I almost fell over from shock.

I guess what I tried to explain in my interview with Tom in 2011, was hitting him when he was in Europe. Here is The Ottawa Citizen (like the Calgary Herald, part of Post Media) review about Frostbike (for those not too familiar with serious cold, Frostbike is a word play on Frost bite and bike. Frost bite is localised freezing of the skin when your skin is exposed to extreme cold.)

2 Happy City – Charles Montgomery

Charles was in Ottawa in October 2014, but that was unfortunately on the same day as the CfSC AGM, which I obviously have to attend. Instead, I borrowed the book from the library as an e-book. Charles explores what makes people happy and uses a lot of research to prove his points. He is strongly influenced by the Penolosa brothers (from Bogota fame).

I liked the chapter about zoning changes (that sounds boring, but it isn’t as bad zoning can make for very boring cities as the author explains at length) and the stories from California and Atlanta, about people getting fed up with commuting distances and urban sprawl. There is a lot in his book that you will like. Here is an excerpt from his visit to Houten in the Netherlands. Another inspiring excerpt is the chapter about Asheville, North Carolina.

You can find much better reviews about his book on line than I can write in my limited English. Like here on

3 Every Cyclist’s Guide to Canadian Law – Craig Forcese and Nicole LaViolette

The book is probably the most comprehensive book about cycling and the law in Canada. It is written by two  cyclists who teach law (disclosure: I know Nicole for about 15 years already) and the book attempts to make you understand how the law works for cycling. The book gives a brief overview of how our legal system works, compares the law in different provinces, which types of law you may have to deal with (obviously the Highway traffic act, but also the Criminal Code (failure to remain at the scene of an accident ie hit and run) for example.

Nicole and Craig wrote the book as lightly as one possibly can when writing about law, with several puns throughout the book about their own cycling behaviour.  They’ll address topics such as naked riding (from a legal perspective) , passengers on your bicycle, stopping and providing identification, privacy laws 101 for bicycle clubs and bike warranties (is it the store or the manufacturer?).

Obviously there is a lot about accidents and examples when the courts lean towards the cyclist even though the cyclist was technically breaking a law (the driver has to take care when driving and the judge looks if the driver could reasonably have avoided an accident). The book is divided into 7 chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Riding your bicycle
  3. Falling off your bicycle
  4. Breaking your bicycle
  5. Losing your bicycle
  6. Running your bicycle club
  7. Racing your bicycle

I found the book very interesting to read (on and off over the course of a few months, which the authors actually suggest you should do). There are hundreds of foot notes to newspaper articles, reports and court cases for further reading.

You can find this book already for about $18 at Indigo. Or go to Irwin Law for the e-version.

If you think there are any other great Canadian cycling books out there, we should all know about, share it with us.

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