Posted by: dave1949 | 2012/02/17

Riding Fast In Hamilton

My buddies and I had finished a season rowing for Brock. It turned out one of our number was planning on taking a year in Europe after the summer and had to get a passport.

What happened was that in order to get his passport in time for his trip he had to take it personally to a passport office to get served. The nearest one was in Hamilton 50 km away but rather than drive, 3 of us decided to take an afternoon and cycle there and back. We were all in excellent shape so the distance wasn’t going to be a problem and we all had good bikes to use so we set off.

The office was in a building in downtown Hamilton at Catherine and Main. It remained a federal office building in the city for decades although I think it has now been changed over to other uses. I happened to know it well because I had been there several times going through some of the procedures to qualify for officer training during university but that is an entirely different story.

As Ken, the names have been changed to protect the guilty by the way, went in to the office to get his needs taken care of Jim and I stayed outside and watched his bike. During this time I mentioned to him that the street lights down Main street in Hamilton had been synchronized so that if you drove the speed limit they would all turn green for you. Again back then this was a fairly new and remarkable thing. To this day through downtown Hamilton it is possible to drive through several lights in a row before getting snagged by one and it the traffic is light and you restrain yourself to about 50 km/ hour you can go blocks and blocks without having to stop.

When Ken got finished and we turned to head home Jim relayed the info I had given him and we decided to see how many lights we could make on our bikes. Remember to stay in sync we would have to travel at 50 k so we knew we couldn’t make it all the way but we wondered how many we could get.

Ken I must add was at times a bit of a rabble rouser and somewhat of a tough customer.  I don’t think he was ever in any serious trouble while growing up but he did have a short fuse and certainly the body and temperament to make it unwise to cross him very much.

As we set off down the road we made about 6 lights before getting stopped the first time. part of that section had been down hill and the next few miles were practically flat making it tougher to try and keep up but we were young fit and having a good time reveling in out own athleticism for no other reason than that we could.

As we headed off on about the 4th set of lights for us though things got suddenly very serious. Ken had gotten to the front of out trio and we were whizzing down the road almost matching the lights. As we fell a bit farther behind each set it became clear that in another block or two we would lose them again when an inattentive driver suddenly pulled out of a side street right in front of us. Jim and I managed to swoop around him but Ken who had ben closest t-boned the car at full speed and I remember seeing him go airborne right over the top of the vehicle.

He somersaulted in the air over the car and came down feet first on the pavement. Normally that would have resulted in him then pitching forward onto his face and grinding to a halt on the street but Ken who had a full tilt racing bike to ride also happened to have on cleated cycling shoes. For anyone who has ever worn these they are extremely slippery to walk on because the cleats back then were either hard plastic or metal and protruded from the sole of the shoe. AS it turned out this saved him. Instead of getting traction and sticking to the pavement when he landed he skidded several feet on the cleats essentially skating down the street. and came to a stop still upright.

I expected to see him immediately take after the driver and punch the shit out of him but he turned looked him in the eye and wagged a finger at him like a schoolmarm chastising a bad student. We later asked him about it and he said he was so glad to be upright that it never occurred to him to do anything else.

THe bike however was totaled. The front wheel was pretzelled and the fork bent back till what was left of the wheel was jammed into the down tube. There were several scratches and dings and the drivers door had been caved in by the force of the collision.

To give the driver credit he stopped,apologized and ended up paying for the replacement cost of the bike. He also took Ken to the Hamilton Bus depot and paid for his ticket home as he had no other way back since his bike was trashed.

Ken used the money for his trip instead and when he returned form Europe the next year he had bought a very nice BMW motorcycle over there that he could then ship back home duty free because of the length of time he had owned it. Jim and I made the rest of the trip home uneventfully and other than the inconvenience of doing without a bike for a couple of weeks no harm was done.

Oddly enough decades later the world cycling championships were held in Hamilton and I went there as a volunteer. My first day of working there was as a traffic marshal on the corner of Main and Catherine the same building we had gone to that day. There I got to watch some of the best cyclists in the world tearing along Main street which had been closed to traffic. I don’t think any of them could have kept up to the lights either but luckily for them they didn’t have to.



  1. Neat story Dave! I read somewhere that in Copenhagen they time the lights specifically at cyclist speed so you can travel the whole two or three miles through the downtown area on a bike and hit them all green. That would be nice.

  2. Thanks Mike. THt area of Hamilton still has the lights set for car speed and even that’s nice as you can make a mile or so at a time before you have to stop. I’m afraid the 3 of us who all still ride regularly couldn’t match the pace we did then. I believe it’s cause the street runs up hill now like most of the ones I get out on.

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