Biking to Publishing School

Bikes at SFU Harbour Centre

There are a lot of good reasons to cycle: it’s good for the planet, it’s good for cities and their congestion problems, and it’s good for you. We thought to take a look at cycling in the MPub program: why we do it and how we do it, and maybe we’ll encourage you to do it too!

Half the Publishing faculty are regular cycle commuters, and a good (though variable) number of students are too. Those of us who do ride know that it’s the best way to get around, for a number of reasons.

Why cycle?

Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure has developed hugely over the past half-dozen years,1 and there are good cycle routes through most of the city. The number of cyclists has grown accordingly, which is good not just for the planet, but also because more cyclists on the road makes cycling safer, as the people in Copenhagen and Amsterdam know well.

Commuting by bike is well established by research2 as one of the single best things you can do for your health. It also has the advantage of not taking up extra time in your day. You could take the bus and then take time to go to the gym; or you could just ride your bike!

Regular exercise is good for your heart and lungs of course, but it’s also very good for your head, which is especially helpful for students in the Vancouver winter—which tends to wet and dark as opposed to cold and snowy. Getting into a regular routine of riding every day gets your blood pumping, opens up your sinuses, and gives you an outlet for the stresses that otherwise pile up when we live and work indoors. Additionally, many of us find that commuting by bike gives a sense of agency and control that we miss when we’re dependent on transit schedules and crowds. Emma (MPub 2017) notes, “Have you ever been trapped on an overcrowded bus on a rainy day? Once you get your rain routine down, you will choose cycling over transit no matter the weather.”

Don’t I need special clothing?

You really don’t. While it sometimes seems like cyclists have to invest in a fluorescent lyrca outfit, this isn’t actually the case. You can totally commute in your regular clothes. Of course some clothes are going to be more comfortable than others, but you do not need fancy gear.

In Vancouver, you probably do need some waterproofing, at least if you’re going to ride on rainy days. You’ll need a good raincoat (one with pit-zips help with the internal humidity), a pair of waterproof rain pants, and a pair of gloves–the sum of which make you feel kind of invincible on a rainy day! But that’s about all you really need. And if it isn’t raining, you don’t even need those.

Won’t I get sweaty?

SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus is, as the name suggests, near the water downtown, so it’s downhill from almost everywhere – which means sweat likely isn’t a big problem on your way to school. Some of us like to bring a change of shirt and socks in our bags. Depending on where you live, you may have to go uphill to get home, so you’re more likely to sweat at the end of the day than the beginning. And if you want to get a little sweaty—and ride for the sake of it—SFU Harbour Centre has great access to the Stanley Park Seawall.

Everything inside the circle on this map is probably within a half-hour bike ride from Harbour Centre Campus. Plus, within this circle, you are almost certainly faster than buses and cars, which can’t get through traffic effectively. You can have a look at Vancouver’s cycle routes by turning on that layer on Google Maps, or by checking out the City of Vancouver’s website. We all like to share our tips about the best ways to get around the city: which routes are the flattest, quietest, prettiest… and so on.

I don’t even have a (good) bike!

This is solvable on a number of levels. First, Vancouver has, per capita, the most bike shops in Canada.3 Second, excellent community resources like Our Community Bikes and Kickstand offer really inexpensive, accessible refurbished bikes and repair service. There are also cheap bikes available on Craigslist, online marketplaces, or pawn shops. Vancouver has also implemented the Mobi bike rental system, where you can pickup and drop off bikes at convenient spots all over town. You’re never far from a shop or an available bike, really.

You don’t need a fancy bike; they’re theft targets anyway. What you need is a bike with at least three gears and working brakes. You do need a good lock, because university campuses are always bike theft magnets. At Harbour Centre there is also a bicycle lock-up room to which, with your student card, you can get a key. 

But is it safe?

Yes, but you have to be thoughtful about it, and to know and anticipate the risks.

For starters you need lights! A good front light (white) and a red one for the rear help you see and be seen on the road after dark. Lights are an essential, mandatory bit of safety kit—and which go nicely with reflective strips, panels, and bits of clothing. A reflective safety vest can be had pretty cheaply and may make you feel a good deal more visible on a dark, wet evening. 

By law you need a helmet, which, if nothing else, can also provide some protection from the rain. A ball cap under your helmet helps keep the rain off your glasses.

Vancouver’s bike lanes and paths—the fully separated ones and the painted-on ones—make cycling through the city much safer. But even the streets you share with cars are better now than they used to be, because the number of cyclists has risen, and so bikes are a normal part of everyday traffic in the city. 

Knowing how to ride safely is important too. Using proper hand signals when turning, being visible, and being polite and clear when passing people makes a big difference. This is about co-existing with cars but also about co-existing with other cyclists, especially in the warmer months when bikes almost seem to outnumber cars at certain intersections. 

And if you don’t feel like biking back home because you’re leaving campus really late at night after working on Book Project 😉 the bus or skytrain will allow you to bring your bike on board!

Learning more about cycling in Vancouver

There are a number of advocacy groups in the city, such as Hub Cycling, who organize the twice-annual bike-to-work-week events. The City itself is relatively pro-active. And of course every bike shop in town also advocates for cycling more generally.

Here in Publishing@SFU, we have a strong cycling culture of our own, which we like to promote (which is why you’re reading this now). We love to share our ideas about bikes and gear and riding, and our love for People’s Poncho cycling capes, Vessi waterproof footwear, Sidesaddle, a women-focused bike shop, and more. We like to trade info about bike routes and the best ways to get around. And we like to egg each other on to ride in wetter, darker weather each winter 🙂 Get in touch! 

Thanks to Mauve Pagé, Avvai Ketheeswaran, Alice Fleerackers, Emma Walter. and Leanne Johnson for their input into this article!


  1. https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/biking.aspx↩︎
  2. See, for example, this 2016 review article https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01441647.2015.1057877↩︎
  3. https://www.pembina.org/reports/cycle-cities-full-report-rev.pdf↩︎
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