Friday, July 8, 2011

This bridge won't burn!

Wikimedia Commons photo
 I finally did it!

In the end it wasn't nearly as death-defying as anyone might expect.  On my lunch hour I crossed the Victoria Bridge.

The title for this post hints at the fact that the bridge is made of cast iron, and the bridge piers are constructed of huge granite blocks.  It's the oldest of Montreal's bridges, having been built in the 1850's, yet it's the only one that isn't in imminent danger of catastrophic collapse.

View Victoria-bridge in a larger map
The Google map for this post was generated with my Iphone using a free GPS tracking app.  I have no clue how interactive it will be until I submit the post.  This is the first map I'm embedding.  Fingers crossed. [ed.: well that worked!]

The issue with the Victoria Bridge is that it has a metal grid deck.  It's legendary among drivers and there are quite a number who won't use the bridge because a) it makes cars squirm, and b) you can see the water below if you look down at the roadway.

I more or less knew what to expect because the Charlevoix bridge across the Lachine Canal that I cross almost daily has the same decking.  But the Charlevoix is a tiny bridge, relatively speaking, and there's always traffic, so you cross it at maybe 30 km/h.

You don't even find out about the posted limit on the Victoria until you're on the bridge.  And the bridge approach is long and convoluted enough, with a tunnel on the approach, so you don't even get to see the bridge until you're committed to it.

It turns out that the posted speed limit on the bridge is a very reasonable, reassuring, and quite comfortable 50 km/h.

To err on the side of caution I approached this ride in full ATGATT (ed.: all the gear, all the time - for the benefit of the non-rider readers out there).  Corazzo 5.0 armored jacket, motorcycle gloves, Nolan N102 modular full-face helmet, my hiking boots, and even zipped up the legs on my Tourmaster Caliber pants to close the open gaps on my thighs that provide much-needed summer ventilation.  Buzz Aldrin wasn't wearing much more gear when he set out for his celebrated moon walk.

To make sure I documented this life-altering ride to its full historic potential, I made sure before setting out that my my Garmin StreetPilot i5 GPS unit was up and running, and that my Iphone was well positioned to capture video of the ride.
GPS and Iphone on RAM mounts
I was a little disappointed because there was a maintenance van on the bridge that backed up the traffic.  We crawled onto the bridge.  Traffic eventually maxed out at 51 km/h as reported by my Garmin StreetPilot i5 GPS unit.  The squirm factor was quite pronounced, and was more nerve-wracking on a powered two-wheeler than at the wheel of a car.  The bike not only squirms in the horizontal plane (i.e. side-to-side) but also in the vertical plane (i.e. the wheels sway left and right under you, as if you were alternately leaning left, then right).

I'll revisit this post to add a Youtube video of this very memorable crossing.

[ed.: here's that video]

The return trip across the bridge proved to be more in line with my expectations.  The traffic was lighter and sailing across at a good clip.  My GPS showed 71 km/h when I glanced at it.  I can't say that the squirm got any worse really.  I wondered what it would feel like to perform an evasive procedure on that surface.  The nice thing about a bridge is that there are no squirrels; the nice thing about a bridge with a metal deck is that there are no sewer covers, and best of all, no !"/%$?/\#!! pot-holes, so there was nothing to evade.  Just as well because with all the squirming going on, I was in no mind to experiment.

My visor was up, and about halfway across the span a large-ish bug did a suicide run at my face, clipping me on the left cheek.  I took the chance of taking my left hand off the handlebars to close the visor.

Thank heavens I did, because when I got to the final third of the bridge, whatever the insects were, they were rising from the sides of the bridge and coming at me by the tens.  It was like the battle of Britain.  OK, that's an exaggeration.  I felt better shields-up though I can tell you.

My big adventure was tempered, and put into much-needed perspective, when I pulled up beside a guy about my age on a much smaller 50cc two-stroke scoot stopped at the first traffic light on the Montreal side of the bridge.  There he sits: shorts, short-sleeved shirt, glove-less, loafers, and an open-faced helmet.

He sees me, shoots me a great big beaming smile, and, in inimitable Québécois French says "Ça brasse en titi s'ul pont, einh?" which, loosely translated, means "It really sways on the bridge, eh?"


Dar said...

Good for you that you did it. We have a small metal decked bridge and I cross it every day. It is terrible when it's raining, it's slippery and I would hate to jam on the brakes. It's a 30k bridge, but it find it's smoother when I do about 40k. Glad you decided on ATGATT, you never know. Anyone who doesn'tnride ATGATT has fallen yet and they will quickly find themselves getting geared up after that.

I hate being able to see the water through the decking, makes me sqeamy. Glad you had a good experience.

Dar said...

Ok let me be clear my bridge is tiny weeny compared to that and my bridge scares the hell out of me and I am on it for less than 2 minutes. There is ABSOLUTELY no way in hell I would drive over that. You are a brave brave man! is this a regular part of your commute? I would have to say 10 Hail Mary's, spin in a circle 3 times and carry all the good luck charms I could find that would fit on my scooter and a million Gremlin bells before I would get on that bridge. How long did it take you to get across? I think I would have stop after it was over a collect my frayed nerves. I pronounce you an honorary Scooter Diva!

David Masse said...

DAR: it wasn't that bad, really. Just imagine your bridge crossing and have it last longer, that's all. Many of Montreal's bridges are huge, so it's a natural challenge for me to "collect" bridge crossings, particularly on a scooter. I'm thinking I'll eventually set up a page of links to the bridge posts. I really enjoy reading your blog. Ride safe!

Dar said...

I enjoy reading your blog too! I did some experimenting today with the Blue bridge, the posted speed is 30 k, but you usually end up going slower due to it being a major bicycle route as well. I find when I do 30 or under it wobbles the scoot all over the place, but if you do 40 it is much smoother. Only prob is it's a 30k zone and they are always running radar, it's easy pickings for tickets. I think given the chance I would probably try scooting over a bridge like yours, it would be a good challenge. I look forward to seeing your bridge posts! I love looking at your pictures of Montreal, I've never been there and it looks lovely. The farthest I have been is Ontario. My dream is once I get my MC license to ride across Canada and seeing my country.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.