Outriding stress


There are a lot of criticisms of men on bikes, and I’m sure many are warranted. I probably have some blind spots to MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra) as a 44 year old lifelong cyclist.

But a few things. <thread>

I’m a lifelong cycling commuter. Grew up in an upper middle class Toronto neighbourhood with a single mom. We lived under the poverty line. No car. I biked everywhere from grade 4-on.

My childhood best friend Gray Backus and I would follow the Martin Goodman trail out of the Beach area and sometimes end up as far west as Ontario Place while we were still in grade school. (As a parent now myself, I look back on those adventures and I’m terrified. As a kid, it was adventure, or a way to kill a boring summer afternoon.)

More often than not we hung around Ashbridge’s Bay reading comics and eating the raspberries that grew there.

Late September ride along the Beach where I spent my days as a kid.

Late September ride along the Beach where I spent my days as a kid.

As a university student, I sometimes biked from the Beach to York University, and later from my coffee shop job in the Beach to my 1st apartment at Bathurst and Eglinton. (I was broke, and ate leftover low-fat café muffins and plain pasta for months. I was ripped. I don’t recommend the poor student fad diet though.)

In the last year and a half I’ve made a larger effort to go back to biking often for pleasure - going further and further distances, exploring trails and routes around Toronto.


I have severe asthma. And what kicked off my cycling Renaissance was starting to take a biologic for eosinophilic asthma that allows me to push myself harder than I’ve been able to in years. So maybe that part is relatively unique to why I cycle.

But here’s where I start my possibly misguided defence of the Lycra-set. (For the record, I haven’t worn Lycra since I was younger and still had a six pack, but hey it’s comfortable).

Like a lot of people in their 40’s I’ve Lived a Bit and Seen Some Things. Had life experiences, and not all good. I’ve felt battered down. Had a rough couple of years financially and personally. You see some goals and dreams start to slip further away.

And so you hop on your bike and decide to go for a ride.

In my case, I went from the west end where I’ve lived for the past 20 years, back out to the Beach where I grew up. Cycling doesn’t clear your stress all away, but it allows for some abstract thinking, distracted focus on your worries.

Exercise is good for your mental health. Cycling was 2nd best in a recent study.

So when I’m chugging along on my mountain-road hybrid, and I see these fellow guys with salt-and-pepper stubble whipping by in their racing gear along the Lakeshore, I wonder if they’re trying to out-ride their stress too.

Maybe their job is stagnant. Maybe their home life is rocky right now. Maybe they screwed up financially. Maybe they’ve recently lost a friend. Maybe hopping on a bike and going as fast as possible feels like a kind of progress and escape at the same time.

Getting on my bike and cycling to the Beach and back reminds me of adventures I had with my friend Gray on our bikes as kids everyday in summer. I remember him and good times, and wish we kept in touch better before he passed away. Regrets and nostalgia on my ride.

Sometimes I walk my bike through the Glen Stewart ravine just to soak in the quiet greenness, still air, burbling stream and leaf decay. I walked my dog there every day as a teenager.

Fragrant with memories. Glen Stewart Ravine in the Beach.

Fragrant with memories. Glen Stewart Ravine in the Beach.

Cycling from Little Italy to the Toronto Zoo and back on my 44th birthday in June was to push myself to go a distance that always seemed ridiculously far to me. I did 89 km that day, 83 for that trip, and 6 in the morning for my asthma medication injection. A good day.

Arrival at the Toronto Zoo on my birthday. I didn’t go in. I took a rest for about 40 minutes, then headed home.

Arrival at the Toronto Zoo on my birthday. I didn’t go in. I took a rest for about 40 minutes, then headed home.

Strava map of my birthday ride.

Strava map of my birthday ride.

Sometimes I ride to explore, like when I did the Humber-Beltline-Don Valley-Lakeshore 50km ride just to see what it would feel like.

Sunrise over Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach on my way to Tommy Thompson Park.

Sunrise over Lake Ontario at Cherry Beach on my way to Tommy Thompson Park.

Other times, I wake up before dawn and go out to Tommy Thompson Park as the sun rises so I can try to leave my stress behind me as I ride, and come home to my family feeling refreshed and relaxed. Sometimes it works.

Down at Tommy Thompson Park, formerly known as the Spit.

Down at Tommy Thompson Park, formerly known as the Spit.

Anyway. This is all to say that middle aged guys on bikes may behave like jackasses sometimes and I know that’s true. And some of the making-fun of the Lycra-wearers may be deserved.

But maybe some -many?- of these dudes are just trying to recapture a bit of childhood, and feel like they can outrace their problems for a little while.

Me? I’m going to keep going. Just bought a new Jamis Trail X to replace my old one. Took it on an inaugural ride along the Don Valley, Taylor Creek Park, and back to the Beach and Lakeshore. It feels really good, to ride and just keep on going.

Just keep on going. <end>


(Adapted from a thread of my tweets, found here.)

Skullfruit Tree - Inktober 1

Going to try and give #Inktober a whirl this year. Here’s a spooky SkullFruit Tree.


Last year I didn’t make it too far. No guarantees this year but I’m gonna try. Shake some cobwebs loose, keep things simple. Drawing trilobites and old trees are favourites.  

Bicyclophosaurus Tattoo - initial skull sketch

Been planning to get a new tattoo on my “cycling leg” for a while now. (Chains are on the right; cyclists often roll up the right pant leg so it doesn’t get caught in the chain.)  

The image of the tattoo is smouldering quietly in my brain, and has been for over a year. I have the tattoo artist lined up.

Now I just need to draw the thing.  


Initial Bicyclophosaurus skull exploration  

Initial Bicyclophosaurus skull exploration  

I’m basing the tattoo off of one of my favourite childhood dinosaurs, the Triassic-era crested carnivore Dilophosaurus.  And blending it with bike parts. 

(In Jurassic Park terms, dilophosaurus is the one that killed Nedry. It was small and had a neck frill. There’s no evidence they would have had something like a frill f'real and they were cool enough with the crest, IMO. They were also much larger, at 7 metres long.)

I remember being fascinated by the weird upper lip line, and double crests as a kid. And the first illustration I had ever seen showed dilophosaurus running swiftly after its prey. I think it was in a book illustrated by John Hamburger. 

My kids were suggesting the velociraptor instead, since it's fast like a bike; being from Toronto, a raptor is a pretty good idea. We’ll see.

The death pose that I used for 3(!) of author Brian Switek’s tattoos makes a great design. (See all of Brian’s ink in my tattoo gallery). I like black line tattoos, and fossil skeletons have a lot of good visual repetition and broken symmetry that make them compelling to look at.

"Behold my compelling and muscular calves, everyone!" I shall exhort passers-by along my commute. 

The 3rd of three Morrisson Formation carnivore fossil tattoos I designed for author Brian Switek, and inked by Austin Huffman of Heart of Gold Tattoo in Utah.&nbsp;

The 3rd of three Morrisson Formation carnivore fossil tattoos I designed for author Brian Switek, and inked by Austin Huffman of Heart of Gold Tattoo in Utah. 

So my plan is to blend the dilophosaurus skeleton with bicycle parts. Gears, chain, spokes. I have a bat-winged trilobite fossil tattoo on my arm; another impossible hybrid seems appropriate. 

Not sure if the crest will be a big gear or not yet.  

Quick hack job of seeing how the rough would look as a black line design. Photo of the pencil sketch messed with in ArtRage for iPad.  

Quick hack job of seeing how the rough would look as a black line design. Photo of the pencil sketch messed with in ArtRage for iPad.  

Once I’m satisfied with the design, tattoo artist German Shible of Passage Tattoo is my go-to arist to do the work. I’ve known him for years, and watched his tattoo career from the start. Can’t wait to book the appointment!

But I gotta draw the beastie first. More on this as it progresses. 

A Bedraggled Quill

Art Monday sketch.  

A bedraggled quill. And my least favourite way of writing a capital “G”. feathers can be fun and contemplative to draw. Lots of careful repetition of line. 

Pencil with an ink signature.&nbsp;

Pencil with an ink signature. 

Spiny Trilobite

2017 was a rough year, and 2018 has felt like rebuilding. 

I’m going to try and post some new art —a sketch, a painting, a drawing—  every Monday. 


The Flying Trilobite blog is over 11 years old, and despite what looks like inactivity, I still blog, just professionally now. 

The first few years of my blog, I posted new art every Monday - and even when I stopped I had a traffic spike every Monday for years after I gave up the practice. I’m going to attempt to be that disciplined again.  

Every professional advancement in my life has directly or indirectly stemmed from blogging my surreal SciArt, scientific illustrations, and tattoo designs. And it makes me happy. 

While you can’t regress in life, I am finding that looking to the past for sources of calm and happiness seems to help. Drawing is a huge part of that.  

In addition, keep your eye on Symbiartic - I have some new posts coming and I’ve started the arduous process of adding the back catalogue from when we were on Scientific American, re-posting everything by hand. We have ideas for how to take Symbiartic forward.  

Going forward by looking to the past. Blogging, drawing, and sharing. 

So far


1,185 km in 2018 so far. 

These gloves were a Christmas gift from my wife & kids. Putting some wear on ‘em. 


#bikeTO #cyclinglife

An Asthmatic Cyclist

My trusty Jamis mountain bike.&nbsp;

My trusty Jamis mountain bike. 


A little over a year ago, my lifelong asthma was diagnosed as eosinophilic asthma — something about 5% of asthmatics have. 

Basically, my body produces too many eosinophilic white blood cells, which are great at fighting parasites like ringworm, and for causing bronchiole constriction. 

After a simple blood test and some insurance wrangling, I now receive a one-a-month injection of mepoluzimab, trade name Nucala by GlaxoSmithKline. 

At my first appointment, I said to the nurse I’d read white blood cells can stay in your system for about 8 hours — I wondered if I’d feel better starting the next day. She smiled and said most people feel better within an hour. 

One injection and observation period later, and I was taking huge deep breaths. And enjoying them. There was no wheezy chaser at the end of a big inhale-exhale.  

I biked back to my temp job, and ran up 5 floors of stairs. Winded, but *not wheezing*.  

I felt like the first time I ever had espresso. 

The upshot is I’m able to chase my kids some more, I cycle commute as much as can (which I was already doing - but now I enjoy it again) and I’m going for longer rides. 50k is my longest. I’m sure I can do more but that’s a big chunk of time (4 hours) as a parent. I bike from Little Italy Toronto to Mississauga to visit my nephew on occasion, and to the Queensway movie theatre. 

I still have asthma. I still need ventolin and Zenhale. I still wheeze. But the injection stops me from having an asthma attack. I can push my self harder during exercise and just be out of breath, not wheezing.  

Being out of breath and able to deeply breathe in is a wonderful feeling that I’m chasing more and more. 

If there was a version of heaven that required me being totally alone, it would be on my bike, racing through the green of Toronto’s ravines and the sunsets on our city’s beach.  


Not my longest ride at 42km, (26 miles Americans) but a typical route involving the Don Valley and Toronto’s waterfront. #BikeTO