by Ry Shissler

A woman rides a bike with pink bar tape in a bike lane
Kat Wehrle rides her bike on Danforth Avenue

In the third part of our Bike Month series “Breaking Barriers to Biking presented by MEC” I spoke with Kathryn “Kat” Wehrle. My first encounter with Kat was by pure happenstance when our paths literally crossed on the Danforth in Toronto. She was enjoying Destination Danforth while I was out observing people using the brand new infrastructure.

Speaking with Kat, I got the sense that she is the type of person that looks at life’s challenges and thinks “I’m going to fight through this and I’ll be better for it.” Many times in her life Kat was presented with situations that could have put her off biking for good, but she has grown into a four-season rider.


A woman with a bike helmet on sits on a bench while her bike rests beside her.

Kat’s first memories of riding a bike involved a sense of embarrassment; she didn’t learn to ride until well after her peers as a tween with training wheels learning outside her Ottawa home. Kat’s embarrassment didn’t stop her and by the time she hit high school she was riding to school on what she described as “highways with no bike lanes.” At the age of 15, Kat said she was one of only a few people that rode their bike to school, but to her it felt freeing and independent.

For a time, Kat sidelined her bike as walking became more appropriate for her University lifestyle; she’s never had a driver’s license. Mobility by bike didn’t stay out of Kat’s life for long; she picked up cycling again when she literally picked a bike out of a dumpster. She decorated the bike with artificial flowers and dubbed it “Rosebud.” 

A woman rides her bike toward heavy traffic. A shopping bag is slung over her shoulder.

Rosebud took Kat everywhere in Oakville. It was her go to transportation and she developed a sense of attachment to the bike. The prospect of doing an exchange program in Japan was too hard to ignore, but that meant leaving Rosebud behind. Kat left Rosebud in her backyard with the intention of picking it back up upon her return. Though, when she came back, she found that Rosebud had been stolen from her yard while she was away. Kat told me that she was devastated by the loss, but it didn’t stop her from riding. 

Since the theft of Rosebud, Kat has brought a series of bikes into her life that have resulted in a series of thefts. Each one is accompanied by similar emotions to those she felt with the loss of Rosebud. Instead of giving up on riding, Kat modified her habits and now keeps her bike inside when she’s not on it.

A purple bike leans next to a cutout of a shark
"Eggplant" one of Kat's bikes that was stolen

While theft can’t keep Kat off a bike, she has been knocked off them. Kat has been doored three times during her adventures by bike. The most salient memory she has of this was in downtown Toronto. While biking to work, a scarf flew out the window of a car she was passing. The driver abruptly stopped and the door flew open and sent her head crashing to the pavement. A trip to the ER alleviated concerns of a concussion, but she had lingering issues with her index finger and her wheel was destroyed.

A woman stands with her bike in a bike lane looking serious.

Kat has long since recovered from her injuries, but after an incident like Kat’s many people would stop riding. She admits that every time it has happened she is left afraid to ride. Kat has to work to regain the confidence necessary to ride on the road again, but it’s worth it. She told us that her bike is a part of who she is and that in the end, Toronto is a great city to see by bike. 

A woman stands beneath a sign that say "Bikes this lane" as a person rides past

 

A woman rides a bike in a bike lane past planters.

Photos by Nicholas Jones (except Eggplant)

Written by Ry Shissler