cycling

Sam is not a climber but she’s halfway to Tron

A person new to Zwift posted to the Ladies Only Zwift group on Facebook. She asked what she should do first. I loved the suggestions of the first person who responded. First? Join the Everest Challenge. It’s the biggest challenge on Zwift and it’s got a great reward. Second? Buy a really big fan!

I second both of these tips. I am now in the stage of wanting a remote control fan so I can switch it from low to high while riding. Someone on my bike team has figured out how to get Alexa to do that. But that requires a level of technology in my house that I start to have privacy worries about.

But back to the first tip and the reward. The reward is a Tron bike, those brightly coloured bikes you notice when you first start zwifting. See pics below. They’re not just cool looking, there are many reasons to want one.

To get it you need to sign up for the Everest Challenge and then you need to climb the height of Everest (roughly 8800 metres) and then an extra 42,000. In all, it’s 50,000 metres. You can see my progress above. I’m getting there.

This is notable for me. Hills are so not my friend. I’ve got reasonable long distance power and excellent short distance sprint power but my watts per kilo suffer because, well, kilos. You can see my Zwiftpower profile here. That means that I’m happiest, most in my element, on the flats but I find hills hard. Whenever I complain about my weight it’s in the context of power to weight ratio. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway, from like eight years ago. (Okay, also in the context of knee replacement surgery.)

So part of why I’m awful on hills is size. The other part of the story is that I do what we all do. I train at things I’m already good at and ignore the stuff I’m not so good at. BTW, this is where cycling coaches come in handy. They don’t let you do that.

Here’s where Zwift is helping. I now have an incentive to climb. I love that Zwift’s gamification features real rewards, nor just badges. I also love that you can’t just buy a Tron. The people who have them have all ridden the distance.

Zwift Insider offers some tips to get there quickly: “The Tron bike is the most prized ride in Zwift: it’s fast, eye-catching, and difficult to earn. So of course, you want it in your garage (where it’s called the “Zwift Concept Z1” by the way). But you also want to make obtaining it as painless as possible. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to climb 50,000 meters to earn the Tron bike, unless you’re willing to cheat. But are there ways to do that climbing more efficiently, so your watts result in as much elevation as possible?”

Here are some of their tips.

Note not all of the routes they suggest are available to all riders. Some are only there once you’ve been riding for awhile. Now I’m more than halfway there I might give the dreaded Alpe du Zwift a try.

aging · beauty

#NoFilter isn’t really a thing: Selfies and self-image

I’m looking at new phones. I’m considering the Galaxy Note 20. And I’m reading reviews on the internet, as one does. I came across this criticism which piqued my interest.

“Sadly, the selfie camera’s penchant for smoothing faces even when I’ve turned off every possible filter is also predictable. I wish Samsung would get on board with Google’s call to eliminate these defaults for good because they’re potentially harmful to people’s self-image.” From the Verge review of the phone which otherwise mostly says nice things except it’s too pricey and you should wait.

I am the Selfie Queen and I don’t mind filters. But I like obvious filters that make it clear you’re using a filter.

Compare these two photos. You can move back and forth between the two photos using the bar in the middle.

No filter on the left, filter on the right but it’s obviously a filer. Also, there are flames!

So my worry, my objection isn’t to filters per se. It’s a worry about filters that are an improved normal, when you can’t tell if a filter is being used at all.

A few us here on the blog have been chatting about filters in Zoom meetings. The other day I was in one and I was pretty sure all the women were using the beauty face/improve my appearance option and all the men were not. We look all blurry and glowing. They look all craggy and serious. Not sure if this is better or worse than the women wearing make up and men not! Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

Here’s how it works:

Touch up my appearance

  1. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile picture then click Settings.
  2. Click the Video tab.
  3. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance.
  4. Use the slider to adjust the effect.

I tend not to use it because my main video-conferencing tool is Teams, which lacks “touch up my appearance.” I tried it on Zoom and then switched to a Teams meeting recently and thought I’d suddenly gotten ill, or old, or tired, or all three. Until I remembered.

All of this got me thinking about filters, what’s real and what’s not.

There’s no neutral of course since all representations involve choices. So the hashtag “nofilter” can never really be true but some filters are worse than others.

See Philosophical Reflections on Phootgraphy in the AGe of Instagram from Daniel Star writing on the blog Asthetics for Birds: “….(M)y point is that camera and smartphone manufacturers must make decisions about how colors and details will be represented: in effect, each manufacturer provides its own filter that affects, for a start, white balance, color saturation and contrast. Manufacturers must make aesthetically relevant decisions with respect to the interpretation of sensor outputs in digital cameras, the film constitution and development process with analog film, and many complex aspects of camera lens design. The color profiles that come with digital cameras and smartphones vary, and they are, to a large extent, the product of conscious, proprietary decisions made by different manufacturers, with viewers and consumers of various kinds in mind.”

So while #nofilter is never really true, I’d like to keep my wrinkles thanks.

I think I like playful, deliberate filters but not beauty “improving” filters that make it harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Silly filters!
clothing · cycling · inclusiveness · media

On representation and why diversity matters

So as many of you know, I’ve been riding my bike on the trainer a lot lately.

But all those hours Zwifting have been tough on my cycling clothes. I keep old stuff around and I tend to wear it to death. See here (from 2014) and it’s still true. I wear shorts with thinning lycra under dresses for work bike commutes (back in the pre-pandemic times when I commuted to work) and I wear them at home on the trainer. I have shorts that came with me on my first sabbatical in Australia 13 years ago. I still regularly wear my very first pair of cycling specific socks and they are nearly 20 years old! I keep inspecting them, looking for holes, and wear, but they are doing fine.

Those tenacious socks aside, things are starting to wear out. And the thinning cycling shorts aren’t just not decent, they’re also starting to get uncomfortable. Riding the trainer is harder on clothes I suspect. It’s sweatier and there’s a lot less time out of the saddle, moving around. They make indoor cycling specific clothing now but so far I haven’t been tempted to buy it.

In Zwift’s virtual world my avatar has a lot of cool kit to choose from. You earn kit through riding lots and from doing specific events. I have Pride kit from doing the Pride rides and I have team kit from TFC through riding for TFC.

I’ve been wanting some new bike clothes for my actual, physical, non-virtual, self.

I did a Betty Designs workout the other day and I liked the kit my avatar was wearing. It turns out they sell it for actual people. Of course they do!

Sadly their snazzy Zwift kit was sold out.

betty designs zwift kit
Model wearing Betty Designs Zwift kit

But I browsed the site anyway because why not, I was there. Every single model is wearing size S or XS. They sell larger sizes but there aren’t any models wearing it. Instead it’s screen after screen of super thin models. Mostly the same model actually. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m fine with smaller people and thin models. Some women wear size XS. There are lots of thin cyclists.

Not all cyclists are thin though. Some of us wear sizes L and XL and beyond. See Big Women on Bikes.

Compare Betty Designs to Machines for Freedom. I’ve written about MFF before. See Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me! and Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!.

And look at their models!

Plus Size Cycling Clothing is here!

See Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women for an interview with the people behind Machines for Freedom: “I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”

Between the fact that my Zwift avatar doesn’t look like me size-wise and none of the women on the Betty Designs site are anywhere near my size, you’d almost think that women my size don’t ride bikes. But we do. I do. And I’d like some representation please.

Thanks Machines For Freedom for getting it right. Women my size do ride bikes and need cycling clothes. We also appreciate being represented in your advertising imagery.

Earlier, when I was planning to teach a course on feminism, ethics, and fashion I asked whether we had an obligation to buy from size inclusive brands. At the time some readers had given me flack for liking Oiselle sports bras. The issue is that they only offer sizes up to LARGE and while they fit me, they wouldn’t fit lots of athletic women out there. The issue in today’s post is not exactly the same. Betty Designs sizes do go up to XL and while that’s still limited, the worry I raised here was a different one. Their size range includes M, L, and XL but none of their models are wearing that size. They’re all S and XS.

Having people who look like you doing the sport in question makes a difference. I’ve made the point here in terms of shape/size but Black Girls Do Bike makes the point in terms of racial diversity.

Machines for Freedom are also keen to get more Black, Indigenous and all People of Color riders out there telling their stories about riding bikes. You can offer your support here.

“Black, Indigenous and People of Color have often been left out of conversations about biking. As a film festival with 18 years of experience seeking unique bicycle stories, we have a long history of searching for films by BIPOC filmmakers. We know firsthand how few of these films exist. We’re working to change that! Funding is a major barrier to filmmaking, which is why we’ve created this fund to award generous grants to emerging filmmakers. With your support, we can award grants to more filmmakers and help bring important stories and voices to the screen.”

climbing · family · Guest Post · kids and exercise

Climbing with kids (Guest post)

by Jennifer Szende

I am a recreational climber. I bouldered through both of my pregnancies. As my pregnancy advanced, I gained weight and muscle mass in proportion to each other, or so it seemed at the time. My center of gravity shifted forwards, and my body shape pushed me farther away from the wall, but I was still able to move my body in this familiar way, in a familiar setting, even as my body became less and less familiar. I primarily shifted to traversing (climbing sideways, rather than upwards), and I down climbed rather than jumping on the few (very easy) vertical bouldering problems that I still felt comfortable on.

My first pregnancy was in parallel with Beth Rodden’s pregnancy, so from my second semester onwards, I was following her blog for posts about climbing when pregnant, and fortnightly interviews with climbers and mountaineers about their pregnancy experiences. The interviews gave me some previews of what postpartum climbing or climbing with kids might be like. I read about professional and amateur climbing mothers from around the world, and the variety of ways that climbing became part of their postpartum and family life. It gave me a little preview of the different ways that it might be difficult, but might still be possible to keep climbing once I had kids. The differences and diversities were as important as the similarities.

Even so, I was still surprised to experience a complete loss of technique and muscle tone postpartum, with both of my pregnancies. My climbing gym had a mother and baby climbing group with an instructor, which was a very positive experience for me, but essentially required me to learn how to climb all over again with what felt like a third unfamiliar body. Although I had climbed all through my pregnancy, I still experienced a significant loss of core and ab strength. Basically, stretching your abdominals outward for a prolonged period of time, or adding a substantial amount of weight that sits on your pelvic floor, changes those muscle groups one way or another. Climbing postpartum was difficult in unexpected ways. In terms of the logistics of climbing, there were two primary changes:

(1) I couldn’t use lower abs to raise my legs, especially on an overhanging climb, and

(2) I found it difficult to use core strength to keep myself on the wall.

Essentially, I had to learn how to climb with yet another new body (although this time it was on very little sleep and a base level of constant exhaustion). I found some resources to help me out. Beth Rodden’s postpartum posts continued, and chronicled her very difficult postpartum recovery. The relevant part of the blogosphere has grown in the past several years, and I think this advice is really sensible. Especially this: keep making plans, and keep trying, because “The more times you try, the more times you will actually get some climbing done”.

Here are some of the techniques that my mom and baby climbing class helped me develop:

  • Concentrate on volume rather than difficulty to begin with. I would aim to climb all of the easy climbs in the gym (V0 and V0- especially), and potentially climb them twice.
  • Climb as many (easy) problems as possible within a very short timer (e.g. 5 minutes) then do active rest for longer (7 minutes), and you will avoid ‘cooling down’ between climbing reps.
  • Reps on an easy climb (up and down) to build endurance.
  • Do some core and conditioning during rest periods (e.g. plank for 1 minute, V-sits, squats holding a baby, wall sits for 1 minute, piston squats, etc). Or, just do some kegels, if that works for you.
  • Mostly ignore overhanging problems until other techniques are back, although using overhanging problems for lower ab workout (basically reps of hang from straight arms and try to raise one or both legs) was a way to check in with conditioning.

Somewhere along the way, I read and heard about a number of people who took parental leave trips to climbing destinations. Two or three families in my climbing circle did extended road trips through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, and other climbing destinations in the US. My partner was able to take an extended parental leave, and we ended up spending most of it in a series of climbing destinations. The highlight was spending nearly 2 months in Fontainebleau with an 8-9 month old, and it was motivating from the moment we booked the flight. Climbing with a baby in Font is such an absolute delight. (It was also an excellent lesson in comparative European parental leave policies.) There are guidebooks that rate climbing areas around Fontainebleau by stroller friendliness, list rest day activities by children’s ages, and highlight gites with high chair and crib availability. It was such a delight, in fact, that we have been back to Font 3 more times over the last several years, and we are not alone.

I think, essentially, that climbing postpartum made me feel like I was part of a community much more so than any other postpartum activity I did. I attended mom and baby yoga, caregiver and baby story time at the library, and a couple of different parent and baby community health groups. But climbing was the one where I felt the most connected to the other adults in the group. And, it turns out, that climbing with kids has given me access to another supportive community. 

Pregnant bouldering

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.

fitness · media

Thanks BBC: “We’re BBC Sport, not BBC Men’s Sport”

Another quick update from the Land of Twitter.

BBC posts this.

Dude bro comments, “Any chance the Beeb can put out a separate thread solely for the WSL? I have no interest in it and some of the headlines are written as if it’s the men’s game. I appreciate those who follow WSL and intend no slight.”

But I love BBC’s reply.

Thank you BBC. Thank you.

I also love of the other suggestions that follow:

@LewesFCWomen: So please can you remove suffix ‘Women’ from BBC website after all team names in WSL/FA Women’s Championship (or add ‘Men’ to Prem League etc)? Teams themselves don’t add it on eg Lewes, not Lewes Women, Arsenal, not Arsenal Women etc. League name indicates male/female. Ta

0094@0oonthe: Yes but every time you talk about sport; let’s say football; You don’t say men’s football you just say football, then when you talk about women’s football you say women’s football

cycling · fitness · winter

Getting ready for winter cycling!

I’ve asked before–Is this the year to try snow biking?–and apparently lots of you are saying yes.

If you’re interested now might be the time to get ready. If you want lessons, I like the folks at Horse Shoe resort.

That said, you don’t need lessons. We thought it was a nice way to try out the bikes to see if we liked fat biking and get some tips on how to ride them. Riding around on wide local trails isn’t particularly technical. I love that the fat bike tires seem able to ride over just about anything. The one thing I do need/want are warmer winter boots for cycling. All the websites that sell them say that they are experiencing a much higher order volume than usual. Hmmm. Notice a trend?

Do you fat bike? Do you have boot recommendations? Send them my way.

Past posts on winter biking:

Fat bikes

Winter riding: Are you ready?

Fat biking: A photo essay

Happy Winter Bike to Work Day!

Riding in the cold and the snow: A how-to, complete with bonus fashion tips!

Fat Biking, Take Two (Or, Sam Learns How to Ride Through Really Deep Slush)

Winter Biking: So Hot Right Now! (Guest Post)

The seasons of cycling

Sam walking her fat snow bike across a skinny bridge. Other cyclists might have ridden it!
advertising · fitness · stereotypes

Girls’ hockey and promoting the sport: Some fun alternatives to USA Hockey

USA Hockey ran the following Twitter campaign to promote girls hockey and there were, as you might expect, some criticism. We shared the controversy here.

I loved some of the alternatives that people shared on Twitter.

Here are my faves:

Skates. Photo by Matthew Fournier, Unsplash.
#deanslife · covid19 · habits · health · nature · season transitions · self care

It’s just another pandemic Monday!

For some reason, Mondays are harder in pandemic times. I usually like Mondays. I’ve always liked the ‘back to the office’ energy, getting down to making lists and schedules for the week ahead, ‘how was your weekend? convos with colleagues, a bike ride the office, and lots and lots of coffee. These days there isn’t much of that. Instead, I look at my calendar, think ‘wow, we’re still doing this’ and start my first videoconference at 8 am.

My last public speaking event was March 5, 228 days ago. March 10 my calendar just says, ominously, “cancel all flights and hotels.” My first COVID-19 contingency planning meeting/conference call was March 13, 220 days ago.

Ever since I’ve been here in Guelph, working from home. This is a helpful reminder of the real date.

In July I wrote, “There are no boundaries any more. Life is one big blur of working at home, exercising at home, and relaxing at home. I occasionally look at my shoe collection in puzzlement. Will I ever wear real shoes again? I still have underwire bras hanging off a doorknob, neglected, and I’m wondering why I ever thought they were a good idea. These days only my comfiest of sports bras are in regular rotation.”

In light of the No Boundaries and the Great Big Blur, I’ve been thinking about restructuring my work week a little. Lots of things are busy during the weekend, out in the world, and I’m often working on the weekend. I’m wondering about taking some weekday time to ride trails, take Cheddar for hikes, and appreciate the outdoors. That’s the weekday/weekend trade but there’s also the daytime/nighttime swap. Yes, lots of work hours are fixed but if I am working into the evenings anyway, why can’t I squeeze some outside time in the sun into my day?

It’s hard to start work when it’s dark and finish after it’s dark again. Why not get out for a ride or a walk in the middle of the day?

Are you still working from home? How are you coping? 220 or so days in, are you making any changes to your schedule?

#deanslife · cycling · family · fitness · October · Zwift

A weekend in three rides with a backyard disco in the middle

I’ve been working hard on the weekend lately. There’s just too much going on. I’m dean. I’m teaching a grad seminar. There’s the usual house stuff. I’ve got three kids who are in their 20s and visiting them these days requires some ingenuity and coordination, thanks to the pandemic.

This weekend was no exception really except for some scheduled bike rides. I’m glad I got to ride and I got to see my adult kids. I did a bunch of work but it also felt like a weekend, if you know what I mean.

Friday is the TFC’s, my Zwift bike club, namesake ride, The Friday Crit. This week’s route was RGV in France. I like the route, all beautiful scenery and rolling hills. Except at the start I got a flat in my real world bike on the trainer! I stopped. Sarah put more air in the tire and I worked hard to catch my teammate Keith who’d been riding slowly and waiting up. He’s in the blue cap below. I’m in the pink. Speaking of colours, that’s a lot of red in the screen capture below! That’s time in my highest effort zone. I ended up finishing, with Keith, and some others, somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was proud of catching up to Keith and the others and proud that in the end I took the women’s sprint jersey.

Total distance: 4 km warm up + 25 km race (45 minutes)

Saturday Sarah and I rode for pleasure, not speed, on our gravel bikes, in the outside world, on another section of the Guelph to Goderich rail trail. We started in Monkton, Ontario and covered about 16 km of the trail. At our meandering pace that took about an hour, including stops to pick apples and take photos! Some sections were wide open in farm fields, while other bits had lots of beautiful trees with gorgeous fall colours. If you’re in southwestern Ontario, I strongly recommend this trail. Even on a Saturday it was pretty quiet. The gravel is well packed and it’s easy riding.

Total distance: 16 km, about one hour

Sunday saw me back on Zwift for my club’s Sunday social ride, 6 laps around the volcano circuit in Watopia. We have a group leader with a yellow beacon who keeps the set pace of about 2 watts per kilo. This week we were so well disciplined at keeping the pace that the leader didn’t have to turn on the fence. We had lots of new riders along and team regulars kept up answering questions in the chat. We chose to race the last lap and after staying a steady pace until then it was fun to let go and go fast for the final 4 km. Whee! A fun thing for me was getting some PRs on the route and getting faster pretty much every lap, especially the last one.

Total distance: 30 km, about 50 minutes

Thanks to my friend Rob who let us use his backyard and propane heater for visiting with the London kids. My daughter Mallory is just back from a 3 day solo hiking and camping trip. She’s promised to blog about it!

Rob’s backyard also had a disco light which we all enjoyed as the patterns flickered on the trees!

Disco lights!
beauty

Oh, hockey. Why are you so bad at this?

As someone asked on Twitter, “Is this really the best that you can do to try to make the sport attractive to girls?”

Image description: A young white girl with blonde hair wearing a bright pink hockey jersey is apply pink lip gloss.
Look good. Feel good. Play good.
#GirlsHockey

Some responses:

Others said:

There’s so much to celebrate for girls and women’s hockey. This doesn’t help.

Wowwwwww. How about a pic of her playing hockey? Way to continue to push a stigma around appearances.

Are you suuuuuuure that’s the way you want to grow the game?

What do you think?