They’re still not perfect if you prefer your capitalism with consistency, see here: ‘This is peak 2020’: Multi-billion dollar sportswear company Lululemon is ridiculed for promoting a ‘woke’ class on ‘resisting capitalism’ while selling its signature yoga pants for $128.
But they are lovely leggings and yoga pants and I’m glad they now go up to size 20.
I’ve been enjoying my exchanges with David Isaac on Twitter. Like me, he’s got both the word “philosophy” and the word “cyclist” in his bio. We’re also both interested in the issues facing women cyclists. I’m just on the edge of the cycling advocacy community here in Guelph but David is quite involved in bike advocacy in London, Ontario, the city he calls home.
Here’s our recent chat about women and bike safety.
Hey, welcome to Fit is a Feminist Issue! Maybe we can start by you telling us a bit about your background as a cycling infrastructure advocate and also as a cyclist.
David: I have always been a cyclist – I’ve been riding a bike to work and school for over a decade in Kitchener-Waterloo and London. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve started to get more involved as an advocate. I’m a personal injury lawyer, and in my line of work it’s not uncommon to see cyclists who are hurt in collisions with drivers. As I started looking into why these collisions were so frequent, it became clear that infrastructure played a big role. Where proper bike infrastructure is in place, more people ride bikes, but collisions are less frequent. As I came to understand this better, I started advocating for proper infrastructure. A lot of that advocacy is just on Twitter, but I’ve also given a few talks and interviews about cycling.
What’s the connection, do you think, between good safe cycling infrastructure and the goal of getting more women on bikes?
David: Research shows that where safe cycling infrastructure is built, more women will ride their bikes. “Safe infrastructure” generally means bike lanes that physically separate the cyclist from vehicles – the old joke is that “paint isn’t infrastructure”. It’s important to note that the research does not show that this correlation is due to a sort of evo-psych explanation about women being inherently risk-averse. Each person’s risk tolerance is different, and this of course intersects with race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.
Léa Ravensbergen, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, has done some excellent research into the differences between what women and men use bikes for. She uses a great term “vélomobilities of care” to describe the ways people meet their and others’ household needs using bicycles – for instance, by taking kids to school or running errands. She notes that because women take on a disproportionate amount of this work, the types of activities women use cycling for are often different for women than for men. So the location of infrastructure matters. If it only serves commuters, but doesn’t connect to a daycare or a grocery store, it will mostly benefit male cyclists. Protected bike lanes are the go-to example of safe infrastructure, but it isn’t the only thing that matters in getting women on bikes. Bike parking that is well-lit and safe is also important.
Cycling has a reputation of being a male-dominated activity, and the discourse around cycling infrastructure suffers from this same problem. This can lead to issues in determining where cycling infrastructure is built. If cities only listen to advice about bike lanes from white men, they will end up building bike lanes that are primarily useful to white men. Viewing infrastructure through a feminist lens means building cycling infrastructure in places that benefit women, and making sure cyclists are protected from gendered violence. Again, it goes without saying that other identities play a large role in this. Bike lanes in wealthy neighbourhoods will only increase cycling among wealthy women.
I’ve heard it said that women are the “indicator species” for safe happy community cycling. Countries with a big number of cyclists also have lots of women out on bikes–commuting, recreationally riding, etc. Why is that, do you think?
David: I think there are probably two main factors at play here. The first is that those countries generally have a large network of bike lanes, which are more likely to connect to places that women are more likely to cycle to. The other is if you are a woman who wants to ride, and there are lots of people riding, it’s easier to find other people to help you get started. Ravensbergen noted that trips that are considered difficult by bike (such as a grocery shop or taking children to school) can be made easier if you have mentorship opportunities to teach you how to make those trips more easily.
Why is safe cycling a feminist issue?
David: People who cycle regularly have significantly improved health outcomes compared to non-cyclists. This applies to both mental and physical health. Cycling can save you money and is better for the environment. Plus, it’s fun! It’s important that these benefits are available to everyone, not just men.
Safe cycling is also key to creating healthier, more interconnected communities. If people live in disconnected places, they can’t access things they need like social connection, fresh food, healthcare, or child care. Safe cycling infrastructure can make cities more equitable.
David Isaac is a personal injury lawyer and cycling advocate in London, Ontario. He specializes in helping pedestrians and cyclists who are injured. He tweets about cycling, law and philosophy at @DIsaac8.
In most ways, this year, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been for me a year of doing less. I’m riding my bike outside now but no big distances. There’s (obviously) no big summer travel. Normally my summers involve academic conference travel, usually in Europe, with vacation tacked on to the beginning or end. Not this year. In 2020 my holidays have been low-key, close to home.
The year of doing less has had one notable exception: Our big Algonquin canoe tripping adventure. I love Algonquin Park. It’s so beautiful and so close to home for me. Yet, in busier years I’ve only had time to go for long weekends. This year is the opportunity to do more.
Since my canoe came into my life in 2015 (thanks Jeff!) what I’ve done are back country canoe trips where you paddle to a place, make camp, stay there for a few days, and paddle around some minus all the gear. Lots of us here at the blog do this kind of adventuring. You can read all the canoe stories here.
Susan has done some longer trips. Sarah too. They’ve done the kind of trips where you start out a place and keep moving to a new campsite each day, eventually ending back up where you started. That’s a new adventure for me.
But I wasn’t sure I could, physically speaking. I was worried about my knee. I was worried about carrying stuff through long portages.
Two things made it possible. First, Sarah’s careful planning (see below). Second, her acquisition last year, when we were talking about hiking and camping, of ultralight weight camping gear. Thanks Sarah!
Here’s what we did:
In our usual fashion where work never seems to end or stop, we worked until the last possible second on Monday, piled everything into the car, zoomed north, and arrived at the park office in a bit of a rush. Friends who know us will laugh at this bit of the story. We even stopped several times on the access road to Lake Magnetawan for the final few bars of cell phone signal.
And then we parked, unloaded the car, and loaded up the canoe.
We paddled through Magnetawan then Hambone, and then made camp on Ralph Bice.
We paddled and portaged our way from Ralph Bice to Little Trout and Queer Lake where we stayed for the night.
This was the first big day, with long portages. 1330 m isn’t that long but it is when you are carrying a lot of stuff! Also, it feels long when there are big hills, ankle deep mud, and narrow paths. But paddling on the Tim River was fun. I got to learn about steering in a downstream current. Less fun was arriving on Shah, our stopping point just as a storm was brewing. We had a bumpy trip across the lake and rejected the first campsite as too grown over. Luckily we got the tarp up fast and stayed dry through dinner.
We paddled from Shah to Misty to Little Misty, where we were the only campsite on the lake.
We paddled from Little Misty to Daisy via the Petawawa River with portages to bypass rapids. There was also some scrambling over beaver dams with the canoe.
No photos because my phone ran out of charge but we paddled from Daisy to Hambone to Magnetawan. We were very happy to have left clean clothes in the car for the trip home.
What did I learn on this trip? Here’s six things.
That even with my miserable, painful, stiff knee I can do trips like this and enjoy myself. I babied my knee. I took ibuprofen. I stretched. I walked carefully and slowly on the portages. Some mornings I’d wake up and think, “wow, this is it, they’re going to have to air ambulance me out of here” and then I’d stretch and walk around a bit. And then I was fine. Deep breaths, Samantha, you’ve got this. And I did.
2. Paddling on the river–which requires active involvement of the person in the bow–takes skill but it’s fun. I like learning new things. Even when things go wrong–like when we landed in the shrubbery on the side of the river–the worse thing that happened is we got covered in yellow furry caterpillars. Navigating the beaver dams also took skill and effort but in the end it was all pretty low stakes. When I messed up one beaver dam the current just took us back and we tried again.
3. Lightweight camping gear–if you can afford it–is an amazing thing. I was shocked at how little the tent and the sleeping bag etc weighed. We had very lightweight gear even down to the titanium spork!
4. The weather spanned from too hot to brrrr! (at night) and I should have brought a warmer layer and possibly even (no joke) gloves. I always forget that about camping in Algonquin.
5. I was concerned about food and about carrying six days of food but we did well. I learned that a warm meal at night goes a long way and that even mac and cheese over the camp stove tasted pretty good.
6. If I were doing it again, I’d book a day off in the middle, a rest day, where we’d stay on one campsite two nights and maybe even bring a book!
Next up? I’m looking at route maps and planning for next year. Now I know we can do this I’m going to do it again. In light of the great squirrel attack on our food bag on the last night, I’m considering more secure food storage and a good pack for me to carry it all in.
This year’s planning was made more challenging by the fact that Algonquin was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. Lots of folks spending summer vacations in a tent instead of a cottage. When selecting a route between the few available sites, I used a few rules of thumb. Wanting to have lots of time to rest and explore, I limited the distance traveled to about 5 km on the map each day, and a maximum of 2,000m of portaging. Of course the actual distance paddled would be more than that – we move through the water at about 4 km/h – but there’s a fair bit of time spent wandering toward pretty rocks or out of the wind, stopping mid-lake to pump water, paddling from site to site looking for one that’s free to camp on, etc. It also takes time to get in and out of the canoe at each portage.
In order to reduce the strain on Sam’s knee, we decided that she would carry only her clothes and the food pack (which is not too heavy and gets lighter as we go) for the portages, along with our water bottles, paddles, and PFDs. This meant being minimalist in our packing to bring down the weight of the “house” pack (including my clothes) to a manageable 32 lbs (14.5 kg). When combined with 48 lbs of canoe, this comes in right at the 80 lbs (36 kg) maximum weight this “weekend warrior” can safely carry in the backcountry. We made choices like : a tiny, lightweight backpacking tent; a down quilt instead of sleeping bags; one set of clothes (plus warm and waterproof layers), using pot lids as plates. We also needed to be minimalist in our food, bringing only enough dry, lightweight calories to keep us going, and enough sweet snacks that it still felt like vacation. And two full Ziploc sandwich bags of coffee, because there are some things that one cannot do without!
What did Sarah learn on this trip?
I’ve done nearly all parts of this year’s trip in previous years, so the things I learned this time were largely around food:
Naptha fuel to cook breakfast and supper for 2 people = 200 mL per day
One serving of oatmeal or pancake mix = 125 mL (1/2 cup)
One serving of maple syrup for oatmeal or pancakes = 50 mL (even if we have more, we don’t actually use it!)
Unless it’s a rest day or half day, budget for both lunch (sandwich) and a protein bar.
We don’t actually eat salty protein snacks like nuts or trail mix except buried in other meals. Better to bring more protein bars and peanut M&Ms.
Double check not only the count of meals but also the meal type. We were somehow short one breakfast but had an extra dinner(?!)
Oh, one more thing we learned, the sleeping quilt is toasty down to 6 C. But it works best if no one steals the covers!
“Previous evidence suggests that providing bicycles to school girls reduced the gender gap in school enrollment in India, but little has been known about the impact of bicycle distribution programs in sub-Saharan Africa and whether such programs can increase girls’ empowerment. In rural Zambia, researchers partnered with World Bicycle Relief (WBR) to evaluate the impact of bicycle access on girls’ educational and empowerment outcomes. The study found that the bicycles reduced commute time, increased punctuality to school, and reduced the number of days girls were absent from school by 28 percent in the previous week. The program also improved measures of empowerment, including girls’ sense of control over the decisions affecting their lives (i.e., their “locus of control” increased). Researchers did not find evidence that the program impacted school dropout or grade transition. “
Everyone loves this Susan B. Anthony quote: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
Here on the blog we tend to think of the connection between bicycles and feminism as a historical thing. I’ve written lots about that and I’ve given quite a few academic talks on the connection between the history of feminist activism in the west and the history of bicycles. See my post about the anti-bike backlash of the late 1800s here: Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s.
However, bicycles are still playing a role in improving the lives of girls and women all over the world. In many parts of the world, the choice is between biking and getting a drive from parents. But in many other parts of the world it’s the possession of a bicycle that makes getting to school possible at all. Often girls don’t have access to bicycles (and as a result, schooling).
From Outside Online: “There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Amid nationwide stay-at-home-orders, mass-transit ridership is in free fall, leaving essential workers in need of a socially distant way to get around. And many people, especially families with young children at home, are looking for lockdown-compliant ways to get outside and keep everyone as healthy and happy as possible.”
Most of the Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers ride bikes. Tracy has moved on from road cycling but she’s kept her commuter bike. Christine also rides a bike. Catherine, Cate, Nat, Kim, Susan, Bettina, and I all ride bikes.
We want to welcome you, new rider, to our community!
Here’s some helpful advice from Jennifer Herring and others on Twitter.
Sometime in February, when it became clear that coronavirus wasn’t just going to be an outbreak limited to China and its neighbors, I got a lot more serious about going to the gym.
The logic was simple. I have cerebral palsy, a disability known to make pneumonia more dangerous by causing habitual shallow breathing, which reduces lung capacity. Less lung capacity means less reserve if you contract pneumonia. But this can be modified by exercise. As long as I was doing a lot of aerobic activity, my risk of severe illness should be about the same as that of a physiotypical 30-something.
Since avoiding the risk of infection entirely was impossible (even if I could have stayed home all the time, family members go out), it made sense to focus on harm reduction. Better a somewhat higher risk of an unpleasant illness than a lower risk of a dangerous one.
In March, my options for physical activity began to narrow. I stopped going to BJJ class because it didn’t seem like a good time to be getting into people’s faces. A week or two later, when students were sent home at my university, the rock wall was shut down. My main fun activities were gone — an unusually rainy March precluded outdoor cycling — but I could still exercise, maybe even train for a birthday challenge. Then, on March 15, my city ordered all gyms to close.
It’s an odd feeling when your main tool for staying healthy gets taken away in the name of public health. I felt a loss of control, combined with anger on behalf of others who would be harmed more than me. I could plunk down a hundred dollars on a mini-bike to use at home and set up Skype sessions with my trainer — not perfect but better than nothing. But that’s financially out of reach for many. Some people with disabilities need exercise equipment that costs thousands of dollars. Others can only swim. It wouldn’t have been too hard to set up designated fitness centers for such people, but no one thought of doing so. Even physical therapy offices closed.
The idea that an important aspect of pandemic preparedness is being overlooked is not just my intuition. Julie K. Silver, the Associate Chair of Physical Medicine at Harvard Medical School, writes in a BMJ opinion piece that it is crucial “to recognize that strategies that might help slow the spread of disease and perhaps reduce its overall incidence (i.e., social distancing and sheltering in place), could have the unintentional and harmful effect of decreased physical activity and contribute to cardiopulmonary deconditioning. In particular, the elderly, who are most vulnerable to pulmonary complications from coronavirus, may exhibit a decrease in their baseline cardiac and pulmonary fitness that could substantially impact their outcomes and increase morbidity and mortality.”
Some of the very people most at risk from COVID-19 — the elderly and those with heart disease and diabetes — are the ones most harmed by inactivity. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account questions of maintaining overall health and physical function. How many older people will become frail, possibly suffering fractures or losing the ability to do activities of daily living? How many will die from this?
There is still an opportunity to maintain vulnerable people’s health during this time. Some can take advantage of exercise videos or routines available on TV or online, or exercise outdoors while maintaining necessary distance. For others, cities and medical centers should try to provide individual or small-group telehealth sessions (hospitals may be overwhelmed, but the skills of physical therapists aren’t immediately relevant to treating COVID-19 patients) and set up in-person facilities for those for whom this is not enough. Getting through the pandemic with a minimum of harm to individuals and society will require a comprehensive approach that includes everyone. —
Jane S. is an ecologist who teaches mathematical biology. She enjoys climbing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and any activity that involves thinking with your body. She also gets a kick out of using her powerchair to move heavy objects.
Kailey says, “I was always trying to change the fact that I was a fat cyclist into being just a ‘regular’ cyclist,” the 27-year-old says on a recent afternoon. “Now, I spend my time loving myself and moving my body because I enjoy moving my body and not as a punishment to my body.”
I remember the first time I walked my bike up a hill. It wasn’t fun. I was embarrassed. I’d also fallen over because I slowed down quickly and couldn’t unclip in time. Ouch. It was also a group ride and everyone was waiting for me at the top. Double ouch.
That first time was just weeks after getting my first road bike. I was in my late thirties. It was early days of clip in bike shoes and pedals for me. I was still learning to shift on my new bike. I was a pretty strong rider, out with a triathlon training group from the Running Room but I was very much a beginning cyclist. I’d heard cyclists talk about serious hills but I hadn’t yet encountered one.
When we started out on River Road in London, Ontario I was fine, just a gentle incline. “What were they talking about?” I thought. But after turning the corner and seeing the steep hill ahead I was worried. I tried to race up it but that was a recipe for disaster. I shifted frantically and ran out of gears. Rookie mistake. When I came to a stop, I just fell over. Thump. I scraped my shoulder falling over but other than my pride really I was fine.
In the weeks and months ahead I mastered the skills that made stopping on hills less dramatic. I unclipped and got off the bike in a controlled fashion when I needed to. I learned, although I’m still not great at this, to start again on a hill. Tip: if you can cycle across the road to get going that helps. Walking my bike up very steep hills became a thing I could do. But I often felt ashamed. If only I were smaller, fitter, faster, weighed less….
Hills have been a weight loss motivation for me since the early days of the blog. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway. In November 2012 (nearly 7 years ago!) I wrote: “My main reason I want to get leaner is sports performance. An awful lot of what I do depends on a power to weight ratio. For an explanation of power to weight ratio and its importance when it comes to cycling, read The Pursuit of Leanness over at Australia’s Cycling Tips blog. I’ll never be a hill climber. I’m a reasonably powerful sprinter and time trialer (for a recreational cyclist in her midlife years!). I know my place in the cycling world. But I’m sick of getting dropped on hills.”
This year in Newfoundland, I noticed my attitude had changed. I was smiling walking up some of the hills. I wasn’t just putting on a brave face either. I was happy all the way inside. What had changed?
Four things, I think.
1. I was riding with friends. No one was going to drop me. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself to anyone. We’ve been riding together for years. On all sides there’s a lot affection, trust, and goodwill in the bank.
2. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the scenery, the dramatic landscapes. When you’re focused on “wow” and wonder at the world around you, it’s hard to care that you’re walking rather than riding up the hill.
3. Then there was a practical thing. I’d switched to spd pedals and shoes for this trip in anticipation of walking up the occasional hill. They’re a lot easier to walk in and there was no wearing down the metal cleats.
4. Finally, it helped that we all walked some of the hills, at some point. If the hill was short enough either David or I would make it to the top first and we’d wait for Sarah. If it was a long hill at some point we’d slow down and she’d patiently pedal on by in a spinny gear. There were some hills that defeated all of us.
These photos capture the beauty but they don’t capture the steepness of the hills. Trust me. They’re steep. (Oh and yes this is July in Newfoundland, midsummer, and yes, that’s snow.)
Question: Why not ride a bike with gears to get up all the hills? There’s no shame in a having a triple, a granny gear as they’re called? And I agree. No shame. But it’s not gearing we need around here. I like the gearing range I’ve got.
I suppose I could get a touring bike with a triple chain ring but I’m not sure I want or need a touring bike either. They’re great for carrying stuff, loading down with panniers etc. But the kind of bicycle tourism I like to do has other people carrying things for me. Touring bikes are great for riding on gravel and other surfaces but my bike tourism is all or mostly on pavement. See Cate’s recent post for a description of that kind of bike holiday.
Things could change. It’s not impossible.
But for now if the only price I pay is walking up the odd hill, I’ll take it.
I recently posted the following request to Facebook, “I’m often in meetings where I need to know the time but I don’t want to look at my phone. I know the answer, a wristwatch. I want something very mimimalist, no second hand, analog not digital, and it can’t be small. Suitable for wearing to work. Not gold. Also, I have large wrists. Watch wearing friends, what do you recommend? It’s been years.”
Like that but without the second hand and the military time. I wanted something minimalist but still readable. Not a digital watch and definitely not sporty. I wanted it for work so it needs to look good with suits and dresses. I got a ton of recommendations. Thanks friends.
Lots of you had brilliant suggestions. Some beautiful and out of my practical price range. I’m not sure if I’ll happily go back to the watch habit. And I take off watches and lose them so there’s that too. Others liked quirky trendy watches and predictably fights broke out among the purists. I love my friends.
But there was one answer that made me realize how much my life has changed. Lots of you were shocked I wasn’t already wearing a fitness tracker. You made suggestions about the best kind. The thing is I used to love having one and wearing it. But not anymore. The problem is that they mostly track steps and my steps are very limited these days. When I wear one I’m conscious of how little I’m walking and sometimes I walk when I shouldn’t. My knees are happiest on days with fewer than 5000 steps. I get that just walking around campus and taking the dog around the block.
GoogleFit has been better for me because it tracks active minutes and they’re the main thing rather than steps. So my reasons aren’t Tracy’s reasons. I’m a fan of tracking. But it makes sense to track things in your control, that you have reasons to care about, and for which tracking brings about a change in behavior in the right direction. Tracking steps isn’t that for me anymore.
Anyway, back to meetings. The meetings for which I want a watch aren’t working meetings. For those I have my laptop or phone out for access to documents. Tasks and machines go together. But some meetings are all about listening. I take handwritten notes. I don’t want to be distracted from what the person is saying or have them think I’m checking my phone for messages. Checking your phone sends a signal that glancing at your watch doesn’t. I’m still watch shopping. I’ll report back when I’ve made a decision.
I shared the tweet below and added, “Indeed. I’m someone who can ride a bike 100’s of kms but can’t walk more than a single km. My bikes are many things to me but they are also increasingly mobility aids. Safe city cycling is a disability rights issue. “
Four hundred+ likes and dozens of retweets and lots of new followers later, the virtual dust settled. It seems I’d hit a nerve. The thing is safe cycling isn’t just about the young and the fit and the able bodied.
I started to notice it when my knee got really bad and I was walking with a knee brace and cane. On two feet I was definitely a person with a disability, recognizably so, but put me on a bike and whee, zoom! I started to ride between meetings in campus. I bike to work even though it’s just over 2 km.
Sometimes I explain when people express surprise that I ride when I live so close. Other times I just let it go.
This was all pretty natural for me. I’m a cyclist. It’s part of who I am. But I can imagine that for lots of people who pre-injury or pre-chronic condition didn’t ride a bike, it wouldn’t be obvious that cycling is a great way to get around. Lots of people, watching me walk, were shocked that I could ride a bike.
When I ride a bike for disability reasons, I feel like I’ve joined a community of people who wheel rather than walk. That includes mobility scooters and wheelchairs and tricycles. Walk your bike? Um, what if I can’t? No ramp? We’re all in trouble.
Since then I’ve bought a Brompton which I travel with so I can get around in other cities. I take it in places, folded, walking, but often it would be easier if I could keep riding. It needs an accessibility/mobility device sticker!
I see people with scooters like this one using them inside and I’m jealous.
What are the big takeaway points?
Not everyone riding a bike is able-bodied in virtue of riding a bike. We often stereotype people on bikes as young and able-bodied. From this article on bikes as rolling walking sticks: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around. “
If you have difficulty standing or walking yourself, you might be surprised at how much better riding a bike feels. In my case it takes the weight off my joints and relieves almost all of the pain. Plus, I’m mobile.
For municipal planning, safe bike lanes aren’t a luxury. Lots of people need to wheel around rather than walk. Safe cycling is a disability rights issue.
“Walk your bike” isn’t always a good thing. That assumes that everyone can walk their bike. That’s simply not the case.
Once I started to pay attention to bikes this way, I started notice that there are lots of different bodies, with lots of different abilities out there on wheels.