accessibility · cycling · fitness

Women and e-assist bikes… Sam has some worries

Image description: A white women’s arms in a white sweater resting on her legs. She’s wearing white bottoms with large white polka dots. Her hands are nervously clutching the fabric. Photo by Unsplash.

So first I hated electric bikes. I blogged about it. “The ones I hate are like bloated overgrown scooters on steroids with vestigial pedals. As far as I can tell no one actually uses the pedals. They’re just there to make the thing legally a bike. As the ad for e-bikes at a shop near my house says “Ride with no license, no insurance, and no registration.”

But not all e-bikes are like that. The best are like regular bikes with e-assist. You still pedal but it’s easier going uphill. Then I thought about it again, read some stuff and changed my mind. See Sam is sorry she was a bit of a fitness snob about e-bikes.

I learned about the fitness benefits of e-biking and thought about people riding long (for them) distances, especially carrying heavy stuff (groceries, children, etc.).

Then I talked to some women about their new e-bikes and got all worried again. The thing is it’s only women who are talking to me about e-assist. (Maybe men are also buying these bikes. I don’t know. They aren’t talking about, not to me anyway.) My women friends and acquaintances are claiming that without e-assist they’d never make it up hills. I know that’s not true. Hills aren’t my fave thing either but I’ve learned to live with them and make it to the top on my own steam. They say that now, and only now, they can keep up with their male bike riding partners. Maybe? But you could ride with other women. Or you could train and get faster. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they are buying bikes and getting out there. But I am genuinely surprised at the insecurity that seems attached to the decision to buy an e-bike.

Some of them, it seems to me, could have bought lighter, more expensive road bikes.

Maybe I’m fretting for nothing. I am glad more people are riding. It’s still good exercise and it’s great for the environment.

Thoughts? Have you considered an e-bike purchase?

accessibility · climbing · fitness · hiking · holidays · inclusiveness · nature · running · traveling · yoga

Women, mountain sports, and privilege – thoughts on an all-female sports festival in Austria

Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.

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View over a lush green alpine valley, from the beginning of our via ferrata.

I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.

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Bettina in full gear, taking a well-deserved sip of water after completing her first ever via ferrata.

The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.

But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.

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The really quite scary suspension bridge we had to cross during our trail run, complete with some runners from our group approaching in the distance.

The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.

The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?

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Bettina in a red t-shirt and hiking gear, beaming widely with one of the summits she climbed during her all-day hike in the background.

There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.

The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).

In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.

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Enjoying these views was part of our privilege: panorama of the Alps with some flecks of snow in the sunshine.

And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.

Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.

accessibility · cycling · fitness

Sam is sorry she was a bit of a fitness snob about e-bikes

One good thing that’s happened to me as a result of my knee problems is that I’ve got a much richer appreciation of the fact that people come to fitness from many different places. I can see now why people thought past me was just a little bit insufferable. I’ve apologized a few times, first for saying if you don’t love it, don’t do it (see An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…) and second for saying it’s never too late, because sometimes it is (see The second thing Sam is going to stop saying…)

As someone who has always walked a lot and always ridden a bike and lifted weights since grad school, I come to new fitness activities in not awful shape to begin with. But that’s not true for everyone. Not everyone starts from the same place. In the past I don’t think I appreciated where people were with their fitness for different activities. For example, I dragged Tracy on some very long bike rides for which she wasn’t prepared. There was a 40 km ride that turned out to be 60 km. Later there was a promised century ride that turned out to be 110 km. Likewise, I’ve taken friends and family on hikes that have outstripped their abilities. Mea culpa.

We all start in different places. I’ve been riding a lot (where “a lot”= 3000-5000 km a year) for about fifteen years now. That’s why I feel like I’ve got 100 km in the bank. Check out my recent post about the 1 day version of the bike rally. I can ride that far at almost any time. But not everyone can do that. Beginners can’t do that. People new to cycling can’t do that and people new to fitness altogether certainly can’t.

Beginners can be beginners at a particular activity, like Tracy and road cycling. Or they can be beginners to physical activity in any form. These days, with cars and sofas and desks as the backdrop for our lives, we can start out pretty unfit. Someone found our blog recently by searching the following phrase: “I’m so unfit that even gardening is too much for me.” I discovered this when researching a blog post on why people hate exercise. Some people are so unfit, researchers say, that even cooking dinner and walking around the house can elevate their heart rate. See Hate exercise? You might just be much more unfit than you think.

So when Tracy writes about starting out small, for some people small might be really tiny.

That hit home when I was talking with someone recently about getting started cycling. She wanted to ride her bike to work but had to work up to the 5 km trip. She was riding around her neighbourhood, adding a block each night. She wanted to ride but couldn’t yet ride distances that would be useful. I couldn’t imagine not being able to ride 5 km but I rode a bike as a child and I’ve been a lifelong bike commuter.

Then it hit me! She needs an e-bike. See this piece on the health benefits of riding an e-bike.

In the past I haven’t been a fan of e-bikes. That’s mostly because I associated with them the faux scooters with vestigial pedals designed just to get around the rules that would require a license and insurance. I blogged about that kind here.

Image result for ebikes

But genuine e-assist bikes? They have their charms. A friend in Germany rides one because his route to work has hills and he doesn’t want to arrive sweaty. He’s a pretty fit guy who races in triathlons but he likes the e-bike for commuting. Another friend’s dad in Australia rides one because, as a life long cyclist, he wanted to keep riding but he could no longer make it up the hills. If I were to go back to New Zealand, I’d be tempted!

Then Elan blogged about her experiences renting an eBike and how much she liked it. I’ve got a good friend who bought one because it meant she could do all her commuting and errand running by bike rather than by bike + bus combo.

Finally, another friend bought an e-assist for her cargo bike. She’s riding with stuff and two kids and needs a bit of help on hills. Who could possibly blame her? Not me.

Image result for ebikes

So I’ve started to think about e-bikes differently. There are lots of good reasons to ride one including as a way to start out as a cyclist if you’re pretty unfit to begin. You can gradually use less and less of the e-assist and make practical use of the bike right from the start.

What do you think?

I can’t see them being used on bike clubs’ group rides and I wonder if they’ll make cycling holidays more accessible but I can see them making perfect sense as practical commuting and errand running bikes for beginners.

They’re also great for the environment.

See The Case for E-Bikes.

accessibility · fitness · Guest Post

Guest post: Sam (the other Sam) rows for years and finally falls in and finds out it’s not so bad after all

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Today after 3 years of recreational rowing. I finally fell in. I am surprised it took this long. This was also the first time, I have rowed with both a hat and sunglasses. Until today I had avoided taking anything more than water in the boat, specifically because I might fall in. Ironically, this morning I thought "you're not going to flip". Thankfully hat and glasses are fine. If you had to fall in today was the day to do it! Toronto is hot. I am not sure my running shoes appreciate the dip. I fell with full audience. I appreciate how helpful everyone was. It was surprising, but not traumatic, I credit that to those around me and the folks on the dock. I was able to get back in and still have a great row. The water was super calm. I can't even blame the water. Interestingly, my father used to do open water rescues; he mentioned that people don't drown because they can't swim, but the shock of falling in usually makes them panic or they swallow water and can't get air. His advice was not to panic and tread water or hang on to the boat. Today was not dramatic at all but I can totally see why folks would panic falling in. #realrowernow #row #toronto #torontolife #adaptivesports #disabledsports #rowing_s2

A post shared by Samantha Walsh (@walshsam) on

Sam is a recreational rower and sociologist.

accessibility · body image · fitness · gender policing · inclusiveness · swimming

Being Naked in Public, pt 2: languages of instruction

Back in December I wrote a post about being naked in public, three ways: in new “universal” change rooms in pools in my city of Hamilton, Ontario; in the same kinds of spaces (with WAY more cubicles and tight corners) in London, England; and in a public spa and thermal bath complex in Konstanz, Germany (few cubicles; lots of comfy nudity).

My questions in that post revolved around etiquette, protocol, expectation, and the cultural labour these spaces appear to be doing towards supporting inclusive, body-positive community (whether or not they are actually doing that labour).

Today, for the first time in a while, I returned to one of the facilities here in Hamilton that have converted to M/F/U change spaces; I was overbooked and had to skip my usual Friday swim (which happens at an older facility not yet renovated to include a gender-neutral room).

To my surprise, when I swanned toward the universal change room entryway, I found this:

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(A sign, posted on a green cinder-block wall, that reads: “Change in dressing cubicle only; clothing or bathing suit myst be worn at all times outside dressing cubicle.” The images on the sign include a green circle around a woman’s body clad in a one-piece swim suit and a man’s body clad in swim shorts; and a red circle with a strike-through against the images of the same bodies, with one-piece and shorts off to the side. Note: I snapped this photo from the change-room threshold, which is barrier-free and opens onto the lobby. I made sure no bodies were nearby in order to respect the “no photography in change rooms” rule.)

I stopped for a minute, a bit gobsmacked. New sign; aggressive sign.

NO NUDITY! DO NOT EXIT THE CUBICLES NUDE! THIS IS A GENDER NEUTRAL SPACE!

OK, so that’s not exactly what the sign said. But it might as well have.

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I googled “gender-neutral change room etiquette” and this list of do’s and don’ts turned up. It is haranguing: be neat, tidy, and for god’s sake cover up your freaking horrific human of a body; don’t be lazy, slow, or glowery. Get the fuck out ASAP. Sounds familiar.)

I’m trained as a literature scholar and a scholar of theatre and performance; that means I read cultural texts for their nuances, for a living, and try to make sense of what they aim to accomplish amongst actual, human lives.

My pool’s universal change-room sign said the following to me.

The bright blue that backgrounds “Change in dressing cubicle ONLY” sets that text off in sharp relief. All-caps for ONLY is scolding typography, as though to say: DO NOT DARE LEAVE YOUR CUBICLE NAKED! It is fairly patronizing and deeply shaming.

The images are workmanlike and designed to be read across languages and cultural contexts (more or less; only North American Christianity could, if you ask me, dream up such a blatantly unsexy way to render human nudity). The communication is meant to cross language barriers because there are lots of immigrants in our community (I witnessed one Chinese-language speaker interacting with a lifeguard this afternoon, for example), and the sign is obviously in part, if not primarily, targeted at them.

So tick the xenophobia box too, please.

The sign makes no mention of the showers – my personal favourite part of locker-room-sanctioned nudity – but we can guess the implied protocol.

What to make of this?

Well, on a purely pragmatic level, I’ll tell you what I made of it in the split second it took me to decide what to do with my body upon encountering this sign.

I realized I could be my nude and joyous post-swimming self only in the women’s change room, so I went there.

And here’s the rub, the sad bit, the loss: I had to choose between body-positive feelings, and the gender-neutral change room.

Some neutrality; some body positivity!

gnr

(Another image that popped up in my google search. It reads, in a plain, sans-serif font: “A gender-neutral restroom designation means this restroom is safe for transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer people, as well as people of all gender identities and expressions. If you choose to use this restroom, you are aware that it is a safe space. Please refrain from gender policing… If you are uncomfortable using a gender-neutral restroom, please use any of the other restrooms, as this is your privilege.” NOW THIS SIGN I CAN SUPER GET BEHIND.)

I thought a lot about the change-room sign incident after I left the pool. I thought, too, about the several FFI community members who fed back about my original post and noted they would not be super comfortable nude in mixed spaces.

I realized that my biggest problem with the sign wasn’t the message it was (sort of, maybe, clumsily?) trying to communicate.

The problem was with language, and its intention.

The sign is trying, I think, to say this: DO NOT GET NAKED IN FRONT OF PEOPLE WHO DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU NAKED. ALSO: DO NOT GET NAKED AGGRESSIVELY.

This is, totally, a worthy goal.

But the language also, therefore, assumes predation, assumes a lack of tact and generosity on the part of body-positive users; it assumes that all bodies in the space share a sense of nudity-as-shame, nudity-as-aggression. Which isn’t true.

So in the car on the way to my next gig, I started thinking about how I might phrase some similar caution in a more welcoming, dare I say body-positive-positive, way.

I came up with this:

This change room is a gender-neutral, body-positive space that welcomes people of all identifications.

Please use the space in a way that respects the privacy and comfort level of others around you.

Thank you!

(I’m not sure about imagery. I’d love suggestions!)

The language I’m proposing states what I hope are the deep intentions behind the creation of the space: it’s for everyone, care-fully. I think that’s the idea behind gender-neutral spaces in Hamilton-area pools; I’m not sure, though. (My sense from the sign I encountered today is that they might be souped-up “family” change rooms. Sigh.)

It also places the responsibility for fair use on a community of users, acting together in everyone’s best interests. (This is called democracy, btw. At least to me.)

Are you alone in the space? Go nuts! You do you! Get naked, sing ABBA. Rock on.

Is someone in the space with you who seems more modest, shy? Perhaps calibrate your ostentation to remember that they also share this space, and that your ostentation might be taking up more than its fair share of that space, for them.

Is someone in the space with you who might be nervous about your presence? That’s ok – they are here because they have trust and faith. Be you, but not aggressively. Instead, assert your good will toward that person.

Is someone in the space with you who might think you are unnerved by them? That’s ok – it’s part of the process of becoming a community. Be you, welcomingly.

This is just one shot – my shot – at a better way to say what needs to be made clear in gender-neutral spaces: some protocol for what to do once you’re inside, but not in a way that assumes a normative sense of embodiment, nor that assumes body-as-shame.

Do you have examples of, or suggestions for, gender-neutral change-room etiquette? I’d love to hear!

Yours swimmingly,

Kim

accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.

Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.

It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.

Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

See When exercise isn’t fun.

Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.

But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.

To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.

I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.

Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.

It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.

It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.

Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.

accessibility · disability · fitness · illness · injury

consider pain: why the social model of disability fails (reblogged)

We don’t reblog a lot around here but sometimes something just strikes me as so right and so important I want to share it. As I’ve been thinking about injury, disability, living with pain, and trying to come to terms with my left knee, I’ve been thinking about the social model of disability. Here’s Andrea Zanin on what the social model of disability leaves out.

I’m hoping to get Andrea to guest blog here about her return to yoga and biking and other things after years ago coping with pain and very serious health issues for many, many years.

But we can start with this. Thanks Andrea.

Sex Geek

pain punctuationToday I am spurred to rant about the social model of disability and why it’s inadequate.

The social model says, essentially, that disability, rather than being a characteristic of an individual, is created by society. On its surface, this is super useful. For instance: if a building has stairs, and a person cannot go up them because they use a wheelchair, then the disability is caused by the lack of a ramp, and by the lack of universally accessible design more broadly. Problems are also caused by ableist attitudes, both interpersonally and within larger power structures.

So far, I totally agree. When the built environment is designed on the assumption of a normative set of physical or mental abilities, then all who fall outside that set have trouble navigating it. Which includes almost all of us, eventually, as we age. It’s good for pretty much everyone if we shift the…

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