cycling · fall · fitness · season transitions · snow · winter

The seasons of cycling

When I first started riding a bike as an adult, I commuted in the winter but recreational riding came to an end with the snow and the cold. Fun riding was summer riding on my road bike with skinny tires in the sunshine. I trained indoors all winter but I did it for the sake of summer riding.

Over the years I’ve changed, as a cyclist, and I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons for the different kinds of riding it brings.

For me fall means the return of my adventure road bike and fun riding on gravel. It’s my go-to commuting bike but it’s also good for weekend country rides. We dial back the distance and go out for an hour or two on bike trails. It’s relaxing to ride with no cars in sight. This past weekend Sarah and I did some riding in Turkey Point. See the gallery below.

I’ve got my eyes on the Guelph to Goderich rail trail too.

But it’s not just the fall and cyclocross/gravel riding. I’m also looking forward now to the winter and to riding in the snow on my fat bike. It’s a fun and joyful way to play in the snow on bikes. Check out my smile!

I think I’ve honestly come to love all the seasons of cycling. They’re different things, each with their own kind of pleasure.

Some road riding friends don’t get it. They question the fitness benefits of fat bike riding. They ask about my heart rate and training zones. I say that’s not the point. I don’t fess up that I am not even wearing a heart rate monitor. I’m doing it for fun and for mental health benefits. I need to be outside in the winter. I love riding through the woods. Fat bike riding makes me feel like a kid again as I ride over all sorts of obstacles in my path.

I still ride inside all winter. I put a road bike on a trainer and ride virtually in Zwift. That’s fun too and that I do do for fitness reasons.

Fat biking? That’s for fun and the love of riding a bike.

I’m now the kind of cyclist who loves all the seasons of cycling. See you out there in autumn, winter, spring, and summer!

How about you? Do you ride year round? How many seasons of cycling do you like?

cycling · menstruation

Of Period Puns and Bicycling Groups (Guest Post)

My husband and youngest son have been bicycling together for awhile now, long distances and fast, with other groups and just with each other. If you’ve been following my posts here at FIAFI, you know I sometimes cycle as well, recreational-only and mostly with Son 2 though sometimes en famille with friends. Well, this past Monday night, I took a non-family bike ride. Honestly, my first in… probably decades. I’ve met some of my husband’s cycling friends, which includes a lot of great women, and they and my husband have been talking up a regular St. Louis bike ride for women and nonbinary folks called… wait for it… The Monthly Cycle.

The first Monday of every month, The Monthly Cycle meets outside a gelateria on South Grand in St. Louis. Bert and Son 2 dropped me off around 6:30 and then carried on to their own bikes event nearby (a fast hard ride of folks who take it seriously). Women of all shapes and sizes trickled in, forming a magnificent clot on the sidewalk until the ride began at 7 pm. The total eventual headcount according to one of the organizers? 53. Several of them, some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, helped me get properly kitted out with a forward beam-light and some medical tape to help fasten my helmet, which had an unfortunate buckle failure. A few were in costume for the October Halloween theme–rides are not usually themed–and ready to make 3 stops for ghost stories at allegedly haunted venues. Unaccustomed to city riding on trafficked streets, and new to riding in large groups, I took no pictures while moving. Thanks to the ghost story stops, though, I was able to snap a few shots that reflect what went on.

Not depicted but awesome:

  • the cyclists with wifi enabled speakers blasting out playlists with varying tastes; one person had a playlist of Halloween-themed music from both radio and musicals including Monster Mash and Thriller and songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, while another was playing Rihana and Brittney Spears and Spanish-language tunes
  • occasional warbling singing-along to the tunes, while riding; hilarious when going over bumpy roads
  • the kids and families and other friendly residents hanging out on their porches in the dark who gave friendly shouts and waved at us as we passed through neighborhoods inhabited by a wide range of people (this ride made no attempt to stick to the middle class white notion of “safe neighborhoods” that so dominates cycling culture in many places)
  • the guy who, as we passed through a commercial district, stepped out onto the street to give every passing cyclist a high 5
  • the many folks who asked “what is this? it looks awesome!”–men but also women in cars and walking and riding their own bikes who we passed along the way–to hear a friendly shout of “It’s the monthly cycle! Women and nonbinary only!” with an added shout of “look us up!” for the folks who were presenting as women or nonbinary
  • the riders who held the intersections as we came through to prevent cars from riding into us as much as possible, and the uncountable “thank you”s that riders shouted to drivers who waited, whether patiently or impatiently, for the whole crew to pass
  • riders shouting “hole!” as they passed a big one in the road to alert those behind them, “car up!” if a car was coming toward the group to encourage everyone to get into just one lane, “car back” if a car was behind the group, and calling out turns or “slowing” so that folks in the back knew what was happening
  • the shared drinks and snacks at the Tower Pub where the ride typically winds up

All told, it was a little under 10 miles, total, with some hills. Enough to work a little but totally doable by someone who doesn’t bike much. It started around 7pm and I was all done and heading home a little after 10, needing only to bike a few blocks down the street from the Tower Pub to the place my husband and Son 2 had ended up for the ritual post-ride drinks and snacks at their own habitual endspot.

I am planning on hitting the Monthly Cycle up at the beginning of November with at least one friend who saw my social media post about it and was instantly all-in. I don’t know if I will stick with it through winter, given the cost of winter gear and the hazards of riding slippery roads. But the ride itself was a delight from start to finish and the folks could not have been more welcoming.

Is there a Monthly Cycle or something similar near you? A no-men cycling event or other sports community? One that isn’t anti-men, but is about a space for the kinds of relations that people who aren’t men can have with each other when men aren’t part of the group and are, at most, passed by just for a little while? What do you think the value of such groups is?

cycling · Fear · sailing

Sam thinks about doing scary things

Is there a thing you do that you always find scary but you do it anyway?

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years of this blog and I confess it’s mostly been in the context of trying to problem solve for Tracy and road biking way back when. She loves triathlon so much, I thought. Surely there ought to have been a way to get over the fear of road cycling? In the end there wasn’t, she gave it up. And that was the right choice for Tracy.

Since then I’ve often thought about fear and the role it plays in our lives, in particular in the role it plays in what physical activities we do. Downhill skiing anyone? Fat biking on ridge trails? Camping in areas of high bear activity? Paddling in wind and waves?

Back to cycling, for a minute: While I’m road cycling I don’t find cycling scary. I can zoom down big hills, ride fast in a group, and ride in city traffic without fear. The only cycling related fear I have is sometimes after a ride. Sometimes I play over the ride in my head and think about the ways things might have gone differently. Sometimes I get scared then but the activity itself is done. And next ride, I’m happy and relaxed and ready to ride again.

Here’s a thing that I find scary when I do it: small boat sailing, like Snipe racing.

There I’ve said it. I haven’t talked about this before. But here’s the thing. Although it’s present every time I get in a small sailboat it goes away after the first race or the first half hour or so that I’m out. I’m puzzled by it. I know it will go away. I no longer want to go in and get off the boat when it happens. I can’t figure out what it’s about. I get shaky. It’s very much a physical sensation. I kind of freeze in place and I feel like everything could go wrong.

What exactly am I worried about? You name it really. Capsizing, hurting my knee, hitting other boats. And these are all things that could actually happen. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. I know that but still, I’m nervous and shaky.

It goes away when I start to focus on the tasks at hand: making sure the sail is trimmed properly, making sure I’m in a good position on the boat, making sure that we have all of our lines untangled and running freely, making sure we’re in a good position comparatively speaking.

It’s different than the fear that led Tracy to stop cycling in three ways: I love sailing and in particular, sailboat racing. It goes away each time and I know that. The worst case scenario I imagine is not that bad in the scheme of things.

I keep waiting for it to go away. Instead, it persisted all summer and yet I kept sailing.

I’m curious to see if next summer feels different.

Small sailboats racing. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
commute · cycling

Adventures on a folding bike!

Last month, I wrote about why I ride, the social justice edition. I focused on the ways in which riding brings me closer to the earth, to other humans, and to our shared entanglements on the road (and elsewhere). The bike, I argued, is a way for us to stay grounded in our commonalities, to recognize our different needs together, and to become more aware of the needs of our shared home, the earth.

For me, part of that last item has to do with changing the way I commute to work. My campus office is about 125km from my front door, and in order to manage that distance I used to drive to and from twice a week. (I’m fortunate to be able to work about 60% of the time at home.) I quickly discovered that driving was more arduous than I’d imagined (focusing on the road for 1.5 hours, at 120kph, is stressful: who knew?). So about a year ago I decided to start riding the train.

That worked fine, until the weather made it less than pleasant to walk the 5 or so kilometres from the station to my office along the riverside path. (One terrible winter day I discovered that the path was covered in about 4 feet of snow, uncleared, but having descended into the valley I had no choice but to do the portage. That was my workout for the day!) I began using the bus to get to and from the station/my office, but when I wanted to add in a visit to Paul, my and Tracy’s personal trainer, or my elderly parents in the west end of town, things got tricky. I discovered the buses don’t sync up well, and outer-ring-to-outer-ring locales aren’t served by direct routes very often, if at all. Cabs were an option, but seemed pricey as a regular choice.

So this past summer I decided that the best way to ensure I could continue commuting by train, and indeed commute much more by train (last winter it was about 40% train, 60% car, mostly because sometimes the ease of the latter got the better of me), was to buy a folding bike. One August morning I found a sale on my preferred model at Cate’s local bike shop, so I got the commuter service into the city and made the leap.

Here’s the result: Titania, my Tern Link D8:

(Images of a folding bicycle, open, blue and black in colour; in one, Kim stands proudly in the shop with her green helmet on, holding the handlebars. In another, the bike is on a train platform with a green and white GO train in the background. I want to pause here to recognize my privilege in affording this new piece of gear, which came in at around $1000CDN. I saved for it using my monthly commuter budget.) 

Now, folding bikes aren’t cheap. Sam has the amazing Brompton, the Cadillac (or maybe the Lexus? The Mercedes?) of folding bikes. Her job is full to the brim of travel, and her knee issues mean a very easy to fold and unfold, quite light and very versatile bike are required for her to do her job effectively. For me, the Tern was the budget option: it suits my needs well because it has a rolling adapter that I purchased as part of the sale, and I can pull it from my car to the train and back like luggage. (This is also great for airports, I’ll add.) It’s on balance larger and heavier than the Brompton, but the trade-off is that it has exceptionally solid, almost regular-size bike features, and I notice literally no difference between it and my upright Dutch commuter bike. (In fact, I think the Tern is faster and more stable on hills.)

(The above is a video showing three characters from the BBC satire, W1A, “arriving in tandem” at work on their Bromptons. It’s a spoof on the poshness of the bikes, their status symbol value. The narrator voice is David Tennant. The deep voice is Hugh Skinner, who plays an intern who has somehow got himself a Brompton anyway; the higher voice is Jason Watkins as Simon, humble-bragging about his new carbon-fibre Brompton. If you don’t know the series check it out!) 

I’ve now been commuting with Titania for a month. How’s it gone? Fairly well overall, though there has been a learning curve. Here are my top three take-away lessons thus far.

  1. Just because it’s a folding bike doesn’t mean it’s utterly simple and totally intuitive, with instant swanning through subway stations and the like. On my first trip into Toronto at rush hour (when regular bikes aren’t allowed on the commuter train), I discovered just how heavy it is to run with a folding bicycle. I had forgotten to set up the roller option, and I was late to the train. I dashed, Titania at my left, bobbing about and staining my calf with chain grease. I shouted desperately at the platform staff: “please don’t leave without me!!!” In the end they shut the doors as I arrived, and then took pity and re-opened them for me. I spent the whole ride into town sweaty, headachy, and sore. Lesson learned: always have the bike set up on the easiest-to-maneouvre setting for your next outing. Keep it in the front hall for ease, too.
  2. Unfolding a folding bike may be simple, but it’s not necessarily THAT simple. I’d practiced in the shop, of course, and at home once or twice. But then two weeks elapsed before I used it for work. When I arrived at my station, disembarked and began to unfold it, I realized I’d forgotten some basics. I managed to turn the handlebars to the wrong way, and rode about 100m with them backwards before realizing. Luckily, I did not fall over! Lesson learned: practice folding and unfolding it at home a few different times over several days, because when you’re in public, it’s embarrassing and potentially dangerous to screw up the basics.
  3. All kinds of weather happen when you are commuting by bike; you will discover this when you least expect it! It was a crazy hot morning last Tuesday, the last day of full-on summer in Southern Ontario. 30+C (about 90F), and HUMID AS HICKETTY HECK. I put on a light summer dress and packed my workout gear in my backpack for later. THEN, around 3pm, the sky darkened. And it opened up. By the time I had to ride to yoga, it was raining gently, but there was flash flooding all along the bike path I use to get from campus to downtown. I had a few episodes of “wheee!” through puddles, channeling my inner Sam, but when I arrived at yoga my arse was soaked, and the underside of Titania was lined with grit. It took about an hour the next day to clean her fully, and worst of all, I spent most of yoga rather uncomfortable. Lesson learned: buy the fenders straight away, and check the forecast! Also: use the nifty rain pouch that comes with the bike’s fanny pack; it will keep your phone completely dry.

Readers: do any of you have folding bike war stories? Or bike-commute war stories? Please share!

cycling · Guest Post

50 pour/for 50 (Guest post)

by Joh

50 km pour mes 50 ans

Le 29 septembre dernier, par une belle journée d’automne, j’ai décidé de faire 50 km à vélo en l’honneur de mes tout nouveaux 50 ans. Équipée de l’itinéraire bâti sur MapMyRide, j’ai stationné l’auto près de la route 121 pour éviter le chemin en gravier conduisant au chalet que j’avais loué et je suis partie vers Haliburton. 

Au retour, l’intention était d’emprunter la Haliburton County Rail Trail qui, je l’ai vite réalisé, est en gravier, souvent très mou. J’ai ici eu beaucoup de sympathie pour mon amie Cate, qui a vécu la même situation lors d’un récent voyage en Lithuanie, mais avec un vélo chargé. Pas facile! Je vais donc alterner entre la route (où les voitures me frôlent à 90 km/h) et la “piste cyclable” en terre, mais isolée de la route. Et c’est ce qui me fera manquer la bifurcation entre les étapes 40 et 45 de l’image ci-dessus… pour allonger mon parcours de 20 km. 😕 

Mais bon, on dit que ce n’est pas la destination mais le voyage qui compte. J’ai quand même apprécié les couleurs automnales, la quiétude de la piste cyclable, les multiples chenilles qui traversent la route (mais où vont-elles donc ainsi au péril de leur vie?) et le soleil radieux. Par contre, je me suis désolée de voir autant de déchets en bordure de route : contenants Tim Horton, cannettes de toutes sortes, bouteilles de plastique… en ce surlendemain de manifestation mondiale pour le climat, on peut se demander où va la planète si on ne peut même pas rapporter ses déchets!

Cela étant dit, je recommande d’explorer à vélo ce coin d’Ontario tout à fait charmant, avec juste assez de côtes pour ne pas s’ennuyer et de beaux chemins pas trop achalandés. J’éviterais cependant la route 35 si j’en avais le choix… en ne faisant pas la même erreur de parcours la prochaine fois. 

Joh. est traductrice, originaire de Montréal et vit maintenant à Toronto. Elle aime être en plein air autant que possible et fait du vélo, du ski, du canot, du kayak, de la randonnée pédestre et, plus généralement, aime trouver du temps pour être active, malgré une vie divisée entre un travail à temps plein, des contrats et un enfant.

La route de gravier
The gravel road
Joh sur le pont au-dessus de la rivière Drag
Joh on the Drag River’s bridge
Couleurs d’automneFall colours

50 km for my 50th birthday

On September 29, on a beautiful fall day, I decided to ride 50 km in honour of my 50th birthday. With an itinerary I created on MapMyRide, I parked the car closer to route 121 to avoid the gravel road leading to the cabin I rented and headed to Haliburton. 

On the way back, the intention was to use the Haliburton County Rail Trail which, as I quickly realized, is made of gravel, often very soft. I had a lot of sympathy here for my friend Cate, who experienced the same situation during a recent trip to Lithuania, but with a loaded bike. Not easy! I decided to alternate between the road (where the cars zoom by at 90 km/h) and the dirt “bike path”, but isolated from said road. And that’s what made me miss the turn between steps 40 and 45 of the image above…. to extend my route by 20 km. 😕 

But hey, they say it’s not about the destination but the journey. I still enjoyed the autumn colours, the quietness of the bike path, the multiple caterpillars that crossed the road (but where are they going at the risk of their lives?) and the radiant sun. On the other hand, I was sorry to see so much garbage on the roadside: Tim Horton containers, cans of all kinds, plastic bottles… two days after the climate strike event around the world, we may wonder where the planet is going if we can’t even bring back our garbage!

That being said, I recommend riding your bike in this very charming part of Ontario, with just enough hills not to be bored and beautiful roads that are not too busy. However, I would avoid Route 35 if I had the choice… by not making the same mistake of missing a turn next time.

Joh is a translator from Montreal who now lives in Toronto. She likes to be as active as possible, and is into biking, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and enjoying an active life, between a full time job, some contracts and having a kid.

cycling · monthly check in · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: September’s ups and downs (cw: brief mention of weight)

Bitmoji Sam with her arms up in the air, in a pile of brightly coloured leaves

September is the big back to school month for many of us here on the blog. I’m teaching for the first time in awhile. My class is three hours on Tuesday afternoon and that often means I’m doing the reading, grading, etc on Sunday afternoon. I also have days of solid back to back meetings, followed by events most evenings. My max this year was three evening events. A meet the new grad students thing, followed by a gallery opening, followed by a dinner with some new faculty members. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But September is hard work. There’s a lot going on!

I’m also trying some new things. One scary new thing is cycle instructor training. It’s a goal I announced as part of the fittest by fifty challenge but it didn’t get done. This year when the university announced they were offering training, I jumped in.

I’ve completed the full day class. Next up is the exam. After that there’s an instructor mentoring program and then for my final test, I plan and teach a class on my own.

I also tried a new thing that I thought I might hate but actually really enjoyed: golf. Friends, you can let the teasing commence.

Another good thing in September? Camping with Sarah in Killarney park. We had lots of fun paddling and we weren’t eaten by bears. I’m planning on more paddling trips next summer. I love my canoe.

I’m coping with my usual September/October sadness. I definitely need to spend more time on my bike. But it’s getting dark early in the evenings so that’s going to be just a weekend thing or an indoor thing from now on. Oh, September.

Pretty soon I’m moving my bike training indoors. Back to the Back Shed! See you soon on Zwift!

On the mixed feelings side there’s weight loss. I’m not even sure really how to to talk about it and it’s a thing people love to talk about. I’ve invested a lot of effort in, and spilled a lot of virtual ink about, loving my larger body. But I need to lose weight for knee replacement surgery and I’m doing it.

Most people are excited and happy that I’m losing weight. I’m mostly “meh” about it except that my knee hurts less and that’s a fabulous thing. All of a sudden people are noticing and complimenting me. Mostly I shift the focus pretty quickly to my upcoming knee surgery.

In my heart of hearts, I’m with Carly B, the “cheerful chubster.” I need to remind myself that even at my smallest I’m still “overweight.” I don’t even aspire to be in the normal weight zone. I’m trying to make peace with changing size by telling myself that as much as I like my larger body my injured and aging knee can’t take it.

See below for why the scare quotes above!

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · illness

Gut Job, Butt Job: On Cycling, Yoga and Long-Term Cancer Recovery (Guest Post)

by Andrea Zanin

Four years ago, I underwent the second of two surgeries and radiation treatment for a rare spinal cord tumour that caused me chronic pain for over twenty years. I’ve shared a few posts here about chronic pain and my experiences of figuring out how to be in my body and regaining fitness post-treatment. Today I’m doing a deep dive into some recent developments on that journey!

When I started cycling more post-cancer treatment, I used my feet and calves to pedal. Seemed the obvious choice. Then I realized that was doing a helluva number on my knees, which were getting creaky and painful. So I started consciously using my quads more. I also started making sure to press down with my big toes in order to stop my knees from winging out. I figured good alignment would help reduce pain. 

This in turn meant taking more of the effort along the inner line of my legs, which strengthened the muscles weakened by the ways long-term chronic nerve pain had affected my gait. Definitely an improvement—no more knee pain, much stronger legs over time. 

This summer, I started to notice that as I strengthened my core muscles with yoga, my body naturally wanted to use them in cycling too. As a result, my core started doing more of the work and pulling my legs along for the ride. The push and pull came from my gut muscles, while my legs were the pistons that were simply there to rise and fall, lending their weight to the job but doing less of the work.

This more concentrated core work also got my glutes involved. So flat-surface cycling was a gut job, like front-wheel drive, but uphill cycling became a butt job, like rear-wheel drive.

This week I’ve noticed two new things. One, my butt is strong as a fucking tank. I can *feel* the power of those big muscles every time they fire. It’s a lot like the pleasure of a deep yawn or a good stretch in the morning—I can feel blood filling up places it hasn’t reached in a long time, tingly and rich. Everyday squatting is a breeze (sitting, picking things up from the ground, etc). In yoga, balance poses are easy—line up the leg bones, grip the core, engage the glute and then just hang out in whatever weird one-legged position with barely a wobble. 

Also, the added strength means that I can do backward-bending movements that previously triggered leftover nerve pain. Because I can hold myself steady with my glutes, my lower back doesn’t collapse and put pressure on my surgical site with its missing bones and stripped nerves.

But it’s really more a feeling thing than a performance thing. It’s like a heating system that was shut off for many, many years is finally being shot full of power, and the coils are creaking and glowing. It’s still early days, I can tell, because I think in the next phase I won’t even notice this feeling anymore. At the moment it still feels new. 

The second thing is, when I cycle, those stronger butt muscles are collaborating with my core—so instead of front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive, cycling feels like four-wheel drive no matter what kind of incline I’m on. It’s like my parts are figuring out how to operate as a cohesive whole. I don’t need to tell them how or think about it. My body’s got this all by itself.

I’m almost exactly four years post-cancer treatment and I’m still healing. But this phase is unlike the others thus far. This phase isn’t about emerging from the deep hole of pain. This one is about building upward from flat ground, and discovering what this new body can do beyond surviving. I had years of thinking this wasn’t even possible. So please forgive the possibly TMI description of the inner workings of my butt muscles here—it just feels kinda amazing to experience this and I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at http://sexgeek.wordpress.comand tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

A green bike with rear basket against a red brick wall
Esmerelda!