Cycling dreams and cycling hopes

4 cyclists riding along a flat country road on a sunny day, with trees overhanging in the foreground.

This week we’ve all been lucky enough to hitch a ride with Cate as she bikes through Latvia and Estonia.  If you’ve missed any of her posts about her magical (and windy, and tiring, and heart-filling) trip, you can find them here and here and here and here and here.

Like Sam, I’ve been reading Cate’s posts avidly.  These travel tales send me into a semi-dream state, strolling in my mind across those sunny brisk coastal towns, pedaling along quiet tree-lined lanes, munching on a purloined cheese sandwich during a break.  Being in a place at a moment in time, far away from the distractions of everyday life, riding a bike from here to there each day, enjoying one’s own company– that sounds like the perfect vacation.

Of course it’s not all mindfulness and cheese sandwiches.  Cate is honest about the boredom, the fatigue, the lack of good directions out of town, and the urge to 1) take the train; 2) set up shop in one of these small towns for the foreseeable future; 3) focus on life miles down the road rather than what’s here and now.  But she keeps pedaling.

The first multi-day bike trip I ever took was 12 years ago, in Florida during spring break.  I had just gotten back to cycling, and I rented a Lemond road bike for 5 days.  We (the Lemond and me) took to the rail trails in central and western Florida, including the Pinellas trail near St. Petersburg and the Withlacoochie trail near Inverness.  All in all, I rode almost 200 miles in 4 days, and then did 22 more miles the last day to make my goal of 200 and then some.  Although less scenic and exotic than the Baltics, I felt that same here-I-am-this-is-what-I’m-doing satisfaction.  It was me and the bike, all day each day, with whatever side trips and meals that came up in the course of our ramblings.

During those ramblings I dealt with heat, saddle soreness, boredom, snakes (saw nine dead ones, one mostly dead one, and one live one on my routes), some loneliness, and the knowledge that very soon it would all be over and I’d have to go back to work.  Such is the way of these experiences.

These days, my cycling has been suffused less with dreaminess and more with reality.

I’ve been working to get back in cycling shape and in the cycling state of mind after having far too long a hiatus.  It’s been tough, fun, scary, sweaty, and worth it.  Sunday July 30 I’m doing the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally charity ride.  My sincere and fervent hope is that I’ll be able to make it all the way through the 110-km route.  We shall see.  I will do my best, and I will have friends with me.

Regardless of current my state of cycling reality, I am filled with hope:

  • I hope to ride strongly and safely and well on July 30.
  • I hope to have fun on the ride, making new friends with my riding group and others.
  • I hope to finish the 110km course.

I also have hopes for my cycling future.

  • I hope to ride (partly or all the way) around Lake Champlain with friends.
  • I hope to ride from my house in Boston to my mom’s house in South Carolina (985 miles).
  • During my next sabbatical (2022– never too early to plan!), I hope to do a long-distance ride with my friend Pata (destination and duration TBA), with other friends maybe joining in for part of the trip.
  • I hope to ride in southern Ontario again with Canadian friends (Sam and others– we will talk).
  • I hope to get into the habit of traveling with a bike when I fly places for work (now that I have my Brompton and its own special suitcase).
  • I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to ride for the rest of my life.

Readers, what are some of your midsummer hopes and dreams– for now, for the future?  I’d love to hear from you.

A cyclist riding on a gravel road in Africa, with two giraffes crossing the road (one in front of him!)

 

Body in motion, body at rest: bike training Newtonian style

A black and white photo of a woman jumping on a trampoline, her skirt billowing, with a boy holding a balloon and watching her.

Isaac Newton, one of the main developers of modern classical physics and co-creator (along with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a philosopher) of the calculus, didn’t ride a bike.  They didn’t have them then.  But Newton did have many things to say about motion.  Here’s one of them:

Text reading "an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This law is often called the law of inertia.

Newton really knew what he was talking about.

As science nerds like to say when they’re having some fun, inertia isn’t just a good idea; it’s the law.  Yeah, yeah, I know that people say this about gravity instead of inertia, but it works here too.

After a long period of being a body at rest, I’ve overcome inertial forces and become a body in motion, in particular on two wheels on my bike, and two feet in yoga class (or one foot, or even no feet when I’m hanging out upside down, which is a lot of fun).  And it feels good.

Last week I rode more than 100 miles (albeit not all at once, but still), which was more than I had ridden in I don’t know how long.  Yay!

Then, last Monday I rode 38 miles with my friend Pata, and did not pay proper attention either to fueling or hydration.  Bad me!  As a result I started to feel a bonk coming on.  Every cyclist has experienced this– sudden drop of energy, vision narrowing, oceans of emotion, and the irresistible need to stop RIGHT NOW for coca cola, a snickers bar, and some hostess cupcakes on the side.  That is, you need an infusion of simple carbs.  NOW.  Not later.  NOW.

Maybe this is what Newton meant by being acted upon by an unbalanced force.  It certainly felt like a force, and I was definitely unbalanced.

I spied a pizza place and told Pata that we were stopping to get me a coke.  Wordlessly she followed, then offered to get it herself, but I was already off the bike and striding at full speed into the restaurant.  I got a nice, ice-filled large coca cola, and the person behind the counter told me I could get free refills.  I obviously stopped at the right place.

It’s astounding, the transformation that happens after ingesting about 1/2 liter of coke in a short amount of time.  We got back on the bikes and all of a sudden life was worth living again, and I felt a surge of energy.  Pata, ever the experienced cyclist and good friend to me, made me ride more slowly the rest of the way back.  Thanks, Pata!

However, after my great week of cycling, following by a great day of cycling, I succumbed to Newton’s third law:

Newton's third law of motion, which reads "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction".

I fell into a big slump from Tuesday to Friday.  Partly I was under the weather (I have GERD, which means I have indigestion and acid reflux, for which I take meds).  The GERD had flared up, which wasn’t fun.  I was also low energy.  That, combined with clouds and rainy weather off and on, kept me off the bike for 4 days.

Of course, now that I was lying around for several days, there was the problem of combating the inertia of my body at rest in order to get back on the bike.  Luckily, I have a lot of very nice friends who like to ride bikes with me.  Yay friends!

Jessica and I rode on Saturday.  The weather was sunny and not too hot.  I had packed plenty of energy food in my jersey pockets and had eaten before we left.  We did a nice route through leafy green woodsy roads, dotted with very nice houses and the occasional horse farm.  This route also had some oh-so-gentle hills.

This was where I encountered Newton’s second law:

Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object).

It just so happens that my mass is greater than the mass of my cycling friend Jessica, who rode easily up those very gentle rollers.  My mass is also greater than it was 3 years ago, and my force is less strong.  So, I used all the force I had just to maintain net forward motion going uphill.  I knew this would happen, but it’s still discouraging.  According to Newton, my situation gives me two options:  1) reduce my mass; or 2) increase my force.  For me, I think the best option right now is to keep riding and regain the strength and force that I need to get myself up and over hills.  So I’m doing just that.

In two weeks, I’ll be taking on a big challenge:  riding 110K for the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally, with Sam and a bunch of her very nice cyclist friends.  I don’t know how it will go.  However, because of this upcoming ride I’ve overcome my body-at-rest inertia, increased my force to roll down the road, and bounced back when my reaction to a lot of riding was to do a lot of not-riding.  All as Newton had in mind, if he had ridden bikes.

Sir Isaac Newton on a dirt bike, holding an apple (that's all I could find).

Sir Isaac Newton on a dirt bike, holding an apple (that’s all I could find).

Well, not really.  But humor me.

 

I did a biking century this week– in six installments

A graphic of the number 100, featuring two bike wheels as the zeros.

It’s high summer here in the Northern hemisphere, and all that lovely weather is provoking all kinds of interesting activity.  Blogger Tracyrwdeboer is back on the bike, Susan is car camping, Tracy I is celebrating her discovery of active dresses for everyday summer walking to work and conferencing, and Sam is doing her best to ride long and not get hit by hail or lightning.

So what am I up to?  Cycling– cycling as much as I can, as often as I can, with whomever will ride with me.  I’m doing this for several reasons.  In no particular order, they are:

1)I’m doing the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally one-day ride with Sam, Sarah, Judy, and others (my apologies for not remembering the whole list).  Sam is doing all six days from Toronto to Montreal, and a bunch of the bloggers have done the six-day ride as well.  I’m not ready for that (and frankly, not a camping fan), so the one-day 110k ride from Toronto to Port Hope is right for me as a goal.

2) I haven’t been riding much at all for the past 2 years.  But, for the past couple of months, I have been slowly returning to more active cycling.  It’s been hard and continues to be hard.  I’m older, heavier, and remember too well times when I was faster and the rides went easier.  But here I am, looking to find my new normal.  I’m not there yet, but am making my way.  I want to find comfort and pleasure again on the saddle, and so logging some time and miles is the way to find it.

3) Riding more also means riding more with friends, reaffirming my identity as an active person, and sharing fun experiences with them on two wheels.  I’ve been riding regularly with my friend Pata.  On July 4th, I did a gorgeous ride around Cape Ann north of Boston with my friend Janet.  We glided by beaches and rocks and ocean and parks and clam shacks.  And she will testify that I didn’t actually complain until we were, (unbeknownst to me), .5 miles from the end of the ride.  Not too bad… 🙂

I have plans to do a group ride with a bunch of friends next weekend, and will be riding hopefully with Jen, who is training for the Pan-Mass Challenge charity ride. I know, this seems like summer cycling business as usual.  But for me it represents a return to the life I used to have, a life that got lost in the shuffle of life events, physical changes, and loss of focus.

I’m back.  And I rode 100+ miles this week!  here’s the breakdown:

Monday: 16 miles with Pata

Tuesday: 27 miles on Cape Ann with Janet

Tuesday: 10 miles of Brompton commuting to see July 4th fireworks

Thursday: 30 miles with Pata

Saturday: threshold ride, 13 miles total

Sunday: ride to and from church, 16 miles

total for week: 112 miles

I don’t remember the last time I rode that much in a week.  But I will be riding that much next week.  And the week after.  And so on.

Graphic of the words "She's Back."

 

 

Riding safely in the big city

I’m currently spending five weeks working and visiting friends in and around London, UK – the “other” London, as we know it in southwestern Ontario. This is where I began my road cycling career 5 years ago, believe it or not, and it’s a place where I lived, worked, and commuted by bicycle for 26 months between 2012 and 2014.

London roads are full to bursting with cyclists these days, and it’s one of the reasons why the big, blue, bicycle “superhighways” that were introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone are now undergoing a series of much-needed upgrades.

promoCycleSuperHighway2

(Two images showing wide blue cycle lanes in London, England. One is a close-up shot on a quiet road, and the other a view from above of the lanes on a wide, busy street.)

When I commuted via “CS7” and “CS2” between my home in Tooting, south London, and my job in Mile End, east London, back in the day, the blue paint on the road was mostly for show: taxis, motorbikes, and double decker buses all crowded into our lanes, and I (famously, to me) got side-swiped by a Stansted Airport Express coach on CS2 outside Aldgate East station on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Why do I remember this in such detail? Because it hurt. And because the police did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it.

I rode along CS2 yesterday, after a trip out to Surrey to play in the hills on my new road bike, Freddie. (My bikes travel with me everywhere. Your question: how much does that cost??!! My answer: not a penny. But I do tend to fly with established carriers, not budget carriers. Your mileage may vary.)

Were there changes to the lanes in the time since my commuting days? Oh my, so many! The route is now fully segregated in the high-traffic zone between the City and Whitechapel, by a mix of pole barriers and concrete, poured barriers. The bikes also now have their own traffic lights, meaning if you obey them and cross only when it’s safe to do so, you no longer have fight with turning vehicles not looking for you.

cmglee_london_cycle_superhighway_2_wikimedia_commons

(An image of London’s Cycle Superhighway 2, with a concrete barrier separating cyclists from traffic. This segregation is now the norm on what was once the deadliest road for cyclists in the capital.)

As I rode past The Spot Where I Got Hit four years ago, I thought to myself: that accident could not happen now. Or, if it did, it’d mean that the bus had jumped the barrier, which would also mean the cops could not just ignore it.

These much-needed improvements got me thinking a lot about how to be safe on the roads, especially in very busy, big cities. Lots more people now – in London, in Toronto, in New York, even in little London, Ontario – are commuting by bike, and bike lanes (and green bike boxes!) are more common in North America than ever before.

But I also know lots of people who won’t commute by bike, or ride on the road for exercise (Tracy is one), because they fear (very reasonably) the dangers that accrue to riding a pedal bike on roads built primarily for car traffic.

Which, of course, got me thinking that I should blog about how I have learned to ride safely in large cities, with the hopes that some of you who fear the roads now might use these top tips to give it a try.

1. Take up space.

This is my #1 tip by far. Beginner cyclists find the whole thing daunting with good reason: the majority of traffic on city streets is going 20-30kph (12-22mph) faster than you are. Gut instinct is often to cleave to the gutter, riding as close to the curb as possible. This is a mistake, though, because it gives traffic the impression that it can and should ignore you.

Basically, not taking up space gives cars license to not pay attention to you in the decisions they make as they pass you. This is good for nobody. It also means that you might hit stuff that’s been tossed into the gutter, possibly producing a fall. Trust me: there’s a lot of shit in the gutter.

What’s the alternative? Ride in the middle right (or left, depending on your national context) of your lane. That is: maybe don’t ride right in the middle (although there are times you can and should do this, and it’s legal!), but ride prominently in the middle of your “side” of the lane. That says to drivers: “I am here. I am riding safely, keeping about a metre between me and the curb. Go around me safely.”

door-zone-300x214

(An image, from the U.S., of safe riding in the lane to avoid what the image calls “The Door Zone”. It shoes a woman on the edge of a wide, marked bike lane and two riders in the middle of it. The image encourages safe mid-lane riding to make you visible and help you avoid being hit by motorists as they open doors.)

Sure, some drivers will whip by and curse you, because they are jerks – or maybe because they don’t know any better. Most, however, will pass you respectfully.

When they do, smile and wave or give them a thumbs-up to encourage them to keep that practice up.

2. Ride assertively (which is to say, with confidence)

That accident I had in 2013 on CS2 would not have happened if I’d been riding with my usual assertion, taking up space and maintaining a consistent speed in the face of traffic dodging around me. I wasn’t being assertive, though, because I was having a hip joint issue and struggling to produce power with my left leg. So I went gutter-side, slowed a bit, and the bus chose to ignore me (or maybe didn’t actually see me?…) as it veered left. WHAM.

It may take some practice in your neighbourhood, on quiet streets, or with trusted friends to build your confidence, but do it. Do it so you know your bike and your reflexes. Get friends to join you and ride very close to you so you know what that feels like. Get another friend to hop in a car and pass you in different ways so you know what that feels like.

Nope, you cannot simulate crazy traffic, I know – but you CAN simulate your responses to different kinds of driver actions. And that’s important.

Riding assertively means riding like you have every right to be there and to be moving at your preferred pace on the road. Drivers do it all the time; so can you. Take the time to get comfortable with both your bike and that feeling of belonging. You’ll feel stronger in every way once you do.

3. Don’t use routes you don’t like

Some routes to your final destination are more direct than others, and they probably involve high-traffic roads. If you aren’t comfortable riding on them, don’t use them. There are lots of alternatives. Get an app like Citymapper or Cyclemetre to help you find one, or use Google Maps to plot the best routes to and from preferred destinations. (And: use the “street view” function to be sure those routes have appropriate road surfacing for your bike. If you commute on a road bike you don’t want a gravel road: trust me.)

Over time, as your confidence builds, your willingness to use busier routes will increase naturally. Let that happen; there’s no rush. I may ride some of the busiest roads in London when I’m here, but back in LonON, I commute primarily on the bicycle paths, going at a much more leisurely speed. There’s no shame in that; in fact, it’s often the smartest route for me to work.

4. Drivers will get mad at you. Don’t engage.

I get yelled at. A lot. It’s probably the fancy bike and the lycra, plus the fact that I take up space and always move to the front of a line of traffic when we are waiting at a stop light – whether or not there’s a bike box. (Why? I want everyone at the top of the queue to see me and know I am there. They may hate it, but I know they would hate hitting me more.) Anyway, pretty much once a ride I get a drive-by “fuck you! Get off the road!”

Why do drivers do this?

Sometimes because cyclists are being jerks. (Some cyclists are jerks, just like some motorists are.) Sometimes they yell because they are having a super bad day and you are in their way. Or they are in a rush.

Or, they yell because they have been conditioned (by, you know, media outlets that are maybe not always sympathetic to the cycle commuter) to believe cyclists are all arrant rogues in flashy pants who deserve all the *#&$^% they get.

You might not ride like me, which means you might not get yelled at as much as I do. But you will get yelled at, guaranteed. When that happens, I urge you to let it go. Assume the motorist is being ignorant, not malicious. Assume it’s not really about you.

Remember that you do not know that motorist as a human being, and that motorist similarly does not know you.

Of course sometimes you’ll yell back. Of course you will use hand gestures from time to time. We are all human. Just remember that it’s not actually about you and the person in the car. It’s about a system that encourages us to see roads as car “territory” and bikes as interlopers. Until that changes, altercations are inevitable.

roadsage-560x628

(A cartoon image that encourages creative responses to car-cycle altercations on the road. My preferred response to the yellers? I smile, wave, and blow them a showy kiss. A kiss that says “I’m not fazed by you.” It’s disarming, and thought-provoking.)

5. Wear. A. Helmet. (Always.)

The bus collision in 2013 is not my worst ever bike accident. My worst ever bike accident happened 1.2km from my house in London, Ontario, in a parking lot at my local outdoor pool. I hit a speed bump, went over my handlebars, and hit the deck.

I had decided it was too short a distance to bother wearing my helmet.

Luckily, I landed on my chin. I had a big bruise but my head was OK. The first aiders from the pool were kind, but when I went back later to get my bike (I was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, for fear of broken limbs, but was discharged later the same day) they reminded me that helmets save lives.

Now I always wear one, even if I’m going just down the street.

You will fall. You will; it’s normal. Just be prepared.

Know that chances are the fall will be minor. Know that helmets are excellent protection against serious brain injury. Know that proper cycling clothes protect skin! (I have awesome road rash from that parking lot crash. I was wearing a swim suit and flip flops! Better idea: cover up for the ride, and wear proper shoes to ride, too. Closed toe – protect those small bones!)

Practicing how to fall is also a good idea, by the way. Choose a path near grass. Bring a friend.

***

That’s it. In sum:

Practice until you feel confident with and on your bike. Then, on the road, own some assertiveness. Take up space. Let drivers pass you, and if they yell, don’t engage angrily. Find routes that work for you. Wear protective gear to keep yourself as safe as is reasonably possible. Then: relax and have some fun.

Oh, and if you have any energy left over, get involved in cycling advocacy! See a route that needs improving? Call your local representatives. See an intersection that needs a bike box? Ditto.

Like I said above: safety for cyclists is tied to systemic assumptions about road ownership. Let’s change that system, one commute at a time.

 

Traffic schadenfreude and a little ditty

A lone cyclist riding in the express lane with a traffic jam in the other lanes of a highway

The past few weeks I’ve been out and about on some bike or other, around town or on short road rides as I get accustomed to more time on the saddle.  One of the great pleasures of summer for me (as an academic who commutes 40+ miles by car during the term) is the luxury of leaving the car behind and using a bike for a lot of transportation and errands.  So I’ve been going to the dentist (in downtown Boston), church (in Charlestown), meetings (all over), and grocery stores (nearby) on two wheels.

Thank goodness for that, because the traffic has been absolutely horrific lately.  It’s road construction/patching/digging up streets for no apparent reason season. There are detours aplenty, narrowed lanes on already clogged roads, giant pieces of machinery taking up space, and who knows what else.  All of this contributes to very slow going, from anywhere to anywhere else.  Here’s a particularly interesting example of convoluted detours for cyclists wanting just to ride between Cambridge and Boston without having to swim across the Charles River.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 5.13.53 PM

A color-coded map of routes for cyclists riding between Cambridge and Boston, including choke points and swervy bits.

A color-coded map of routes for cyclists riding between Cambridge and Boston, including choke points and swervy bits.

There’s been construction on the Longfellow Bridge for years now, hopefully to reopen in June 2018.  The traffic patterns are prone to change without warning, which further ups the ante for commuting cyclists.

But hey– riding a bike through this mess is way Way WAY better than driving through it!  Every day this week I found myself on two wheels during either end of day, middle of day, or morning rush hours.  Lots of cars were stacked up at all lights, while I carefully made my way to the front of the line, all the while smiling smugly to myself.

Enter the schadenfreude.  What’s schadenfreude?  It is a German word that means roughly “joy at the misfortune of others”.  It’s not a nice word.  But it does describe my feelings sometimes while cycling in traffic.

I know, I should engage in life activities that promote oneness with the world and with myself.  I should cycle with the intention to embody compassion for all sentient beings, regardless of the number of wheels on their vehicle.  Like these guys are probably doing.

Two monks in orange robes, riding bikes with baskets on the front, also carrying pink plaid and blue/yellow umbrellas for shade on a blue sunny day.

Two monks in orange robes, riding bikes with baskets on the front, also carrying pink plaid and blue/yellow umbrellas for shade on a blue sunny day.

But sometimes, we don’t really want to hear what the better angels of our nature have to say.  We want to enjoy our good fortune with a generous side of smugness.

Of course I know that I am very privileged to have the time, resources, body abilities, geographic location, and knowledge and know-how to ride for pleasure and utility in my regular life.  Many many people lack those privileges, and I take this moment to say how grateful I am to be able to live this way.

Seriously, though,  I think it’s good to celebrate the feelings of liberation from traffic that cycling brings.  It’s something we talk about a lot on this blog, but it felt worth bringing up again.

And in honor of the joy of whizzing around town to and fro, I made up a little song, to be sung to the tune of “But Not For Me”.  My favorite version is by the immortal Billie Holiday– listen to it here.  I changed the words around a little.  Here goes:

The traffic’s just a mess,

but not for me.

ve-hi-cu-lar distress,

but not for me.

I know my ETA,

and there’ll be no delay,

commuting feels like play,

I guarantee.

I was a fool to drive–

it’s not the way.

Heigh ho alas and also lackaday (this is from the original– maybe they got stuck for lyrics, too)

Although I can’t deny

that cars can sometimes fly,

Oh driving’s not— for— me.  

There are currently no plans to quit my day job to become a lyricist.  But enjoy this ditty, and try humming a little song of your own while riding your bike somewhere.   Maybe some day we’ll all get caught in this kind of traffic jam, which I won’t mind at all.

Hundreds of cyclists riding down a city street, with a small boy riding in the foreground.

Hundreds of cyclists riding down a city street, with a small boy riding in the foreground.

 

 

 

 

Taking the Lane: Gender and Cycling in Toronto (A Panel Discussion)

On Thursday, June 15, I get to talk about my favourite topic in cycling. Something I like better than debating wheel size on mountain bikes, frame materials for road bikes, or what type of shifters to use on a touring bike. I’ll be chatting about gender and cycling with four excellent people of a diversity of backgrounds. Joining me at the Parkdale Library will be Katie Whitman, Community Cycling Champion and researcher; Lavinia Tanzim of Bad Girls Bike Club; and Sivia Vijenthira of Spacing Magazine, with moderation by Tammy Thorne of Dandyhorse Magazine.

For some of you, this will be an obvious topic of conversation. “Of course that’s still relevant!”, you’ll say, “Why would anyone disagree?”

But I know I get a lot of questions about why we can’t just talk about getting more butts on bikes generally. “Just shut up and ride your bike” is a comment we get all of the time in the advocacy world, whether it’s about centering conversations on women and gender nonconforming (GNC) people, or attempting to convince people not to ride trails when they’re wet.

Why do we need to have this conversation?  I have worked in retail bike spaces, as a ride leader and as a mechanic for the past decade.  And the overwhelming drone in the background has always been cis-male* voices.  If you make a bike event open to all genders, take a look around the room. The gender diversity is likely to be pretty limited, with the bulk of your attendees identifying as male. If you brand your event as women-only, you’re still very likely to end up with a cis-dude* or two attempting to gain access These interlopers will at times be very understanding, having missed the fine (or bold) print, and will at other times be dismissive, derisive, or downright aggressive. That’s cool, we can (and do) deal.

(*cis-gendered = someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were born with)

The Good

So why am I so excited about this panel and these spaces? What’s the difference at events intentionally directed at women and GNC people? For me, it’s all about the energy and a willingness to ask questions. As a mechanic, the most refreshing thing has always been a woman coming in with her bike and asking questions or talking about her experiences. Events or drop-in hours where women and GNC folks are the sole audience have a lot more chatting, laughing, whooping, and questions than all gender events. There are a lot of generalizations and assumptions about why this happens, and we’re going to unpack the heck out of that in the panel.

The Bad

Note that I never said women and cycling, I said gender and cycling. How many of you jumped right to thinking this was a conversation about women and bikes? One of the aspects I find most difficult in organizing programs for not-cis-men, is making “women’s” events open and accepting of the trans* and GNC community. All of the events that I run are GNC-friendly. They have to be, because I identify as GNC. But I struggle constantly with the thought that my events are still exclusionary, as they’re often labeled as women’s events. If it’s a women-only event, does that mean our trans* and GNC friends aren’t allowed?  Women and GNC events often get read as queer events. Does that mean straight, cis women aren’t allowed?  There’s a barrier no matter what we do. My employers may not go for me labeling events as Women and Gender-Non-Conforming. It’s wordy, which is a hard pill to swallow when you’re trying to make a catchy and easily communicable event. If you write your event as Women and GNC, you may scare some women away who don’t know what that acronym means and feel this event isn’t for them. Throw an asterisk in there? People don’t read things. The complications and variations are endless.

So What’s the Question?

We know we need infrastructure changes and programs geared towards lower income people and newcomers to Canada, so that people have a safe and supportive way into bike commuting. But recreational riding, my main squeeze? How do we make these spaces accepting of all incomes, gender identities, and sexual orientations? Can we do it with one club, or do we need multiple clubs to make sure everyone has space?

 

What do you think, Toronto? Who wants to talk about this with me? See you on Thursday, June 15th at 6pm at the Parkdale Library!

 

If gender identity is not your most important question, never fear. We’re going to talk about loads of things, including how to make streets safer from an infrastructure level, the importance of programs for youth and newcomers to Toronto, how to tie the suburbs into this conversation, and what the research says about all of these things.

 

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Event Info:

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/643794175823092/?active_tab=about


Join us on June 15 for TAKING THE LANE: GENDER AND CYCLING IN TORONTO! Pop by the 
Parkdale Library from 6-7:30pm for an a-one panel. The event seeks to unpack our city’s cycling past, where we need to go, and who is missing from the conversation? But at the end of the day the question is: how do we get more women and girls cycling?

There is a serious lack of conversation and action around intersectionality and cycling in Toronto. This event aims to highlight that many women and GNC people in the city do not feel comfortable cycling due to unsafe streets (a lack of infrastructure) coupled with a lack of outreach.


Alex has been working in the Toronto cycling community for the last nine years. A certified CAN-Bike, Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association, and bike repair instructor, Alex would be so happy to take you for a bike ride. In addition to their role with Charlie’s FreeWheels, a charity dedicated to teaching youth how to build and ride bikes in Regent Park, Alex coordinates group rides and clinics with Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop and leads women’s cycling programs as a rider for Trek’s Women’s Advocacy program. You can usually find them with a posse of rad women and non-binary folks in the Don Valley mountain bike trails.

Follow Alex @legslegum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

 

 

 

Recipe for biking bliss: coffee ride Fridays

sign in a cafe saying "people demand bikes and coffee"

My friend Pata and I have refined the leisurely companionable bike ride to an art form.  We fine-tune our route to fit our time constraints, training needs, folk weather forecasting skills, and combined levels of oomph to dial in a perfect ride for the both of us.  These tend to take place on late spring, summer (and early fall) Fridays.

We do ride together at other times of year, but the leisurely Friday ride requires soft warm weather to feel completely at one with the bike, the environment and the agenda: have fun riding with friends.

Pata is a very experienced cyclist.  She’s a certified League of American Bicyclists instructor, alum of the same racing clinic I did years ago, and has ridden cross country from Massachusetts to Washington State with her partner.  Her blog about the trip is here.   She’s also in her mid-fifties (like me), and both of us are experiencing (and griping copiously about) the changes in our bodies, our families and our priorities that make regular cycling both more difficult and really important.

Enter the Friday coffee ride– the solution to all problems.

A couple of summers ago, I was going through the breakup of my relationship and having a hard time functioning.  All my friends pitched in to help get me out of the house and into nature, moving and being with them.  For this I am touched and grateful.

Pata got me out on the bike– just up the bike path, she said.  We’ll ride to Lexington, have coffee at Peet’s, and then assess what we want to do next.  Okay, I said.  I confess that I got a lot of therapy at those outdoor tables, large latte at my side.

Peet's coffee in Lexington MA, with two tables and chairs outside on the brick sidewalk, looking inviting.

Peet’s coffee in Lexington MA, with two tables and chairs outside on the brick sidewalk, looking inviting.

This Friday, two years later, I have moved on emotionally and socially.  But I don’t mind one bit to be rolling over the same route to the same coffee shop with my same cycling companion.

Just for the record, here’s us at my house at the beginning of the ride.

 

Pata (right) and me, standing smilingly with our bikes, having our picture taken by the UPS guy.

Pata (right) and me, standing smilingly with our bikes, having our picture taken by the UPS guy.

 

And here’s photographic evidence of the coffee/snack segment of the ride.

 

Two cups of coffee, two pastries, two pairs of legs with Sidi bike shoes.

Two cups of coffee, two pastries, two pairs of legs with Sidi bike shoes.

 

After caffeinating and snacking, we were ready to continue.  There are loads of lovely cycling routes from here.  We picked an easy one (bike path to Bedford and then back to Belmont), and set off.

During these leisurely rides, much work is done:

  • planning future bike trips
  • planning fantasy bike trips
  • discussing  personal/relationship/family problems of ourselves and others
  • solving above-mentioned issues to our satisfaction
  • pointing out attractive flora (this is generally my job)
  • pointing out interesting bikes (Pata is in charge of this one)
  • exclaiming about how fun this is

And yet it’s not tiring or taxing.  This is the wonderful thing about the leisurely companionable bike ride.

We made our way back to Belmont, refreshed and ready (albeit reluctantly) to resume life.  Here is one more pic of the happy duo:

 

Pata (left) and me, grinning, wearing bike helmets and sun glasses.

Pata (left) and me, grinning, wearing bike helmets and sun glasses.

 

In summary:  the leisurely coffee ride is good for whatever ails me.  So readers:  what activity do you do for sheer fun and relaxation? Is it with friends?  Is it just for you?  I’d love to hear from you.