I learned an important sentence in Spanish

We need to buy some new bicycles!

Necesitamos comprar unas bicicletas nuevas!

I’m still thinking about a new bike, either a new road bike that can fit wider, all surface tires, or a new gravel bike. See Sam has that look in her eyes, she’s thinking about bikes. Even Duolingo knows what I’m up to!

It’s 12 weeks past knee replacement now and I’ve riding my bike on the trainer, with the seat even at its usual height. It seems like I’ve got pretty good range of motion in my left knee. I’m ready to ride outside (just once or twice even) but the weather isn’t cooperating. I don’t want to risk falling on the snow or the ice. It’s also very cold out there. Brrrr.

I might have to wait until spring if I don’t make it somewhere warm to ride bikes this winter. But in the meantime I am bike browsing and thinking about my options.

cycling · fitness · strength training · weight lifting · Zwift

Sam starts training from scratch, sort of

It’s been 11 weeks since knee replacement surgery. There’s a lot of rehab focused movement and physio under the bridge. So much hard physio.

Some things are going very well. But at this stage the gains are slow and it can feel pretty frustrating. It’s a lot of hard work for what feels like not very much improvement. At the same time, I can still easily overdo it and then need to take some time to recover. Three steps forward, one step back, as they say.

But the good news is that it’s not all rehab, all the time now. Starting this week I am going to try to get my cycling fitness back for its own sake, not just because cycling helps my knee. Up until now, when riding my bike, I’ve turned Zwift on but I haven’t watched. I haven’t paid much attention at all to the metrics. Watts per kilo? Who knows? Speed? Ditto. I note the distance when I hit save but I’ve been trying not to look really. Instead, I’ve been running Zwift but watching Netflix. (That’s not entirely true. Since I have the companion app open on my phone I have noted and appreciated all of your ride-ons!)

From the “count the workouts” group here’s what my Zwift entries have looked like:

This week I’ve decided to Zwift for real again, paying attention to numbers, as I begin my climb back to bike fitness. Obviously I’ll need to change my FTP to something closer to my current reality.

What’s FTP? “FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is the wattage you can stay below and sustain for longer durations, while going above it causes fatigue to occur very quickly. It is one of the key training metrics used in cycling, and Zwift has built-in tests to measure it.” See here for more.

I’ve also changed my weekly distance goal from 150 km a week on Zwift to 50 km. Gradually I will build back up.

Here’s one of the tiny rides that will be my starting point. So tiny! So slow! But lots of room to build and grow.

I’m also doing this in the gym with strength training. Yes, there’s some rehab there too. But not all and my focus isn’t just recovery, it’s rebuilding for its own sake. Meg, the world’s best personal trainer, is there to help once a week.

What’s my overall movement plan right now?

  • I’m doing physio every day, twice a week in the clinic at Defy Physiotherapy with the wonderful knee fixer upper Estee.
  • On the weekends, once or twice I’m doing Aquafit at Movati.
  • I do strength training at the gym twice a week, once with Meg and once solo.
  • I’m back to walking Cheddar the dog, the yellow blur in all the cycling photos above.
  • And I’m Zwifting three or four times a week.
Cheddar, Chase, and Charlie hoping it’s dog walk time not Zwift time

It’s not quite from scratch but I do have a long way to climb back to where I was, both on the strength side and the bike fitness side. Everyone reassures me that having been there before my return will be easier than if I’d never done it.

It’s work but it’s also nice to have not everything, all the time be about knee rehab.

Wish me luck and I’ll see you at the gym!

cycling · fitness · holidays

Aquaspin, take two!

Tracy has tried it before in similar circumstances, staying at a resort and wondering about the exercise options. I was intrigued after reading her post and then happy to see it on offer at a resort too.

I’m staying at a resort in the Dominican Republic, tagging along while Sarah is here for a work retreat. And while there are lots of fitness offerings, Beach Zumba anyone?, I’m still a little limited by my knees.

I’ve been walking lots around the resort, swimming in the ocean, working out at the resort fitness centre, and doing knee physio exercises in my room, but I was excited to give aqua spin a try.

The basic idea is pretty simple. There are exercise bikes in the pool. There’s an instructor. There’s lots of loud music. And “¡vamos, vamos, vamos!”

You couldn’t adjust the tension on the bikes but that’s fine. Pedaling was made harder by the resistance of the water. We did a lot of standing while pedaling and I wasn’t at all sure how that would go. Since knee surgery I haven’t done it. But the extra buoyancy of the water made it possible.

It might have gotten boring quickly except there was a lot of bike adjacent exercising and stretching. There was certainly no high expectations of fitness or technique when it came to aqua spinning. Some of the participants had clearly been enjoying the swim up bar at this all inclusive resort prior to spinning. Lots of jokes about earning another drink, etc.

But my favorite part was that the instructor pretty much only instructed in Spanish. When people asked questions he asked if they spoke Spanish. If not, he managed just fine but it was clear he preferred to operate in Spanish. That was welcome because earlier I’d been joking that my Duolingo Spanish did me no good because all the staff spoke to us in English.

Would I seek out aqua spin in Ontario? Maybe. Not likely.

Would I do aqua spin again at a resort? ¡Sí!

Here’s some random resort shots!

camping · cycling · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

Cycling PEI: A Solo Trip 

by Mallory Brennan

Last spring I booked a number of flights for work and, as a result, started getting targeted ads for all the airline sales. So when a tremendous deal popped up for flights to Charlottetown (PEI) I booked flights for September, put the dates in my calendar and promptly forgot about it. 

Then summertime arrived. That’s when I work at Rainbow Camp, an overnight camp for 2SLGBTQ+ youth. This year was our first summer back in person since 2019, as well as our first time running a full summer of camp. This was also my first summer as co-director (shoutout to my amazing co-director Cal!). September was the last thing on my mind.

All of a sudden, my trip was three days away and all I had planned was my flights. No accommodations booked, no routes planned, no rental bicycle booked, no meal plans, no list of things I wanted to do, none of the stuff I would usually prepare in advance. Then all of a sudden it was the day before my flight and still nothing… The night before I left I hastily booked a rental bicycle and booked accommodations, picking places that seemed like a reasonable distance apart. Everything else I could make up as I went along, right?

Five Random Observations Post Trip:

  1. I’d forgotten how much I love the freedom of multiple day solo trips. I could wake up whenever I felt like it, stop for rests whenever I felt like it, spend hours reading, eat when I felt like it and basically do whatever I felt like. (It helped that I “planned” my route conservatively so I was never in a huge rush to get to my destination!)
  2. Rail Trails are not all flat. I knew this in advance but somehow forgot. Cue several hours of slogging along the trail, feeling like you aren’t going anywhere until you see a cyclist going the other way with a grin on their face and you realize you’ve been slowly going uphill for the past several hours.
  3. The roads in PEI are excellent for cycling. I did about ⅔ of my trip on the Confederation Trail and the rest on minor highways. Things I noticed about the roads:
    1. There were large paved shoulders on most roads
    2. Cars were clearly used to seeing cyclists and gave me lots of space
    3. There was signage for cyclists as well as for motorists 
  4. I much prefer my own bicycle over my rental bicycle. While I considered bringing my bicycle, I opted to rent a bicycle and panniers for the week instead. While it was a perfectly serviceable bicycle, I prefer mine. (I own a fancy touring bicycle that was a graduation gift the first time I graduated university so to be fair, the bar is high.)
  5. I enjoy having a baseline level of fitness (and possibly youth on my side) that allows me to pick up a rental bicycle, carry all of my stuff (including camping equipment!) and spend five days riding without any training. While I didn’t do any super long distances (my longest day was 70km), I also did absolutely ZERO training and in fact, hadn’t ridden a bicycle at all in the 12 months prior to this trip. 

cycling · fitness · gear

Catherine gets acquainted with her new e-bike

With some relationships, you just swan dive in– no hesitation, no second-guessing, no shilly-shallying about. Other relationships, however, take time to develop. They require nurturing and cultivating in order to blossom.

Yes, I’m talking about my new Lemond Prolog e-bike and me. Oh, we both came into it with the highest of hopes– meeting in the Lemond factory on a hot sunny day in eastern Tennessee. Honestly, after taking the first tight corner with it, smoothly as silk, I was in love. We set out together back to Boston, with me driving and it resting in the back the whole way.

Once we got home and settled into the routine life of a woman and her new bike, I started to notice things. Of course I switched out the saddle for one I prefer, but the fit wasn’t exactly what I was used to. The Lemond Prolog is a flat-bar bike, with a monocoque one-piece handlebar and stem, which means it can’t be adjusted. I did get the wide wide handlebars cut at the factory, but they need to be much more narrow. After riding it a few times, it was also clear I need new grips with bar ends to offer more options for hand placement (I’m more used to the downturned handlebars of a road bike).

The bike with my saddle, new bottle cage, built-in fenders and lights, and too-wide handlebars. But it’s a beauty.

So far I’ve ridden it on the road, varied off-road paths of packed dirt, some muddy leafy sections in the woods and a teeny bit of twisty but smooth flat singletrack. Sarah was my companion for a lovely fall ride when I was visiting Ontario recently.

There’s a network of lovely paths that go by the rivers in Guelph and into some woodsy areas. My Lemond and I enjoyed trying them out, guided by Sarah and her trusty gravel bike.

I’m remembering how much I enjoy riding off-road; even gentle off-road paths are kind of thrilling for me, I admit. And the Lemond is definitely up for it. The carbon frame is strong and feels very responsive. I may get gravel tires for fall/winter riding, which is another option.

Two things I experimented with that I need to learn a lot more about:

  • which level of assist makes sense for me on different kinds of terrain;
  • how the battery will do on different rides with different speeds and assist levels.

There are three levels of assist (plus a no-assist option) with the Lemond. I’ve mainly played around with the first level of assist, but I haven’t taken on more demanding terrain yet. I’ve also not taken any very long rides, so battery power hasn’t been an issue yet. I bought a battery range extender that plugs into the bike and sits in a bottle cage (very handy-dandy design, by the way), which I expect to use on longer, faster and/or more demanding terrain rides. So I’m fully equipped, and the Lemond is ready to go with me as far as I can take it.

Will we be speedy? Will we ride long? Will we ride hard? Yes, to all of these. But when and how– I’ll be finding this out over the next months.

For now, we’re taking it slow. I’m enjoying the process of just getting to know each other. For the future– que sera, sera..

Hey readers– any of you taken on an e-bike recently? Or not recently? How have you settled on speed, duration, distance, etc.? I’d love to know how things went for you.

cycling · fitness · injury · Zwift

Welcome back to Strava Sam!

My last ride on Strava was my birthday ride. I blogged about it here.

Sam’s birthday ride on Strava, 58 km

And today, I’m back!

It was not 58 km, and not multiple hours.

It was on Zwift, not outside. But I did it! I rode my bike on the trainer.


Twenty minutes and 4.6 km might not seem like much but it’s a start. I wore my cycling shoes and I even lowered the seat to something more reasonable.

My goals from here on in? Keep lowering the seat until it’s back where it was, add time and distance, and start adding back some resistance….

See you out there!

cycling · fitness · injury

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve got lots to be thankful this year for but here’s what’s most on my mind right now, I mean aside from loved ones, our dogs, and beautiful fall colours…

I just posted this to Twitter but I want to share it here too…

“I did it! 15 minutes on a regular spin bike, not a recumbent, forwards not backwards. I grinned the entire time. Tomorrow will be 6 weeks since total knee replacement surgery. I’m giving thanks.”

I’m now home icing and elevating and excited about getting back into cycling shape. Next time I’ll bring music. I can do 15 minutes without tunes but longer will take my Zwift playlists.

cycling · fitness · illness

Back on the bike after a stroke (Guest post)

It’s Saturday morning in late September. I’m sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops enjoying a latte and trying to get the chill out of my bones. I decided to bike here this morning, despite the thermometer reading eight degrees. I love Ottawa in the fall: it’s one of my favourite times of year. The leaves are turning on the trees, but the Parkway is still reserved for cyclists on the weekends, which makes for some breathtaking rides. The Parkway hugs the Ottawa River, so it’s not unusual to run into hordes of Canada geese as you bike down the west-bound lanes. When the cars are away, everybody gets bolder, including the wildlife.

I’ve been a cyclist most of my life and in my twenties it was my main form of transport. A friend once described cycling as the closest humans every get to actual flight, and I agree. But I had an accident on my bike about a decade ago that left me fearful of climbing back on. While I still cycled every so often, I lost the joy I had had before my accident.

Then about six years ago I took the leap and bought a new bike: a bright red electric bike modeled after the wide-handled cruisers of the fifties that appealed to both my love of two wheels and my personal aesthetic. To my deep pleasure I rediscovered the joy of pedalling along the many bike paths this city offers. I could ride to work almost exclusively on paths. The five-kilometre trip was a pleasure every time and I resisted getting back on the bus until early December.

But last year in the late fall, I had a stroke. Hospitalized for the first time in my life, I spent two weeks answering every person who asked me, “What is your goal for recovery?” that what I wanted most of all was to get back on my bike. I didn’t know that this was a very unlikely and lofty goal. When you’ve had a stroke, people treat you like you’re not entirely compos mentis (which of course you’re not) and they don’t try to nay-say you. If I wanted to get back on my bike, nobody was going to tell me it was very unlikely.

But the first week I was back home, I climbed up on my stationary bike, which I had bought just before the pandemic hit in order to keep my biking muscles in good shape over the winter. I lasted five minutes. It wasn’t just the challenge of biking – even the act of getting on and off my bike was hard. I wobbled. I tripped. I cried a little. And I persisted. By January, I was on my stationary bike three times a week for 20 minutes. By March, that was four to five times a week for 30 minutes.

Then, at the suggestion of my massage therapist, I started upping the difficulty by twisting my upper body as I pedalled. Then I added hand weights. Then I closed my eyes, which forced me to try to balance more carefully.

In April, Big Red, my beautiful bike, came up from storage in the basement. In early May, I attempted my first ride on a real bike. It was a mere six kilometres over 30 minutes, but I wept with relief at the end of it. I had not fallen. I had not had to stop.

My balance was still shaky: getting on and off Big Red was not easy for me. If it had not been for the throttle that permitted me to get started without pedalling and let me catch my balance as I took off, I do not think this would have been possible.

The Ottawa River is seen through a copse of tress. In the foreground sits a red comfort cruiser-style bike with a helmet hanging from the handlebars.
Hanging out in a hidden spot on the Ottawa River with Big Red

Since that first ride, I have probably done 600 kilometres this summer. Weekends are my big ride, when the Parkway is open and I can pedal almost all the way to my coffee joint on a wide lane meant for cars, but I am on the bike paths several times each week. My Saturday rides are over 20 km.

I am stronger, better balanced and more confident on my bike. I have even survived a fall with relatively minor damage. But if it hadn’t been for the help having an e-bike gave me in the early days, I am not sure I would be back biking. Doctors and nurses have met the information that yes, I did get back on my bike with polite incredulity. And being back has helped me heal not only physically but mentally from the feeling of total incapacity I experienced last fall. I’m still here. I’m still pedalling.

I’m so grateful.

DJ Brown is a performer turned government wonk living and thriving in Ottawa.

cycling · fitness · inclusiveness · Zwift

Celebrating diversity on Zwift

Great news for the paracycling community and for those of us who see opportunities for greater inclusion in the world of virtual cycling. The latest Zwift update includes handcycles.

A handcycle in Zwift

To be clear people at home having been using handcycles to ride in Zwift but the virtual bike options didn’t match. And that matters.

Says Zwift in its announcement of the handcycle option, “Zwift is a platform for everyone and our goal is to represent all members of our community within the worlds of Zwift. We hope that the Zwift Handcycle will allow adaptive athletes to have more fun in-game and better represent themselves on the roads of Watopia.”

We’ve written before about inclusion in cycling both in the virtual and in the real world. See In favour of April Fools’ Day Trikes and Inclusive Representation and Not all bikes are pedaled by foot, Sam finds out. I’m happy that the Zwift developers made this a priority and I’m looking forward to seeing some handcycles out there this winter.

Zwift Handcycle

cycling · traveling

Sam has that look in her eyes, she’s thinking about bikes

Because of course she is.

You need something positive to think about while doing lots and lots of painful physio.

Even Duolingo knows something is up.

Ella tiene dos bicicletas

In the interests of honesty and putting all my cards on the table, let’s recap the bike situation as it stands. My current fleet contains:

1. A folding bike, a bright pink Brompton

Its origin story is that I bought it new three years ago so that I could have a bike to travel with when I went to conferences. This was the summer I was referred for knee replacement surgery and I needed ways of getting around that weren’t walks even for short distances. It’s great for folding up for travel and I use it a lot in Guelph too. Love wearing regular clothes and riding around campus with it.

Pink Brompton at an Airbnb in Halifax

2. A fat bike

This bike was one I got in a swap for my cyclocross bike. The cyclo-cross bike was my bonus thyroid cancer bicycle. I used it some but not enough to justify keeping it. At the same time I was renting fat bikes and loving it. So I decided to sell the cyclo-cross bike and buy a fat bike but instead found someone who wanted to trade. Perfect! Sarah now has a fat bike too and I love bombing around in them on local trails and taking them on weekend adventures.

Sam’s fat bike

3. A very nice road bike

I think this is bike 5 in the series of very nice Cannondale road bikes that I’ve owned. I broke the frame of the last one in Newfoundland. This is its replacement. It has fancy electronic shifting. It feels fast. I like sprinting on it. And it climbs pretty well too. It’s also comfortable for long rides. Jeff found the seller in Montreal and Sarah and I went to purchase and bring it home. It’s the bike I do almost all of my big outdoor rides on, the bike rally, pedal for Parkinson’s etc.

Sam’s Cannondale

4. An older road bike that I lend to friends and let hang out on the trainer

I bought this bike used because I was wanting something more aero, good for solo riding. It’s a fun bike. It’s not particularly comfortable but it’s great for distances under 50 km. These days though it’s pretty much a dedicated Zwift machine.

That’s the Cervello on a wahoo trainer, wheel on, but I have since I acquired a wheel off, direct drive trainer, a tacx neo 2..

5. Adventure road bike

This was a birthday bike from 7 years ago. Bike thieves cleared out our porch bicycle cage in London, Ontario stealing my commuting bike and Sarah’s good road bike. Jeff bought me this bike from Two Wheels in London, Ontario for my birthday as a replacement. It’s a great bike. I love trail riding on it and commuting with loaded panniers. It’s a very sensible bike.

Adventure road bike for trail riding and commuting

All of these bikes are loved, well maintained, and used often. They play important roles in my life. I also have an old track bike but I’m not counting that. It hasn’t been ridden in years and I would sell it except Sarah thinks occasionally that she might like to give track cycling a try.

So what’s missing?

Well actually, if I were racing time trials a time trial bike is missing. Ditto cyclocross. But I’m not doing those things. I’m also not mountain biking. I’m not aiming to create a bicycle zoo or a Noah’s ark of bikes around here. We don’t need one of each kind. That’s not the point.

What’s missing that I actually do is gravel riding. My adventure road bike is fine on gravel but it’s not a gravel bike. It’s stable but it’s not particularly fast. On its own that might not be enough to push me into new bike think. Fast is overrated. I’m slower than Sarah anyway these days. Also, I’m not that brave on gravel.

But I’ve also been thinking lately about travel and about a bike to travel with. Yes, my road bike, that’s my usual choice. But lately I’ve been wanting to do gravel rides too when I travel. When I next go to Australia or New Zealand on sabbatical, I know I won’t be happy with just a road bike.

That’s the line of thinking that gets me into new bike land. So what I’d like is a bike that can do double duty, both road and gravel. I’d travel with one bike and either two sets of wheels or more minimally two sets of tires. Essentially I’m in the market for a road bike that can take 35 mm gravel tires.

Here are some examples:

Trek Domane

Specialized Crux

BMC Road Machine One Three

Norco Section

Giant Contend AR

Cervelo Caledonia

Surly Midnight Special

Allied All-Road

There’s lots more. This would allow me to upgrade my gravel bike and have a bike I can travel with that will do both road and gravel. I think I’d keep the adventure road bike for bike packing and for commuting.

Depending on how/when my knee heals and the timing of the next surgery, I’d also like to go riding in Cuba and I know I’d want wider tires there.

I know that it won’t be a perfect gravel bike. There are other differences and it will still be a compromise bike. But I’m thinking I don’t need to be a gravel bike purist. I’ll always be primarily a road cyclist. So this compromise for the sake of travel seems okay.

If that’s Plan A, Plan B is just to buy a gravel bike and deal later with the travel issue since Australia and NZ travel are still a few years off.

Apologies for all the bike geek talk and the privilege that comes with travel and owning multiple bikes. But I’ve needed something fun to focus on while I recover from knee replacement surgery.

Any recommendations?