A letter to my bike (Guest post)

Dear Ernie,

Wow. That was awesome, so much fun and so easy. Just like I remember.

Can you believe it was almost a year that you sat gethering dust under the stairs? I guess you can hey? You were back within days after the crash, having had your check up at the bike shop and gotten the all clear (and a chain clean for good measure). I, on the other hand, was pretty busy with the surgery to fix my elbow, dental for the teeth, the rehab, the healing, then life got pretty hectic.

If I am honest though, I avoided you. Physically I probably could have ridden without too much discomfort about 4 months ago. Possibly even 6 months ago. But mentally, I just wasn’t sure I could get past the notion that we might go over again. Which at the same time feels a little silly as I don’t remember going over last time. So I just let you sit there, your tyres flat and dust accumulating on the freshly oiled chain. What if it wasn’t easy any more? What if my hand, elbow or shoulder hurt too much? The fitness we had going last summer was gone. We literally crashed back through square one.

Fortunately the square root of one, is one. So wherever we start, it’s the new beginning.

And what a perfect beginning.  A warm summers night, the crit track at Victoria Park just outside the city. A girls rugby team training in the middle, the smell of lush grass rising with the last of the day’s heat (with small children a dog and balls going every which way to keep up on our toes). Around and around we went, spinny drills, some  sprint drills and  a few tempo ‘efforts’. Acknowledgement that we really need to do more sprint drills and maybe find a hill or 5 million to climb. Your form was great, my legs were a bit light on. But the ease, it was there. After 3 laps of the circuit it was like it always was.

I missed  you Ernie. I missed our adventures. Blaney to Bathurst through the rolling countryside of central New South Wales. Fitz’s 105km out the back of Canberra and the slowest ascent in the history of cycling, no – I didn’t think it was possible to ride at under 8km per hour and not fall over either, but there we were.  Beach weekends to “race” in triathons. Early mornings in the dead of winter with the development squad girls cutting laps of Old Parliament House in the dark. Sunday rides with Linda and the Piglet.

We’re not in Canberra anymore, but there are plenty of adventures in Adelaide too. In fact, all your fancy rich cousins from all across the globe come around in January every year for the Tour Down Under. I’m sure they’d love to see you! We’re going to have to do quite a bit of  work on getting up the hills out of town to watch them. But there’s plenty of time.

In the meantime I’ve just signed us up for Criterion training again. You’ll love it. It’s with a group of beginners. Yes, I know you know about Crit racing mate, but I think it’s best we take this chance to get going slowly.  Get out confidence back and make some new friends too.

Well, I’ve got to go. I guess I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for waiting for me. Thanks for not forgetting how we roll.


Catherine gets a new bike!

A brompton folding bike, in sea green and orange.

Full disclosure:  before this week, I owned 5 bikes: 1) road; 2) mountain; 3) cyclocross; 4) commuter/beater bike; and 5) extra cross bike at my mother’s house in South Carolina.  One might think this was enough.

But no.

It is a well-known fact among cyclists that the correct number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the current number of bikes one owns.  It’s true.  It’s in fact rule #12 of The Rules, from the Velominati page:


For cyclists, bikes are kind of like shoes:  there are different ones for every purpose and every occasion, and one wishes to update one’s collection when new features come up.

For me, I have been wanting this bike for a long time.  Let me introduce you to it.  It’s a Brompton folding bike.  Brompton is a British company that has a cult following among road cyclists, bike commuters, touring cyclists, and (most important for me) cyclists who want to travel with their bikes.  What makes the Brompton special is how easily, quickly and compactly it folds.  In order to make that possible, Brompton did some very spiffy engineering and design on the bike.  I could rhapsodize at length about this, but instead I’ll show you.

Here’s the bike folded up (in my dining room):

The Brompton folded compactly

Note that it is stable in this mode, and even has little wheels for towing if you pull up the handle bars (I told you this bike was soooo cooool!).

To unfold it, first pull out the left pedal (it also folds very ingeniously; did I mention the superior design of this thing?) and pull up the seat post.

The Brompton with seat post pulled up

Then you give the handlebars a gentle push to extend them into place.

The Brompton with handlebars in place

Note that nothing is wobbling.  Remember the little wheels I mentioned?  You can, from this position, tow the bike behind you, and it will roll happily along on its little wheels.  If you prefer bigger wheels, Brompton will sell you some.  They have (for the right price), many modifications for their bikes.

One thing I failed to mention:  all the parts secure with little clamps that are easy to tighten and loosen.  At the bottom of the orange (isn’t the color glorious?) handlebar stem is a black thingy for tightening the stem into place where it fits perfectly.

Then you move the front wheel into place.

The Brompton almost ready-- front wheel in place

Notice that it’s still stable– no tipping over in this position.  And, the stem is a little cockeyed-looking, off to the right a bit.  That’s a feature, not a mistake.  It’s just part of the Brompton’s quirky charm.  Now we are ready for the last step:  pulling the bike up, where in one move, the rear wheel locks into place:

A brompton folding bike, in sea green and orange.

The reason I bought this bike is that I travel a fair amount for work– I go to conferences and give talks– and whenever I get where I’m going, I really really wish I had a bike with me.  I’ve rented bikes often (easier in cities with bike share programs– every city should do this), and occasionally brought a bike with me.  But it’s expensive and kind of a hassle to break down a bike, box it up, haul it (paying often $100–180 each way to fly with it), set it up, and THEN finally get to ride it.  If I’m going to a conference for 3–4 days, I’m never going to do this.  But Bromptons pack into either a soft or a hard case that can be checked as luggage without incurring those awful fees.  Yay– Brompton for the win!

But now I don’t have to.  I’ve got my new Brompton!  Also, I got a 6-speed model with flat handlebars to make it the closest thing to having a road bike that I can get with an easy-to-use travel bike.  So Samantha and Natalie– expect to see me at your doorsteps sometime this spring or summer, with my beautiful two-tone Brompton, ready to ride!

Getting the Brompton is actually encouraging me to do some far-away conference travel, too, so I am going to the Netherlands for a conference, and will fit in some easy touring with it.

I can also ride the Brompton around town, and even take it on buses or subway.  It has what I call a modesty cover that you can pull over it, and unzip a bit to carry it (mine weighs around 25 lbs– not bad for a little carrying).

The Brompton with a black fabric cover, with the saddle poking out

Oh, you might wonder:  how does it ride with those little wheels?  The answer is:  very smoothly.  The steering takes a little time (maybe a few minutes) to get used to, but then it moves very well.  Since I got it (4 days ago), the weather has been incredibly cold, then snowy, and now rainy.  ARGH!  But hopefully tomorrow I can take it out and see what it can do.  Will report back on progress.

There’s nothing like a new bike.  Readers, are any of you getting any new gear that you are in raptures over?  Please share your joy or wishes here.

No more podium girls (in the Tour Down Under, at least)!

I waved goodbye to them a awhile ago in this blog post. In “Kissing the Podium Girls Goodbye” I wrote, “Where do women belong in cycling? On bikes and in races!”

So I was super happy, big smile happy, to read this headline in my morning social media newsfeed, TDU podium girls to go.

The South Australian Sports Minister, Leo Bignell, today announced that it would replace the Santos Tour Down Under podium girls with junior cyclists.

Here at Cycling Central we’ve long argued for a change of attitude in cycling, as far back as 2013 in fact, preferring to see podium girls as incompatible with a sport striving for genuine gender equity, and preferring to see women deserving of a podium place as athletes not ornaments.

“The Government’s paying for grid girls at the same time we’re putting money into mental health areas to help young women who have body image problems,” Bignell told the ABC.

Some happy news for a December day. Change in the right direction does happen once in a awhile. I love the idea that it will be junior cyclists who now get to play this role.

See more about this here:

female cyclist being kissed by podium boys

“Some women’s races have opted to use podium boys in recent years in an attempt to equalize the practice. La Course by Le Tour de France, Gent-Wevelgem and the Ladies Tour of Norway have all employed podium boys but the practice has continued to be questioned.” http://cyclingmagazine.ca/sections/news/junior-cyclists-replace-podium-girls-tour/

And for the record, I’m not a big fan of podium boys either! See 


Halloween cycling fun at Orchard Cross

T rex. costumed rider on mountain bike

Last Sunday was a highlight of my cycling/social fall schedule:  it was the day of the annual Orchard Cross Costume Race (along with all the other regular races for those not in costume).  For those of you not familiar with cyclocross racing, it is a timed race on a closed course of 1–2 miles, combining dirt, grass, sometimes pavement, and a variety of challenges:  barriers that require getting off the bike and jumping over them, hills too steep for most to ride up (called run-ups), stairs, mud, sand pits, and lots of twisty-turny maneuvering at speed.

Women bike racers riding around a very muddy corner.

photo by Jonathan Nable

Male cross racers riding over a pump track muddy bump.

photo by Jonathan Nable

This race took place at Applecrest Farm, winding through their apple orchard.  This makes it one of the most scenic cross races ever.

Male cross racers biking through an orchard course with apple trees on the side.

photo by Jonathan Nable

A group of female cross racers biking through an orchard of small apple trees.

photo by Jonathan Nable

The real appeal of this event, though, is the costume race.  It takes place on the cross course itself, although it’s modified to take out some (but not all) of the most challenging bits.  And they treat it in many ways like the other races.  You have to go register:

Registration tent at race; T. rex and banana in line

I am the yellow banana costumed person, and my friend Steph is the inflated T. rex.

Then it’s time to pin numbers on your jersey, or in my case, banana costume:

My banana costume with its race number, and black cycling gloves on a wall.

Before lining up, there was time to observe others in their festive costumes:

Cyclist in tutu costume and rainbow wig on helmet.

Elmo masked and banana-costumed cross racers

My friend Karin as alien Elmo with the author as banana

Cyclist in gorilla suit with racing kit over the suit. With yellow helmet and shoes.

Banana and T. rex in costume on bikes

The author and friend Steph

dragon bike with papier-mache ghoul on back, rider absent.

tricked out dragon bike with ghoul

Before long, though, it was time to head to the start line.  There were at least 60 people registered for the race, so there was some jockeying to find an optimal spot.  For my friend Steph (the T. rex), her spot was on the side, because she could hardly see; she was limited to a clear plastic window (in the T rex. neck).  A bunch of us were fairly sight-impaired, but that added to the energy level.

Costumed cross racers at the start line.

The countdown began:  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…  and we were off!  And, doing our best to get around the course without a) falling over; b) running into someone else; and of course c) expiring from all the laughter and joking on the course.  A speedy bunny passed me, yelling “your costume is very a-peeeeling!”  hahahahahahahaha.  A racer in a very elaborate skeleton costume for him and his bike passed me, calling out “I’m on your right.”  I replied, “thanks, I can’t see anything either left or right”.  He said, “yeah, me too.  I wonder why I create such an elaborate costume when I can’t see a thing”.  We both chuckled, and he went ahead.

Racer in skelton costume with black hood and skeleton cardboard outline on bike, riding course

The fact that we had this much time for a conversation during a race suggests that it was a rather mellow and lighthearted affair.  Here are a few more examples of riders having fun:

Medieval costumed riders on a tandem bike

group of riders on course with T. rex

rider in peanut-butter poncho on cross course

group of riders on cross course, led by T. rex

It was almost as fun watching the race as riding it; at least this group’s attitude seems to suggest so.

A group of fans at the cross race, with signs

photo by Jonathan Nable

Confession:  the above photo is actually a group of fans during another race.  Several of these folks in fact rode in the costume race (I know them).  But it conveys the fun and frivolity, so please permit me some literary latitude…

For me, riding in the costume race was a great way to reconnect with some of my racing friends who I don’t see so often.  It was fun (and a reality check!) to ride my cross bike on an actual course again.  I forgot how important good bike handling was in order to navigate mud, bumps, berms, barriers, and tight turns.  Even though I was enjoying myself, I was pushing very hard (you can’t really pedal in a leisurely way on a race course).

I also reconnected with my (former) racing self.  It’s been very motivating to remind myself that I enjoy active and organized group cycling environments.  It’s heartening to realize that I actually remember how to ride a bike in more demanding conditions.  This doesn’t mean I’ll return to racing, but it does mean that I can and want to return to more ambitious rides– group rides with faster folks, off-road rides on my cross bike and mountain bike, and some winter riding too.  Not a bad return on a total investment of $15 for the banana costume and $25 for the registration.

The first sharp shock of riding in the cold

Last week was the week that we had our first overnight frost warning. It was also the first week of riding in just above freezing temperatures. Also, it was the week that the furnace came on and we closed all the windows.  I was kind of shocked. Each year it kind of catches me by surprise.

Thursday’s coached ride began at 12 degrees at five o’clock. Sunny, windy, and cool but not too cold. We worked hard out into the wind. But by the time we were heading home the sun was sinking and the temperatures were dropping. By the time Sarah and I got back to our cars it was four degrees. Brrrr.

After a drive with the car butt warmers cranked and the heat on high we made it home where we ate take out Thai food and jumped in the hot tub. I’ll be fine once the initial shock wears off. It’s time to dig out the warm booties, the ear warmers, and my serious cycling gloves.

I don’t mind riding in these temperatures. The coloured leaves are beautiful. It’s a great time of year to be outside and  after all, it’ll soon look like this.

Riding this election season: is it me or are drivers even more angry than usual?

If you are reading this from the comfort of some country other than the US, consider yourself lucky at least in one respect: you don’t have forced ringside seats for the most tawdry, surreal, high-stakes, expensive political brawl in my country’s history.  Everyone is on edge, and no one can look away.  I think many of us feel like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange”:

Alex from the movie "A Clockwork Orange", hooked up to electrodes, with his eyes forced open for viewing.

Usually, though, when the going gets tough, the tough have the option of getting going– on bikes, on foot, in boats, in studios, in boxing rings, up mountains, etc.  To paraphrase William Congreve, movement hath charms to soothe a savage breast (most people think it’s “beast”, but it’s actually “breast”– at least according to the internet).

I mean, who can get sucked into the latest video scandal when you’ve got the open road, bright-colored leaves on the trees, and crisp (but not freezing) temperatures?

Two women cycling on the road on a fall day; trees with fall colors in the background.

I pursued this line of two-wheeled therapy on the recent holiday Monday this week.  A bunch of friends and I rode out west of Boston on scenic roads adorned with fall colors.  We made the requisite stop at a New England country store, updated for Halloween by inflatable day-glo spiders.  We didn’t mind the mixed visual themes.

Women cyclists standing outside a New England country store, with bikes in the foreground and two halloween day glo spiders (yellow and purple) on the roof of the store.

But of course even though we could pedal, we couldn’t hide from the aggression in the environment.  One driver rolled his window down and called us idiots (for what? for riding?  he should try it– it’s fun).  Others honked at us.  Yet others passed us more aggressively than usual, even though it was a holiday.

On Friday afternoon I rode with my friend Pata.  We left a bit later than planned (2ish rather than 1ish), so we did encounter more traffic.  But we also encountered some seriously aggressive drivers, including one that flat-out broke the law, turning left in front of me (as I was getting ready to go straight at an intersection) when that person had a steady red light.  At another spot two cars made foolhardy lefts as we were turning right, nearly taking out both of us.  Even on the street going home (where there are soccer fields and parks for little kids to play), cars were zooming past us, far too close, going much faster than they usually do.

Of course, in some ways this is no news.  We seem to be in a stage of traffic evolution in which there is a lot of driver anger against bicyclists, and a lot of bicyclist anger against drivers.  I keep hoping that we’re making progress toward this:

Traffic in a Dutch town, with cyclists in their lanes and cards and busses in their lanes.

But until we all reach the Dutch level of city cycling nirvana, we’re going to have to watch out for ourselves and others.

I wonder, though:  how much is the political season affecting the moods and health and behaviors of those of us who are living through it?  Of course the answer is “a lot”.  But is it creating conditions in which we are all more at risk in our everyday behaviors (like driving or cycling or walking to work)?  I’m not trying to be alarmist, but rather to say that, at least for those of us in the US (and maybe there are spillover effects, for which I personally apologize on behalf of the American electorate), a little more care may be in order.  I’ll still be cycling, but will adjust the times of day I ride in town when I can.  Maybe more off-road riding is in order, too.

Ending on a positive note:  there’s nothing more fun than riding a bike wearing a costume.  Along with a bunch of friends, I’m going to do the costume race on October 30 for the Orchard Cross cyclocross event.  I’m pulling out the banana costume again– after all, I paid $15 for it and want to get as much use out of it as I can.  If you’re anywhere nearby that day, come out and ride or watch.  I hear the giraffe cyclist may be back.

Cyclist riding a cyclocross course in a 14 foot tall giraffe costume.


Mother Daughter Biking Once More 

grey rental bikes leaning against rock wall

Sam and her daughter Mallory, selfie, big smiles, wearing matching red rental helmets

Mallory stopped on her bike, looking back, curved bike path, cliffs on one side, rocks on the other View of Vancouver harbour with ships

My daughter Mallory and I bike together a lot. We’ve done some Quebec trail trails twice. We’ve ridden the Central Otago Rail Trail on the South island of New Zealand. We’ve biked to the Pinery Provincial Park and to United Church family camp many times.

So no surprise when I visited her in her new city of Vancouver this past weekend that we went out and rented bikes together. A large frame for her and a small frame for me. We had a fun ride around Stanley Park. We had to watch out for people who had rented bikes but who clearly hadn’t ridden since they were kids. We had fun watching all the shipping traffic and the rowing shells and recreational sailboats and ferries negotiating the shared space in the harbour.

I miss her while she’s living in another city but it was fun to reconnect on bikes!