cycling · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

Sam brakes for iguanas

I’ve never stayed at a  resort before. Weird, I know.

But going south in the winter isn’t something I’d ever done before last year’s cruise. And going south in October? No way.

But Sarah’s work was having a celebration of a successful year and so I found myself in Mexico on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at a resort just outside Cancun. 

Fitness? I’m swimming, of course. But I was also happy to see that the resort had bikes. Nice ones, even. And they offered guided rides every morning at 9:30.  Yes, it was a zillion degrees with lots of humidity there was a good ocean breeze and the paths that wound around the resort were reasonably well shaded. Usually we’d been driven around by the staff on golf carts so it felt nice to see the place under our own steam.

We got to see some cool old ranch buildings that were abandoned after Hurricane Wilma and nature had taken over them. But the highlight of my ride was the iguana on the path. I know they’re common but I’ve got a soft spot for lizards.


Sam braking on the path to look at an iguana
Everything you need to know about iguanas. A sign at the resort on the path.

Me and my snazzy hotel bike, complete with fluoro vest
Iguana, not my iguana. An iguana from Unsplash

accessibility · aging · cycling · disability · fitness

Bikes as mobility aids: Another reason to prioritize cycling infrastructure

I came across this article the other day on “rolling walking sticks.” It’s about the number of disabled people in Cambridge who get around on a bike.

From the article: “Riding a bike may be easier than walking for two-thirds of disabled cyclists, but they often remain invisible to society. Many don’t realize that more than a quarter of disabled commutes in this university city are made by bike.”

Lately I’ve become one of those people for whom riding is much easier than walking. I ride my bike sometimes when walking isn’t an option. I often find myself wishing I had my bike with me. Lately I’ve even been shopping for a foldable, take anywhere bike. It would be nice to have a bike to ride between meetings, that I could easily take into the meeting when I got there.

In Australia, at ANU, the philosophy department had a bike for riding across campus. It had wide tires and a big basket on the front. Since all university departments had them there was never a need to lock it. Maybe Guelph could go that route?

My first experience riding with someone with a disability was very striking. While in Canberra, Australia I rode bikes with Michael Milton, a world record holding cyclist with one leg. Milton’s a serious athlete. He also holds the world speed record for downhill skiing. We were both members of the Vikings cycling club.

Here’s his impressive Wikipedia bio: “Michael John Milton, OAM is an Australian Paralympic skier, Paralympic cyclist and paratriathlete with one leg. With 6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals he is the most successful Australian Paralympic athlete in the Winter Games. “

He’s also a really nice person to ride with.

One of the interesting things about Milton is that he doesn’t have a prosthetic leg for riding so when you’re riding bikes and you stop for coffee, he still gets around by bike. The bike comes wherever he goes because in addition to a go fast cycling machine, it’s also his main mobility aid. It goes in schools and shopping malls.

On a bike trip a few years ago, I noticed that the two oldest riders in our trip had a very hard time walking. They limped. They couldn’t do stairs. Off their bikes they barely looked mobile. But on their bikes, whoosh!

We jokingly called them Statler and Waldorf. They arrived each night for dinner in PJs. One was a widower and the other’s wife wasn’t well enough to holiday anymore. So the two joined forces and took biking holidays together. They had great stories of trips they’d done together through the years.

We were riding 70-100 km a day, including some serious hills, and they had no problem. I started to wonder how many seniors with walking issues might do well to switch to two wheeled transportation.

Again from the article on bikes in Cambridge: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.”

It seems to me it’s another reason to put priority on bike infrastructure. If there are people, like me, riding because walking isn’t an option, then we need to make riding safe and accessible for all.

See Elly Blue on bike riding, disability, and infrastructure.

In my own case, it’s part of an evolving love story between me and bicycles. It’s been about transportation, about fitness, about friendship, and about performance. What’s new is thinking about bikes as mobility aid that help me get around when walking just won’t work.

cycling · fitness

Sam makes a mistake but geesh can people show a little patience…

Yesterday on our Facebook page I shared an image with text that on reflection I shouldn’t have. The image was a woman on a bike looking back at her male cycling companion. She was ahead of him on the hill.

(I deleted it after lots of upset comments on the post and now I can’t find it.)

There are so very few images and jokes in cycling that feature women as fast, competent riders that I had to share it.

But not so fast. The text read, “I’m not like the rest of the girls, that’s where you made your first mistake.” It’s a meme of course, though I didn’t know that.

I just liked the idea that a male cyclist had underestimated his female cycling companion. I was reading it in that context. But of course the “not like the other girls” isn’t complimentary to other women. It suggests that not being like other women is a good thing. It holds up the idea that only special women pass men on hills. Really it’s not funny.

Had I thought about that I wouldn’t have shared it. But do you know what? The content on our Facebook page is pretty much generated by one person and that person has a full time job, a family, and some athletic commitments too. Tracy, Cate, Martha, Nat and Catherine step in from time to time but almost all of the posts are mine. I’m also fallible. I make mistakes. I’m sorry.

I was shocked at how angry our readers were. They were so fast to assume bad motives. Just let me know nicely I’ve made a mistake, please. I made a mistake and I’m sorry. It’s that simple really.

Night night!

cycling · fitness

Uh oh, Sam is bike browsing

My most recent round of bike shopping is related to my knee issues. I can’t walk to work. I have to bike. And it’s best even on campus if I bike between meetings.  But there are issues of clothing and issues about bringing my big bike into meetings. Also, because I need a bike to get around I also want to take it places when I travel. So, once again, I’m looking at Bromptons and other foldable bikes. 

Here’s me on one at CSWIP a few years ago. Thanks Alexis!

Image may contain: tree, bicycle, plant, sky and outdoor
But there are decisions. Do I want a proper Brompton? They’re pricey. There are also some Canadian brands that are cheaper.

Here’s the one I like the best of the Canadian bikes:

Might take a trip into Toronto and do some test riding. If you’re a folding bike fan, happy to hear your thoughts.
cycling · fitness

Ode to my e-bike (Guest post)

Sam here. I’ve been back and forthing on the blog about e-bikes. See Sam is sorry she was a bit of a fitness snob about e-bikes and Women and e-assist bikes… Sam has some worries and Sam is feeling grouchy about e-bikes. After sharing the recent post on Facebook some friends who are e-bike riders and lovers came out of the woodwork rushing to their defense. I loved their happy stories and their enthusiasm for their e-bikes and asked if I could share their stories. Here’s the first. There will be more to follow. Enjoy!

By Alisa Joy

Samantha asked why women ride e-bikes, and I totally get why she would worry that women might be getting the message that they are just never going to get up whatever hill-of-doom exists on their bike ride. Because she asked, I’m here to tell you there are so many great reasons to consider an e-bike.

I think to answer the question of why an e-bike, I first have to answer the question of why I bike at all. Biking for me is a mode of transportation. I will use the bike to get somewhere and, most often, that somewhere is to my job. It’s hard to fit exercise in at all as a working parent; if I can ride my bike instead of driving the car, then that’s exercise I can sustainably get.

As a social worker, my job can be pretty stressful, and I find the immediate and substantial mental health benefits of biking are my greatest reward for overcoming saddle-but every spring. I’m so lucky to live in Ottawa where my bike commute is largely along the river and is often peppered by reflections of sunlight on the water poking through the gaps between the plentiful trees.

Biking home from work provides an effective transition period from work to home, a stress hormone dump, and a nature bath. When I first got an e-bike, I worked 26 kilometers from my house. I would bike once or twice a week, at most, and it took me 75 minutes of medium-to-hard exertion. And, yes, there was a killer hill on my path behind the parliament building. I would arrive at work drenched in sweat and any hope of having good collegiate relationships required that I immediately shower. That meant I had to pack an entire change of clothes, which was just one more thing.

One day, it was windy and fighting that wind meant it took me over 2 hours to cycle home; shortly after that, the e-bike was purchased. What was better? My commute went from 75 minutes of medium-to-hard exertion to 45 minutes of light-to-medium exertion. That meant I had an extra 60 minutes a day. Fit is a feminist issue, and part of the reason feminism and fitness go together is that many women just have less access to time. I need every minute I can get, so 60 minutes is huge. Because I didn’t have to work as hard physically, I can skip the at-work shower and its complementary change of clothes. Less hassle. Less things that topple over my fragile exercise routine.

I have lots of polyester dresses that I wear over bike shorts that are good enough bike wear and good enough professional wear. If I am tired and got a serious case of the I-don’t-wanna-bike, I tell myself that I will just use more of the assist and take it easy on the e-bike. Sometimes I actually do take it easier on the bike but often I wind up biking with the same e-bike support as usual. People who keep anti-anxiety meds in their pocket tend to actually take fewer pills, so it’s the same thing. The e-bike is my “in the pocket” support so I get on the bike more often.

The above factors meant that I was often biking 5 days a week which is a huge increase in actual minutes on the e-bike. In terms of my mental health, this is absolutely amazing because I get to work off extra cortisol way more often. I’m sure it’s also good for my physical health, but those are not the benefits I am thinking of day to day. The bike is actually feasible as my primary mode of transportation nearly 8 months of the year. I will hop on it to bike 20 kilometers to meet a friend for dinner at the pub. (You winter bikers have my utmost respect.)

And, fine, I admit it. I enjoy passing the bro-dudes in the spandex suits on the tiny lightweight bikes. I’m taking up space, literally and figuratively. So, yeah, I can get up that hill eventually because I’m fit-fat, but it isn’t about getting up the hill. It’s about being in a committed relationship with my e-bike as a mode of transportation. On that front, I am super successful.

Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.

accessibility · cycling · fitness

Women and e-assist bikes… Sam has some worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? Have you considered an e-bike purchase?

cycling · fashion

Sam gets new back to school spd sandals

The image above is from Instagram. It’s my tried and true, very old and very dusty, cycling sandals. I loved the contrast between my bright shiny pink toenails and my shabby sandals.

Speaking of images, my newsfeed is full of photos of kids going back to school with their smiles and shiny faces, new backpacks and new running shoes. I love back to school.

I don’t buy a lot of back to school stuff these days since the weather won’t get cooler likely until October. I got a new Chrome messenger bag last year and I love it so there’s no new backpack equivalent on the horizon either. But, I was super excited to put new spd cleats into my new spd sandals. They’re my go-to summer commuting footwear for cycling. I usually change sandals when I get to work. They are totally utilitarian and not at all work appropriate.

People love to mock them. It’s true they are ugly. They aren’t good for actual mountain biking. Mud, sticks, rocks, etc.  But those of us who love them for commuting and touring love them a lot. See A love letter to the spd sandal.

I wear them with skirts and dresses. See Riding bikes in skirts and dresses, totally fine if that’s your thing.

About my sandals I wrote, “My road bike has Look pedals, but my cyclocross bike has SPD.  They are not the femme-est sandals in the land but they work. I keep fancy sandals, in colours other than black, in my office but often I don’t change.”

My old pair are very old. They’ve been me through 10 summers. But they’re ripped and torn and not fully functional any more.

I was so happy when Sarah found me a new pair. (They’re also a bit of niche item, hard to track down.)

So my big back to school excitement was my new spd sandals.

How about you? Did you but a new back to school thing? What is it? 



Image description: Black Shimano spd sandal. Tag reads, “turn every ride into an adventure.”