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.


Asshole motorists, nice cyclists, and gender roles

So I have some theories about the car-bike relationship and they’re connected to some views I have about gender and niceness. I’m still thinking about this but hear me out.

On our worse bike ride ever–hate you, cottage country drivers–Sarah and I were yelled at and honked at. It was unpleasant. But as unpleasant as it was I don’t think it was particularly dangerous. Those drivers could see us. They hated us. They were angry about something. But we were on their radar.

I think drivers are a real danger to cyclists when they don’t see us.  In tests of recognition on the road, self-driving smart cars are much better at noticing people on bikes than human drivers are at noticing cyclists.  Drivers don’t hate us. But, with some very rare road rage exceptions, they hit us when they aren’t aware we’re there. The assholes don’t want to kill us. They wish we weren’t there. But they see us. That’s an important difference.

I know lots of women who are scared of the honking and yelling drivers. Usually they’re men and women have extra good reasons for being fearful of men who are yelling at them. I talked to a woman who wouldn’t use the bike box on Wortley Road in London, Ontario because she said it annoyed drivers and was scared they’d run her over. I agreed that people in cars might be annoyed by bike boxes. But I disagreed they’d ever deliberately run her over because of that. Instead, this fearful cyclist huddles against the right curb at the intersection. That’s far more dangerous than using the bike box. You’re far better off annoying people. It’s okay to piss people off if your safety depends on it.

I got in an accident that sent me to hospital because I was trying to be nice to drivers. I moved right to let them pass and hit a pothole.

I don’t do that any more. I take the lane.

I know I annoy drivers when I do this and sometimes they yell at me. But it’s not anger that kills cyclists. It’s inattention. I worry a lot more about someone who is on their phone than I do about someone who is yelling at me.

I worry that women hate being yelled at and are fearful of anger. But I don’t think that serves us so well as cyclists.

Stop being so nice. Annoy people. Be visible. That’s my two cents.

What do you think?


Tracy takes stock less than a week before another birthday

Image description: Tracy standing on a rock slab, smiling, short blond hair, violet dress sandals, holding a camera, strap around her neck, bark mulch and trees behind her. Photo credit: Irene Steinhardt
Image description: Tracy standing on a rock slab, smiling, short blond hair, violet dress sandals, holding a camera, strap around her neck, bark mulch and trees behind her. Photo credit: Irene Steinhardt

I’m heading into my sixth birthday since we started the blog. I’ll do the math for you: Sam and I were 48 when we began. So yes, I’m about to turn 54. Birthdays always make me reflect on where I am. And this year I have to say I’m in a really good place mentally and physically.

Though more relaxed about my workout routine than I used to be, I feel as if it’s efficient and effective. For the past six months or so, since my not so great winter, I’ve been consistently putting in three runs a week, two training sessions, one yoga class, and either walking or riding my bike to work at least some days.

All that consistency and sense of routine has contributed to a sense of well-being and energy that I’ve not experienced quite like this in a long time. It’s as if I have gained a kind of momentum in my life that makes everything seem easier than it used to seem.

As regular readers know, the consistency culminated in a personal best 10K a couple of the weeks ago. And though it had a lot to do with the stars aligning for me on race day, including perfect weather amidst a season that has presented sauna-like humidity regularly.

As I reflect on the past year, it really only fell into place in the last half. Last winter I felt kind of aimless and off centre. I had no solid goals, no races planned, until I decided sometime in April to focus on the 10K distance for the upcoming season. This was probably a good thing because the cough that wouldn’t leave me stuck around for at least six weeks last winter. Coupled with travel to places where I found it hard to train, I consistently missed more workouts last winter than I have in years.

But I’ve developed the capacity to see the long game. It’s possible to recover from a few missed workouts, even from many of them. I like this shift from “all or nothing” thinking to a more realistic approach. Life happens and though it can feel discouraging at times, rolling with it makes it easier than railing against it.

I’m glad I feel that way because this past week has been a wash. With a cold and way too much to do, I’ve lost the high of my personal best 10K and managed only the barest minimum of a workout schedule. I can live with that without feeling totally derailed by it. I feel a lot better than I did last week, so I’m going to get those three runs in again this week, and yoga, and weight training. Back on task for my half marathon training.

That’s my next big thing — a half marathon on October 22nd with Anita. If Anita has her way, we will be doing an event a month for the next few months. I’m not sure where that idea came from and we’ll have to see. After that half I have one more 10K to close out the season before the end of October.

If I don’t want a repeat of that rudderless feeling I had last winter, it would be wise to set some sort of goal — not necessarily an event a month, but something to train for that requires consistent commitment. I am toying with the idea of the Around the Bay 30K, but will see how far the half marathon feels before I make a decision to up my distance. Maybe Anita’s idea of an event a month isn’t so bad after all, if those events are more moderate.

Finally, I’ve got a few things to say about turning 54. I’m actually not bothered by it. An old family friend of ours used to say of these sorts of birthdays, “It’s not a special birthday.” Special birthdays are mostly the tens and I’m way far from a ten birthday at the moment. I can truly say I feel better, more vibrant, healthy, and emotionally grounded today than I did six years ago at 48. I’ve got some exciting things lined up this year, and before my 55th birthday I’m going to China, India, the Bahamas, and moving aboard the sail boat for a year. I’m working on a new book project that I’m excited about. And I feel connected and supported in my friendships, relationships with family members, and the larger communities that I’m a part of (including the communities around this blog). If this is what 54 is all about, I’ll take it!


fitness · walking

Beach walks as exercise

Since damaging my knee, I can’t run. That was my go-to exercise when camping. I’d throw on my running shoes and hit the trails. No more, never again. That’s over. But with my knee brace on I can still cover lots of territory. I’m gradually coming to think of walks as exercise.
Cate put it much poetically in terms of giving your body the exercise or needs. Me, I’m just working on changing my attitude about all exercise needing to be intense

Last weekend Sarah and I packed the tent up and zoomed off in the car for a night of (unusual for us) car camping. I was anxious to sleep in a tent at least one night this year. So hello, Pinery Provincial Park. And hello Sunday morning beach walk. We covered  more than 5 km in 84 minutes. Lots of it was along the beach. It felt like fun and it felt like a fitness activity. Glad I’m gradually shaking the idea that if it’s not running or biking it doesn’t count. I’m hoping to work up to carrying a pack so that next summer we can do some back country camping by foot as well as by canoe.
Sam in a red Guelph Arts hoodie and wearing black tights and a knee brace on the edge of a campsite.
Driftwood sculptures on the beach
Steps, boardwalk, trees, and dunes. And Sam.
Sam and Sarah climbing down the stairs to the beach
Sam pauses to have her photo taken on the stairs
Google Fit stats for the walk
family · fitness · motivation

Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

Readers know that I’m a morning person. Here’s my piece on the allure of very early mornings.

I’ve written lots about finding time that way and sometimes about how I can struggle with it.

Still it’s my go-to way of finding time for work and for fitness.

If I’ve got a big thing due the next day staying up late to finish it doesn’t occur to me. Instead, I go to bed early and set the alarm at 4 or 5 as needed, even 3 rather than staying up late.

I admire celebrities who are very early risers. How does The Rock, for example, find time to work out? He gets up super early. My Rock app alarm time gives me the option of getting up at Rock Time. I can get set my alarm for whatever time he chooses. Usually that’s at 330 am.

I reported on my week with the Rock Clock here.

Now Mark Wahlberg has one upped the Rock, sharing his sleep and workout and prayer schedule with the world. He gets up even earlier at 2:30 am. He’s in bed by 7:30 pm.

Here’s a plea to save Mark Wahlberg from this schedule.

Can you imagine going to bed at 7:30 and rising at 2:30? He does it he says to get the exercise out of the way before his family wakes up.

For Wahlberg and the Rock looking fit is part of their job. They need those muscles and those visible abs.

I’m an academic dean. There’s no merit pay for muscles in my role. But still I’m fascinated by the super successful extreme early risers.

My mother’s theory, at least I think it’s my mother’s, is that nothing good happens in the evening. Usually it’s a time to sit around and relax. Few people write or workout in the evening. Instead, so this theory goes, we eat cookies and watch television.

(Note to friends who are super productive night owls. I see you. I know you. And I know it’s not true for all people. That’s why I attributed the view to my mother. Sorry mom.  I know night owls who struggle with trying to fit into society’s norms around work and schedules.)

But for people like me who are “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic”  in the morning, the evenings can be a sink hole of inactivity.

We likely need some of that down time, true. But how much?

As far as getting to your goals, it’s wasted time. But I’m never tempted to turn on Netflix in the morning. The most procrastinate-y stuff I get up to is dog walking and house cleaning.

So the morning, the early morning, feels like the best time to exercise.

How about you?

fitness · yoga

Can yoga body awareness/feedback translate to cycling or other sports? I hope so.

Yesterday I went to ropes yoga class with my friend Janet.  I’ve blogged about ropes yoga in the past: Asanas on the Ropes: Trying out Kurunta Yoga. It’s a lot of fun, as you use two sets of ropes to sort of truss yourself up in service of shifting weight and focusing on alignment and body awareness.  And you can also hang upside-down in midair, which is fun.


It’s been a long time since I was last at ropes class– almost a year. Last time I went, I felt weak and uncoordinated and unyogi-ish. This past year was a hard one for me health and fitness-wise (maybe everything-wise). I was overworked and menopausal (still am) and sleep-disordered and unfocused and fearful about how the previous problems would affect my fitness and general well-being. Blech!

However, this summer has been one of rest, recovery, fun with friends and family, and happy movement. Yay! A crucial part of the happy movement for me has been the gradual addition of yoga to my almost-daily regimen. 6 out of 7 days a week I do some (10–20 mins) morning yoga and (usually) evening yoga at home, using my favorite yoga youtube videos. FYI, Bad Yogi is a favorite (I go with the free videos), along with Yoga with Kassandra and Yoga with Adriene.  Adriene has a nice dog who makes appearances in many of the videos. I also love Jessamyn Stanley’s yoga videos (she has great demos with music soundtracks, too).

Yes, I still take classes at Artemis, my local yoga studio, but:  1) I need more yoga in my life; and 2) I often need it at times when there aren’t classes; and 3) I can’t always get myself out the door to class, even though it is a 10-minute walk away.  Truth.

Now, back to the present and the ropes class.  This class felt different to me in a big and important way. I used to blame my size or general physical shape or age or something when I couldn’t do some pose.  Here’s one I just can’t do– face-up plank on the wall (also called sunny-side up; not sure how to say that in Sanskrit):

A whole bunch of people with their feet on a wall, extending parallel to the floor, holding ropes to keep them in place.
A whole bunch of people with their feet on a wall, extending parallel to the floor, holding ropes to keep them in place.

See?  All these other people can do this, but I just can’t. And I finally figured out why– my left shoulder (with a partial rotator cuff tear) won’t let me.  It’s not strong enough. The rest of me is– I could feel that when I tried it.  The rest of my body was all ready to go, but the shoulder said no.  So I sat that one out.

So what’s the big deal about this? Yoga is known for having poses that one person may find effortless and another find impossible. I actually like that about it– it reminds me of  the tremendous variation among bodies; together as a group, we humans have an enormous repertoire of movements.  Yes, I know, no flying yet. But still. I think we’re pretty cool.

My problem has been that, in the past year in  yoga class (or on the bike, etc.), I totally forgot about that wondrous variety thing I was just rhapsodizing about.  All I focused on was how deficient my own body was– weak in this way, slow in that way, too big for this, not flexible enough for that. Blech again.

It took a full summer of steady activity for me to get to a mindset where I could notice and take in feedback from my body parts about what was happening during physical movements. My big breakthrough moment was at this ropes class, where I noticed all sorts of things about my body:

  • My left shoulder is weak (because of rotator cuff injury); it needs some rehab exercises;
  • My feet are a lot stronger and not crampy at all when I stand on one foot;
  • My left side continues to be more flexible than my right side;
  • I have more core strength since last year– I could pull myself up with the ropes while hanging upside down like it was nothing! Yahoo!
  • Both of my shoulders (had surgery on right one for rotator cuff tear 9 years ago) are in need of lots of attention to keep them flexible and make them stronger;
  • Whatever modification gear I need (blocks, strap, bolster, etc.) are there for the taking and make doing yoga possible, not wimpier and less good.

Go me! Go yoga!


Now, to the title question:  is it possible to take this body acceptance and body feedback mindset and apply it to other activities, like cycling? I love cycling, but get in my head very often and blame myself for what I see as sub-par performance. I blame myself in myriad ways.  And I’m having a moment where I can see that it’s neither exactly accurate nor remotely helpful.

There are some cycling activities that my body could never do, like really steep extended climbing.

There are some cycling activities that my body these days can’t do, like racing.

There are some cycling activities that my body needs some help in being able to do, like riding longer distances for multiple days at a time.

There are some cycling activities that my body enjoys doing (when my mind will leave it alone)– riding with friends, going on 30-something mile rides, tooling around town, and participating in fun bike events.

Next weekend I’m headed out to Northampton, MA for their annual Bike Fest and Tour of the Valley.  I’m doing the 25-mile ride with some friends and will get some other miles in as well.  It should be fun.  I’m taking my yoga mindset with me as I get on the saddle. Will report back next week.

Readers, have you had a shift in awareness from say, judgment to more neutral body awareness in your activities? Are you feeling stuck in the judgment mode? I’d love to hear from you.





fitness · motivation · season transitions

It’s getting dark out there… transitioning into autumn without losing momentum

As Sam mentioned earlier this week, autumn is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere. And with it comes the challenge of shorter, darker days and worse weather for those of us who like to exercise outdoors. To be honest, at this point I’m actually grateful it’s getting cooler. The Central European heatwave that lasted from… basically June through August and made it nearly impossible to exercise without melting is finally showing signs of abating, even though it’s still unseasonably warm. We’re getting a wonderful late summer here this year (picture proof below).

Late summer in Bettina’s neck of the woods: blue evening sky with some clouds reflected in the river, hills, trees and the buildings of a small town in the background. This was taken during a recent bike ride with some colleagues after work.

But we’re also getting less and less light and eventually the temperatures will drop to less pleasant weathers. I’ve definitely struggled in the past to keep my outdoor momentum up during the autumn and winter months. I don’t mind it so much if it’s cold, or even snowing. I also don’t mind running in the rain in the summer, but the combination of cold and wet is my kryptonite. And the lack of daylight is definitely an issue: no more run commutes (the latest addition to my routine anyway) because it’ll be too dark in the forest, and even in the city I don’t enjoy running at night that much. Lots of people have a gym subscription, but I don’t. So what is an aspiring fit feminist to do? Here some ideas, based mostly on my own personal experience:

  • Take it inside. It may not be as enjoyable as the outdoors, but some sports don’t suffer too much. Of course I prefer the 50m outdoor pool, but the indoor pool isn’t too bad in comparison. And, if that’s up your alley, you could consider adding a sauna visit afterwards, or sit in the hot tub after training, if there’s such a thing at your pool. I’ll admit that swimming is a sport where this is singularly easy, unless you’re an open water swimmer. Switching out your favourite running trail for a treadmill is much less appealing…
  • Switch it up. I’ll definitely be doing more indoor yoga when it’s too wet for me to want to set foot outside. Also, strength training. There’s some good apps that guide you through a workout, or Youtube videos if that’s your jam. In our household, we recently invested in one of those sling things (whatever they’re called, the ones used in TRX training) that you can hang on your door to do core and strength exercises. You could even try something totally new to you that’s geared more towards indoor practice.
  • Team up. I’m much more likely to go running in the rain if I’ve made a commitment to others. That works well for me in general – if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I usually will. External accountability does a lot for me.
  • Time change. For weeks, it was too hot for lunchtime runs here. But now they’re staging a strong comeback! If you have the option of showering at work, going for a run at lunchtime is a great option if, like me, you don’t like running in the dark. Plus, lunchtime runs are in a group (see above). If you can’t shower at work, even a walk is good to get some movement in.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just as it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too hot, it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too cold, or too wet, or you’re just not feeling it that day. Yes, a routine is important, and some days it’s important to push through and get a move on. But not always. Everyone’s allowed a rain (literally! ha!) check every once in a while. Cosying up on the couch can be just as worth it.

So, what are your tips for keeping up a strong sports routine in the colder weather? Curious to hear about your strategies, so please share them in the comments!