Regular readers, family, and friends know that all bikes make me smile.
I love my road bike. I love bike commuting. I love bike holidays. I used to love riding on the track at the velodrome. Whee!
Basically riding a bike puts a smile on my face and makes me feel like a kid again. For Tracy, it’s swimming. For me it’s riding a bike.
But not all of my bikes get me smiles from other people. People yell at me on my road bike. See here and here. I’m never sure what it’s about really, the hatred of cyclists–is it the clothing?–but I only hear about it on my road bike.
So I’m smiling on my road bike but aside from other cyclists, I don’t get that many smiles back.
Other bikes of mine though do merit smiles from pretty much everyone and gather lots of attention from people out and about. I’ve written before that my Brompton is not an introvert’s ideal bike. It’s cute. It’s pink. I even bought a pink sparkly helmet to go with it.
And I think I look approachable riding it, wearing regular everyday clothes, not going too fast.
The fat bike is the same.
So many smiles.
I think it’s partly that fat bikes are so unusual looking. It’s partly that I’m smiling in the snow.
People love to stop and ask questions about the bikes. If you have questions, by the way, feel free to ask in the comments below.
The bikes themselves are playful. They’re very easy to ride. They aren’t technical like mountain bikes can be. The fat tires will roll over almost anything. Yes, you can end up in deep snow off the packed trail but at the end of day, it’s snow you’re falling in.
In the woods I love how quiet they are. I had imagined they might be loud, crashing through the forest. But they’re not. You can ride and hear the sounds of the woods, the birds, and forest animals.
I started this spring. Swimming last year was so much fun I couldn’t wait to start this year (I live in a coastal village). I read a bit; I listened to some podcasts. I found one of my climbing friends is an experienced freshwater swimmer; I asked her lots of questions. COVID-19 was on so I was looking for excitement close to home this spring.
In late April, I started getting in and out of the water. I had a good few months of swimming through the summer and as late as October (the ocean stays warm longer than lakes do). I went back to dipping in and out of the water in November, and now (mid-December) I’ve even resorted to a wetsuit.
I remember swimming in lakes in Saskatchewan as a kid–the water was cold enough to produce blue lips in August. But here, in the North Atlantic ocean, I’ve been learning about whole new levels of cold. There’s ankle-aching cold (coldest); there’s shooting-nerve-pains-in-the-hands cold (a little less cold—that’s an existing vulnerability); and there’s a neck-cramp cold (almost swimmable). Above the neck cramp temperature, I can stay in the water and swim.
These are all November – December photos. Mind you, it’s Nova Scotia (not Saskatchewan), so November – December can still mean +9C.
That doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement, does it? The thing is, it’s a very satisfying experience. Hugely refreshing. A mood lifter. It makes an enormous difference if you tell yourself on the way to the water: ‘I’m really looking forward to an ice bath.’ (You don’t have to believe it when you say it.) It also helps to refer to swimming in lakes and the ocean the way the British do–as “wild swimming.” (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?)
There are safety concerns. I understand it’s best to walk in instead of dive or jump. Monitor your breathing. When your body wants to gasp and you halt your breath, that’s an involuntary response to the cold. If you’re going slowly, you can re-establish your breathing before you continue. If you’ve jumped in over your head and you do this, you could drown when you gasp and take in water. Make it your initial goal just to get in and out. Only gradually start to extend the amount of time you spend in the water. When you start to do that, you should do some of your own research to learn about what’s safe and what to pay attention to in your body. Your body temperature will continue to drop for some time after you get out of the water (20 minutes, I believe)–you have to plan to get somewhere warm, get the wet clothes off, maybe even take a hot shower.
(I won’t go into the sauna options, but I have to admit I first got into water this cold in April in Geneva, at the Bains des Pâquis, where there are three kinds of heat–sauna, hammam, and turkish bath–on offer when you get out.)
I have gone in one day when there was snow on the ground, but I’m nowhere near going in when there’s ice on the water, unlike Cath Pendleton.
This post brings together two common themes here at Fit is a Feminist Issue.
Theme one is making our way through COVID winter. Winter isn’t easy for some of us at the best of times but this year hiding out indoors until it passes isn’t really an option. You can cozy it up, sure, hygge style, but you might be lonely. Possibly also depressed. Maybe both.
So along with hygge, people are recommending that we adopt the attitude of friluftsliv. Read about the latter concept here.
“Friluftsliv is a word used by Swedes, Danes and Norwegians. It translates literally as ‘fresh-air life’, and is all about embracing the great outdoors whatever the weather, being active, and immersing yourself in nature.
Scandinavians spend time outdoors no matter what season it is. For Kim Lindqvist, a volunteer with the Swedish Outdoor Association, Friluftsliv means “to be outdoors and in the air, and just enjoy it in nature. To listen to the leaves, or watch the clouds”.
Friluftsliv sounds like a good fit for the FIFI blog community. We like to spend time outdoors. We’re active. And we all want to enjoy the company of friends through the pandemic winter.
I completely agree that spending time outside is key to enjoying winter. I’ve been recommending winter biking, here and here. But the thing about friluftsliv is you’ve got to dress for it.
OK, on to the second theme that we talk about lots on the blog. Theme two is about finding gear that fits all bodies, in particular plus sized bodies. It’s not always easy. See our post about finding plus sized cycling and hiking gear.
It’s not a far away problem. It’s an issue for some of the fit feminists who blog here, me included. See Catherine’s post and my post about the challenge of finding winter coats that fit. We’re not even particularly large plus sized people, shopping in the L to XXL range. Also, we’re professors with reasonable salaries so we’ve got the option to buy new. It’s harder still if your income means you’re trying to find discount clothing or used gear.
This matters because of the message we send about which bodies belong outside in the winter. It’s symbolic and meaningful and all that. It’s also practical. Winter (in Canada at least) means we worry about frostbite and getting cold. Spending time outside–even just walking the dog–sometimes requires snow pants, parkas, hats, mitts, scarves, and good boots.
This year, more than ever, we’re all going to have get outside and spend time with friends and family during the winter. My kids are talking about winter camping in backyard so we can all spend Christmas holidays together!
So I was thinking about these themes–getting outside and enjoying Canadian pandemic winter–and the necessity of finding the right gear, when along came these guys Plus Snow.
“What she wants to see is more of the joy that her customers share when they can finally play in the snow with their kids.
Balon said she is looking for people to model the clothes she sells. She currently uses #curvystoke to raise awareness and celebrate people who wear plus sizes playing in the snow.”
What I didn’t expect when I shared the story on our Facebook page was thanks from Mon Balon herself,
“Omgosh you guys!!! Thanks so so much for sharing this article about my business and my launch in North America! It’s not a perfect model (you have to wait about 2 weeks to get your gear) yet but I do have lots of CHOICE and lots of measuring charts and our help and customer service is unparalleled (I think anyway!) Shop Your Shape is our brilliant feature which helps you find the perfect fit if you need it https://plussnow.com/shop-your-shape/“
I also didn’t expect the flurry of readers with their own issues finding plus sized snow gear. There were a lot of comments on that post.
One of the commentators was Richelle Olsen who owns outdoor wear she bought from Plus Snow.
Here’s Richelle modeling her gear.
I asked Richelle if I could share the photos and she said yes.
Here’s what else she had to say:
“I’m in Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia. I lead body positive adventure trips for Escaping Your Comfort Zone 2-3 times a year, and each time I go a few days early and just drive and see where I end up. This time I ended up in this prehistoric rainforest called the Tarkine, in the rain, camping amongst giants with no one else around.
I’m wearing the Raiski Fuchu R+ Women’s Longline jacket in size 22. I love it because it’s super long and covers my butt, its slightly stretchy and is reliably waterproof after days of constant rain in Tasmania. It’s from Plus Snow – Plus Sized Snow Gear 💚💚
Fun fact: The Tarkine Wilderness Area is one of the last undisturbed tracts of Gondwanan rainforest in the world, and one of the highest concentrations of Aboriginal archeology in the Southern Hemisphere. This place, which remains largely as it was when dinosaurs roamed the planet, is currently at the mercy of destructive logging and mining. There’s an amazing short film about this called “What if running could save a rainforest?” Featuring a good friend of mine, Nicole Anderson, who is a doctor, ultra runner and passionate rainforest protector”
Are you a plus sized snow loving person? Are you planning to get out this year? Where’d you buy your gear? What counts as essential for the snow loving activities you do?
FWIW, and in case you’re wondering, this is isn’t a promotional post. I didn’t know Richelle or Mon prior to sharing the story on our Facebook page.
Show us your outdoor winter pics and spread the joy! Riding to work in the snow? Shoveling or sledding with your kids? Walking to work in cold weather? Please share! Let’s show everyone that we can, in fact, exist and even thrive outdoors during the winter months! ❄️☃️🌬❤️ pic.twitter.com/1BVHd8PsV1
I loved all the snow and the sun and the smiling faces.
We’re going into this winter knowing it’s going to be hard. And I find regular falls challenging. See here and here and here. Oh, and here! It’s a bit of a theme on the blog and in my life. Lol
The reporting about winter in the time of COVID-19 is gloomy and hard to read.
See A Canadian coronavirus winter is looming — and it could ‘amplify loneliness’: “But winter is coming and, according to experts, so too is the accompanying seasonal woes. And this time, it will be “amplified” by the confines of the coronavirus, according to Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto. An epidemic of loneliness long preceded this pandemic. And just by the nature of winter, people are less likely to come in contact with others. It’s a realistic concern.”
Since March, Canadians have been told to stay apart to stop the spread of the virus. The ability to be outdoors has provided safer alternatives to exercise, recreation, commuting and dining, among other things. In the winter, those options will dwindle. Experts have warned the risk of transmission also increases indoors.”
So what’s my plan? Because it’s clear that I am going to need a plan. I’m trying to remind myself of all the things I like about winter. I’m fending off anticipatory sadness with thoughts of snow biking and winter camping.
So far my plan has four parts but the fourth is still a bit sketchy and needs the details filling in. There’s time.
First, more time outside, including winter riding.
Second, I’m bringing home my SAD lamp from my university office and I’m going to use it in my home office.
Third, I’m following Catherine’s advice and getting a small warming fireplace for my deck so I can visit with friends outside even during Canadian winter.
Fourth, I used to joke about Canadians who went south in the winter. The truth is though between riding in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina for the past number of years (I’m not even going to check to see how many!) I’ve become one of those people. It’s only ever been for a week at a time but this year that won’t happen at all. I’ve already booked some time in a yurt for winter outdoor sports. And I’m still scheming about what else I might do.
How about you? Are you in a northern climate heading into what looks like a long, lonely winter? How do you plan to keep body and spirit moving?
When I saw this in my Twitter feed, I smiled: “Anyone else interested in the #31daysofwinterbiking challenge, starting 1/1/2020? It’s a judgment-free, no-shame way to be active in January, inside or out.”
When I first started riding a bike as an adult, I commuted in the winter but recreational riding came to an end with the snow and the cold. Fun riding was summer riding on my road bike with skinny tires in the sunshine. I trained indoors all winter but I did it for the sake of summer riding.
Over the years I’ve changed, as a cyclist, and I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons for the different kinds of riding it brings.
For me fall means the return of my adventure road bike and fun riding on gravel. It’s my go-to commuting bike but it’s also good for weekend country rides. We dial back the distance and go out for an hour or two on bike trails. It’s relaxing to ride with no cars in sight. This past weekend Sarah and I did some riding in Turkey Point. See the gallery below.
But it’s not just the fall and cyclocross/gravel riding. I’m also looking forward now to the winter and to riding in the snow on my fat bike. It’s a fun and joyful way to play in the snow on bikes. Check out my smile!
I think I’ve honestly come to love all the seasons of cycling. They’re different things, each with their own kind of pleasure.
Some road riding friends don’t get it. They question the fitness benefits of fat bike riding. They ask about my heart rate and training zones. I say that’s not the point. I don’t fess up that I am not even wearing a heart rate monitor. I’m doing it for fun and for mental health benefits. I need to be outside in the winter. I love riding through the woods. Fat bike riding makes me feel like a kid again as I ride over all sorts of obstacles in my path.
I still ride inside all winter. I put a road bike on a trainer and ride virtually in Zwift. That’s fun too and that I do do for fitness reasons.
Fat biking? That’s for fun and the love of riding a bike.
I’m now the kind of cyclist who loves all the seasons of cycling. See you out there in autumn, winter, spring, and summer!
How about you? Do you ride year round? How many seasons of cycling do you like?
So Saturday of our winter weekend getaway I thought I’d try a beginner’s ski lesson. But that wasn’t to be. It was cold, really cold, -25 and windy cold. It was also icy. Instead of light puffy snow there was hard, cold ice.
See this sign? Marginal conditions, skiing not recommended. Great. Even the ski instructors weren’t that enthusiastic. Try another time, they suggested.
Instead, I went for a long walk up the hill and wandered around the shops at the base of the mountain. I stopped for lunch solo while braver, much more experienced, souls were off skiing. I’m better about eating alone at restaurants these days. I positively enjoyed it. And don’t panic. There was rice underneath. I haven’t abandoned carbs.
I’m just joking (sort of). In my mind spas aren’t meant for me. Like pedicures, I think of spas as a THING RICH PEOPLE DO.
It’s not that I don’t spend money on luxurious things, like expensive bicycles, I do. And it’s not like I don’t spend $60 (the price of spa admission) on meals or concerts pretty regularly. I do.
But for reasons of family background in the first part of my life and resisting normative feminity, in the second, spas have never been on my radar. I’m the kind of person who didn’t have nail polish or make up for my own wedding. I did my own hair and it was touch and go whether I’d shave my legs.
I resisted getting a hot tub at our old house for years but then loved it and used it lots. I love sitting outside, in the heat, surrounded by snow and ice. I loved soaking after long rides and tough Aikido classes. My highlight of my holiday in Iceland a few years ago was soaking in a hot river after a long hike.
We went to the Scandinavian Spa on the Sunday of our weekend at Mount Tremblant when it was too cold and icy to ski or fat bike. I loved how much of it was outdoors. I really liked the steam rooms and the sauna and the hot tub but probably my favorite thing was relaxing in front of a fire outside wearing a bathrobe while covered in a giant warm fuzzy blanket. I loved basking in the sun, surrounded by trees and snow.
Some quick observations:
I loved wandering around outside in a bathrobe and bathing suit in the middle of winter. I love the outdoors and I’m almost always happier in the sun.
I’m so glad it was a silent place. I realize that I’m quiet anyway but I was so glad I didn’t have to listen to other people’s conversations. I found that really relaxing. I didn’t mind the other people there with everything quiet.
There are a lot of beautiful bodies out there. But it’s mostly the women who are on display. That’s no surprise but I forget that sometimes. I saw a lot of women in thong bathing suits with men in baggy board shorts. What’s with that?
I loved the idea of swimming in the river in the freezing cold water between hot things but I couldn’t make myself do it. Instead I settled for the cold bucket of water over the head a couple of times. That actually felt pretty refreshing.
My Finnish friends all shared it approvingly in light of Ontario school and university closures last week.
So in the end, I rode my bike to work. I figured the worse that would happen is that I’d walk my bike and walking was my back up choice anyway. The side streets were too slippy, snow over ice. The bike path on the main road hadn’t been plowed. So I took the lane and rose with traffic. It was fine. No one was going anywhere fast anyway.
But it also can feel absolutely magical when there are very few cars out and everyone is driving slowly and I feel super visible. I love to watch snow fall. I love crunching through the snowy back streets. Partly, I think, it’s because I love winter but I have to be moving fast to stay warm. Sometimes walking just doesn’t cut it, but biking? Biking in the snow can feel great.
But I get asked a lot, how do you do it? Don’t you get cold?
It’s partly a matter of having the gear but it’s also a matter of moving. I complained once to a year round commuting colleague about getting cold and he said I wasn’t riding fast enough/working hard enough. There’s truth in that.
I’m not a fan of the cold but up to -10 I’m very happy winter riding. I actually get colder walking. And when I drive? I never park nearby and so I have to walk in quite a ways. On driving days I tend to skimp on the outer wear (my fault, I know) and I do get cold. I get more cold sitting in the cold car waiting it for it to warm up and de-ice than I do just hopping on my bike and riding to work.
I often arrive at work warm and sweaty, not cold and shivery.
What do I wear?
First, there’s my high visibility jacket. It’s red, see above, but looks pink because it’s got loads of white reflective dots. See the video below. It’s windproof and I wear a warm sweater underneath when it’s cold.
I don’t wear fancy shoe covers but I do own them. My commute is too short. Instead, I go for thick smart wool socks in my cycling shoes.
Third, I wear a merino wool buff under my helmet that can either go under my helmet like a hat or around my neck as a scarf.
Fourth, I wear winter cycling tights.
But what about work clothes? Underneath the cycling tights I wear either tights or leggings and often a black t-shirt of some kind and throw a dress or jacket on top when I get there. I tend to keep all my work jackets in my office. That’s my go-to work uniform. It means I don’t have to run off to change to get back on my bike and I can ready for meetings fast if I need to.
Here’s an example of long jacket over cycling friendly clothes.
But what about the snow and slipping?
This year for Christmas I got snow tires for my commuting bike. (Thanks Jeff!) The winter bike tires aren’t studded. They’re Continental top contact and they’re more like car tires. Here’s the Mountain Equipment Co-op description: “Studless tires for northern winter, these ones grip when other cyclists are left spinning their wheels. Hundreds of lamellae (tiny biting edges, like those found on gecko’s feet) interlock with slick road surfaces.” So far: they work.
So, I know it’s not for everyone. And I get that. I really do. But I also love riding to work. I’m happy when I get here and I’m happy when I get home. A few minutes on my bike will do that. And the people who ask me how to do it and what gear you need seem serious. I don’t think they’re all humoring me. So here’s my ‘how-to commute in the snow and the cold.’
Oh, also, I have good lights!
UPDATE: Please come ride with me. International Winter Bike to Work Day is February 8, 2019. Commit to ride at: WinterBikeToWorkDay.org