fitness

Is it too Early to Think about Winter Biking?

I hope not, because I am thinking about it a lot right now.

In some ways, I am very late to winter cycling. have been thinking about it since the miserable 51 day bus strike in the dead of winter (December 2008-January 2009). That was the first time I ever saw cyclists in the snow, and I envied them as I trudged to work, a 45 minute walk in good weather, on cleared sidewalks.

I dismissed the idea even as I reluctantly returned to public transit, instead riding my bike to work for up to 9 months of the year. Then I met a couple of colleagues at a new workplace who rode year-round for environmental reasons, and I was intrigued again. Two years ago, I actually stopped a random guy at a street light in late winter, and quizzed him about his experience and gear.

Last winter, my friend Florence introduced me to the concept of studded tires. She cycles year-round, even to swim practice (brrr). And last week she came to the Fancy Women Bike Ride in a Cleverhood rain cape like this:

Model wearing a bright yellow rain Cape poses on a red commuter bicycle.

I was starting to see ways I could feel safe and warm as a winter cyclist.

My next step was to acquire a bike I wouldn’t mind getting rusty. That came thanks to my local community mail list, where someone had an old Trek with seized gears that they wanted to give away.

Advice for how to fit it up came from the Ottawa cycling community on Twitter (which includes a lot of moms, every day commuters, and cycling infrastructure advocates, so I felt confident their advice would work for my cycling interests). One thing they said was to get the studded tires now, to avoid shortages later in the fall.

I picked up my bike from the shop on Friday. It has studded tires, fenders, new gears and brakes, a rack to hold my pannier, rechargeable lights and a bell. My new red hood is hanging by the back door, along with a pair of splash pants and my reflective vest. I have a bottle of chain oil that I will use daily, and a rag to wipe down my bike after each ride.

Red and white Trek bicycle with studded tires.

It is definitely too early for winter riding, but I am ready (and ridiculously excited).

Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa. She doesn’t love commuting, except by bicycle.

fitness

Fancy Women (and others) Ride Bikes

According to Wikipedia, The Fancy Women Bike Ride is an event started in 2013 by history teacher Sema Gür in Izmir, Turkey. The event draws attention to the themes of freedom and women.

This year, it was held in some 200 cities in at least 25 countries. In 2022, Sema Gür and co-organizer Pınar Pinzuti were awarded with UN World Bicycle Day Award. World Bicycle Day recognizes “the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle as…a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transport”.

I joined the ride in Ottawa on Sunday September 18, along with about 20 women, men, and girls.

The FIFI bloggers had debated a bit about who was being left out by calling it the Fancy Women’s Bike Ride, but I found that it was inclusive and focused specifically on safe infrastructure for all riders.

Some of us had dressed up, while others preferred sensible GoreTex. we all decorated our bikes with flowers before starting, which was rather fun.

A group of cyclists lined up in the rain, with the Ottawa River in the background.
Cyclists of all ages in brightly coloured gear.

Cycling infrastructure matters a lot to me. I have ridden my bike to work for many years, most of them on streets that were rather terrifying. Modest changes over the last few years have made my commutes feel much safer, but I am still learning where I can avoid most of the worst traffic. I have been known to rant that “paint is not infrastructure!”

Will I go again? Almost certainly. I had fun connecting with other cyclists, and exchanging notes on best gear for different weathers. I am very happy to support better cycling infrastructure too – it makes the streets and sidewalks safer and more accessible for everyone, not just cyclists.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She commutes to work by bicycle, mostly for environmental reasons.

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?

ADHD · cycling · family · fitness

Like Riding A Bike…ish

I’ve always owned a bike and I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike but most of my extensive riding was when I was a kid.

Since then, I’ve never really done enough cycling to build skill, strength, or any sort of endurance.

I think the issue started when I graduated to a bike with gears. I could never quite grasp how to use them properly. The knowledge that the gears were supposed to be useful but I couldn’t use them well was frustrating and I got out of the habit of going any real distance.

This is an ADHD-related issue for me – this kind of thinking crops up for me again and again. I have to keep reminding myself of the issue that Geraint Evans describes so succinctly below.

a screencap of a tweet by Geraint Evans (@Geraintworks) The background is black and the text is white. The text reads “NT: Not everything about you is ADHD Me: Ok, which parts of you aren’t anything to do with how your brain works?”
Image description: a screencap of a tweet by Geraint Evans (@Geraintworks) The background is black and the text is white. The text reads “NT: Not everything about you is ADHD Me: Ok, which parts of you aren’t anything to do with how your brain works?”

If I add the frustration with gears to the effort required to get out on my bike and then add those things to my ADHD-fuelled notions that a) I needed long rides in order to get good at cycling and b) that once I had the skills I would have to either head out on steep bumpy trails or head out into traffic (neither of which is a burning desire for me), you can see why my desire to ride didn’t add up to much actual riding.

You can, of course, see the flaws in my (previously unexamined) thinking. But I didn’t even realize that I was working from those assumptions and frustrations until recently when my husband has gotten back into cycling.

I really admire the way that Steve gets into new (or renewed) fitness things. He does enough research to ensure some base knowledge and his safety and then he just gets started.

He doesn’t have to make a big plan, he doesn’t generally have a clearly defined end goal. He just gets started and works in small sessions until he feels an improvement and then he increases the challenge in some way.

This is a stark contrast to the way my brain wants to approach any fitness plan. I want a clear plan with fixed time intervals and incremental milestones…

…and then I probably won’t follow it because it is too rigid and doesn’t allow for the way my life works.

So, as Steve has been getting back into cycling, he has been heading out for short jaunts on the side roads and paved trails near our house. Sometimes he is gone for 10 minutes, sometimes it is half an hour or more, depending on his capacity that day.

I’ve decided to copy his approach.

And I’ve decided that I never have to go on a busy road or a bumpy trail if I don’t feel inclined to.*

Taking those possible end points out of consideration made things a lot easier for me.

The other night Steve and I dragged my bike out of the shed, checked it over, and then I took a little spin around the cul-de-sac. Since I only had a few minutes right then, I would have normally just put the bike back in the shed until I had time for a ride.

But because I am employing the Steve method, I went out for a few minutes. Obviously, not a skill-building ride but it was fun to spend even that little bit of time on my bike.

And while I was riding I had a lightbulb moment.

Not only can I ride in small bursts of time but I have the perfect practice spot nearby.

There are two empty-for-the-summer schools just minutes from my house. One of them even has a significant slope down from the road so I can get better at hills (a necessity in this province!) It won’t be an exciting place ride but it will be a safe and useful one.

A woman stands astraddle a black bicycle in a parking lot. She is facing the camera. There is a light-haired dog in a harness at the bottom of the image.
Steve and Khalee came with me for my first practice session. Image description: Here I am , in black capris, a pink jacket, sunglasses and a white bike helmet, standing astraddle my black bike. I’m in a school parking lot and I look apprehensive. My dog, Khalee, is on her harness in front of me. My husband, who is taking the photo, is holding Khalee’s leash.

So, you may never see me on a road with traffic and I may never go on a bumpy trail, but this will be the summer that I finally use my bike as much as I would like to.

Thanks for inspiring me to rethink things, Steve! 💚

A ‘selfie’ of two people in sunglasses. The person on the left is wearing a bike helmet.
Steve and I after my cycling practice. Image description: My husband Steve and I are facing the camera as he takes a selfie. He’s smiling a little and I’m smirking. I’m wearing my helmet, sunglasses, and a pink jacket. He’s wearing a blue T-shirt with the word Texas on the front and orange framed sunglasses with blue lenses. We are slightly leaning towards each other.

* The bumpy trails may become a possibility, the busy roads are extremely unlikely. My particular manifestation of ADHD makes riding very complex, adding traffic into the mix means waaaaaaay too many things to pay attention to at once. Perhaps that will change as my skills with the bike improve but it’s not even on the table as of now.

Book Reviews

Nat reviews Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories

This awesome collection of 11 short stories answers the question that has always bothered me in science fiction “Why aren’t there any bicycles?”

This is the 5th book in the series published by Microcosm Publishing edited by Elly Blue.

When the opportunity came up to review this book for our blog Sam knew I was the feminist sci-fi reading and writing cyclist who is always on the lookout for a great read.

In the introduction Elly Blue outlines why when we build worlds and tell tales that we must actively engage in intersectionality. If we don’t think about all the axis of identity and oppression then we risk perpetuating the “isms” of the world we live in into our imagined worlds.

I have had the opportunity to go to WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, the past two years.

WisCon and Functional Fitness

WisCon41 all the feels about disability

It was a wonderful experience but I also learned how some of my favourite genre stories are filled with unexamined ableism, sexism and racism. If we can build any world we want when writing why not create ones that challenge these inequalities?

As a fledgling writer I’ve set aside my apocalypse novel after realizing it was a story about privileged white people patting themselves on the back for figuring out how to live in the apocalypse the way many people around the world live today. Ya. That was an icky realization. I can do better. We can do better!

Elly Blue clearly knows how to get there and has sought out writers who are witty, funny and craft tender, engaging stories with characters I can relate to who take up the challenges in their lives while riding bicycles.

Novel cover art depicting a woman riding a bicycle through space. She wears a helmet and her pants are tucked into her socks. With toe clips, saddle bags and an oner the handlebar bag she clearly has spent many parsecs in the saddle.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book?

Like or comment before my Saturday post goes up at 6am EST and I’ll put your name into the draw.

The book was funded on kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ellyblue/bikes-not-rockets-feminist-bicycle-science-fiction

And if you are looking for more great stories the buck the norms in engaging ways check out the full catalogue at microcosmpublishing.com

cycling

Two arguments for biking. Also, Sam finds one obstacle removed at her new university

Argument 1: It’s faster to bike. 

According to all of the data on our smartphones–here’s looking at you Google Fit!–in urban environments biking time beats car travel time hands down

Argument 2: It can also help you get enough movement in your day. This week there were many headlines proclaiming that fewer than 20 percent of Americans meet the recommended advice for amount of physical activity.

From the NPR version of this story: “With a few exceptions, the advice in the new guidelines is not so different from what we were told in the 2008 guidelines. But, here’s the trouble: Only about 20 percent of Americans meet them. This lack of physical activity is linked to $117 billion in annual health care costs, according to a report published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that lays out the new guidelines. The new guidelines marshal a growing body of evidence that documents immediate benefits of exercise such as reduced anxiety, improved sleep and improved blood sugar control, and long-term benefits (of regular physical activity), including cognitive benefits, and significantly lower risks of heart disease and certain cancers.So, how much physical activity do we need? On this point, the new guidelines haven’t changed: Adults need a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.”

For me, even if I do nothing else I meet these goals through bike commuting. 

What are your barriers to biking? One of mine has always been that I don’t like coming out at the end of the day to a wet, snowy bike. Once things get slushy I’m less likely to bring my bike into my office. Besides my workday often starts at other buildings and I’m arriving just in time for meetings.

I love that Guelph has abundant (like the one pictured here, centrally located, isn’t the only one) covered bike storage.

Covered outdoor bike storage at Guelph. Thanks Google for the black and white image.
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:
https://www.ternbicycles.com/bikes/471/verge-s8i


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

athletes · cycling · fitness

Choosing a bike saddle by your number (Guest post)

Traditionally, finding the best bike saddle has been a challenging task. You really don’t know until you install and actually ride on it, if it’s a good choice for you.

There are many articles online about how to choose the best saddle but here is a method that you may want to try out if it’s available in your region.

I was recently in need of a new saddle, having purchased a used cyclocross bike that came with one that didn’t work for me at all (too hard and not a deep enough centre channel). I bought a replacement one at my regular LBS (“local bike shop”) that I thought might work but after installing it and riding for 5 minutes, I knew it was too wide for me. Thankfully the shop owner allowed me to return it. Lesson >>> only buy your saddle from a vendor who will allow returns. They are not cheap and you don’t want to get stuck with one that doesn’t work for you.

I asked around and discovered that my #2 preferred LBS had the RETUL device that will measure your “sit bones”. In addition to deciding on which style of saddle you want in terms of padding and centre channel, it’s also important to know what width is best for you. The general assumption would be that the width of your hips would determine saddle width, but this isn’t really true. The more important factor is the distance between your “sit bones”.

RETUL has a device that you can sit on, that takes this measurement and translates it into your ideal saddle width. According to the internet, other vendors also have systems, and you can even come up with a method to do this yourself at home. Here is what the RETUL device looks like:

sit 2

The measurement process has you sit on the device three times, and then an average measurement is calculated. My number is 131mm, which translated into a 155mm saddle. Here’s proof that you can get measured for a bike saddle while wearing a skirt!

sit 1

My friend A. has significantly slimmer outer hips than I do, but her result was just a bit smaller sit bone measurement and the same size saddle recommendation.

sit 3

With these numbers, we headed to the saddle display to choose from a variety of 155mm wide saddles, for different types of bikes and styles of riding and I got one that will work for me.

This measurement system is just one step in finding an ideal saddle for you. It may still take several purchases, trials and returns of saddles to find what works. Again, dealing with a vendor that allows returns is very important. A bike saddle is not something that I would consider buying online, given fit and comfort challenges.

Consider searching for a local vendor that has a system similar to the RETUL one when embarking on your next bike saddle purchase, and please, support your local LBSs.

cycling

How many bicycle ornaments does one Christmas tree need?

Here’s the tree!

Sam’s Christmas tree, next to the family piano

Here’s the bikes!

A red tricycle Xmas tree ornament

A red bike tree ornament

A silver tandem bike tree ornament

The answer is n+1 of course. I’m going shopping. Let me know if you see any good bike themed Christmas decorations.