Summer, by the Numbers

Back in the spring, I joined up with an app to track my cycling efforts for Bike Month. I decided it was sufficiently fun that I kept going even after the count ended. Since June 1st, which is technically late spring, but a convenient place to start, and leaning slightly into fall by counting up to September 26 when I drafted this post, here’s how I have done:

Km ridden on my bike: 1,059

Greenhouse gases averted: 270 kg. A round-trip flight to Ottawa to Berlin creates 2 metric tons of GHG, so I’ll need to cycle at this rate for at least 2 1/2 years in order to offset a single trip to Europe. I am assuming I’ll cycle less in winter and use my car a bit more. This is the calculator I used.

Money saved by riding my bike instead of driving: $643. Honestly, this seems a bit low to me as most estimates have car costs per month in Canada at nearly $1,000, when you include financing, fuel, maintenance and insurance. I’m guessing this amount is just fuel and maintenance.

Critical mass rides to advocate for climate change and safer streets (including Kidical Mass and Fancy Women rides): 5

Organized social bike rides: 11

Km swum: 19.743. This is way lower than past years, but between shoulder issues and general busyness it was all I could manage. Next year!

Activities for a cause: 5 – apple picking for the food bank; helping on various rides; census of transit at various locations around the city for the annual Pedal Poll; swim Angel for Bring on the Bay, which is itself a fundraiser for Easter Seals; 15 km swim fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society

Personal cycling goals set and achieved: 4 (18 km each way for a bike swim bike at Britannia Beach, feeding my friend’s cat 20 km away, visiting my parents 25 km away, and visiting my horse 24 km away).

Walks: I didn’t add them up but there were lots, mostly as a way to catch up with a friend, but sometimes for a history tour or to go to the grocery store with my rolly cart.

What did I get out of all this? I discovered that I can do a lot more than I imagined. I have gone from being a steady short-distance commuter to the office to being the person who thinks nothing about using the bike for all kinds of errands – from medical appointments to picking up groceries, going to shows and concerts, to checking on my community garden plots or joining others for a swim, drink or to check new cycling infrastructure. And that I love being social for a good cause.

Diane Harper lives and swims and bikes in Ottawa.


Do the thing!

Do the thing is an expression my friends and I often use when egging each other (and ourselves) to push boundaries. Like them (and many of the contributors to this blog) I overthink things to the point I chicken out.

This year, I had four cycling goals. One was to bike out to visit my parents, 25 km away. That would be a significant distance increase for me, and there are some scary 80 km/hour roads where everyone speeds – I was not convinced that Google was telling the truth about their rideability. It was mid-September. Time was running out.

On Saturday I had plans to join the Critical Mass Ride in downtown Ottawa, followed by a potluck for Bike Ottawa members in a park. The park is almost half-way to my parents’ house, and going home so I could drive there would take as long as biking directly. Getting home was an entirely different matter and I chose not to think too much about it.

I packed some extra snacks, water and my cycling shorts just in case I decided to do the thing. And my bus pass in case I decided that I couldn’t bike all the way home. When the potluck broke up, folks started planning to go on a 15 km ride that would largely follow my route home. I knew I could easily do that ride. Google told me that it was exactly the same distance as to my parents’ house. Time to stop thinking about it and just do the thing.

I did the thing!

Diane in a blue shirt and wearing her blue and white bike helmet stands beneath a sign for the street where her parents live.

I even did the thing going back home. It took an hour and 25 minutes on the return ride. That’s triple the fastest car ride, but way more fun. How often do you have complete strangers chat with you at a crosswalk when you’re in a car? How often do you notice an entire flock of turkeys on someone’s lawn (and can safely stop for a photo)?

A large brick house with five wild turkeys on the front lawn

I have written before about how riding a bike has made the world both bigger and smaller. I have new experiences, but also learn that things aren’t nearly as far away as they had seemed.

I rode 65 km, something I haven’t done in over 40 years. The roads I was afraid of turned out to have nice wide shoulders most of the way. I feel pretty darned good and I am confident about doing that ride again whenever the weather is nice.

Whatever your big fitness, health or life goal may be, do the thing! You might be pleasantly surprised at how great it feels.


Does a Fancy Women Bike Ride Make Sense?

September 17 was the day of the Fancy Women Bike Ride around the world. This year, there were rides in over 200 cities.

Riding with a group of women can be a joyous occasion, as you can see from the video of this year’s ride in Izmir, Turkey, where it all began in 2013.

After the ride though, our local organizer commented that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the name. Did it exclude people who didn’t want to dress up, or didn’t feel they had anything fancy enough to wear?

That led to a lively discussion among participants about the merits of dressing in different ways as a safety measure. Many of us had found that being super femme was protective. Drivers tended to give us more space. One woman noted that going from a gender-neutral coat to something more fitted and colourful had a noticeable impact on drivers around her.

However, this doesn’t always work. Female cyclists face harassment and bad driving at twice the rate of male cyclists, according to one study. They are particularly vulnerable to close passes and dooring because they tend to keep to the side of the road. But if they take the lane, they are sometimes threatened by aggressive drivers. Anecdotally, this was the experience in our group too.

Even within our group, some felt more vulnerable than others. The local organizer of Black Girls Do Bike rides said there just aren’t many women like her on the road so it always feels a bit uncomfortable. The woman who organizes rides focused on safety for kids (and brought her two along). The trans women who arrived at the last possible moment, hung back on the ride, and didn’t join the discussion until they heard us talking about “female presenting” cyclists.

My very unscientific answer to whether we need a Fancy Women Bike Ride is yes. It’s not just for women in places where riding is relatively safe for them. It’s for women who are marginalized in our community, and for women in communities where women are marginalized. It’s for women who don’t want to be fancy but want to be safe moving around on a bicycle. And it’s for women like me who see being fancy as part of their subversive feminism and celebrate the pink.

A group of women on the Ottawa ride stopped for a picture with their bikes in an urban area. They are wearing regular clothes and shoes instead of riding gear and sneakers.

Bicycles lined up beside an ice cream truck where we ended our ride. feminism, fitness and ice cream – it doesn’t get any better than this.

Dian Harper lives and swims (and cycles) in Ottawa.


My Own Mini-Triathlon

On Saturday, I participated in a couple of activities that fall close to the category of Elan’s Silly summer fun. But they also supported causes dear to my heart.

Swim: the day started with a 3.2 km swim as a swim angel for my friend Sarah from my master’s swim club at Bring on the Bay, an annual swim in the Ottawa River that raises funds for Easter Seals. This year, there were 651 swimmers. Swim angels are “buddies” for swimmers with anxiety, disabilities, or medical issues who want someone with them in case they need support.

This year about 20 of us were paired with a swimmer. A few more people act as “sweeps” available in case someone swimming alone needs assistance. It’s a great program and I benefitted from it years ago when I was anxious about cramping up following foot surgery.

Me in a white cap, multicoloured goggles and a swimsuit, with Sarah, who is wearing a red cap, black goggles and a wetsuit.
Swimmers heading out into the river with their angels. Two of the sailboats, a kayak and SUP that mark the route and provide support are in the background. Sara and I are in the front of the group, on the left, closest to the green channel marker.

Sarah did great! She is actually a bit faster than me, but this was only her second open water swim and she had never swum this distance. She’s a musician, so my job was to be her metronome. I set the pace and she drafted behind me until we got close to the end. Then she moved up beside me so we could finish together. I was a good metronome: we finished within 3 minutes of the time I had predicted.

Bike: this was pretty straightforward as I biked to and from Bluesfest, a 10-day long series of concerts in Ottawa. Even though I have lived here for nearly 40 years and have been a commuter cyclist for 20, I’m still learning new ways to get around. My friend Florence showed me a couple of changes to the route I would have taken, which minimized car contact. 12 km done and dusted.

Run: technically walk, but 9.6 km worth of walk according to my phone app. This was the silly fun part. I’m a member of Bike Ottawa, a group that advocates for safe infrastructure for all people who bike. Every year at Bluesfest, volunteers run a free bike parking service to encourage people to bike to the venue rather than driving a car. This year, they parked their 100,000th bike. Any donations received are split between Bike Ottawa and Blues in the Schools.

The volunteers were a mixed group from teens through to seniors. The supervisors were dressed up in all sorts of bling for visibility. It works just like a car valet service, except we weren’t allowed to ride the bikes. We did get to admire some beauties though.

This was an incredibly smooth operation, but there was a LOT of wheeling bikes to their designated spots and retrieving them for their owners at the end of the night. We cleared out roughly 800 bikes, scooters and skateboards in about half an hour after the last concert ended.

A field filled with orange construction horseshoes, with hundreds of bike leaning up against them. A few volunteers in blue shirts are walking more bikes to their designated spot.

At their base, none of these activities was really silly, though I thought they were a lot of fun. So, because I can’t figure out any other excuse to share, here is a photo of my friend Gwendolyn and I, just after winning the teacup obstacle race at a friend’s 40th birthday party. The race involved running around a tree and then shooting a croquet ball through a hoop while holding a teacup full of water. Then you were blindfolded and turned around five times before being guided by your partner to pour your water into a container. The winning team was the one with the most water after each person had gone through the course.

Two white women, wearing flowered dresses and hats are standing in a trees park. One is blindfolded and holding a croquet mallet and ball. The other holds a teacup.


Bike Bike Bike

I am obsessed with biking this summer, as you might have guessed from all my previous posts. This week I pushed myself a little harder out of my comfort zone: I did three long (for me) rides in a row, one of which was with a completely new group.

First up was the Ottawa Bike Social, which was about 16 km, plus 5 km for my usual commute to work.

The next night, I went to Vélo Friday, which was a younger and cooler crowd. We rode a bit faster, on a slightly hillier route with tighter turns, with music the whole way. The only song I remember was Murder, She Wrote, which made me giggle imagining how Jessica Fletcher, my fitness icon, would have enjoyed it. That ride was almost 21 km, with a stop for ice cream, which seems to be the traditional treat for all bike rides here.

Cyclists lined up in a row with their bikes with trees in the background. Five are black men, with two white men, one black woman and me, a white woman.

On Saturday, I joined the Critical Mass Ride with about 100 other people, then did some errands for a little over 33 km. It was hot and despite drinking what seemed like gallons, I clearly didn’t get enough liquids in me.

After a nap, I joined friends for a 3.5 km swim. I’m going to be a swim angel for the 3 km Bring on the Bay on Saturday and hadn’t done that distance in a while. It was great until my legs cramped up at the half-way point and I mostly did arms only for the rest. I could barely climb up the ladder to get back on the dock. But I did it! And once I had still more water, I felt good enough to bike home, and was perfectly fine the next day.

Lessons learned? Drink lots of water. Then drink some more. Break your rides up into manageable chunks. Rest between rides. Naps and ice cream are always awesome.

What about you? I would love to hear your tips for pushing yourself to do harder things, if that is something you do. Steady state or scaling back are also perfectly fine – no pressure.


Everyday Cycling Adds Up

I joined a couple of challenges as part of Bike Month but deliberately didn’t do too much more than normal. I wanted to see what that would look like.

I normally bike to the office four days a week (just over 2.5 km each way). I bike to swim practice once a week. I visited the dressmaker near the pool a couple of times (she’s making me a dress for my son’s wedding later this summer). I rode to both community gardens, though not every time I went, because sometimes it was easier to combine with a trip to the barn outside of town. I used it for groceries almost every time I needed something, but sometimes that was also combined with a work commute or trip to the barn, so no extra kms to count.

I did join in a few group rides, as I usually do in summer. One night I rode to my friend’s to feed her cats (43 km round trip, my longest distance since high school). Another night I rode across town to meet up with people from my fruit harvesting organization. Despite best efforts, I did not ride the bike shares in Toronto while visiting during Pride weekend, but I did spot one of these awesome seat covers that BikeShare Toronto had made.

Pink bicycle seat cover with the words “Thanks for Being Bike Curious” in large letters, with #RideTOPride in small letters. There is also a circle with rainbow colours and the words Bike Share Toronto on the edge, and a small white bicycle in the centre.

Strava tells me that I completed over 215 kms. The last time I checked, I was the top contributor to my team’s Let’s Bike Ottawa challenge, after biking 15 days before going on holidays until the end of the month.

Those aren’t huge numbers, but they do represent an estimated 55 kg of greenhouse gases averted and $132 saved compared to running a car (payments and insurance included, not just gas).

This month I was reminded that my city is more compact than I imagine from inside my car, but also bigger and more interesting. I saw bats and fireflies, waved to, smiled at, and chatted with random strangers, figured out a decent crosstown route and a way to get all the way to the south end of town almost entirely on the trail system.

I also improved my #CarryShitOlympics skills, which amused my whole team at the staff picnic.

Me in an orange shirt and blue bike helmet, holding my loaded bike in a park. I have a table, folding chair and croquet set strapped to the back. The panniers have a tablecloth, framed certificates, chips, salsa, serving bowls, a cake, knife, cutlery, plates and napkins. My front basket has a boules game and a vase full of flowers.

How did you spend Bike Month? Drop a comment about any new things you tried and and what was particularly fun.

advice · cycling · fitness · fun · holiday fitness

Tourism and e-bikes

I’m in Charlottetown, PEI, for a week! With a day to myself I could do a self-guided tour with a rental car, walking, public transit, or e-bike. By my title, I think you know which I chose.

Probably inspired by other FIFI e-bike posts, I rented an e-bike for the first time in hilly, windy Wellington, New Zealand a few years ago. Here in PEI, where it is flat and the weather has been warm, the electronic motor was more of a luxury!

Elan with an e-bike
Elan is on her way. Rental from Rising Tide eBikes in Charlottetown, PEI, which I recommend!

It’s been long enough between rental e-bike day tours that it was good for me to plan ahead and review some self-reminders, which I’ll share:

  • Read some research/reviews on the e-bike rental store first, and read the waivers before you rent.
  • Pack hydration, some money, and a layer, as you would when you’re out on your own bike.
  • Take the time to ask questions about the e-bike. I reminded myself that although I ride this bike wasn’t mine. The store staff want renter safety and they love to answer questions about e-bikes.
  • Find the bell in the store. I yelled “on your left” at people for hours. The staff showed me where the little bell was hiding when I got back.
  • Pay for add-ons that will make your trip comfortable, if affordable. In my vanity, I didn’t want a basket at first, but it turned out to be incredibly convenient.
  • Resist the urge to leave right away for familiarization and to ensure the e-bike works properly. I used the gears and brake in front of the store first before I would need them on my journey.
  • Always helmet. Always lock.
  • Have an idea of where you want to go as well as where you shouldn’t go. There was a fun downtown boardwalk on the map, but e-bikes aren’t allowed on it. There were also some busier streets I was warned about by staff. I stuffed a print map in my sports bra for quick review en route.
  • People can be surprised by the speed of approaching e-bikes. I tried to be extra sure folks knew I was coming.
  • Keep safe. Ride during the day and on recognizable roads. Bring a charged phone. But skip the trip if you are solo and worried about your personal safety.
Bolt trail cordoned off for tree removal
A small detour riding the Island Trail!

It’s always good to follow traffic rules and ride defensively. But compared to my hometown, I noticed here drivers were much more courteous to cyclists. Nearly every driver gave me the right of way, even when it wasn’t my turn. So, be aware of the vibe of your touring area when you e-bike.

Overall, if you have the time the weather is decent, I highly recommend renting an e-bike while traveling and touring! You can go further than on two legs, get some outside time, and make some unexpected discoveries along the way.

Island Walk sign and map
The entire PEI Island Walk trail. Great signage here!

FIFI readers, what would you add to my list? Where in the world do you recommend e-biking?


Women Cycling

My Twitter friend Patty (@pattyboge), who is very active in the Winnipeg bike community, shared a couple of thoughts about biking and feminism this week.

First was an excellent commencement speech at Smith College given by Reshma Saujani on imposter syndrome. “Imposter syndrome is modern day Bike Face, just another attempt to hold women back. Just ride your bicycle, pursue what you want to pursue.

“Imposter syndrome is just two made up words on the page. Start pedalling, feel the sun in your face, feel the wind in your hair, feel the joy, feel the freedom, feel the love.”

Sam wrote about Bicycle Face way back in 2013. She also interviewed lawyer David Isaac in 2020 about how safe infrastructure and women on bikes. His key point was that safe infrastructure that connects to places where women want to go is key to getting women riding bikes. And it is a feminist issue because it can make cities more equitable.

That brings me to Patty’s second thought: « Women’s Rights activist Susan B. Anthony says it best ‘Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”

Patty’s response to all the people who pass two close and try to intimidate women to try to get us “off the road, B!&%!” is to say “we can’t and we won’t stop. Our bikes are our freedom”.

One of my favourite pictures of Patty, swiped from her Twitter feed. She is wearing a hot pink mini dress, sunglasses and a pink helmet with a tiara. She is riding a white e-bike with a front basket decorated with flowers. And of course, she has a huge smile.

It’s Bike Month – Yay!!!

Muppets on bikes

Not only is June a fantastic time to get out and enjoy the outdoors on your bicycle, it’s the time to advocate for safe cycling options for everyone, and connect with other people who ride bikes.

This morning I attended the launch in Ottawa, where OC Transpo had brought their rack and roll bus gear, so you could practice loading your bike onto it, and there was mobile bike maintenance, among other fun things.

Two women chat beside a variety of bicycles, with more people visiting an EnviroCentre information booth in the background.

One of the speakers talked about how important it is to her to be able to cycle safely with her young daughter, and how much easier it is to get around the area where she works by bike. Someone else talked about improved lighting her company is installing to make it safer to bike along nearby paths. And we talked about how cycling can help fight climate change, of course. All these are feminist topics dear to my heart.

Members of EnviroCentre, who hosted the event, pose behind my bike with Ariel Troster and Stéphanie Plante, two city councillors who came by bike to the event (and who bike a lot!).

Of course, there was also talk about evidence. has an app where you can log all your distances for the month. This information will be used to help build the case that there are a lot of people on bikes and they are active every day. I have written before about using Strava to influence city planning. There is still time to sign up for a shift for the annual bike use survey by Vélo Canada BIkes.

There are biking events happening across Canada so find some local to you and join in. If you just want to get out on your own, that’s cool too. It’s a great way to be fit, fight climate change, and help make this activity safer and more fun for everyone. Plus it’s easier to stop and enjoy the scenery.

The Rideau Canal, looking towards downtown Ottawa. You can just make out a cyclist on the path right by the water. I took this picture on my way to work after the event.


Critical Mass Ride

On Saturday I joined my first-ever Critical Mass Ride in Ottawa. These are rides where large groups of people on bikes get together and ride through the streets as a way of pushing for safer infrastructure and normalizing using bicycles as a regular form of transportation. It turns out they are also a lot of fun.

A crowd of people with their bicycles is starting to gather on a courtyard near a row of flagpoles, under a cloudy sky.

About 250 people showed up at the start point from across Ottawa and Gatineau. There were people on racing bikes, hybrids, folding bikes, e-bikes, and cargo bikes. There were people older than me and kids on their bikes. There were dogs and kids in bikes. There were even a couple of supportive walkers and a guy on a skateboard.

As the crowd continues to build, a woman with her child in a cargo bike greets one of the dogs who rode in another cargo bike, and his owner.

The crowd rode in front of Parliament Hill and down to a road along the Canal that is sometimes opened for active transport on weekends.

A large group of people riding bikes waits at a street light on a treed road.

We ended up at the heart of the Tulip Festival near Dow’s Lake, about 8 km from where we had started.

More people and bikes at the end of the ride. a few are applauding and one person has her arms raised in celebration. You can see the lake to the right and trees and a food truck in the background.
More people with their bikes, plus a bed of tulips and some trees (including a crabapple full of pink blossoms) with office buildings in the distance.

I ended up getting to meet people I only knew through Twitter, connected with folks working on active transportation through other groups, got to check out a street with new temporary bike lanes, and explored part of the river partway and a new footbridge I had never used before. It was a great reminder of how easy it is to get around by bike, too: my total distance for the day was about 22 km.

There are already requests for more Critical Mass Rides in Ottawa. Others are doing it too. I have heard about rides in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver and several places in the UK this week alone. The Hamilton ride is a protest following the death of an 81 year-old cyclist last week, and the Vancouver ride is to protest the removal of hugely popular bike lanes in favour of another car lane through Stanley Park.

Whether you are a cyclist or a person who bikes, walks or rolls, you may want to keep an eye open for similar events where you live. Or organize one yourself! It’s just one part of the advocacy we need to make streets safer for everyone and help fight climate change, but it’s also fun and a great way to be active.