My husband and youngest son have been bicycling together for awhile now, long distances and fast, with other groups and just with each other. If you’ve been following my posts here at FIAFI, you know I sometimes cycle as well, recreational-only and mostly with Son 2 though sometimes en famille with friends. Well, this past Monday night, I took a non-family bike ride. Honestly, my first in… probably decades. I’ve met some of my husband’s cycling friends, which includes a lot of great women, and they and my husband have been talking up a regular St. Louis bike ride for women and nonbinary folks called… wait for it… The Monthly Cycle.
The first Monday of every month, The Monthly Cycle meets outside a gelateria on South Grand in St. Louis. Bert and Son 2 dropped me off around 6:30 and then carried on to their own bikes event nearby (a fast hard ride of folks who take it seriously). Women of all shapes and sizes trickled in, forming a magnificent clot on the sidewalk until the ride began at 7 pm. The total eventual headcount according to one of the organizers? 53. Several of them, some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, helped me get properly kitted out with a forward beam-light and some medical tape to help fasten my helmet, which had an unfortunate buckle failure. A few were in costume for the October Halloween theme–rides are not usually themed–and ready to make 3 stops for ghost stories at allegedly haunted venues. Unaccustomed to city riding on trafficked streets, and new to riding in large groups, I took no pictures while moving. Thanks to the ghost story stops, though, I was able to snap a few shots that reflect what went on.
Not depicted but awesome:
the cyclists with wifi enabled speakers blasting out playlists with varying tastes; one person had a playlist of Halloween-themed music from both radio and musicals including Monster Mash and Thriller and songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, while another was playing Rihana and Brittney Spears and Spanish-language tunes
occasional warbling singing-along to the tunes, while riding; hilarious when going over bumpy roads
the kids and families and other friendly residents hanging out on their porches in the dark who gave friendly shouts and waved at us as we passed through neighborhoods inhabited by a wide range of people (this ride made no attempt to stick to the middle class white notion of “safe neighborhoods” that so dominates cycling culture in many places)
the guy who, as we passed through a commercial district, stepped out onto the street to give every passing cyclist a high 5
the many folks who asked “what is this? it looks awesome!”–men but also women in cars and walking and riding their own bikes who we passed along the way–to hear a friendly shout of “It’s the monthly cycle! Women and nonbinary only!” with an added shout of “look us up!” for the folks who were presenting as women or nonbinary
the riders who held the intersections as we came through to prevent cars from riding into us as much as possible, and the uncountable “thank you”s that riders shouted to drivers who waited, whether patiently or impatiently, for the whole crew to pass
riders shouting “hole!” as they passed a big one in the road to alert those behind them, “car up!” if a car was coming toward the group to encourage everyone to get into just one lane, “car back” if a car was behind the group, and calling out turns or “slowing” so that folks in the back knew what was happening
the shared drinks and snacks at the Tower Pub where the ride typically winds up
All told, it was a little under 10 miles, total, with some hills. Enough to work a little but totally doable by someone who doesn’t bike much. It started around 7pm and I was all done and heading home a little after 10, needing only to bike a few blocks down the street from the Tower Pub to the place my husband and Son 2 had ended up for the ritual post-ride drinks and snacks at their own habitual endspot.
I am planning on hitting the Monthly Cycle up at the beginning of November with at least one friend who saw my social media post about it and was instantly all-in. I don’t know if I will stick with it through winter, given the cost of winter gear and the hazards of riding slippery roads. But the ride itself was a delight from start to finish and the folks could not have been more welcoming.
Is there a Monthly Cycle or something similar near you? A no-men cycling event or other sports community? One that isn’t anti-men, but is about a space for the kinds of relations that people who aren’t men can have with each other when men aren’t part of the group and are, at most, passed by just for a little while? What do you think the value of such groups is?
I am fortunate to be able to travel for work and family, sometimes. On occassion when I travel for work, I bring my family along. This post is the first of a 3-part series on how I stayed physically active this summer while travelling with my kiddos.I hope the series is of some help to folks in re/thinking about whether it’s feasible to pursue fitness activities with kids in tow. Please note that while mine were 14 and 11 this summer, I’ve been able to do a number of activities with them while traveling over the years by taking their stamina into account and not underestimating them. We’ve done some awesome stuff that I’ve never blogged about (hiking on the Isle of Skye when the kids were 11 and 8 springs to mind). This summer was no exception. Well, except that now I am blogging about it.
This summer, my spouse had other commitments when I was scheduled to travel to Rome for a conference, and yet I very much wanted to bring the children. They’re both borderline obsessed with ancient history and Roman mythology (thanks, Rick Riordan and Doctor Who). I rounded up a good friend of mine, Randi Papke, a woman whose son is friends with my eldest (both 14 at the time of our travels) and we made such plans! So, really, parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series are There and Back Again With Two Women Over The Age of 40 And Their Kids. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to my kids the same way I do on social media as Son 1 (age 14) and Son 2 (age 11), and will refer to Randi’s son as, well, Randi’s son.
When we first started talking about traveling in Rome, I asked the three kids to each pick out something they wanted to be sure to do in Italy. While Son 1 had the simple request of finding a store that sold cards in his favorite fantasy game, Son 2 asked for what he always asks for when we travel: a cool bike ride unlike anything we could do at home. No problem, for a mere mile from our AirBnB in Rome lay one of the great wonders of Roman engineering: the Via Appia Antica which once connected Rome with Brindisi, allowing trade (and military movement) to travel hundreds of miles on a cobblestone surface from central Italy to the far southeastern corner of Italy, or what you might think of as the heel of the boot which is the metaphor so often used for the shape of Italy. And along that nearby stretch of the Via Appia Antica lay a large archaeological park in which Catholic Church buildings and homes coexist with sites thousands of years old, including several catacombs open for tours. Given this combination of factors, every single one of the five of us was pretty excited about this option. In fact, we looked forward to it for months.
When we finally arrived in Rome in July, we looked at the weather forecast and blanched: with the exception of one day early on and right at the end, it would be well over 90 Fahrenheit (about 33 Celsius) most days. So we decided to do our bikes trip our first full day in the city when it would only be in the high 80s F (30 C or so). We walked through the neighborhoods between us and the bike rental shop handily located at the northern end of the archaeological park, discovering along the way a grocery store, a whole host of serviceable apartment buildings with balconies trailing flowering vines and verdant with vegetable plants, and grates in the streets filled with cigarette butts. A small detail, but it struck me.
We also passed, at the edge of the archaeological park near the bike shop, one of Rome’s famous Nasoni. These public water fountains take a variety of shapes, but Nasoni (“big noses”) all have crystal clear ice-cold safe drinking water running constantly. Some, like the one at the Vatican Museum, are embedded in statuary. Others, like the one we stumbled across at the edge of the park, are humbly functional and, in the weather we were about to experience, entirely welcome at every turn. We refilled our water bottles and continued on to find our bikes.
The EcoBike shop appears on maps as Centro Servizi Appia Antica. It has bikes for children as well as adults–not as good as our ones at home, but perfectly serviceable–as well as a wide range of bike helmets and bike locks. They also rent e-bikes and electric golf carts for folks who might have reasons to not pedal as their primary source of power, and offer tours on bike or otherwise. But we are the ride-around-a-self-guided-tour sort of folks, so it was much appreciated when EcoBike staff provided a map of the archaeological park and oriented us to traffic patterns including how to take a side street with very few cars until we got to the section of the Via Appia Antica where cars are no longer allowed except for residents. Not coincidentally, it turned out, that section is also the one that is paved with ancient cobbles which you can technically ride a bike on but which we found ourselves moving up onto the well-worn dirt paths on the side to avoid. I wouldn’t have wanted to bike the rest of Rome without a better sense of the local unspoken rules of the road, but this experience was no trouble at all. The few vehicles we encountered seemed to expect to encounter us, and were slow and patient.
The views were pretty amazing right from the get go, with ruins just casually scattered, well… everywhere. The local cicadas filled the air with their hot summer buzz, and a good cross-breeze added to the wind of our passage without giving us too much of a headwind. In short order, we discovered astoundingly old and modern things along it dating back 2000 years and as recently as pretty darned modern, and also bars and eateries and nasoni at regular intervals.
We were surprised to discover that a number of the sites, including the first catacombs we stopped at, were closed for the noon hour. This is pretty common, as we would learn. So we carried on until we came to one that was open continuously. We stopped to enter, buy tickets for a tour, grab some ice cream while we waited to be able to enter the catacombs, and then see what there was to be seen at the Catacombs of San Sebastian. The ice cream was, by this point, a needful thing. Everyone got something containing sugar at cold temperatures while we waited in the shade on the not-as-cool-as-you’d-think marble steps.
One of the folks working the snack bar had a tip jar out for a very charming reason so I dropped them a Euro in support.
The catacombs of San Sebastian were well worth the few Euros for a tour down into the coolness below the earth, out of the hot and the sun, our hair already caked with dried sweat. The history was only half the draw, but such history! No pictures allowed, alas, below ground. The catacombs themselves were the Ur catacombs, as it were: the first below-grown burial chambers to be called “catacomb.” When Christianity first spread to Rome, its adherents did not follow Roman cremation traditions. Instead, they needed a place to put their dead that would not leave them prone to being eaten by wild animals or destroyed by their persecutors. The abandoned quarry beyond the city walls that became the catacombs of San Sebastian was perfect for these purposes. But the church above ground was magnificent, with a ceiling decorated in a style not unlike the Sistine Chapel but in much bolder colors and textures, with trays demarcating one piece of art from another but covering the entire surface in a riot of gilt and jewel tones. No inch of that ceiling was left unattended.
We left the church of San Sebastian and sat for a moment in the shaded courtyard behind the cafe under flowering vines until everyone was feeling up for pedaling on through the hotness. We had, in what would have been clever if it hadn’t been so fortuitous, spent the brightest part of the blazingly sunny day underground and inside or sitting in the shade with cold drinks/food.
We carried on and began to reach the old parts of the road, a combination of more recent tiny even cobbles and old giant square-foot cobbles worn by thousands of years of traffic in which one could sometimes see what might have been wagon wheel ruts.
On the left, you see a close up of the worn, giant cobbles. This part was very uncomfortable to ride on and we hopped up onto more recent even cobbles along the side or, farther down the road, up onto worn tracks in the soft arid dirt on either side of the road. The cobbles shine in the sun, pitted by the years. On the right, Randi pushes on ahead of me, riding on the more recent even cobbles with the oldest part of the road to the side. The kids are way in front. Behind the walls are residences.
We did reach a point where we just couldn’t go any farther having decided we were about halfway done. The road surface and the heat had taken its toll. Before we turned around and headed back, though, we took a group selfie. We weren’t out of good, yet!
Along the way back, we stopped at a sandwich shop. It was delicious, but a lot of the flavor came from hunger which is, as they say, the best sauce. The cold beer Randi had was, she attested, perhaps more necessary than any cold beer that came before it.
It was a footsore, butt bouncing delight to walk to the Via Appia Antica, ride it, walk around, ride back, and return on foot. I confess that for the last mile or so of the ride, I was up on my pedals cause ain’t no way my butt was going to sit that seat another second. Up on pedals, wind in your hair through the slats in the helmet, on a good surface after a hard day’s work in the hot sun with an ancient city laid out before you kinda can’t be beat.
I took two videos for y’all if you want a sense of it, at different points on the ride, first farther out on the road where the trees and the fields open up (well outside what would have been the city walls of old Rome) and then on our way back in to return the bikes passing through the residential area. You can hear the cicadas hard at work, and the bicycle bell on my bike gently tinging from the bumps.
When we got back to our place, replete and exhausted, I noticed the literal mark of a good day riding.
Next up in Part 2 of There and Back Again: we flee the heat and crowds of the city of Rome for an afternoon in the hills kayaking and swimming in a volcanic crater lake.
Hey, I have two! (I’m not providing links but you can find the black one by searching for “Sugoi black mini skirt.” My other one is grey, not pictured, and made of smart wool.)
And just the other day a friend posted that she had seen ads for them in her newsfeed and thought “what the hell even is this?” If you’re cold, she wrote, why a mini-skirt? Winter mini-skirts? What’s with that? Friends chimed in, some equally puzzled, others admitting that they owned one and liked them.
I’ve written about them before in a post about my mixed feelings about sports dresses. ” Like these skirts, which I also like and even tried on several times over the winter, I can’t decide if they are about warmth and function or butt modesty. And if the former, I’m all in, and if the latter, I’m a bit uncomfortable. “
But thing is, who knows what your motive is?
I wear them over leggings. And yes they keep your butt warm.
But they also side with the “leggings aren’t pants” crew.
Once you make a move into a certain kind of modest dressing, it’s hard to go back. I decided against a swim dress for that reason. Getting comfortable wearing a bikini was a hard won body positive victory. I worry about going back.
Back to the mini-skirts–one in grey wool and one in black, like above–life is short. They’re cute. They expand the range of places and times I can wear leggings. There’s clothes I wear to the gym that I wouldn’t wear in other environments. Throw on the skirt and I’m good to go. Ditto over cycling tights.
Given that I bought them in winter, to wear in winter, I’m sticking with my butt warmth story. And they’re cute.
I had my own version of the “biking is faster the driving” phenomena last night when someone saw me on my bike and offered me a drive to a meeting. I calculated the time to lock up the bike and get back to it after the meeting and quickly declined. I wanted the ease of having the bike near me for getting home after the meeting. The driving colleagues offered to let the others know that I’d be late. I didn’t think I’d be late. But whatever.
I was waiting for the elevator when the driving colleagues arrived. “Huh, you beat us.”
At the first light they were stopped behind a line of cars but I was the only bike in the bike lane. Between traffic lights I’m not that much different than a car in terms of speed.
Last night, after the meeting, I had a magical ride home in the snow. I took a quiet route with almost no cars. The snow was falling pretty heavily and the plow hadn’t been by yet. I was curious to see how my “adventure road bike” would do. My fat bike is better suited to real snow but this bike did just fine.
What’s an adventure road bike? It’s not a cx bike, not designed for cyclocross bike. It’s not a technical mountain bike designed for mud and rocks. And it’s not a pavement only road bike either.
“Different brands have different takes on what adventure road geometry should be, in general they sit much closer to road bikes, but with a more relaxed geometry, a higher stack height for a more heads up riding position and sometimes longer chain stays for stability when carrying a load. The tyres will generally be fatter than road tyres, but with a semi-slick rubber that won’t hold you back on the road, so you’ll be comfortable switching between disciplines with ease.
Because Adventure Road bikes aren’t designed for technical, wooded areas and muddy racing, the bottom bracket stays in a position more akin to that of a road bike, and tyre clearance does not need to be as great. Since it’s unlikely you will need to hop off the bike, and run over obstacles or up banks, disc brakes are common place as low weight is less crucial.What are adventure road bikes good for?
Adventure Road bikes make fantastic steeds for commuting or touring duties – comfortable geometry, shorter reach and robust wheels and tyres mean they can cope with hefty mileage over rough terrain. Therefore, the bikes often have racks for panniers, mudguards and drinks bottles, so you can load them up should you need to.
Adventure Road bikes are super versatile and with one bike you can cover a huge range of riding styles but there are subtle differences and it is a broad spectrum. Before you start browsing think about what you are likely to use the bike for and which features will be most key to your buying choice.”
This year I’m doing the one day ride, not the 6 day ride, because of my new big job. See here.
But while I’ve lowered the fun riding, I’ve increased my fundraising commitment. That’s where YOU come in. I need your help. See details below.
I’m participating in PWA’s 1-Day Friends For Life Bike Rally
I’ve just made a big commitment and I could use your support.
On July 29, 2018 I will be cycling 108km in the very first PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally from Toronto to Port Hope to raise money and awareness for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA).
PWA provides practical support programs and services to people in Toronto living with HIV/AIDS. The Bike Rally is their annual sustaining fundraiser and critical to the agency. Find out more about PWA by visiting their website at www.pwatoronto.org.
I’m going to need all the support I can get to reach my fundraising goal and I hope I can count on you. Make a secure online donation using your credit card by clicking on the link to my personal fundraising page below:
The big health and fitness headline this past week concerned the release of results of two studies of senior citizen cyclists. For those of us preaching the health benefits of exercise, it was amazing news.
The NYT piece begins by noting that our understanding of aging might be radically mistaken because so few older adults get any exercise at all.
“Exercise among middle-aged and older adults in the Western world is rare. By most estimates, only about 10 percent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly. So, our expectations about what is normal during aging are based on how growing older affects sedentary people.”
Again from the NYT story: “The two sets of scientists then dove into their data and both concluded that older cyclists are not like most of the rest of us. They are healthier. They are, biologically, younger. Their muscles generally retained their size, fiber composition and other markers of good health across the decades, with those riders who covered the most mileage each month displaying the healthiest muscles, whatever their age.”
I’ve had lots of thoughts about these studies and about the good health of these elderly riders.
My first thought was that I’m really happy that I love to ride my bike.
Second thought, should people who don’t like cycling take it up? Should I be urging friends and family whose health I care about to get on their bikes? That’s not so clear. These aren’t studies that took people and assigned them to one of two groups, those who ride a lot and those who sit at home. Instead, it’s a study of those older adults who choose to ride. They’re a special group who chose not to stop riding big distances. Did their good health make their riding possible or did their riding cause their good health? We don’t know which direction the causation goes–maybe it’s a bit of both, a kind of virtuous circle, where one supports the other– but the results are pretty remarkable regardless.
Third thought, this is so not a moderate message. These cyclists were averaging 100 miles a week. That’s a lot of riding. At my best I aim for 5000 km a year. They’re averaging 5200 miles! Further, the benefits depended on dose. The riders who covered the most mileage each month displayed the healthiest muscles. You see them setting out for a 5 1/2 hour ride in the video above. This isn’t like the health messaging that says to go for a walk everyday. These guys are working super hard for hours at a time. They’re riding big distances year round.
Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer. He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”
Fourth thought, we don’t know if this holds true for other forms of exercise. Maybe it’s riding bikes that’s magic and nothing else matters? Seems unlikely. It’s true though that cycling is something you can keep doing as you get older. Lots of older adults move from running to cycling at a certain point.
So lots of questions, but still, remarkable good news. The Fit is a Feminist Issue cyclists–hi Susan, Catherine, Cate, Kim, Nat!–should start planning riding trips for the big birthdays, 60, 70, 80, 90 etc. And maybe we should move somewhere warm for the winters. A fit feminist roving commune with lots and lots of bike riding. I’m in!
I transitioned from triathlon to cycling about 18 months ago. I made the switch after completing an Ironman, wanting a change, and enjoying my time in the saddle more than the time spent running or swimming. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the field of triathlon working to recruit and retain more women in the sport (as evidenced by the hugely popular Facebook group, Women for Tri). I hoped for a similar dynamic with cycling, but had just moved across the country for a new job and was not sure where to find a community of rad cyclists. I started by searching for groups online, found one with similar speed and distance to fit my training, and was launched into what became a new norm for my next year: being one of the only women on a group ride surrounded by several men. I’ve generally been treated really well and I can’t thank many of them enough for making me who I am today. I’m a much stronger cyclist thanks to their challenging group rides and much of their ongoing support. But we’ve got work to do.
Reflecting back on my transition to cycling, I think I expected to find similar dynamics to triathlon—plenty of women at races, large Facebook groups for women to share advice and experiences, and plenty of group rides and teams to train with or race for without the fear of getting dropped. Unfortunately, I think I was naive and mistaken in a few ways. Field sizes for women in many of the events I’ve done are only about 15%—especially gravel, cyclocross, and fat biking. Women and gender diverse athletes are sorely underrepresented in this sport. I’ve scoured the literature to identify potential reasons for the gap. Some say it’s a lack of confidence or skill with mechanical abilities. Others say lack of time to train due to childcare and domestic responsibilities. Some note a lack of navigation skills needed for gravel or discomfort being in the middle of nowhere. Others reflect on a lack of safety, whether due to car traffic, crashing, or sexual harassment.
Many of those factors, however, are specific to one discipline or one community, have small sample sizes, are published by men, and/or completely exclude cyclists who do not identify as cisgender men or women. And while I appreciate the important work on these issues, I think the gender gaps go a lot deeper than what the literature has said thus far. I believe we need a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women and gender diverse cyclists in order to decrease disparities in the field. I believe it’s time to share our stories.
My experiences as a white cisgender woman in cycling over the past year have been exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, and empowering. They have also been colored by microaggressions, sexist comments, harassment, and exclusion. I love this sport and so many aspects of this community. I want to stay engaged. But I also know we can do better by stepping up our game and working hard to understand the experiences of that 15%. After identifying what has helped and hurt us over the years, we can work to shift our culture to one with more diversity and representation.
Aside from my identity as a cyclist, I am a feminist, a sport psychologist, a professor, and a researcher. As a feminist, it’s important for me to 1) own my biases that stem from my own experiences; and 2) recognize that the personal is political. I’m doing this project because of my own experiences and because I want our community to do better. The disheartening moments I’ve had over the past year have lit a fire inside of me and have motivated me to take on a piece of this puzzle.
This past week, I launched an international research project for women, trans*, femme, non-binary, genderqueer, and two spirit cyclists who have raced over the past 5 years. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued.
As an incentive, I’ve secured money to donate $2/person to charity for the first 250 participants. (It’s not much, but it’s something.) I’ll present the findings in my community, at conferences, and to anyone who wants to listen. I’ll also write up the findings for publication to help us shed some light on gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.
If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. What has pushed you away? What helps you to keep going strong? I’ll share mine in a post to come.
Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she spends her time training for new cycling adventures, eating, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.