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.


Using Strava to Mess With The City (and Myself)

Recently, I discovered that the City of Ottawa uses anonymized, aggregated Strava data as a data source for determining where bicycle infrastructure is needed. Although the National Capital Commission has established a good network of recreational pathways in and around Ottawa, we desperately need more safe streets for people who ride bikes for regular transportation.

Apparently there is some way that adjustments are made to accommodate for the fact that most cyclists don’t use Strava or other tracking apps. I don’t understand all the science behind it, but I know just enough about statistics to know that sample bias is an issue, and I know that most of the people who use Strava are athletic types tracking longer rides. People using their bikes for short trips to do everyday chores may not use Strava at all, or not think to turn it on because it doesn’t “count”.

Since I’m a big advocate of cycling for everyone, I have started tracking every single ride, no matter how short. My aim is to mess with the city by skewing the data as much as possible in favour of shorter utilitarian trips, and show where better infrastructure is needed.

How am I messing with myself? Since I started tracking faithfully on April 17, I have racked up just over 105 km. I have become the local legend on segments leading to my work. My speed is trending downwards and I have set a couple of personal best times.

I have also become more determined than ever to bike everywhere possible, and my definition of what is possible has gotten bigger. Two of those rides were unusually long for me, but turned out to be perfectly manageable: one was a 13 km ride from the blood donor clinic, and the other was 15 km to and from Costco.

The blood donor ride was fun as I got to explore quirky neighbourhoods full of small businesses that I find hard to get to by public transit. I even rode across the bridges to and from Gatineau, the best part of my commute when I worked over there.

The Alexandra Bridge has a lovely wide section for bicycles and pedestrians. Here you can see several walkers and runners on the bridge, with Ottawa in the distance. Photo: Trevor Pritchard, CBC

That Costco ride was an important stepping stone for me. The routes proposed by Google were all along busy roads but I remembered quieter recreational paths that made for a longer but safer ride. However, I did need to navigate one notoriously busy road with unclear painted bike lane markings (and only 1 block of protected lane).

Costco itself had the usual car-filled parking lot and the bike racks were way in the back of the building, so I locked up to a sign near the front. It was easy to pack everything into two panniers, and I didn’t need the bungee cords, extra bags and my knapsack I had brought along just in case I felt the need to train for the #carryshitolympics. Now I know that a mostly-pleasant half hour ride each way is all it takes to get to a store I generally avoid.

My bicycle with loaded blue and black panniers, chained to a sign and red-painted bollard. There is a row of bollards protection the sidewalk from a sea of parked cars, and one illegally parked car right behind my bike.

This blog has changed me

I don’t think of myself as a particularly introspective person, so I am a little surprised to discover that my preferred reading lately is mostly in support of my thinking for this blog.

On the go, I have:

  • Feminist City: A Field Guide, by Leslie Kern
  • “You Just Need To Lose Weight” And 19 Other Myths About Fat People, by Aubrey Gordon
  • The Book of The City of Ladies, by Christine de Pizan

I Just finished The Once and Future Sex , by Eleanor Janega.

I also participated in a Zoom panel on Finding Equity in The Low Car City, with Chris Bruntlett and Melissa Bruntlett. My next two acquisitions will be their books Curbing Traffic and Building The Cycling City.

And because all posts need a picture, here is my new bike, acquired this weekend. It has enough cargo bike features to make it really useful for running errands, and it has a step-through frame and a skirt guard on the chain so I can more easily cycle in a dress.

Black bicycle with a wooden box on the front, and a basket and panniers on the back.

Fit is a Feminist Issue – and an Infrastructure Issue

I have been involved in a lot of conversations about active transportation in the last few weeks. And about the reasons both kids and seniors may be less active than they would like. And Mount Alison University geograph Professor Leslie Kern talking about her book Feminist City (my copy is on order).

And far too many rants where cyclists were blamed for being struck by cars, articles were written about pedestrians hitting cars (the cars drove away – never the drivers – and the pedestrians were hospitalized). The worst was blaming an older man for daring to go for on walk on a bare sidewalk in regular shoes, after he broke his ankle when trying climb over a windrow left by a snowplow.

What if we designed our living spaces so that more of us that are enticed to walk, bike and take transit, because the more that they do, the better it is for everyone?

Women in Urbanism Canada points out that women make up more than half of Canada’s aging population, so building age-friendly cities must be gender-inclusive. Women are more likely to outlive their partners, live in poverty, earn less, own less property, and have children and grandchildren to care for. They are more likely to suffer from mobility-related disabilities and physical impairments. They may also outlive their ability to drive. They need affordable and well-connected public transportation, areas to exercise and socialize and homes that allow them to live, independently, and with easy access to services resources and community amenities.

And the city of Ottawa, in a zoning review paper currently under discussion notes that “the impacts of car-dependency are most acutely felt by women, youth, elderly people, low-income people, and people with disabilities, as these are all people who are less likely to have access to or afford personal vehicles. A mobility-rich neighbourhood is a 15-minute neighbourhood where kids can walk to school and recreation, where people have the option to run a quick errand on foot, and people of all incomes can affordably access their needs.”

So what would that activity-friendly neighbourhood look like? It would have public transit, wide sidewalks and bike spaces (maybe even car-free), with benches, bathrooms, trees for shade, meeting places and playgrounds, plus a variety of shops and services close to home.

Click on this link to see a short video of what I think is a practically perfect active living space.

A street with dense housing, trees, playground, bike racks, and people of all ages walking or cycling. The drawing comes from The cover of Curbing Traffic, a book on the human case for fewer cars by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett.

For winter in Canada, I would add ploughed sidewalks and bike lanes. Sweden has already led the way on this. Following a gender analysis of its street clearing practices, Swedish cities began clearing sidewalks first, because they discovered that women were more likely to walk. There were three times as many injuries from falling on slippery streets as there were from driving, and the cost of treating those injuries far outweighed the city of snow clearing.

For millions of short journeys, the right tool for the job ought to be walking or cycling, but the way too many streets are designed makes this a difficult choice. Cars go too fast, there are no safe spaces for bicycles, and sidewalks have obstacles including high curbs, unsafe crosswalks, and buttons to beg for a pedestrian light that my not even be accessible to all users.

That’s a shame, because person on a bicycle can go three to four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. Equipped with this tool, humans outstrip the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well (Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, 1973).

Brent Toderian, the former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, has written that “the recent Paris transformation of key streets to add bike infrastructure is intensely pragmatic – more mobility choice and more trips using a lot less space, lower public cost, lower emissions, less pollution, better public health, etc.”

The Tyee wrote last year about how various people with disabilities were using bike lanes and how the lanes could be even more accessible. I found it really eye-opening.

All this infrastructure is not just a feminist concern. It can also have a real impact on our health. Recently there was a meta-analysis of the impact of moderate physical activity on health. According to the report I read, about one in ten deaths could have been prevented with a little as eleven minutes of moderate physical activity a day. I’ll leave it to Catherine Womack to assess the claims; why I thought was important for this blog was the final quote:

´Dr Leandro Garcia, of Queen’s University Belfast, emphasised that moderate activity did not have to involve what people normally thought of as exercise, such as sports or running. “For example, try to walk or cycle to your work or study place instead of using a car, or engage in active play with your kids or grandkids,” he said.´

Imagine if we had safe and accessible places to do that…

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She has been a commuter cyclist for over 20 years.

Sat with Nat

Nat appreciates Hampton of Hybrid Calisthenics

In a world of fitness influencers there’s a lot that distinguishes Hampton of Hybrid Calisthenics. He’s funny and kind which I really enjoy.

Hampton demonstrates some moves.

I especially appreciate his approach to learning new movements and exploring discomfort with curiosity. Rather than encouraging people to push through pain Hampton offers ways to build strength and flexibility while preventing or recovering from injury.

The exercises demonstrated rarely require equipment and he always offers practical ways to get support from chairs, walls and railings.

Hampton also encourages folks to start with small amounts of exercise and build over time. His focus on functional fitness and reducing injury and pain are a welcome counterpoint to videos of shocking makeovers. He offers good advice!

Have you stumbled upon a fitness personality that you find warm, welcoming and inclusive? Please tell us about them!


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.


Girls don’t fall out of love with sport… they are driven out of sport by structural barriers

The title of this blog is a quote from vice-chair of the South African Women’s Basketball Association, Kornelia Semmelink, at the South African Women and Sport Foundation last week, courtesy of Dr. Sheree Bekker, who researches gender-inclusive sport.

I follow Dr Bekker on Twitter, and here are a few more of her thoughts from that conference:

“Which actions/measures must we take to enforce long lasting changes in women and sport? Huge focus on building and supporting next generation leadership, transparency, values, and a national policy that has teeth.”

A national policy that has teeth might be something like Title IX in the USA. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. By 2016, that number was two in five.

Dr Bekker also noted “Let’s remember that it’s not only about elite sport. It’s about community sport, organizations, sport for social good, health and peace.”

Four Black and one Asian girl hugging and smiling on a sports field. Most of the girls are wearing blue T shirts, and one is in red.

That point led me to recall past efforts to encourage sport for all children as part of international development efforts. While those efforts seem to have faded away, I did come across an article prepared for a side event to the Women Deliver international conference in 2016. It was on the power of girls’ involvement in play.

Here’s what Women Deliver had to say: “The evidence is clear that sport and physical activity provide a myriad of physical and mental health benefits….perhaps equally important, sport represents a mold-breaking departure from the traditional scripts of femininity that girls are often given. Well-designed programs can begin to transform gender norms, challenge traditional roles, and break down gender stereotypes.

By increasing girls’ visible, active presence in the public arena, sport can transform the way girls think about themselves and the ways their family and communities perceive them. In short, sport can be an empowering force in girls’ lives….We know that sport provides girls’ access to female mentors and role models, as well as an expanded network of friends, group membership, and social capital. These connections are extremely valuable and often lacking for girls in many settings.”

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this blog, these reflections remind me of what drew me to it in the first place. Though it started out as a blog about being as fit as possible by 50, it has morphed into something much more. Here’s to another 10 years of reflection and advocacy for the rights of people who identify as girls and women to enjoy sports and healthy lives.

Two white hands holding glasses of fruit juice as they make a toast, with a blue background


Lia Thomas and Trans Athletes

Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.

Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …

1650 yard distance
Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765
Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds)
Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith)
Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky)
She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female

500 yard distance
Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72
Lia’s current, 4:34:06
Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06
Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32

200 yard distance
Prior to transition 1:39.31
Male record, 1:29.15
After transition 1:41.93
Female record of 1:39.10

See a pattern here?
Not advantage, consistency

There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.

To put it another way:

And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.

Maybe we should learn a a bit more about what this very private athlete has to say for herself. Her experience is not atypical of the gender testing that has gone on for many decades.

The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.

Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.

Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:

Anyone saying trans girls have an unfair advantage have never seen me perform a sport. Cartoon by Sophie Labelle (

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

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:

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

fitness · team sports · winter

We Do Us: A Fun Run in the Snow (Guest Post)

Previously I have blogged about the 2016 Mudmoiselle as an example of the “party run phenomenon” and how a completing a winter obstacle course helped me to “find my tribe”.

This year, wearing our red winter finest, Team Freezer Burn made its return to the Polar Rush obstacle challenge (and fundraiser for Sick Kids) at the Horseshoe Ski Resort North of Barrie, ON. Set up along a zipline and golf course adjacent to the resort, the event had participants run the 5km without disrupting the skiers and snowboarders on the hill. The untimed race had wall and hill climbs, slides, and balance activities that were completed individually, or cooperatively if someone needed encouragement or a hand.

Freezer Burn Team members, including the Spicy Chicken and I, Tonya.

Afterwards, our team celebrated with an evening of hot tub soaking, food, and games at the hotel, during which we recounted and laughed about the day’s events into the night.

Over breakfast at Timmie’s the next morning, my roomies and I discussed some of the reasons why we enjoyed this all-lady, team-based activity:

  • It made 2 hours of exercise more fun;
  • Some work (and exercise) indoors, so the outdoor activity was a welcome change;
  • Running as a team, everyone was supported, and no one was left behind;
  • Everyone’s comfort levels were accepted–“You do you,” as my roomie, Jordan, put it.

Together we reflected on how this winter fun run provided a situation-based activity that we felt were different other women-folk event. Jordan compared it to (the often but not exclusively male) relationships that develop while watching sporting events or poker nights, which don’t revolve around exclusively talking for its own sake. While complaining, gossiping, or other types of chit chat over coffee or wine have their place, such socializing often involves sharing about our own separate lives. In contrast, the chat following our obstacle course run involved enjoying memories made together–a life experience that friends, old and new, had shared.

This post is titled we do us because for me it describes our fun run in two ways. First, the team’s vibe was inclusive and supportive, but we also honoured our differences. Based on our various levels of fitness and interests, team members could opt in or out of any obstacle or social activity—with absolutely no judgement. Second, we weren’t just being together—we were doing together, which meant participating in a shared experience, even as we were each experiencing it differently.

This vibe may not be for everyone, but it allowed this particular group of women to have a lot of fun. And winning the team award for Best Costume—that was pretty fun too.

Elan “Red Cheat-Ah” Paulson of Team Freezer Burn, which won Best Costume at the Polar Rush!

Elan Paulson works at Western University, and she is a converted Fun Runner. She thanks Jordan P., Deb V., and Mary Lou G. for thoughts that contributed to this post.