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

It can be hard to work out in the winter – find what joy you can

My friend and electronic work-out buddy Diana sent me a note this week saying how hard she find it to work out in the winter. She was complaining specifically about the poor job her town had done of cleaning the sidewalks, she was constantly bracing her back against a possible fall.

I empathize; I often feel like an arthritic penguin, and return home with muscles so tightly clenched that I need a heating pad and foam roller to loosen up again. It is even worse for people with mobility issues. I don’t like climbing over the ice berms left by street ploughs that block sidewalks, but at least I don’t need to navigate with a wheelchair, cane, walker, or simply fragile bones.

Other activities can be tough too. Snowstorms, icy roads and bitter cold can all make it hard to get motivated to get off the couch and go to the gym or studio. Then there is all the bundling up, and needing to go out while still sweaty, or damp from the pool or a shower. If you use a bike as your main means of transport, your ride can be downright treacherous, as well as cold.

Some people embrace the winter by skiing, skating or snowshoeing, which is great. Sadly, the weather has been so unpredictable this year that I haven’t gotten out to do any of those things. Too cold, too icy, too snowy, not enough snow… sigh.

Working from home most of the time, I didn’t even get to do my annual stunt of skiing or snowshoeing to the office during a storm. but today I did get an unexpected little walk thanks to the remaining impact of the occupation of Ottawa. My usual route to drive to the office was blocked by concrete barriers, so I parked the car and walked.

Snow-covered concrete barrier and traffic cones blocking the road to a bridge in the background.

It wasn’t far, but I got a few minutes to enjoy the snow, and appreciate a couple of busy squirrels in a tree.

Two squirrels in the branches of a tree, with a grey sky behind and snow falling in the foreground.

The late winter mood blahs will end soon. I know this because today was the first day of flood prevention on the Rideau River. Before I know it, I’ll be tempted to complain about the bugs or the heat, but I promise to take a moment find the beauty in my surroundings.

View of a frozen river, with big chunks of snow-covered ice sitting in rows. There are grey trees in the background, and snow is falling.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

fitness · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · winter · yoga

Making Space: Day 21

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice so I thought I’d seek out some solstice-related yoga and meditation.

Well, that was an adventure. If you have lots of space in your day today, search YouTube for ‘Winter Solstice Yoga’ – you could spend all day being mindful, listening to music, doing asanas and yoga nidra, and still not run out of videos so I’m sure you can find something to match your time, space, and mood today.

Since I am working on the assumption that you probably have to work to squeeze in your movement and breathing space during December, I selected two short videos.

Please remember, though, that your space-making is for you and for your own purposes so please, please, please, choose what you have time for and what makes you happy.

Here’s your star for your hard work, no matter what that entails for you today: ⭐️

Side note: I just found these printable solstice colouring sheets for adults. If colouring is your kind of things, those could be a good meditative way to make space, too. The good thing about a winter scene is that you don’t even need colouring pencils or crayons, you could use a pencil and a black or blue pen and just fill everything in with patterns.

Here‘s a lovely short yin yoga practice that I found. I enjoyed how straightforward it was and I love doing ‘thread the needle.’

A short yoga practice from the Jiva Yoga Live YouTube channel. The still image shows a person sitting on a yoga mat with their legs far apart. They are wearing winter clothes on top and pink capri pants on bottom and their feet are bare. A winter scene with snow, trees and a snow covered cabin has been photoshopped behind them. Text over the image reads ‘Yin yoga sequence for winter’

And here’s a short meditation/ritual/practice for Winter Solstice that I found very restful.

If you are in the Southern Hemisphere and today is your summer solstice, maybe you would like these practices instead:

A Summer Solstice Yoga Flow from the Vitalized Body YouTube channel. Still image is of a person kneeling on a purple yoga mat in an indoor yoga studio.
A summer solstice meditation from Karen Dibs’ YouTube channel. Still image features an outdoor scene with the instructor sitting cross legged in a hammock. There is a green lawn dotted with trees and several dogs are shown in the foreground.

Enjoy!

dogs · gear · nature · walking · winter

For Christine H, A Little Planning = Big Fun

Last winter, I made an unfortunate error in judgement.

I left our snowshoes in the shed, planning to take them out once it snowed enough to use them regularly.

I didn’t realize that when it finally snowed enough, it would actually snow TOO MUCH and my shed door would be blocked by ice and snow for months.

In fact, I never did get around to snowshoeing last winter. Not even once. And that was annoying.

Annoying enough that I actually made a solid plan this past fall so it wouldn’t happen again. This year, when I put the patio furniture in the shed for the winter, I took my snowshoes out and stored them in my basement.*

Last week, as I was walking Khalee down the snow-covered sidewalk and distracting her from attempting to detour onto the walking trails near our house, I realized that I was missing an opportunity.

A n outdoor photo of anwan and a dog. The woman is looking toward the camera. The dog is looking at the woman and partially blocking our view.
I tried to get us both in the photo. I guess I was sort of successful. PS: I am wearing my hatphones! Image description: An outdoor photo of Christine and her dog, Khalee. Christine, a woman in her late forties, wearing a black toque, scarf and jacket, has a reddened nose and cheeks because of the cold, she is looking toward the camera. Only the right side Khalee’s face is visible, she is looking toward Christine and partially blocking our view.

If I took out my snowshoes, I could let Khalee bound around in the snow on the path while I sauntered over the top of it without sinking up to my shins.

Now our afternoon walks are mini-adventures for the two of us. (Something Sam and Cheddar and friends clearly know all about!) Snowshoeing on a snowy path with trees on one side and a river on the other is much more relaxing than walking on a snow-smudged sidewalk with a dirty bank of snow on one side and the road on the other.

A snowy footpath extends through some sparse woods.
Even though there is a school just on the other side of the trees and there are houses on the other side of the river, this walk feels a lot more nature-y. Image description: a snow-covered path, covered in footprints, extends forward. There are lots of trees on the left and a few on the right. There is a lower spot to the right where a river lies beneath the snow.

And yes, there are a few challenges involved in the process. For example, Khalee is not a fan of the fact that I have to go out first and put on my snowshoes before letting her outside and she gets a bit worked up about that. And it is tricky to manage a bounding dog on a leash while trying to walk on snowshoes. And then there is the maneuvering involved in trying to ‘stoop and scoop’ while wearing snowshoes and being connected to a dog whose business at this location is complete and who is ready to move quickly away to the next adventure.

A medium-sized blond dog in a red sweater with white hearts on it stands on a snowy path.
Does Khalee need this sweater? I don’t know, I can’t tell if it’s too cold to be out in ‘just’ her fur but I use the same principle I used to use with the kids – if I am going to have to worry about you being chilly, we have to bring a sweater for you. Khalee has to put hers on in advance because I would never be able to wrestle her into it while we were on the path. I’ll bet it would be funny to watch me try though. Image Description: A medium-sized BLOND (This was autocorrected to blind initially but that is incorrect, she isn’t blind.) dog in a red sweater with white hearts on it, stands on a snowy path. She is on a leash attached to a harness and she is looking away from the camera. The path is covered in footprints.

But, even with those challenges, it’s still a lot of fun and it feels a bit more cardio-y than our usual walks.

I’m really glad that I had the foresight to do that little bit of planning back in the fall.

*This kind of planning may not seem like a big deal to the neurotypical but the capacity to think ahead like this has never come naturally to me, especially about stuff that is just for fun. Just another way that my medication has made a positive difference for me.

fitness · season transitions · winter

Sam hates November but loves bright, sunny, snowy days (a photo essay as a reminder)

Like Tracy, I’ve been struggling to get outside this winter. Yes, there’s been some fat biking. There have been a few long snowy dog walks. But generally, on a weekly basis, it feels like days whoosh by when I don’t leave the house. Like this week, it was suddenly Friday and I realized I went out just once.

I blog lots about how much I hate grey November days but I do love winter sunshine. January and February are usually good months for snow and sun. It’s the in-between stage of winter I hate when it’s too cold and icy to ride my bike but not yet snowy enough to fat bike, cross country ski etc.

But this February feels different and I’m thinking it’s really about the pandemic not just about the weather. Right now we’re at the stage in Canadian winter when the temperatures feel daunting. The combination of stay at home orders in the province where I live and some -15 windy, grey, icy days means an awful lot of indoor time.

What I love, and I need to remind myself of this, is the bright winter sun. I’m not sure why I need to remind myself about this. I’m not sure why it feels so much like work during the pandemic to remember the good things. But it does. Are there things that you know make you feel better but you still need reminding? Still need a push out the door? Walking in the sunshine, in winter, is like this for me.

It’s also Family Day here in Ontario. As pandemic winter continues, I really miss my family members who don’t live with me. I think I’m going to make an effort to visit outside more often even though it’s cold.

Dog hikes, family, sun and snow. All good.

I also love reading in my llama pjamas, late Sunday breakfasts, and coffee! These are things I know make the weekend better but I don’t need reminding about them.

What are some of your favourite weekend things? I feel the need these days to mark the weekend and make it special. Otherwise, all the days blur into one.

Hope you had a good weekend and if you’re in one of Canadian provinces that celebrate it, hope you’ve got a happy family day ahead of you.

Enjoy!

Breakfast, French toast and strawberries

accessibility · clothing · fashion · fitness

Online shopping, sizes, and winter. Brrrr! Grrrr!

I’m getting angry about shopping this spring.

And I realize that I’m privileged in terms of my size, my job, and my income.

First, there was my need for a warmer coat for walking to work and walking Cheddar the dog in this winter than never ended. It needs to be above the knee and past the butt. I don’t want black. I have major ethical qualms about Canada Goose brand clothing. Prefer plant sourced down. Oh, needs a good hood and non strangling cuffs. Also, I’m frugal about clothing and I’ve never paid more than $300 for a coat. I also try to be an ethical consumer when it comes to clothes. I’m unsure if I have an ethical commitment to buy from companies that carry the full range of sizes. Those are the challenges.

Then I found one online, size XL, made of milkweed “down.” You can browse the milkweed collection here. Pretty, pricey, ethical. Fine. Two out of three aren’t bad. I ordered.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff, Unsplash. Image description: Milkweed. Black and white close up photo.

It arrived. The XL fit Sarah who is normally a medium and I couldn’t even get my arms in it. Fit tip: Articulated sleeves equals skinny arms. No more bicep curls. Ugh. Part of it was just mislabeling. That was an XL in no one’s books. But the arms were extra bad and I think represented the challenges faced by women who strength train (and who build muscle) when it comes to clothing. See here.

So no more online ordering of coats! I returned it. That part was easy. And now I’m so sick of winter I can’t even stand to try on cold weather coats. See you here next year but in the meantime recommendations welcome.

Second, there’s my ongoing leggings challenge which I’ve written about lots. See my love of leggings post here. But since I need them all of the time for the knee brace I also need different varieties of leggings. I’ve got gym leggings covered and casual weekend leggings under control. But sometimes I need leggings with dressy outfits. If I didn’t need the knee brace then tall boots might be the answer. But a) knee brace and b) cyclist’s calves. I want high waisted size 14. Black. Full length. (The 7/8 ones are in this year and I keep shuddering watching university students with bare ankles and Canada Goose coats. I want to yell in my loudest mom voice, “Put some socks on.” But I don’t.)

Lots of friends recommend Lululemon. I’ve resisted in the past but if they work and last, I’ll pay the big bucks for leggings. So online I go. The ones everyone seems to love–hi Anne!–are “align.” And I know I’m lucky that I’m a size 14 not a size 16 or higher which doesn’t exist in the world of Lululemon.

But it doesn’t matter if I’m a 14 because they don’t have them. It’s a large company. This is one of their most popular items. You’d think they’d keep a size 14 in black in stock. But no.

Argh.

Spring had better come soon. I’m done.

cycling · winter

Snow commuting, still faster than driving

This story has been in the news a lot this week : Data From Millions Of Smartphone Journeys Proves Cyclists Faster

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

(There’s been a lot of analysis of the data, from smart phones and from Strava. For the big picture look here: Strava’s 2018 Fascinating Year In Review Stats)

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.” 

They thought about it and noted that I got to park closer. They parked in a lot a ways a way but I locked up my bike in covered bike parking just outside the building.  But truth be told, I was ahead of them all the way. 

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.

Here’s one description from Evans Cycle in the UK:

“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.”

cycling · fitness

Sam’s ‘no excuses’ winter cycling plan!

Sam's bike on a trainer in front of her computer
Sam’s bike on a trainer in front of her computer

Part 1: Bike on the trainer in my home office. It’s good for weekday evening mini-spins and longer sessions on the weekend. This is my old house set up from last year. This year it will actually require unpacking my home office and setting up the computer. On the bright side the floor is carpeted and it will be quieter. Though truth be told there’s only so much time on the trainer I can take.

Part 2: Bike commuting on the fat bike and weekend playing. I’m not a fan of the indoors.

Sam on a fat bike in the snow
Sam on a fat bike in the snow

Part 3: Spin classes on campus. My favourite is bike yoga with is 30 min of spin, followed by 30 of yoga stretches for cyclists

Part 4. Sarah and I have scoped out a place called the Bike Shed which runs trainer classes indoors. You just bring your bike. They supply the trainers. And the tech. 

Part 5. Go South! We have a plan to visit Jeff on the boat in January in Florida. Planning to motor around the Florida Keys and get out each day for a ride. We haven’t decided yet whether we are taking road bikes and flying with them or if we’ll rent bikes there. 

Image result for florida keys bike path
Map of the Florida Keys Heritage Trail
View of the ocean from the Florida Keys Heritage Trail
View of the ocean from the Florida Keys Heritage Trail
cycling · fitness

First Snowy Ride (Guest Post)

My bike and I went on quite an adventure this week. Thursday night, I reduced the pressure in her tires in preparation for our first ride through the snow. I was excited, but also really nervous. Every time I thought of winter riding, two things came to mind. I thought about how much fun it could be, but my fear of falling tempered my excitement. What was I thinking!?

I have post-concussion syndrome – the result of a car hitting me while cycling four years ago. I know that my brain is more vulnerable than most since brain injuries are accumulative. Shouldn’t I avoid any activities that put me at risk of falling? But I know better than that. I could just as quickly fall and hit my head slipping on the sidewalk. I have to live. I cannot stop living life out of fear. Sometimes it’s tricky balancing caution and quality of life.

Typically, I exercise significantly less during the cold winter months – I think most of us do. Last year, I got a gym membership as soon as the snow flew in hopes of working out at least a few times a week. I only live a few blocks from the gym, and I had friends who I could work out with there. Still, there were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get there at all – especially once I started school.

This year, I knew that I needed to do something differently. I have a bike trainer, but that alone likely won’t be enough. Cycling outside with the wind on my face and nature all around me – that is a different story entirely. If I can gain enough confidence in my winter bike handling abilities, it could be a game changer for me. The benefits of trying winter cycling, seem to outweigh the risks.

When I woke up to a winter wonderland on Friday, I noticed a friend who has cycled through many winters had posted on social media about how slippery it was. I reconsidered – again. “Just try it,” I told myself. “You can always change your mind and take the bus if you don’t feel safe. Just try it and see how it goes.” And so I did.

IMG_1820

I biked a slow 12 kph to the bus stop. Bus there and bike home was the plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be and I felt exhilarated by the time I arrived at the bus stop. Fresh snow to make tracks in made it more fun than I expected!

I was nervous about biking downhill on the way home, and by then I had pre-used snow to contend with. Fresh snow is more fun and relaxing to bike on, but I soon realized that my rubber tires were good at keeping me balanced. Biking over the footprints in the snow felt similar to biking over gravel – go slow and steady, don’t turn sharply and don’t brake suddenly.

I was 7 km into my ride before I realized that I had been so worried about falling that I wasn’t enjoying the experience or the scenery. By then, I was feeling more confident about the conditions and realized that I could relax a bit. “Look up and enjoy the view,” I reminded myself. Seconds later I came around a corner to a delightful surprise. Straight in front of me, heading across the path, was a buck. We paused to look at each other for a few seconds before he wandered into the woods. There’s no photo of the encounter, but the moment is crystal clear in my mind – I had never been so close to a deer.

Initially, I had planned to put studded tires on my bike. There’s a good chance that I would feel more confident with studded tires, but from what I’ve heard, the energy required increases significantly with studs. I enjoyed Friday’s ride enough to try it again, but even without studs, lowered tire pressure doubled my riding time. Given the number of dry days we typically have here, I suspect I will ride more often without studded tires.

I expect it will take a while before my nerves settle down and I’m able to fully enjoy winter biking – it’s a bit of a learning curve. I also know that there will be lots of days when I opt to take the bus instead. However, Friday was a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to bike on a fresh dusting of snow!

IMG_1823

Phoenix – my bike – was messier than I had expected, so I decided that the easiest way to clean her was with a gentle shower. 5 minutes later she was sparkling and free of dirt and leaves!

Do you ride during the winter? What was your first ride like? What are your tips for newbies?

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.

cycling

The first sharp shock of riding in the cold

Last week was the week that we had our first overnight frost warning. It was also the first week of riding in just above freezing temperatures. Also, it was the week that the furnace came on and we closed all the windows.  I was kind of shocked. Each year it kind of catches me by surprise.

Thursday’s coached ride began at 12 degrees at five o’clock. Sunny, windy, and cool but not too cold. We worked hard out into the wind. But by the time we were heading home the sun was sinking and the temperatures were dropping. By the time Sarah and I got back to our cars it was four degrees. Brrrr.

After a drive with the car butt warmers cranked and the heat on high we made it home where we ate take out Thai food and jumped in the hot tub. I’ll be fine once the initial shock wears off. It’s time to dig out the warm booties, the ear warmers, and my serious cycling gloves.

I don’t mind riding in these temperatures. The coloured leaves are beautiful. It’s a great time of year to be outside and  after all, it’ll soon look like this.