Ride Like a Girl

5 03 2016

Cycling in the winter – as a practitioner and an advocate, it’s a topic I’m always interested to read other people’s takes on. The media represents winter cycling in predictable ways such as during a snow storm, “look at the tough/poor cyclist in the storm” pics, or vaguely supportive pieces including tips for winter riding, or first hand accounts of reporters doing it for the first time. The comments sections are even more rote, so I came up with this to spice up the experience:

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It’s winter cycling comments BINGO!

Meanwhile, I’ve been living with the side effects of making over my fatbike with a very eyepopping and gendered colour.

Pink in the pines. (Actually they're spruce, but pines sounds better).

Pink in the pines. (Actually they’re spruce, but pines sounds better).

I chose bright pink over equally bright green or orange – but really it could have gone any way. I’ve already got another bike with fluorescent green tires, and the only reason I didn’t go orange was because with my blue rims, it would emulate the colours of the local last place professional hockey team. This would’ve resulted in a barrage of drunken pickup truck passengers shouting “Goilers!” on any game night or in the rare event that they actually win. I don’t like getting anything shouted at me from pickup trucks, thank you very much.

Riding on water.

Riding on water.

Colours carry so much symbolism, and no colour in western culture is as heavily weighted as pink. I honestly didn’t expect the colour to completely take over. Nobody notices anymore that the rims are shiny blue and the frame is white.

So now I’m the woman with the pink fatbike. So much for being inconspicuous. Part of the appeal of getting a fatbike was being able to access areas that are hard to access, and the ability to not stand out can be helpful in that regard. Every time I ride it, people stop me to compliment my bike, or ask questions, or do U-turns mid block on 4 lane streets to say “cool bike!” (or just try to make themselves feel smart with passive aggressive statements-as-questions that they clearly don’t want a response to).

Look, I'm not entering!

Look, I’m not entering!

The main objective, though, is to bring joy, and I don’t say that lightly. With the fun, the exercise (especially in winter), the fresh air, the nourishing escapes from life’s stresses, this bike has been one of the best investments in my mental health I’ve ever made. Just looking at it makes me smile.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

So, may as well go fabulous all the way. After all we’re talking here about an entire season in which the landscape is regularly covered in glitter!

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura on a perfect winter day.

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura pogies on a perfect winter day.

My plain black pogies were warm, but their look ultimately utilitarian.

Check out the frosted tips!

The black pogies reduce the visual lightness (if you can say that about a fatbike) of the bike.

I decided that custom pogies would be a nice touch, and had a little time over Xmas holidays to make it happen. The fabric I decided upon was perfect, except a certain cat became completely obsessed with it and kept running off with pieces as I was trying to sew.

Meet my sewing assistant.

Meet my sewing assistant.

The end product was a pair of bright pink, faux fur pogies, so glam that they distract from the huge pink tires. (Those same huge tires that a certain tubby cat tried to climb up to try to chew on the fur.)

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Now the pogies were getting all the attention and comments. My partner, out cycling with me one day, asked “is this what it’s like to be famous?” after being stopped for the umpteenth time to be complemented on my “mitts.”

One night, headed to the sketchy corner convenience store on an errand (the one-stop-shop for munchies, crack pipes, and knives in the neighbourhood), I was stopped by the local constabulary who happen to patrol the area by fatbike.

“That is the girliest fatbike I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one of the cops.

“Uh, haha, thanks?” They stopped me all authoritarian like to comment on my bike? As I turned toward them, they recognized me from my job at a local not-for-profit, changed their tone a little, offered to come by work with some donations, and then turned their attention to creeping the patrons of the neighbouring head shop. Awkward (which I guess is the best one can ask for in a police interaction). This creates additional complications to exploring and testing limits, so to speak, and will ensure I’m on my best behavior riding this bike, at least until I unpink it. If my fattie ever gets stolen, those dudes had better be on it.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the original impetus to get a second set of tires was to add studs to grip ice. I was surprised how long this winter I didn’t need them, but when January rains ended the perfect winter riding conditions, I knew it was time to add metal.

First you drill the tires, then you put the screws in...

Does this still look “girly?” Does it roll like Furiosa?

There’s something confidence inspiring about having 7 dozen steel spikes protruding from each pink balloon tire, and I’m not just talking about ice. But still, bring on the ice, because ice is awesome!

Aka rollin' on a river.

Heading up the creek without a paddle.

Depending on conditions, you don’t necessarily need studded tires to ride over frozen bodies of water, but what a game changer. It feels like my tires are velcroed to the ice.

Aka still rollin on a river.

Winter makes pathways out of rivers. And rivers are pretty flat, so woohoo!

Riding on the river has been my favourite thing this year. Splashing over the gravel beds and beaches through the summer, and navigating around ice flows and over outfalls in the winter. The river is the reason for and life blood of this city, but once you are actually on it, the city fades away.

Following a lone coyote track in the dying light through tonnes of giant chunks of ice stacked by the river’s force, I passed the point of no return. In an alien landscape I would have balked at had I been able to properly see what I was getting into, I found riding skills and confidence I never knew I had. Getting safely home came down to the river, me, and my bike – pink didn’t matter. This is what riding like a girl is about.





The Femme Bike Mechanic

29 06 2012

Bike shop culture is changing (though not fast enough if you ask me)! No longer a boys club, women are stepping up and fixing bikes, and doing it our style.

How to spot a femme bike mechanic:

  • Purse is super heavy because it’s full of tools and tubes, you know, just in case.
  • Wardrobe is chosen on the basis of how well the clothes will hide bike grease. Skirts are chosen on the basis of how easy it would be to test ride an oversized diamond frame while wearing it.
  • When teaching people how to mount a tire, uses an analogy about pulling on tights or pantyhose if they get frustrated.

When this happens, it’s not a bother, not even a little.

  • Has a personal nail brush stashed at the shop.
  • When getting ready for a BikeWorks dance party, nail polish is chosen on the basis of how well it will camouflage the dirt under the nails.
  • Speaking of nail polish, possesses colours that were chosen to match bikes to touch up paint first, and go all matchy-matchy second.
  • Despite the above, still knows which hand cleaner’s the best.
  • Can recommend a saddle that’s actually comfortable for a woman.
  • At the salon, requests a haircut that will look good after being windblown on a bike – “My bicycle is my blow-dryer.”
  • Never scoffs at the idea of putting a chain guard, fenders, kickstand, etc. on any bike.
  • Bike shorts under skirt.
  • Gets a little irate every time someone walks into the bike shop and asks for advice from the dude she’s helping and ignores her.
  • Gets slightly more irate when greasy-handed, apron-clad, and the sole person in the shop, someone walks in and asks her where the mechanic is.
  • Knows every trick for increasing leverage but never strips a bolt.
  • Talks about spoke nipples, lube, and male and female parts without blinking.
  • Like gender pioneers in other male dominated fields, has to be twice as competent to get half the respect.

So, to all the dudely dudes out there turning wrenches, get ready, because the ladies are coming to shake up the bike shop backrooms!





Critical Lass – Northside!

5 08 2011

This is the blog post where I nearly fail at Critical Lass. The weather was hot and sunny after days of rain, the rides are now regularly scheduled on the fourth Sunday of the month, and this month our starting point was the Taste of Edmonton Festival, where dozens of local eateries offer up samplings of their fare outside, in Churchill Square.

Feeling late, I was really booking it on Poplar as I crossed The Bridge, so much so that I nearly blew right by Deb and Angel from Loop Frame Love. They were taking it pretty easy, and another lass caught up with us as we headed towards the square. I still wanted to stop at the bank as well as pick up a cold beverage before the ride, so I left the group so I could bike fast, “ride” the errands, and meet up in time to rendezvous with everyone.

Except it didn’t happen. I arrived to a Churchill Square filled with thousands of people, but I couldn’t find the Critical Lasses.

Look! I'm not that hard to miss! I'm tall and wearing a sparkly hat!

I pushed my bike through that crowd for more than an hour, munching on some Padmanadi and taking a break to splash in the City Hall fountain along the way. Even in such a large crowd, how difficult could it be to find a bunch of well-dressed ladies with vintage bikes and foldies? Were they enjoying a Taste of Edmonton? Had they already left? Did the volunteer anti-bike gestapo get them? (I once was tackled, that’s right – tackled, for riding my bike through an empty festival site on a rainy day, and on this day was told several times by festival volunteers that I couldn’t ride my bike anywhere near the square, even though I wasn’t riding it.)

Growing tired of the suffocating sea of domesticated humans, I rode to a little place I know where there’s always room to breathe.

Blue skies self-portrait.

I knew which restaurant we were scheduled to eat dinner at, so I chilled in the park for a while before setting off to 118th Ave for one last attempt to join the ride.

Back on Poplar, in search of more lasses. BTW, I made that skirt the night before and hemmed it right before leaving the house for the ride.

I was overheated and wondering if I should have just taken a nice shady ride through Mill Creek Ravine instead when I spotted the bike pile in front of Habesha on 118th. Everyone had just ordered when I walked in, so I was able to eat with everyone else, and for a hungry vegan, Ethiopian food is good, good eating.

The Lasses! Hooray!

After dinner and good conversation, we got back on the bikes to head  downtown, stopping by the legislature grounds for a photo shoot and a little splashy splashy in the fountains.

Sweet bikes and good comapny in the shady rose garden.

The fountains at the leg (pronounced “ledge”) grounds are one of those rare singular things that vastly improves the livability of central E-Ville. So many days, on my way to or from ye olde sweatshop, I stop to dabble my feet in the cooling waters (FTR city hall is colder) and find momentary relief from the summer heat. The fountains, it is claimed, were never designed for wading and swimming, and were built with materials that don’t react well with chlorine (which they started adding to the water after finally giving up on constantly trying to chase people out of them). So now they are now scheduled to be replaced next year, so it was nice to get a little extra splashy time at the end of the ride. (And, um, I was too busy getting my splash on to take a picture).

View from a rose garden.

All in all, it was another lovely day out. For the whole story of the ride that day, check out Deb’s post on Loop Frame Love. See you at the next Critical Lass Ride!





Critical Lass – Summer Solstice Edition

28 06 2011

On an unsettled summer evening, a group of classy lasses set out on their bicycles for a little fun, food, and camaraderie. There had already been some storms that afternoon, and I suspect that the threat of rain prevented more folks from coming out, but the small group turned out to be just right.

Waiting to cross a huge suburban thouroughfare.

For this ride, we started at Bicycle Bottleneck and headed south towards Whitemud crossing.

Selen and Deb on their classic steeds.

We checked out the new paths adjacent to the LRT, which were pretty nice, except where they suddenly ended and we had to detour through suburban streets.

Miss Sarah, looking poised and stylish as usual yet still completely prepared for the weather.

Because of the threat of rain, raincoats and trenchcoats were de rigeur.

Geneva's ensemble was jaw droppingly awesome, never mind that her bike and bag were scavanged.

I ended up coming to the ride straight from work, and decided that getting poutine (I was famished) was more important than going home to change bikes. Except for Marilyn on her Brompton, I was the only one riding a modern style bike, but I don’t think anyone was too bothered. I had been caught in a downpour earlier in the day, and was very glad to be riding the Transend with its disc brakes, mud flaps and chain guard.

This is what my hair looks like after being caught in the rain.

We rode to a south side Japanese restaurant, where we crammed into a private booth and loaded up on sushi and had a great session of girl talk. As I said before, the size of the group was just right for a good conversation that everyone could engage in. The food was quite good, except I didn’t explain to the waitress about my dietary restrictions and inadvertently ordered a veggie cone with a mayo bomb in it – sigh – it’s sometimes difficult to strike a balance between not being “that annoying vegan” and asserting my lifestyle choices. Geneva said it was also pretty tasty though.

Riding into the sunset. Though the clouds looked threatening all night, rain never materialized.

After supper, with full bellies, we split up and headed our separate ways, which included going to the LRT station for some, and taking a joyride down the hill in Mount Pleasant cemetery for others.

Selene rolling down Mount Pleasant.

Whenever I pass it and have a few minutes to spare, I always like to ride up to the top of Mount Pleasant and roll down the winding roads. It’s one of my favourite rides in the city – it’s quiet, the view is spectacular, and it’s one of the only non- river valley hills in town. And maybe it’s just me, but the extra degree of creepiness of it being a graveyard adds to the excitement. Anyway, it was the cherry on top of an absolutely lovely evening of hanging out with other fab cycling ladies. Hope to see y’all July 24th, if not sooner! ❤

Also, check out more Critical Lass pics on Girls and Bicycles and Loop Frame Love!





Critical Lass Goes Downtown

15 05 2011

Last weekend marked the fourth Critical Lass ride, where a group of lovely ladies on bicycles took to the streets downtown for a little riding, some refreshments, a little shopping and some Mother’s day merriment. We met in Churchill Square.

Group photo at City Hall. Huge apologies to Monie for cutting you out of the picture.

In the picture above, everyone is delightfully distracted by a skateboarding bulldog named Buttercup tearing up the square. We tried out each other’s bikes and chitchatted for for quite a while before setting off.

Last minute adjustments before riding away. Art Gallery in the background.

There was also a couple of lads that joined us on our ride. Baby Robert trailed along in a chariot (he was also at the first CL, in utero :-)), and uber-mechanic Keith rode his ’51 CCM converted fixed gear.

Front: Marilyn and Miss Sarah, behind them, Monie & Angel, behind them, Karen with Robert in the trailer and Deb and Judy bringing up the rear.

Miss Sable, looking ultra-hip on a red Dahon.

Getting together with other ladies who bike is always a fun time, and getting together with so many ladies who write bike blogs takes it to a whole other level. It was like half the people riding were taking pictures for their blogs, and as a result, we have pictures of each other taking pictures of each other. Check out Miss Sarah’s pics in Girls and Bicycles, Deborah’s collection on Loop Frame Love, and Keith’s pics on ravingbikefiend.

Red light means photo time! The downtown Pedways are one of my favorite E-town architectural features.

We biked down to 104th and checked out the shops and cafes (at least the ones that were open on Sunday), and then headed back to the south side over the High Level Bridge.

Deb from Loop Frame Love on her new (to her) Raleigh on the High Level Bridge.

It felt like every time I’d pull out my camera, the sun would disappear, but I finally did get a couple of sunny shots on the bridge.

Karen on her Linus with baby Robert on the High Level Bridge.

All in all it was a lovely day, and even though we did need our jackets and sweaters, the rain that was forecast never materialized, and by the end of the ride I still wanted more. The sun was a teaser for the rest of the week, which has been the warmest we’ve had so far this year, and I’ve spent all my extra time and energy since riding bikes, and breaking bikes (well, one), and fixing bikes (like, 40), which is why it took me a week to get this blog post up. Hello warm weather, it’s about time!





Shop Talk

13 12 2010

Warning: this post contains some ugly language that some folks ought to find more offensive than they do.

When I was a kid, my dad was a mechanic, and I spent many hours underfoot in his small business and workshop. I didn’t pay much attention to things mechanical back then (even though I could fill my tires with a compressor before I left elementary school), and besides the air compressor, the only other things I remember are more ephemeral like the grimy concrete floors and the smell of grease and agent orange. And the blatant misogyny, like the walls covered in Sunshine girls and calenders of scantly clad women with power tools, the ubiquitous badly stashed porn, and the never ending disparaging remarks from the guys who worked there about the women in their lives.

All of this left me with a pretty thick skin for boys’ bad behavior in workshops, even leading me to expect it. When I started frequenting the local bicycle co-op, I was just glad that the men’s club I found there was more progressive than the male dominated spaces I remember from my childhood, and tried to brush off the more subtle ways that I felt unwelcome as a female in the shop. For example, the mechanics (though this also goes for pretty much every bike shop I’ve ever been in) would always assume I didn’t know anything, and I would often just go along, buying into the myth that because they were dudes and I wasn’t that I should trust their knowledge over my own.

Another subtle way macho boys clubs exclude anyone who isn’t a macho boy is with the language they use, and unfortunately, I still hear a lot of this in the cycling community today. Need to try harder? Then “Man up!” Didn’t perform to your expectations? Then you’re a “pussy,” or maybe you “pussed out,” “don’t be such a girl,” or perhaps you’re a “sissy,” or a “fag.” Do something stupid? Then you’re a “retard.” Something’s no fun? Then it’s “lame.” Some of you may be thinking “Oh, that’s not serious, it’s just men razzing each other, they do it all the time, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s ironic, feminists have no sense of humor, etc.” Let me spell it out: when I, as a woman, hear this sort of language, it sends a direct message to me that I am not valued for my knowledge & skill, and that I am not wanted in an environment where being like a woman is seen as a detriment. The same goes for queer folks, people with disabilities, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the masculine “norm.”

Boys, the English language is rich and deep, and I think you’ll find there are many ways to engage your competitive spirits without disparaging whole groups of people. You may even find that when you stop behaving like macho stereotypes, people who aren’t macho dudes may be more interested in spending time with you. For bike culture to progress beyond a subcultural fringe, we need to be far more cognizant of how our behavior and the way we communicate creates barriers to the very folk we are trying to win over.

Two years ago, EBC joined in an experiment that has already been running at many bike co-ops across North America and established days when, twice a month,  men aren’t allowed in the shop.

Women & Transgendered peoples' day at Edmonton Bicycle Commuters.

I have helped run these days since the beginning. I do it because I don’t see bike culture changing fast enough away from being a macho boys club. I spend every second Sunday wrenching because I want to know what its like to work in a shop not dominated by testosterone. I do it because the only female hands that have ever worked on any of my bikes are my own, and I don’t want to see another generation of girls grow up thinking that a penis is required equipment for holding a wrench or becoming competent in anything mechanical.

Please don’t misconstrue this rant as painting all men with the same brush, or equating maleness with something negative. I don’t know what I’d do without all the thoughtful, supportive, feminist men in my life, and I’ve been privileged to witness so much positive change in the bicycle scene in the last decade. I’m writing this because we still have far to go and because there are still a small but vocal minority of men who think it’s OK to say and do misogynist BS, especially within a male dominated space. Mostly, I’m writing this in the hopes that the men who hear it and are uncomfortable with it won’t leave it to the only woman in the room to call out chauvinism when it happens.





Fall Critical Lass

6 10 2010

Last weekend, on a beautiful sunny day that may be the warmest we see until spring, a group of lovely ladies donned their most summery fall frocks and went for a little ride.

Wheee! There was hardly a car on the street.

Critical Lass is the brainchild of the ladies from Loop Frame Love. In a bicycle culture where the boys make the most noise, this ride is a time where the ladies can get together and do cycling our style: pretty, relaxed, elegant, fun!

A golden moment.

Stopping for pictures near the Faculty Club.

Monie & Selene

I was so happy to see Selene’s vintage Raleigh back on the road. She was hit by a car a few weeks ago and has since spent many hours at EBC bringing that bike back to life.

Micah throws leaves up into the air!

Corby strikes a pose.

Hitting the road again.

We rode down Saskatchewan Drive around Belgravia and Windsor Park (one of my favorite routes in the city for a leisurely ride), ending at bicycle bottleneck, where we checked out the latest accessories at Red Bike, and refueled at the Sugarbowl.

Lasses on the move.

After the ride, some of us went to a sunny stoop nearby, where vegan corn dogs were being fried up. They were ridiculously awesome, stuffed with Daiya vegan cheese and bacon bits, then generously battered & deep fried. I ate two.

Megan and a vegan corn dog, fried on the stoop.

Be sure to check out more (and better) photos from the ride, including the group pictures, from Deborah at Loop Frame Love and Judy at the Penner Chronicles! Thanks everybody for a great way to spend a Saturday! I’m already looking forward to the next Critical Lass.