Friday, March 15, 2013

Biking with a Bump

Hey, how about that for radio silence?

Here's a picture of Alex going grocery shopping on the Mundo to make up for it:

Yes, I had to cut down on the posting. Sadly it's a reflection of the fact that, starting in October, I had to cut down on the biking as well. You see, in astonishing conformity to our plans, my husband and I actually conceived a second child on exactly the schedule we'd hoped for--one due to arrive just a few months after the third birthday of our son, Alex. Given how mutable--and risible!--plans usually are in our house, I don't know how we managed to do it.(1)

The element that we only half-incorporated into our plans was that this pregnancy would be just as physically challenging for me as the last one. I had such a difficult time eating and retaining food that I lost weight two months in a row. I was so tired I could barely do my job. The bulk of my household chores now belong my long-suffering husband.

Given my nausea, exhaustion and overall malaise, biking was out of the question for me the first three months of pregnancy. After the first trimester ended and I moved into what is called the "golden period" of pregnancy--the second trimester, when supposedly the early side effects go away but the fetus is not yet large enough to put a huge physical toll on your body--I found my condition improved... marginally. I attempted a couple of too-ambitious bike rides with Alex that left me ill for up to a week afterwards as I wasn't able to eat enough food to replace the calories I burned by biking.

Now, at the end of my second trimester, I have finally reached that happy plateau that most other pregnant women get to around week 14. I can go on short, easy bike rides with Alex one or two days a week without worrying that I'll pay a price for days afterwards. With Washington DC poised to enter its glorious spring season, I'm ready to get out of the house and explore the city again with my favorite passenger.

Some people ask about biking while pregnant, and I guess this is what I'd say:

There's nothing inherent in pregnancy that means you can't ride a bike. But every woman is different and every pregnancy is different. While I don't think we should discourage pregnant women from riding bikes, I also don't think it's right to push women to ride bikes while pregnant if--for whatever reason--they aren't comfortable doing so. I've heard stories of women biking themselves to their birth centers in labor; I've heard stories of women quitting at six months of pregnancy because of diminished lung capacity or the discomfort of their knees knocking into their bellies. And of course, there are women like me. Whatever our commitment to biking prior to pregnancy, some of us end up with the short end of the gestational stick and find even the littlest physical effort of bicycling too much on top of everything else that's happening to our bodies. And that's fine. I can't say it enough: every woman is different. Every pregnancy is different.

1. Well, yes, I do know. But I'm not sharing it with you. ;-)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's good to have options

On a day when...

  • I fell asleep in front of a work training video at 9pm last night and stayed in bed for an extra hour this morning out of dread of an upcoming landlord fight, 
  • Alex camped out in front of the bedroom door at 5:30am, AND
  • the dog is suffering from a slight intestinal complaint that makes it inadvisable to leave him alone for a day in our carpeted apartment...
it's really nice to have a car.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Today I got into my first ever baby-biking argument with a driver. While I waited with Alex at a light—perfectly positioned behind the crosswalk, in the center of the lane, paying attention to the light—a driver stopped her car in the middle of a left turn in order to tell me that I shouldn’t be biking with Alex on the street:

Her: “You better take care of that baby.”
Me [after checking bike-seat straps, helmet, blanket]: “…?”
Her: “You ought to be riding on the sidewalk. It’s not safe for that baby in the street.”
Me: “Actually, it is safer in the street. They’ve studied it and…”
Her: “NO. It is NOT SAFE to ride a bike in the street. Where are your mirrors, huh? You want to ride in the street, but you don’t even have any mirrors on your bike.”
Me: “LOLWUT? Ma’am, when was the last time you rode a bike in the street?”
Her: [yells something unintelligible, drives away]

So yeah. This is the first accusation of irresponsibility I’ve received while actually on the bike, and it definitely has a different flavor than the usual passive-aggressive comments I hear in social settings: “You actually ride your bike on the street with your baby? That’s very… brave. It’s fine for you (I guess), but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable risking my child’s safety that way.”

Clearly I need some snappier comebacks in the future. And let’s be honest: this middle-aged, motherly-looking woman was exactly the sort of person from whom I’m used to receiving unsolicited advice on all aspects of childrearing, so she probably would have found something to criticize regardless of the circumstances in which we met.

Ultimately, however, I have so many more positive interactions with other road users than negative ones. Just this morning, the following things happened:
  • I unexpectedly encountered a Kidical Mass mom—sans adorable baby daughter—and had a nice red-light chat with her about the next Kidical Mass ride and optimal routes for biking to the National Zoo.
  • While I waited to turn left on green at that very same light, an oncoming driver yielded his right-of-way to me so I could turn. (I know that some bike advocates hate when drivers do this. I think it’s sweet and take drivers up on their offers every time.)
  • The driver of a huge handicap shuttle van grinned and gave me a thumbs-up as he slowly, carefully, respectfully passed our bike while we cranked up the final hill to Alex’s daycare.

I’ve been incredibly lucky so far to get as few negative comments as I do. I attribute that partly to my conservative/assertive riding style, and partly to the fact that I ride a massive cargo bike that clearly communicates that I take biking with my son very seriously indeed.

Still, my hat is off to other biking parents who get these sort of comments on a much more frequent basis. While most of us (I hope) would agree that the positive interactions outnumber the negative ones, it can be awfully hard to remember that sometimes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shoes: a confession

I’ve started wearing cycle shoes on the daily commute. I know, I know, cycle-specific clothing: the horror! The elitism! The automatic disqualification from the Cycle Chic Club!
Cycle shoes and professional slacks: does not compute?

I didn’t want to enjoy wearing cycle shoes. But after a few months of commuting and general hauling on the Yuba, my right leg, which I habitually use to start off my first pedal stroke, developed a sore knee that wouldn’t go away and a hamstring so tight that no remedy would loosen it. I tried everything—stretching, ibuprofen, changing my cadence up and down, switching out the leg I used to start pedaling from a standstill. Nothing helped.

Finally, in desperation, I dug out the Shimano SPD shoes I’d bought years ago in a brief flirtation with with Serious Cycling™. The bolt-in cleats and matching pedals had long been given away after I discovered that they hurt more than they helped, but I kept the shoes for those rare occasions when I felt the need for a little more pedaling efficiency (even if the gain was mostly psychosomatic).

Thankfully, this pair of cycle shoes was designed for on- and off-bike wear (they might have been marketed as “touring” shoes back in the day?) and they looked more like a pair of trail running shoes than yak leather Fred Flippers.

The difference became apparent after just a few days’ riding, and it was amazing. The pain and tightness went away almost entirely.  

Though I was delighted that the pain had gone away, I felt disappointed and even a little worried that the solution had been to use what I consider “specialized bike clothing”. Do SPD shoes undermine the “ordinary person on a bike” image I aim to project in my everyday riding? Would a stranger looking at me think he or she had to buy special shoes to ride a bike?

On the other hand, sacrificing comfort and utility to conform to an ideology—any of the many that members of the cycling community subscribe to—is just silly. Grand Unified Theories of how to dress are valuable only so long as they offer more freedom, not more constraints.

And maybe I should take my clothing choices a little less seriously, too. After all, someone who owns a massive orange cargo bike with color-matched milk crates has already jumped the shark on “specialized biking equipment”, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Babies on Board: Bringing children on local buses

Buses are vital for families across the region but riding with a young child can be challenging. Families can make the ride better for both parents and kids with a little planning. And WMATA could help accommodate families with a more flexible stroller policy, by making the bus easier to board, and providing more real-time arrival information.

Living in the outskirts of Wheaton without a car and with a premature newborn son, I got used to the bus system very quickly. Like a lot of families in the region, our family rode the bus daily to get to the Metro for work, to buy groceries, and to visit doctors or friends. Even after we moved back to the District and got a car, we found that local buses continued to be a convenient, cheap, and even fun way for our family to get around the greater Washington area.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April 4 & 5: Things they don't mention in Womens' Biking Forums

See that plastic duck? Alex has four of them. He got them as a birthday present over the weekend. He loves them, and everywhere he goes, they have to go with him. All four of them. You could get a lot of entertainment out of watching me attempt to descend four flights of steps with Alex, a laptop bag, my purse, an Elmo backpack, AND four plastic ducks every morning. Oh, and I'm carrying Alex too, as he can't do steps in his boots.

But before we even get to that point, we have to make it out the apartment's front door. On most work days, walking out the door with Alex is the single hardest thing I have to do all day. Half the time it involves carrying him, literally kicking and screaming, away from my husband, the dog, the cat, his toys, or whatever book he's suddenly decided he HAS to read. Another quarter of the time, there's a last-minute replacement of some soiled clothing item (fellow parents, YOU know what I mean) that adds more expensive minutes to our morning routine.

All this is to say that, for me as a "cycling woman" (whatever that means), one of the primary obstacles to riding my bike for transport isn't fear of cars, concerns about helmet hair, reluctance to break a sweat, or lack of experience: it's time.

When I use the car to drop Alex off at daycare and go to work, it's forty-five minutes for the full one-way trip. When I bike to daycare and take Metro to work, it's an hour and a half. And if I'm having one of those ambitious days where I decide to bike the full 8.5 mile trip to work? My commute starts nudging toward the two-hour mark. That's one way.

Now, obviously I love bike commuting. It helps me focus at work, it saves money and repairs on our ancient gas-guzzler, and with Alex along it's just crazy stupid fun. I think it even makes the drivers who share the road with us a little happier, seeing a mom and her kid on their big orange bike, having the time of their lives picking curbside dandelions and meowing at imaginary cats.

But I can't escape the fact that choosing the bike over the car sucks an extra 1.5 hours out of my day. As hard as I try to set a morning routine that lets us leave early enough, there are so many days when the routine goes to hell and it feels like a full day's labor just to get out the door with Alex fully clothed (even counting matched socks as optional). Every single week, I have one or two days when I have to change my transportation mode from bike to car when it becomes clear that doing otherwise would make me unacceptably late for work. And every time that happens, I feel like I've failed.

Then I go to forum after forum and listen to people asking questions about why more women aren't out on bikes, and I hear all the answers about clothing and hair and infrastructure and fear and clueless bike shops... and I think about how those would have been my answers, too, five years ago. But these days it mostly comes down to time.

Elly Blue and Marla Streb are my heroes when it comes to advocating for women's cycling: Elly because she crunched the numbers in a seminal article in Grist Magazine to point out that there are lots of reasons women stay off bikes besides "It's scary and I won't look as pretty!!1!"; Marla, because she (alone) spoke up for mothers at the recent National Women's Cycling Forum, quotably proclaiming that the fact that "Kids are an equipment sport" is an additional challenge for women who bike.

I think the bike advocacy community needs to ask itself what their newly-recruited cycling women are supposed to do in five or so years, when they start becoming mothers.

a.m. temperature: (April 4) 55
a.m. temperature: (April 5) 48

Alex wore (both days): Bogs boots, light cotton pants, short-sleeve shirt, heavy cotton sweater (so Nordic! So tweedy!), winter helmet. For the trip home, we left off the sweater and switched the boots to his regular shoes.

Clothing notes: PERFECT on 4/4. Seriously, a home run clothing-wise, both trips. A little underdressed on 4/5: Coldhands struck again, and I had to spend most of my ride warming his fingers up with my spare hand. Didn't know it was THAT cold when I was choosing his clothes! Maybe there are tiny, thin gloves somewhere that will keep his hands warm and let him ding the bike bells.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27: Choices and Consequences (toddler edition)

Don’t be deceived by this balmy image of our ride home. The weather finally took a swing back to normal today, skipping from June temperatures through May and April and into a typical early March. After the relative ease of dressing for bike rides the last few weeks, when I was giving more thought to whether I’d be cool enough than whether Alex would be warm enough, today was an unpleasant shock.

Alex is back on his mitten strike (after one glorious week when he couldn’t stand NOT to wear his mittens) and was also anti-blankie for the first third of the ride, so he really suffered. His hands were red and icy to the touch when he finally gave in and accepted having a blanket tucked around his legs and hands.

These days, the challenge of dressing Alex for cold bike rides comes from the conflict between two major cognitive milestones: the need for bodily autonomy versus a growing understanding of logical consequences. On the one hand, he’s coming to appreciate the virtues of, say, wearing sunglasses on a bright day to keep sunlight out of his eyes. On the other hand, he resists wearing anything that he hasn’t chosen himself because he’s so desperate to be in charge of his own body and everything that happens to it.

Thus we end up in situations like this morning’s, where I have to let him suffer the consequences of his choices until he finally gives in. He never actually admitted to being cold, but his stony, glum manner today was a marked contrast to his excited chatter on warmer bike rides.

I arrived at daycare with a red-cheeked and snotty kid:

On the plus side, it was much warmer on the way home. We exercised one of the privileges of family cycling and made frequent stops to pick dandelion seed heads on the roadside. Brookland’s sidewalks and tree boxes are now safe from the fluffy menace!

High: 56 Low: 34

Alex wore: Bogs boots, flannel overalls, long-sleeve shirt, puffy coat, cashmere scarf, winter helmet.

Clothing notes: NOTE ABSENCE OF MITTENS. Little dude definitely should have been wearing mittens, and probably another layer on his top half as well. Hands were icy, legs were just a little cool after 45 minutes of biking.