Thoughts of a Winter Cyclist
By Olive Lehman
In the fall of 2019 I had just finished my gap year of travelling in Japan and had come back to the University of Alberta to continue in my second year of an undergraduate education degree at Faculté Saint-Jean. Working towards my minor in English, I had registered for Anglais 126 taught by Dr. Sheena Wilson. To my surprise, and without any hints from the name Exploring Writing Studies, the entire course consisted of writing projects about climate change. It was during this course that I was able to make the link between the concept of energy transition and winter cycling.
My understanding of energy transition is that it implies that we will have to power down our lives by using fewer fossil fuels in order to slow down climate change. I’ve always thought of transportation as one of the biggest opportunities to power down. For me, cycling had always been part of my life. I used to live on the west coast where we barely got any snow, and if we did it would only stay on the ground for two days at most. Once my mother had taught me how to ride a bike I started biking to school every day. When I moved to Edmonton in 2015 I thought that cycling in the winter was not an option because of the snow and the well-below freezing temperatures. When I stopped biking during my first Edmonton winter, it affected my mood levels significantly. I wasn’t as awake in the mornings because I hadn’t been outside, so it was harder for me to focus on my classes. I started to have less energy during the day and lost my motivation to study.
The following year I decided to ride through winter and it changed my life for the better, even if the commute to my high school was only ten minutes. At first the freezing cold mornings were hard to get used to, but once I figured out what gear to wear it became much more enjoyable. I noticed that my mood significantly improved and I felt happier coming to school every day.
During my first year of university, I quit winter cycling for another season because the commute was significantly longer and I didn’t feel that I could bike in the snow for that long of a distance. I fell back into feeling depressed and did not enjoy my school life. Between sitting in classes all day and then sitting or standing on the buses and the LRT I developed an injury in my back. I later found out it was because the muscles I used to ride my bike stabilized a joint in my back, and once I stopped biking the muscles were too weak to support the joint and it started to swell up. I was in a lot of pain for months; it was awful. After being abroad for a year I decided that this year I would bike every single day with no exceptions. I knew that it would not only make me healthier physically and mentally, but that it would also help prevent any future injuries. I bought a new bike with a rubber change that won’t rust from the snow, and I got studded tires so it wouldn’t slide on the ice. So far I haven’t taken public transport to classes once this year. I’m hoping to bike every single day throughout the entire school year.
Besides the wind, the ice, and the snow, the experience of winter cycling in Edmonton exposed me to new areas of difficulties surrounding my gender. When I first started to bike during the winter I listened to every piece of advice that people would give me whether it was about my tires, my brakes, the right type of gloves I needed, the right route to take, etc. As I continued to winter bike, and as I became more confident in the sport, the advice never seemed to let up. I never seemed to reach the stage where I exuded confidence and knowledge about winter biking, even in my many layers of frost-covered cycling gear. I have been training and competing in sports for almost my entire life, because of that I believe I have enough experience to say that I have never been seen as equally capable or knowledgeable compared to male athletes because I am a woman. I believe that women in sports are not taken as seriously as men. It’s too often that I have people (mostly men) telling me I have the wrong gear, the wrong bike, and that I don’t know enough yet about cycling.
I believe that a stigma exists within the world of sports where we assume that men are more knowledgeable, capable and experienced over women simply because of their gender. I think this discourages and intimidates women from joining the community of winter cycling. A common reaction that I get once I tell people that I bike through the winter is that they think I’m crazy. I believe that men who commute through the Edmonton winters do not receive the same reaction. Instead, they are perceived as tough, strong or athletic whereas, I am seem seen as an eccentric or overly intense girl. These experiences also reflect the feminist aspects of energy transition; changing our ways of life to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels. During this semester I’ve learned that the marginalization of women is an issue that must be addressed in order to move forward with energy transition. By tolerating a society that oppresses an entire gender we will not have a social structure stable enough to endure the changes of energy transition and the inevitable hardships of climate change.
I’ve always had cycling be part of my life for personal reasons, however, once I started to develop a deeper understanding of energy transition I realized that cycling is very much tied into the topic. The concept of energy transition is about making the changing habits and normalities in our lifestyles in order to reduce our carbon footprint. I started cycling because my mother taught me how to ride a bike, to commute to school and how to ride by myself. I continued riding to sustain my health and quality of life. I realize that the habits and ways of life that our parents pass on to their children are linked to the energy transition. We learn social norms through the teachings of our parents and the people closest to us.
I believe it is our job now to be our own parents to teach ourselves new ways of living to create a sustainable future.
Olive Lehman is an undergraduate student at Faculty Saint-Jean. She is completing her education degree, majoring in history and minoring in English. She wishes to acknowledge that she has lived, worked and studied on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen (Lekwungen) people, Treaty 7 and Treaty 6 territories. She is passionate about the ways women’s rights and ethno cultural rights links to climate justice. She has participated in multiple climate change protests in Edmonton. Olive continues to ride her bike year round in an effort to contribute to the energy transition.