Healthy Living in the North

From Prince George to Paris: how I learned to love commuting via bike

Every year around April, I start to get excited about the prospects of the snow melting and digging out my bike. For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed biking to work and school so I always associate the spring with bike season.

I love biking for a few reasons: firstly, it’s a fantastic way to get outside and get some vitamin N (nature!), and secondly, it’s a great way to stay active and get in that crucial daily physical activity. The third reason I love biking so much, is because it takes me back to a very special time in my life. For me, the inspiration to bike to work and school started when I was living in Paris, France.

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to participate in a bilateral university exchange through the University of Northern British Columbia and the Paris School of Business for two semesters.

View of city of Paris from Notre-Dame.

Commuting via bike was the best way to see Paris!

Living in the City of Love opened my eyes to big city public transport and the hurried nature of city commuters. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to rely on a vehicle for transportation and I quickly became accustomed to using the city’s metro system on a daily basis. I was able to get to where I needed to go relatively quickly and reliably without having to worry about driving (yay!), but the downside was that I was missing out on seeing the city with all the time I was spending underground commuting.

I decided to try out the Paris Velib’ system. For those who aren’t familiar, Velib’ (the name is a play on the French words vélo-bike and libre-free) is a public bicycle sharing system with an app and convenient pick up and drop off stations throughout the city. I was too nervous to try and bike to school in the mornings (my school was very strict about being late) so I decided to figure out how to bike home after school. I’m so glad I did!

Biking home after my classes became one of my favourite parts of my day. It made me feel like a local and I was able to see parts of the city that I wouldn’t have seen on the metro. I took in all the details and day-to-day scenes around me, and enjoyed being present. It was also a great way to balance all the French pastries I was indulging in!

When I returned home from Paris, I was inspired to continue commuting via bike. Although Prince George is no Paris, I realized that the north has its own unique kind of beauty. Biking through evergreen trees and being beneath blue northern skies made me fall in love with the northern BC landscape I grew up in, and made me appreciate being back home that much more.

Old red cruiser bike.

My beloved old cruiser bike and basket.

With Bike to Work and School Week approaching on May 28-June 3, 2018, I’ll be getting ready for another season of commuting. Below are some bike commuting tips I’ve learned along the way.

5 tips for a successful bike commute:

  1. Map your route. First time riding to work or school? Ease some of your anxiety about how you’re going to get there and map it out beforehand. Take note of high traffic areas and streets with no cyclist access.
  2. Test it out! Before you make your bike commuting debut, designate some time during your free time to test out your planned route. Be sure to time yourself while doing it so you have an idea of how long it will take you. The more you ride, the more consistent your commute time will become.
  3. Give yourself some extra time. I’d recommend giving yourself an extra 15-20 mins during your first couple rides until you’re comfortable. If you’re planning on changing clothes, make sure to factor in some time to change. There’s nothing worse than starting your day in catch up mode!
  4. Wear the right gear and clothing. Wearing a helmet is a must! If your route includes lots of hills you may want to consider wearing an athletic outfit and then changing into your work or school clothes afterwards. Have a shorter or less tedious route? I’ve been known to bike in dresses – I just make sure to wear shorts underneath. In the fall, I’ll wear biking leggings over top of tights for an added layer of warmth. Make sure that whatever bottoms you wear won’t catch in your gears. Nothing like chain grease to ruin an outfit! Sturdy, closed toed shoes are also a good idea. You can leave a pair of shoes to change into at your destination or toss ‘em in with your change of clothes that you’ll carry with you.
  5. Add a basket. If you’re anything like me, and love the aesthetic of a bike as much as the practicality, I highly recommend adding an accessory that makes you happy. My bike basket brings me joy, holds my lunch bag securely, and lets me incorporate a little piece of Parisienne chic into my everyday life!

Looking for more biking tips? Taylar shared some great tips for schools and families on how to get involved in biking this season, including teaching resources for road safety. Curious about how biking and wellness are connected? Check out Gloria’s blog on the benefits of biking!

To all the seasoned bike commuters in the north, happy bike season! To those who are planning on trying out commuting by bike for the first time: I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Happy biking everyone! Or as they say in Paris, bon trajet!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

Share

Four benefits of riding your bike now

Gloria cycling next to the Fraser River.

There are so many benefits to riding your bike, at any age! Why not use this year’s Bike to Work & School Week as a good time to start?!

This year’s Bike to Work & School Week runs from Monday, May 28 to Sunday, June 3. Think riding bikes is just for kids? Think again!! Riding bikes with friends may be one of your favourite childhood memories, but that “feeling of flying” doesn’t have to stop when you reach adulthood. In fact, the benefits of cycling at any age are so numerous, it really makes sense to continue this activity as much (and as late in life) as possible.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll experience by hopping on two wheels:

Health Benefits:

  • Increases your physical activity levels. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week to achieve health benefits. A bike ride or two can help make this number easy to reach and/or beat!
  • Lowers your risk of chronic disease by lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
  • Improves your focus and overall mental health.
  • Cycling is a low-impact way to get your heart pumping while taking it easy on your hips and knees – a great alternative to pounding the pavement on a run!
  • Lets you get a better rest! You sleep better when you’ve been active throughout the day.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Reduces pollution levels. Every time you choose to ride rather than drive, you are benefiting the environment and air quality. Don’t buy it? I believe the saying goes something like this: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Financial Benefits:

  • Getting around by bike is free! No fuel costs or parking fees.

Personal Benefits:

  • Saves you time!
    • In many cases, if you live within a reasonable distance from your destination, you will actually get there faster by bike than by vehicle.
    • No need to waste time circling in search of a parking spot!

Worried about safety? Research shows that safety increases as the number of people cycling increases!  Reasons for this include: more bikes mean fewer vehicles on the road, and drivers become more aware of the cyclists on the road simply because there are more of them! Are there safety risks to cycling? Yes, BUT the potential benefits outweigh the risks. To be better prepared to share the road, there are some great resources out there to help you brush up on your skills:

Start your cycling season off right by participating in Bike to Work & School Week May 28 to June 3, but don’t stop there! Use Bike to Work & School Week as your jumping off point and keep on riding throughout the summer to experience some (or all) of the benefits listed above. Registration is free, and if you log even one ride you’ll be entered to win the grand prize of a cycling trip for two in Portugal! You can join an existing team (I have one you can join! It’s called “Health’s Angels” and we happily accept new members OR challenges!), start your own team, or sign up as an individual.

If you have school-aged kids, register them for Bike to School Week, and check with the school to see if it is registered – get everyone on board! If your kids’ school sends us photos or stories about their Bike to School event (email: Healthy.Schools@northernhealth.ca), they could have the chance of having Spirit the Caribou visit their school during International Walk to School Month in October!

Let us know if you’ll be participating in Bike to Work & School Week this year; I hope to see you out there!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

Share

Bike rodeo preps local kids for back to school

Kids working on bikesI’m starting to hear some “back to school” chatter. Some of it is filled with dread and sadness (“…How is the summer almost over already?”), while some is of another variety (“…How many more days to go?”).

Hopefully, you’ve managed to get out and enjoy the great outdoors this summer in spite of the many wildfires burning around the province. I’m doing my best to take advantage of any day (or portion of the day) without smoke in the air to get outside and be active, and get as much out of our short summer as I can. I’ve cycled more this year than any other year, not only recreationally but also as a form of transportation to work.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about Bike to Work & School week, but today I want to encourage you to bike to work & school more often (as weather allows). As you prepare for the return to school, why not start the year off right by riding your bike (or walking) to school as much as possible before the inevitable snow flies? You’ll arrive at school feeling more alert and happier from the blast of fresh air, not to mention it’s a great way to fit a little more physical activity into your day.

Parents, does the idea of sending your kids off to school on their bikes make your heart skip a beat? If you are currently in Prince George, you have an excellent opportunity available to you TOMORROW, August 18 at the PG Public Library! The Prince George Brain Injured Society is hosting a FREE Bike Rodeo there from 1-3pm for kids aged 5-9 along with their parents. What is a bike rodeo you ask? It’s an event where participants learn bike safety skills and rules of the road. This is perfect timing to get you and your kids up to speed and ready to fill those bike racks in the school yards! You may even be inspired to be a trendsetter and start your own Bicycle Train/Walking School Bus with other kids in the neighborhood.

If you’re not in Prince George, don’t lose heart! Bike rodeos happen all over the province at different times of the year; just keep your eyes and ears peeled so you can take advantage of one near you! In the meantime, get out there, have fun and ride safe!

For more information on active transportation to school, check out the Active & Safe Routes to School website.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

Share

Ride into Summer with Bike to Work & School Week

Bike riding on a bike path

Bike paths separated from motor traffic encourage more cycling and improve safety for everyone.

Remember the good old days when your bike was not just your only form of transportation, but your ticket to freedom and independence? The summer would pass in a blink as you racked up countless miles riding anywhere and everywhere on your bike, rolling back home at sunset with “rubber legs” and giddy from all the fun had with friends. I can almost smell the warm summer evening just thinking about it.

Sure, times have changed. We’re adults now. We have jobs, time crunches, deadlines, and commitments. Regardless, we have an excellent opportunity to bring some of that old nostalgia and joy back to the season, as well as set the younger people in our lives on the path to creating their own summer memories: it starts with taking part in Bike to Work (& School) Week from May 29-June 4. I’m guessing once you’ve made a conscious decision to ride rather than drive as much as possible for a week, you will realize so many benefits to cycling that you’ll want to continue this healthy (but fun!) habit for the rest of the summer.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Increased physical activity: Many of us struggle to find the time for physical activity; utilizing active transportation options automatically adds physical activity into our day, which of course brings its own benefits.
  • Increased productivity: The fresh air and adrenaline boost provided by your commute will help you show up at work or school alert, refreshed, and ready to take on the day.
  • Improved mental well-being: Taking the time on your commute home to clear your head and burn off some steam will leave you feeling much fresher mentally when you arrive home than you would be after driving.
  • Increased safety: Increasing the number of people who cycle decreases traffic congestion, increases active transportation user visibility, and makes the roads safer for everyone involved.
  • Financial savings: No fuel or parking fees (or tickets!).
  • Environmental benefits: Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions (Bike to Work BC will let you know exactly what your impact is as you log rides… how cool is that?)
  • Social benefits: Being on your bicycle allows you to connect with other cyclists and pedestrians you meet on your commute; the sight of your grinning face as you sail by may also inspire someone else to park their car and ride instead!

I must confess I have not always been a huge fan of cycling. I loved it as a kid, but as I grew up I became very nervous around traffic. And don’t even get me started on mountain biking! Let’s just say “what goes up must come down,” so I can’t see much mountain biking in my future (insert chicken clucking here). However, over the last year I have been rediscovering my love for cycling on paths and roads while being vigilant to protect my safety, following the rules of the road, keeping my eyes and ears on alert to the traffic around me, and riding accordingly. My confidence continues to grow with practice. I will be participating in Bike to Work Week on a Northern Health team for the first time (officially) this year, but it certainly won’t be my last!

Join a team today; you could be the lucky winner of a cycling trip for two on the Dalmation Coast in Croatia! Register here: https://www.biketowork.ca/ – see you on the road!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

Share

Biking to save your life

Bike riding

Biking can save your life… in more ways than one. Pictured: Andrew on a course in Whistler, BC.

I never actually saw the bear, but I sure heard it.

It was the end of a good solid ride, and I was pretty tired. I had put in about 10 km on the gorgeous single track trails out at Otway, and my legs were feeling quite Jello-ish. It was early evening, warm, and the golden light of impending night permeated everything with a slow sense of peace and easy satisfaction. And so, lost in my thoughts and a pleasant haze of endorphins, I didn’t think much of the rustle in the trees to my right.

Once I was safely back in the van and coherent thought beyond survival returned, I realized that that small rustle was the cub, and the snarling, crashing chaos that ensued to my left thereafter was the mother I had offended. With the guttural grunting of a grisly death in my ear, however, only one thought was discernible: RIDE FASTER. I’m not sure I have ever pushed a gear that low that hard, before or since, but I am sure about this: my bike saved my life that idyllic summers’ eve.

And, now that I think of it, that was actually the second time that biking saved me. Although the first lacks the drama and explosive adrenaline rush, it is no less valid. Before I found mountain biking, I was committing most every health sin imaginable. Lack of exercise: check. Excessive consumption of alcohol: check. Poor diet: check. Smoking: check. In short I was overweight, out of shape, and on a crash course with a premature heart attack for sure.  Also, I had a daughter on the way.

Not a good look.

So I bought a used mountain bike on eBay for $200. It cost me almost that much again once she arrived to get her ride-able, but she convinced me at the top of my first big climb to change my lifestyle around.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I am now 30 pounds lighter, a non-smoker, and I exercise regularly and eat at least reasonably well. I also no longer feel like I’m going to puke and pass out once I ride uphill for a few minutes.

That bike, by the way, is named Polly. I now have two shiny engineering masterpieces, full of flashy hydraulic bits and nifty feats of geometric wizardry that have made my much quicker on trails, but Polly is still around. I will never get rid of the bike that saved my life (twice), and she now serves as my commuter bike.

This brings me, at last, to the point of this rambling little diatribe: Bike to Work Week. I have organized a team for my work colleagues, the Kilometer Crushers, because I believe everybody can benefit from throwing a leg over a bike. It doesn’t matter whether you ride roads, trails, or both, just riding is the point. So join a team, and get out there: you only live once, and you’ll live better on a bike!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is a 33-year-old HR Assistant living in Prince George, BC. He enjoys biking, paddling, and almost any outdoor activity you can name. When not on his bike, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, listening to and playing music, reading and writing.

Share