Women on Bikes Series: Kim and Kayley

Kayley Fesko and Kim Fisher are a couple of winter cycling rookies in Calgary who are learning to navigate their commutes to work through snow, ice, and cold weather.

Their commitment to commuting all year round was born out of a conversation in September which led them to start a twitter and blog to share their winter cycling stories with friends and family.

When did you first start riding a bike?
Kayley: I first learnt how to bike when I was three. I remember the big day when I was able to take my training wheels off, I ended up crashing into a parked red truck and cried all the way home. Once I got the hang of biking I never really looked back. Biking has always been a part of my life in some capacity over the years.

Kim: I was probably five or six years old. I had to ask my parents about that one!

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Kayley: Ever since I was young, biking gave me a sense of freedom. I loved being able to explore the community and the parks around me. It's my therapy. I couldn't imagine my life without at least one steel horse. 

Kim: We lived beside a park while I was in elementary school and we had free rein of the neighbourhood. My younger sister and I would bike up and down the back alley for hours on end. My dad would bike from our house in northwest Calgary to his office downtown so commuting to work by bike was not abnormal to us. Over the years we spent most of our summers camping across Canada and would often bring our bikes with us. My first jobs were in small towns located in National Parks, the easiest and quickest way to get to work and to see my friends was via bike.

I started commuting to work in Calgary by bike three years ago and only during good weather. As I gained confidence on the roadways of the city, my interest in cycling progressed, as did my efforts to get around by bicycle.

You both decided to commute year-round this year, besides commuting, are there other styles of cycling you enjoy?
Kayley:I started road biking in 2009 because my boyfriend at the time was doing it. He stopped and I continued. I've been able to explore some pretty scenic parts of Alberta and British Columbia by bike. In 2011, I participated in my first Gran Fondo from Vancouver to Whistler. It was an experience I will never forget. 

Kim: My boyfriend, Dylan, built me a single speed bike, which I have been enjoying for the past year. We also both got into road biking this year, which was partly thanks to Kayley and her husband Justin. Dylan and I went on a camping trip to Glacier National Park in Montana this summer and crossed cycling the Going-to-the Sun Road off our bucket list.

What do you enjoy about commuting by bike?
Kayley: It gives me a chance to have some 'me' time. A moment where I don't have to worry about anything. It's relaxing, relatively safe, and a pretty fun ride. Sometimes I have the best brainstorming sessions on my bike!

Kim: Simply put, it’s fun. There is no better start and end to a work day than biking. It allows me the opportunity to decompress, get my energy level up, and have some time to myself. I’m not a big fan of working out indoors. Commuting gives me that freedom from the gym, from the car, and I’m on my own time.

For those new to commuting:
Kayley: Just try it! It can be intimidating at first (like all new things) but it gets easier over time; make mistakes and learn as you go. The bike community is an amazing one and mostly any biker will bend over backwards to help out. 

Kim: Give it a try. At least just once. And make sure your bike fits. Try your route on a weekend so you aren’t rushed to get to work. It will take you a few times to find an efficient route you feel comfortable on. Use the resources in your city. We have a great cycling map on our municipal website and a local bike online community.

Tell us if you can about your first commuter ride and how it made you feel:
Kayley: I hated driving and always saw bikers on my commute so one day I gave myself plenty of time and ditched the car. I ended up taking some pretty busy roads and scaring myself pretty badly. A truck honked at me and almost hit me with his side view mirror. I made it alive to work and took the same way home thinking that was my only option.

I then pulled out a Calgary pathway map that I had stored in my garage for many years. At that time Google maps wasn't a thing so I resorted to a paper map. I ended up finding out that there was a marked bike route all the way to work. It made for a much more pleasant route and I started to actually relax and enjoy it. 

Kim: I had to bike about 14km to work on my first commuter ride. I had no idea how to care for a bicycle, I probably hadn’t pumped my tires in 10 years (Kayley had to teach me everything), my bike was shitty to ride and it made me grumpy. Once I had a bike that actually fit me and worked, my commute transformed into an enjoyable experience. The best part was not relying on my car or public transit to get me to work.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do to overcome it?
Kayley: I was extremely nervous when I first started biking. It's intimidating! Finding a route that has less traffic definitely helps. I'm still occasionally nervous but I am more confident with where I ride on the road. I don't feel as bad making cars wait until it's safe for them to pass. If they honk or get angry, I just think to myself "hey, they're probably angry and impatient to cars, bikes, and pedestrians"

Kim: I still get nervous, especially on certain roads in the city. Commuting during the winter had been a whole new learning experience with additional hazards. I have been looking at my winter commute with small wins for each part of my commute. If I can get up a sketchy looking curb, or make it through a particularly snirty (snow+dirt combo) section of my ride, I tell myself “Nice one!”. Love those small wins.

Have you had a bike accident or situation that challenged you mentally/emotionally or physically? If so how did you recover on a physical/mental/or emotional level?
Kayley: This is the first year I have decided to bike all winter. It can be mentally exhausting on some days with extra hazards like ice, snirt (snow + dirt), and poor road conditions. It helps to know that there will be someone at the office to vent to or someone at home to hug me after a rough ride.

Kim: I have never been in a bike accident (other than falling while clipped into my road bike in slow motion at a complete stop). I’ve heard horror stories though.

A co-worker who shared his winter biking tips with us said we would be way more tired mentally during this season and I couldn’t agree more. There is so much more to pay attention to. It’s darker, colder, the conditions change all the time, and you are constantly wondering if motorists can see you and will they be respectful of you.

I’ve been very lucky with my route, especially when I hear about other Calgary cyclists’ experiences and Kayley’s route. I have a great support system at home and at work, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to push through the harder days without them.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Kayley: I would usually say I love exploring the city but this time I'm going to say that I've really enjoyed experiencing every season by bike. You really learn a lot and appreciate the simplicity of the seasons changing. In the winter I'm riding by traffic in -30C and I say "Oh, poor them" and I laugh to myself because they are probably saying the exact same thing about me.

Kim: Bike riding is fun, it’s fast and it makes me feel free. And it actually is free (other than parts & some maintenance…).

Tell us about your bike(s), what are they like and why did you choose them?
Kayley: I have one road bike: a Giant Avail and two commuters Trek WSD 7.3 and Trek 7.3 with disc brakes. My Giant was the best fitting bike for my size. The WSD commuter was purchased by my loving husband so we could go on adventures together, I have transitioned this to be my winter bike (no disc brakes) and my other commuter I won by participating in the Calgary commuter challenge. 

Kim: I’ve heard the perfect number of bikes to own is n+1. I’ll just talk about my winter bike. It’s a $60 kijiji special. It’s probably one of the first mountain bikes ever made. It’s a Trek 820 and it’s heavy. I’ve popped a Schwalbe Marathon studded tire on the front. Total game changer. I went with a kijiji special so I could keep my Kona Dew in good shape for the nicer parts of the year.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Kayley: A studded tire for the winter is a must as well, good set of lights, and an old toothbrush to wipe it down after a rough week. Other than that I don't have anything special.

Kim: For the winter I’ve been happy with my studded tire, my Lezyne Macro Drive front light, and warm wool socks. I also bought an Airhole, which is a bandana-style facemask to keep the cold out. It’s been great.

Tell us a random fact about yourself:
Kayley: I still have 12 baby teeth

Kim: Hmmm I’m a huge hip-hop fan and perform Hip Hop Karaoke once a month at a local bar. Google it. It’s pretty fun.