Tuesday, 4 March 2014

It Gets Better ~ An Open Letter to the "Bike-Curious"

Somewhere along the way I forgot how much
fun riding was!
I know how you feel. I know because I was once just like you, and not all that long ago either. As a child, I rode a bike every where and loved every minute of it. But something happened. I got older, and moved away from home. Sure I tried riding my bike in University, but living on campus didn't give me much reason to. Then I became an "adult", with a job, kids and responsibilities, and suddenly I just didn't have time to ride my bike anymore. My poor bicycle got old and neglected, and eventually fell into memories of days gone by. But then I moved to a city where I saw people just like me riding bikes all the time, and I thought, maybe I could do that, too. But with the hope of something new came lots of questions and fears about trying something new, or at least new-ish.

Just like you, I worried about getting around on a bike. Is it safe? Which roads do I take? How many hills are there and can I ever dream of getting up them on a bike? What kind of bicycle do I need? What about days with bad weather? There are so many ways I would second guess myself that's it a wonder I ever actually got back "in the saddle". What it took for me was starting a job a short bike ride from my house. It was just easier to get there by bike instead of bus, and since I started the job at the end of the Spring, the weather was very inviting. But I was still daunted, especially since my ride would include a high grade hill. It was enough to turn the less enthusiastic away from riding a bike.

So I spoke to friends of mine who rode a bike regularly for commuting, and quickly realized that I was making it more complicated than it needed to be. I can't remember who said it to me, or if it was just something I told myself, but when it came to hills, I would say to myself, there is no shame in walking a bike uphill. Each day I would challenge myself to get a little further up, and then one day, I did it, I rode from the bottom to the top, and the feeling of accomplishment had me grinning from ear to ear. I realized that getting accustomed to two-wheeled travel required nothing more that small, measurable goals.

Learning to navigate the city by bike can definitely be over-whelming. Riding on busy streets is not for the faint of heart, so learning the quieter routes takes time. Thankfully, most bike-friendly cities offer maps listing all the bike routes, and even indicate steep grades. Also, with cycling becoming more and more popular throughout the world, Google maps even offers the bicycle as a selected mode of transport, recognizing bike routes and the easiest way to get from point A to point B. The crucial thing I found is that after riding a bike regularly, two things happened. One, I quickly learnt the routes to get where I needed to safely by bike, developing my favourites, and two, most surprisingly, is that I discovered that many times things that seemed so far away were actually a shorter and more manageable bike ride away than I had imagined. As I grew more more accustomed to two wheeled travel, my city and those around me opened up, and I was even eager to discover new routes throughout to travel. Over time, many of those routes have been improved with infrastructure, whether a painted lane or, more favourably, separated bikeways, and now it seems that there are very few places I can't get to without having to rub shoulders with automobiles.

In just four years I went from worrying about having all the proper gear to
simply stepping out my door and onto my bike in whatever I felt best in
The biggest lesson, though, was simplifying the act of riding a bike. Living in a city where most cyclists seem to have specialized gear is very intimidating. Not only did I have to get used to the idea of riding a bike around town, but now I had to get all sorts of expensive, bike-specific gear? I can imagine what the average bike-curious person thinks when they see this, because I was one of them. Admittedly, I did get some of the "gear", like rain pants and a jacket, but when you really start looking at everything out there, it's enough to make the average person say "forget it!" Thankfully, I realized before I had invested too much money that riding a bike is no more complicated than it was when I was a child riding in my sundress and Mary Janes. Sure, you can get all the fancy clothing, shoes and accessories, but at the end of the day, all you need is the desire to ride and a bike. And it doesn't matter what kind of bike! Whether it's a mountain bike, road bike, step-through or a hybrid - if getting on the saddle and pedalling makes you happy, that's what's important.

So, to all the bike-curious people out there who find yourself thinking, "I'd like to ride a bike, but I'm not sure I can", I'm proof that it gets better. Distances become easier, hills more manageable, and worries start to melt away. Just like when you were a kid learning to ride a bike, over time, you find balance and confidence. And just like children, you begin to challenge yourself, and learn that you are capable of doing everything you though you could but were unsure of. With Spring just around the corner, instead of letting your lonely bike sit for another season in storage collecting dust, give it a little TLC by taking it out for a ride. You'll soon learn, just like me, that navigating the city and getting from point A to B can be, well, as easy as riding a bike!

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Very inspirational ~ @ChrisMichaelK