Thursday, September 15, 2011

Changing a Would-Be Cyclists' Opinion of Riding

As a sort of follow up to talking about change within the bicycle industry and infrastructure, I was thinking about a little chat I had with one of my neighbors recently. I found out that she had purchased an older upright bike from another neighbors' garage sale a few weeks ago and was following up with her to see if she was enjoying the new ride. Here's how the conversation played out...
G.E.- So, how's the new bicycle?
Neighbor - Oh, I was so excited to get it - and for only $10!! That never happens.
G.E. - Wow! That is a great deal, especially for a bike that's ride-able right now. I saw it sitting over there and was tempted to buy it, but I'm glad you got it and can use it because it would probably just sit in the bike area if I'd purchased it. I have a problem.{giggles}
Neighbor -  I see you riding all the time, and, yes, I was very surprised to find an inexpensive bicycle. I was happy to get it.
G.E. - Are you enjoying riding it?
Neighbor - I actually have another bike, too. It's a fixed-gear bike. {long pause} Uh, yes. Well, yes, I like the new bike.
G.E. - {sensing some trepidation on neighbors' part}
Neighbor - Well, it's really difficult for me to ride here. In Savannah, there were tons of bike lanes and I felt comfortable riding my bike everywhere. But here, I get honked at, or yelled at every time I try to ride. I just don't feel safe or comfortable riding on these streets.

We shared a few horror stories of poorly behaving drivers, and then went on to other matters. I have to say though, I was in a bit of shock hearing her say this. While I have also experienced some not-so-nice drivers on the road, I can't say that I've personally felt unsafe as a general rule while riding on our city streets. Living so close to Boulder (the often referenced bicycle utopia of the state) I feel as though our city is a kind of mini-version of Boulder. Perhaps it's not as wholly liberal, and I would agree that there aren't nearly as many bike lanes, and sure, there are times when I think drivers need to check themselves, but I haven't thought that I couldn't or wouldn't ride my bicycle because it is unsafe.

It reminded me that there is still a long way to go, but it also caused me to stop and think about the potential intimidation factors even in a city that isn't very large and generally has a fairly cooperative group of drivers on the road. Although I cannot make the infrastructure changes on my own, my goal is to change the perspective of our neighbor so that she feels safe riding on our streets.

I would love to get my neighbor to come with me on at least a couple of rides. Since we're often home at the same time of day, it should be easy to invite her to come along with me. First, I think she'll see that there is safety in numbers, so having an extra person along will perhaps help her feel safer. I don't view myself as a super-cyclist, so I guess in my head I think that if I can do this, anyone can. Also, I can talk with her about areas of the city that I take the time to double and triple check for traffic and drivers who aren't paying attention. If I show through example that it really isn't so bad, perhaps she will feel confident to get out on the road by herself at some point down the line - or at least that is the hope. We actually do have quite a few bike lanes throughout the city, but knowing where they are can sometimes be tricky. Directing her to the city website might be helpful, as well as reminding her of all the multi-use paths in town. There's also the added advantage of a local bicycle group, and I can always drag her along on one of the shorter organized rides. It's a great place for her to meet other people who ride too, and who knows what might happen from there?

If you were in this situation, what tactics would you use to help another rider see that cycling doesn't have to be scary or intimidating? Maybe you've already helped someone through this and can offer tips on easing her in to riding? While I don't want to overwhelm her, I think being able to see that riding is fun and doesn't have to be scary would be a great experience. Thoughts and suggestions are welcome!


  1. I recently saw a video somewhere about a group in the Northwest (either Portland or Seattle) that offers a beginning bike chaperone program to help people ease into commuting. Basically, someone comes to your house and rides with you to work, helps you find the best routes, teaches you how to fix a flat, and safety basics, etc.

    Perhaps you can invite her on a few outings an easy distance from your house and then ask her if she'd like to accompany you on some rides where you can show her the best bike lanes, etc. A little encouragement could be all she needs. Plus once her skills are a little more refined, she may find herself feeling more confident.

  2. I agree, Lynn. I think a few short rides would be better to break her in slowly. I'd hate to have something go wrong on a longer ride and further discourage her. Great advice!

  3. Hey, I know that roundabout!

    Get your neighbor to join you on one of Ryan Krugerard's cruiser rides.

  4. Yes, not many roundabouts here in "L" town. I actually have a link to Ryan's cruiser rides on the <-- side bar. :O) Not sure she'd be a cruiser ride sort of person, but it's certainly a possibility!


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