Monday, April 7, 2014

First Impressions of "The World of Riding a Bike"

Sometimes it seems as though the more I read about riding a bike (be that on blogs, in magazines, or somewhere else), the more complicated it becomes. There is a bit of a conflict for me in that riding a bicycle is so simple and one of life's great pleasures, but there are times when I put myself in the shoes of someone who may not have been on a bike for awhile and I think that if I were doing research or looking into matters before venturing out on two wheels again, I'm not sure it would ever happen.
*Image found here
At times, it's not even the articles or posts that unnerve me. I believe that the intention of most of the authors is to show either that riding really is a simple activity that almost anyone can do, or they are simply pointing out inequities or potential issues on the roads. However, the comments that often come with these write ups are often more disturbing than the posts themselves. People can be downright mean, intimidating, or threatening, and I can easily see how getting on a bike could be daunting, as I myself am a bit rattled by the commentary I see somewhat regularly - and that's knowing that a lot of it is just folks blowing off steam or believing it's okay to say whatever s/he thinks or feels because s/he can hide behind his/her computer screen.

If I were just starting out on a bike I can only imagine the sort of thoughts that might run through my head. Everyone seems to have a story (at least one, but often more) of an altercation with a motorist, and as a group, we talk a lot about lack of bike lanes and safe places to ride. While I do believe these conversations are necessary to begin to change public perception and the actual structure of our road systems, I find myself wondering if (at least at times) it goes too far.

I have many fond memories of riding a bike in my childhood, and I think there are a great number who share similar recollections of their youth, but we also realize that there is more motorized traffic to contend with today - regardless of how recent or long ago our childhood took place. There are also certainly more distractions for people on the road when taking into account cell phones, fast food stops, and the plethora of gadgets available in cars today. Even cyclists seem to be distracted by GPS devices, cell phones, and the like, which creates a world full of people moving down the same roads, but not using all of their focus on the task at hand.

For me, there was a gap between the time I stopped riding a bike as a kid and the time that I started again in adulthood. Really, the first influence for me to start riding again was Sam. He had always taken off to ride with friends in the mountains, and although I had little interest in mountain biking at the time, he was quite encouraging of me to get back on two wheels. It helped that within a couple of years of his influence, I started finding blogs like Let's Go Ride a Bike and Lovely Bicycle!, whose authors were sharing their personal stories of transportation riding, pleasure rides, and so on. I liked that riding seemed so normal and non-athletic, and it seemed that truly anyone could be doing this. As I recall, these stories were inspiring and/or inquisitive in nature, but I don't recall reading as many derogatory comments. But, perhaps this is just my perception or me reliving my start through rose-colored glasses, and perhaps the same commentary has been there all along.

Ultimately, I think it could be easy to allow some of these conversations to influence whether or not I ride a bike, but I choose to accept that there is an inherent risk with doing almost anything most of us do on a daily basis - however, I don't start out each ride with that sort of thought process. Riding a bike feels very normal and mainstream to me until I read something that causes me to pause and rethink that perception of reality, so I can't help but be curious in regard to the thoughts of others. If you were just starting to ride (or maybe you are just starting to ride and have some first hand experiences to share), would you be afraid or intimidated by some of what you read about cycling or riding a bike? Does using the terminology "cycling" versus "riding a bike" affect the way you feel about riding? Who or what were some of your first influences when it came to riding a bike? Were these influences encouraging as you took your first pedal strokes (whether starting again or for the first time) or were there times that the message received was more intimidating than helpful?


  1. I really enjoy the posts and ideas you share on your blog. I learned to ride as a kid, and I was fortunate that my parents encouraged me to be active and use my bike to get places. I picked up riding seriously again, first as a transportation cyclist and then doing longer distances, when I moved to Washington, D.C., and riding a bike proved to be an easy way to get places. Various people helped me out along the way, including friends and my now-husband. I have never seen riding a bike as a big deal or something intimidating... well, I did see randonneuring as intimidating when I first started doing it. Riding a bike or bicycling or cycling or whatever people want to call it (I really don't have strong preferences for any term) is a faster way than walking, and still relatively simple. Also, I really detest cars and driving so I try to organize my life in such a way that I can minimize my time in them is something.

    1. I can see how randonneuring could be intimidating, but likely very rewarding as you got into it as well. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm so interested to learn how people begin their individual "cycling life," and yours is a great summary. I'm glad to know that you never viewed cycling as intimidating, and hope that is the case for most.

  2. Good points.

    I do think ignorance was bliss - back when we did not worry about helmets, let our children ride all over town on their bikes, etc. A far simpler time. Today, I am so uptight that I would have to stifle a comment if I saw a parent allowing their child to ride helmet-less. But today my dogs have issues and back then, before leash laws, they would have roamed the neighborhood and worked out all their social problems.

    Why can't we just turn the clock back?!

    1. I am still horrible about wearing a helmet. I wear it when I'm on longer/training rides, but (as I am frequently told) I know a lot of head injuries happen on local city streets and at slower speeds, which is when I am most frequently not wearing one.

      Sometimes, it seems as though turning back the clock is the easiest solution, but I also realize that there is good that comes from moving forward and progress does get made. The pace can be frustrating at times, but hopefully advancements continue (on many different fronts).

  3. I enjoy your blog and these moments of reflection. I've blogged about how it all started for me (mostly out of feelings of frustration and helplessness!) -

    The big thing I remember, before I actually took the plunge and bought a bike, was simply reading and reading and reading.... everything I could about every possible aspect of cycling. I don't really recall being fazed by negative comments - although my word there sure are some! I probably let a lot of it pass over my head, dismissed as being written by people driven by spite/insecurity/jealousy rather than rational objective thought. (I mean, it must be really really irritating to be stuck in a queue of stationary cars and see cyclists effortlessly drifting by!) In any case, I absorbed a lot of views on the more contentious subjects e.g. helmets. When I actually took that first (pedal) step, I took a cautious approach. Only with time, experience, training and (hopefully) maturing judgement, I worked out what level of risk I was comfortable with on those various issues... although that continues to evolve a little.

    In the end, I'm not sure how much influence the negativity out there really has on those who may be contemplating cycling. It comes down to the individual, perhaps his/her degree of mental fortitude, doggedness (I was going to say bloody-mindedness!) and/or curiosity. Generally, I find that the ones that just give it a try are soon hooked. Whether they already know someone else who cycles can be the factor that gets them over that threshold. I didn't know anybody at all who rode, when I started. Yet I still did it. Though that says more about how "desperate" I felt -- and driven to find a solution -- than perhaps anything else.

    Right. I've re-read this comment now and suspect it's not really very helpful -- sorry! But it's a topic/question often on my mind.

    1. I find your thoughts very interesting, so thank you for taking the time to share. I'm also glad to know that the negative comments you did find weren't a deterrent for you to ride anyway. I cannot help but wonder what people must think when reading some of the commentary on the web. I'm sure I must've overlooked a lot myself because I can recall reading quite a bit, but I don't recall ever feeling as though I couldn't or shouldn't ride. Again, I think your thoughts are extraordinarily helpful.


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