Our downtown area has about 5 blocks that have remarkably similar storefronts, so it can be a bit disorienting when trying to point someone in the right direction, especially when caught off guard or when standing in the middle of this section of streets. I myself, even after living here for many years, sometimes pace the blocks trying to find an establishment. "I believe it is 1-2 blocks south of here," I finally said, "On the same side of the street."
The woman thanked me and then said, "You have a nice bike there. Do you bike to your destinations often? You must live close by." I smiled, "Yes, I do ride often. I live a couple of miles from this spot, but it's not too bad to get anywhere in the city. It's often a lot easier to find parking too." She smiled and then continued, "I wish I could choose to bike to the places I go." Before I could inquire further, she had about-faced and was gone... and, I was now officially late, so I couldn't ask follow up questions.
Despite the reality of seeing more people on bicycles, it's still considered an activity of leisure or sport by many, and viewed by far fewer as a realistic means of transportation. My city is just under 22 square miles with the majority of destinations in a radius much smaller than that number would indicate. Living pretty well at the center of the city means that getting anywhere within this distance is bikeable. Most destinations are within a few miles of home, and even if I lived on one side of town or the other, it would add only a couple of miles for most trips - and actually make some destinations even shorter.
When people tell me it "must be nice" to be able to ride, my response is generally that it is and that really most people can bike to many locations they frequent. With proper planning and time management (which I admit, the latter is not my strength), even biking into colder seasons is not impossible, and often is more enjoyable than being cooped up in a car. I'm not attempting to force riding upon anyone, but I do want people to understand that it's not a difficult decision or activity.
As the weather cools, I see fewer people on bikes on the roads, but it's still possible to enjoy riding. There are many choices for clothing layers from natural fibers to man-made, so finding suitable attire is not much of a challenge, and I have found that layers really are my friend as I frequently find I heat up quickly once on the move.
There are studded bicycle tires, internal hubs, and disc brakes - all of which make riding in wetter and colder weather a bit less stressful. But, even riding with derailleurs and caliper brakes doesn't make traveling by bike impossible in the coming months.
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While it is understood that time is a commodity for everyone, I think that using time as reasoning for not riding is often flawed. For most of us, we base our lives on time. There is never enough of it. One of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau states in summary that the cost of anything is the amount of life we exchange for it. So, virtually everything we do in a day costs us some amount of our life, and if a person believes there is not enough time already to do the things s/he must do in a day, it's no wonder so many think they do not have the time to ride to destinations.
However, when we re-work our minds a bit and realize that we are often saving ourselves a trip to a gym by riding or saving the costs of gasoline and repair to a car, maybe that few extra moments it may take to ride seem a little less costly in life? It may even mean that we're a bit less cranky when we arrive home to the people we likely want to be around for a greater portion of our time in life.
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Among people I know who ride, there have been a higher number of - to put it politely I'll call them interactions - with motorists as of late. On top of these more personally-connected incidents, I've read entirely too many stories about cyclists who have been severely injured or killed due to motorist negligence. Then, to top it off, I read this article yesterday regarding vulnerable road users and was reminded just how little my life means if taken by a motorist driving carelessly.
I don't share that link to scare anyone away from riding at all, but simply to point out that we are fed information all the time that, if we allow it to, can take over our lives and control the decisions we make. I am absolutely not immune to this thinking either.
To illustrate this further, my trepidation has gone so far that I recently started penning my own epitaph. I know it sounds extreme (and morbid), and I don't normally live my life believing that I'm going to die at any given moment, but it's very difficult to read about so many severe injuries and deaths and not - at least on some level - think that I am going to be next. All it takes is one person doing something they shouldn't be doing and it could mean the end of all riding, and perhaps life, for me.
There comes a point though when I and anyone who is basing his/her decision on fear have to realize that not every driver is on the hunt to harm or scare people on bikes. If I allow the few to rule my life I will never be able to enjoy the mode of transportation - and sometimes form of sport - that I enjoy. If I allow the few to scare me off the roads because of their behavior, then they have won and I have most definitely lost. And, I don't like to lose (ask anyone who's ever played any sort of game with me).
Fear is a powerful thing. It can take hold of us and can be challenging to escape. Once the seeds are planted, keeping them from growing into something completely overwhelming can be challenging. If life is lived in fear, we would never leave our homes. In fact, we might never get out of bed. There are statistics and stories all around us to scare us into believing that almost anything we do could result in injury or death, and I for one do not wish to live a life in such a manner.
Not only did I stop writing my epitaph, but I completely deleted it. I took a moment and realized how ludicrous this activity really is/was. Yes, there is a possibility that someone could hit me today or tomorrow or next week while I'm riding, but as with any activity from getting in the shower to crossing the street, we take a certain level of risk every day just by living.
The odds show that driving a car is still far more likely to result in death than riding a bicycle and yet people continue to drive every day (according to the linked chart, 1 in 242 vs 1 in 4,838 lifetime odds), just as we continue to bathe and cross the street.
I refuse to live my life in fear, and part of not living in fear means that I will ride my bicycle as I always have and support legislators and legislation that promote additional bike infrastructure and education for both motorists and cyclists.
I am not likely to convince anyone that riding a bicycle is entirely possible if they haven't experienced it for themselves. To these folks I would say, give it a try. There's no harm in going for a short ride to meet up with a friend or to the grocery store to pick up that one item forgotten to make an evening meal. It may even be that you start out on a short local bike path or somewhere that feels a bit more protected. With bike lanes and multi-use paths growing nationally, I hope that it won't be long before anyone will be able to ride just about anywhere without even hitting a major street artery, if desired.
There's truly nothing superhero about riding a bicycle for transportation. It doesn't take any special skill (other than learning how to ride initially) and it is just a decision that is made to choose to ride rather than drive to a destination.
A person can ride faster if s/he desires and has the capability, or a rider can travel at slower speeds. Ultimately, both riders will reach their destination. There is no requirement for a special bike or anything out of the ordinary to make riding possible. All anyone has to do is make the choice and start turning the crank.
What reasons have you encountered with those who wish they could "choose to ride" a bicycle? Do you encourage others to try riding when they ask you about your bicycle or when asking how long it took you to arrive at a destination? Maybe you've helped someone start on his/her path to commuting or riding more regularly. Feel free to share in the comments.