Friday, April 11, 2014

Maybe I'm Afraid?

I am having a hard time getting back in the saddle. 

I feel like a pile of excuses, and honestly? I think I'm a little afraid. I've read many stories over the winter (thanks, Twitter) of people being hit and killed by cars; I feel torn by the advocates for bike lanes and those who support more assertive interaction with cars. I resent that I have to take a helmet and bike lock with me everywhere I go. I'm not a pedestrian and I'm not a car, and I don't feel welcome on sidewalks or on busy streets. I'm frustrated that it takes me longer to ride than drive, and that arriving at my destination means lugging a bicycle inside or finding a place to lock-up, which takes additional time, when time-management isn't my strong point to begin with. Riding in the dark requires me to make sure lights are mounted and charged, and my rear-view mirror on my upright bicycle keeps getting loose and flopping over, making it functionally useless. I just want a designated bike path or lane everywhere I go, so we can all agree where the bike goes. Is that crazy? Oh, and I don't want it in a door zone, or shoved into a shoulder, or just hanging out on some street where the speed limit for the cars is 40mph when my top speed is, like, 12. Going downhill. With the wind at my back

I enjoyed riding when I was a child, and I could just get on the bicycle and go, but I don't feel like I can do that anymore. There are too many shoulds and oughts. There are more difficult hills and too-few gridded streets, which makes side-streets impossible to access or exit in so many places between me and my destinations.

When I rode last summer and fall, I forced myself through these things, and I will again, for the same reason I'm pushing myself slowly back into running: because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and a huge part of succeeding is telling the negative and scared voice in your head to shove it.

I feel guilty even writing (and thus, admitting) these feelings, because I want this blog to be a place of excitement and advocacy, so that more people will consider riding, and I'm afraid if I admit there are aspects of it that I don't like, that I'll keep someone from riding who was considering giving it a go, and the reality is that the more people who ride the better biking becomes for everyone. More numbers encourage more bike-friendly infrastructure. More numbers encourage drivers to look out for riders more often. More numbers mean more drivers are also riders, which cultivates inclusion and empathy, instead of the "cars vs. bikes" or "us vs. them" mentality that makes riding less pleasant for everyone. 

I also want to name these feelings because if I'm feeling this way, so are other riders (or would-be riders), and I think breaking into cycling and feeling like you're an authentic part of that community can be a little scary. When I question my desire or willingness to ride, I feel like I don't "deserve" to be here. And I don't want to be part of any message that makes someone else feel like they aren't "doing it right" or "enough" or whatever. If you get on a bike, you are a cyclist, and your feelings and thoughts count and should be considered as we all figure out how to make cycling, driving, walking, and mass transit better options for everyone.

Further, I know there are readers out there who have overcome these feelings. I welcome any tips to help me get excited about getting back on my bikes. How do I get past my hesitation and my excuses and just get on the bike already? If you're feeling the same and need a little encouragement now that spring is finally here, please feel free to join the conversation. 

Let's talk.


  1. For many, it's been a hard winter, and not just because of it's length or severity. Last year I faced many of the same discouragements as I watched Pamela ( crash very hard twice in a year. She's a cyclist who rides more in a week than I do in a month, and she was afraid to ride again. Or MG of Chasing Mailboxes who wrote about her early spring riding becoming rote instead of joyful. For Pamela, her fix was slowly getting back into the habit of riding through a community of support. For MG, it was participating in the 30daysofbiking challenge and rediscovering the joy of exploring her city by bike. For myself, I got run off the road by a semi, and if my riding partner had not also been my pastor, I'm sure a torrent of obscenities would have followed. I got back on the bike because I didn't want to live limited by fear, while still being mindful of the two children who are depending on me to come home.

    In the past two years, biking has shown me that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible. And that's not just in a physical, now-I-can-ride-a-century way. It's also a level of confidence that I never had before, it's caused and (mostly) resolved a crisis of faith.

    I would encourage you to take a look at what you want as a cyclist. Don't beat yourself up, you're not failing if you choose a car for that cross town trip, or skip the ride when the weather's disagreeable. Remember that this is a joyful thing. Go on a bike date with the Mr and take your time about it. Explore a bit, keep your eyes open. Take a moment to appreciate how cool it is that you and this odd two-wheeled cart can go anywhere, just by pedaling. You're stronger than you know.


  2. Nate, thank you. I think I read about Pamela's crash through Lovely Bicycle (specifically, in connection with the shirt she had made with her x-rays. The image stuck with me. I see in cycling an alignment of many of my values (living more simply; taking care of my body by using it and becoming stronger; smelling the roses; more eco-friendly transportation; more budget-friendly transportation; a fantastic and tightly-knit community). There are so many reasons to get on a bike. Which is why I am so frustrated with myself when I talk myself out of it.

  3. Gotta say I'm completely in tune with your frustration. A few years ago I was totally invested in biking for transportation. But then I got hit by a car (by a driver who saw me, stopped, waved me on, and then hit me anyway! Guess she got distracted by the screaming baby in the back seat and the fact that she was talking on her cell phone, and she sorta forgot I was there.)

    That was nearly 5 years ago and I'm still spooked about riding in traffic. These days cycling has become much more of a "sport" for me, and I stick almost exclusively to the bike paths. I'll still ride my "commuter bike" around the neighborhood to run short errands, but if I have to ride on a street with meaningful traffic or cross one of those 6 lane nightmares... forget about it!

    In my optimistic moments I think we're at a sort of chicken and egg moment - we need a critical mass of people on bikes in order to get society at large to try to make a place for us... but it's hard to want to risk your life to be part of the movement.

    Denver was recently chosen to receive some funds to build "protected" bike lanes downtown. I suppose that's a step in the right direction, but the real danger is at the intersections, and no amount of "protection" is gonna fix the problem of dealing with turning cars. It seems to me that what we need is REAL biking infrastructure... you know... bike paths with over or underpasses to keep you away from cars. Or specific streets designated for bike and pedestrian use only with traffic lights that stop ALL vehicular traffic to allow bikes and pedestrians to cross. And they need to be laid out in a grid so you can realistically use them to get from point A to B.

    Call me crazy, but it seems that if cities really understood how they would benefit from this sort of thing (better biking infrastructure = more people on bikes = fewer people in cars = less money spent on roads and better air quality, not to mention the public health benefit) they would realize that the return on investment for providing REAL biking infrastructure would be enormous!

  4. I think I've commented on this on my blog (or maybe here) before, but I have definitely found that it's much easier to actually go by bike when cycling is my default method. Then you're not debating and weighing the pros and cons each and every time, and you have a routine for getting out of the door with the necessary bike "stuff."

    I'm not saying that biking will necessarily be your default method for every trip, but you could try making it the default for certain trips (i.e., all trips within 2 miles, all trips to x location, etc.), however that works for you. This, in itself, would be a kind-of goal setting, but you could combine it with other goals, i.e., "I will ride my bike twice in the next week" (make sure to specify / plan for those two times!). Or a mileage-related goal.

    The benefits DO outweigh the drawbacks, and getting in a few nice rides will help reinforce that!

  5. Melissa, your comment is the voice in my head that serves as the counterpoint when I am too successfully talking myself out of riding. I have been telling myself that I should at least ride to grocer's (.5 mi each way) and to church on Sundays (2.1mi each way), and I really enjoy going for a long, relaxing ride on my local bike trail (with limited traffic interaction in the 2-ish mi each way to and from the trailhead). I also received a folding bike rack for Christmas that I can use to drive to other bike trails I enjoy in the area. Thanks for the pep talk!

    Cat, thanks for coming and commenting! I appreciate the fact that my feelings are more common than they feel when "yay, bikes!" feels more like "yay? bikes?" I share many of your thoughts and concerns, and when I'm on a trail, I often wish desperately that there were little bike and ped highways that would allow folks to get from A>B without interacting with traffic much, if at all. Distracted drivers scare me even more than the realization that many drivers don't know bike-traffic laws... phones, kids, interactive dashboards, and all of the things that compete for our attention these days. It's far too easy to forget that you're operating a ton or more of steel that can cause immeasurable damage.


Let the bicycle talk begin...