How do bicycles help the world? Something I ask myself quasi-regularly. I believe bicycles are important. I’ve learned and witnessed many stories of bicycles and how they shape, move and influence people. I began exploring my own answer to how bicycles help my world. Significantly. Beyond my role in bike programming, riding a bicycle is significant in shaping who I am: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Simply put, I ride for transportation. I ride to get from point A to point B. I also ride to keep my body and the planet healthy. I joke that the reason I never learned to drive a car is so that I would have no choice but to exercise everyday of my life. I am playful about it now but initially the choice to ride a bike was motivated by a deep sense of shame I felt towards my body. The kind of shame that results from many years of conscious and unconscious buy-in to the “thin equals beautiful” paradigm. On a surface level the choice to ride a bicycle seemed healthy but it stemmed from an unhealthy mental space.
I began bicycle commuting as a self-loathing teenager struggling with high-school. Fueled by insecurity and angst, I pedaled my way to and from school in rain, shine and snow. One miserable winter day, I had my first crash. My front wheel caught the curb and down I went, earning some scrapes in the process. In that moment, I remember laying on my back not wanting to ever get back up. Deep down I wished for someone to offer a hand, ask me if I was ok, and pull me up. But that didn’t happen. So I got up. By the time I arrived at school I felt good, a rare feeling at that time in my life. I had fallen down but I got back up and kept going. As my only witness, the experience was a little secret I shared with myself. For someone who desperately craves affirmation from others, this little secret was significant. In a small way, I acknowledged that I had resilience and strength ... It was an important gesture of self-love.
Once that hard gear had turned, it gained momentum. I continued riding into adulthood. But self-love is not a destination. I am 31 and still have plenty of moments when I feel neither strong or resilient. My internal landscape is filled with as many peaks and valleys as the one external to me and navigating them is a process I am always learning. Riding regularly exposes me to situations that develop and test my strength; strength in who I am and in how I choose to show up in the world.
Who I am is a choice. This is my guiding spiritual philosophy at the moment. I want to contribute to my community, be relevant, embody respect and gratitude. Over my years as a full-time bike commuter, I’ve had hard times choosing who I truly want to be. Daily encounters with road rage, aggression and distraction erode at my ability to choose the best of myself. With each bad encounter I grew angrier, more reactionary and easily provoked. Fear, hostility, and resentment was my daily experience. Riding a bicycle, my source of joy and strength, became a source of stress, anxiety and despair. Every day, I braced myself for bad encounters and prayed for my safety. The burden of fear, stress and anger infiltrated other areas of my life and my spirit grew weak. I felt victim of my own choice to ride a bike.
“What is within my power and what isn’t?” I started to ask myself. I could change my perception and try to control how I respond. When possible, I can change my routes. I can make time to notice my energy and center myself before and after each ride. I can work to lessen my judgment of myself and others. I can exercise respect even when I am disrespected. I can be patient with myself and others. I can accept that my next breath is never a guarantee, so appreciate this one.
To clarify, I am not suggesting we minimize threats or normalize dangerous behavior. Rather, I recognize we are each responsible for our contributions to the spaces we share. I notice that when I contribute anger and hostility, the more I experience those feelings on and off the road.
My daily rides are my place of practice. Every time I get on my bicycle I have an opportunity to practice the art/discipline of choosing. I practice reminding myself that I have control over whether a bad moment becomes a bad day. Practice requires me to pay attention and be honest with myself knowing that some days I will do better than others. So I continue to ride and practice.