It’s ok to ride you bicycle in the winter. It’s ok to ride your bike home from the club. It’s ok to ride your bicycle when you’re over 30.
I have a confession, ok two confessions, 1) I’m definitely over 30 (you probably figured that out already) and 2) I still enjoy riding my bicycle. I don’t mean I enjoy it as a form of exercise on the weekends. I mean I enjoy as a means of everyday transportation.
When I started thinking that I wanted to write about bicycles, I started to think about how much a part of my life bicycles have been. My dad used to put me in a seat on the back of his bicycle. We would go for bike rides around our neighborhood in Akron, OH. This is going to sound creepy but we lived across the street from a large cemetery and he would take me for rides there. It was like a giant park with wide drives and very few cars. I loved it!
I learned to ride a bicycle in that cemetery. My first ‘big girl’ bike was a gift from my grandparents and came complete with training wheels. It was a little big for me. It took a while for me to build up the confidence to ride it. I envy kids today with their balance bikes. Those things are amazing when it comes to helping kids learn to ride a bike. I had training wheels and a parent holding on to the back on my seat.
Those early rides, instilled an appreciation for bicycles in me. I took a bicycle to college and rode it some, not as much as I wanted too. This was the early 2000s. There were only a small number of people riding bicycles on my college campus. It felt like I stood out when I rode my bike. Standing out is not what you want to do when you are on your way to class.
After university, I lived in Japan. Bicycles are one of the main forms of transportation in much of East Asia. They were everywhere. My job provided me with a bicycle. I rode it everyday to work, to the grocery store, to the bar. I got a crush on the older man who fixed my flat tires at his tiny bike shop.
You didn’t have to be a super serious cyclist in Japan to ride a bike. Anyone and everyone rode bikes in Japan. The roads were filled with salarymen on their way to work, grandmothers with groceries, and middle schoolers riding double.
A bicycle followed me to NYC after I left Japan. I never felt at home in NYC was because I didn’t ride my bike very often. The bicycle culture wasn’t what it was in Japan. When I was in grad school there, bike lines were few and far between. People that cycled in NYC were very serious. They rode fast, I don’t. This has changed in recent years. With the advent of Citibanks along with the bike lanes, there are a lot more casual riders in the city.
In Toronto, I ride almost year round. Even without snow on the ground, the mid-February cold makes it a challenge to ride a bicycle. Every year, I notice more and more people riding bicycles no matter how cold it gets. What gets me on my bike in this city is seeing all the other women riding bikes to work, to play, to go shopping.
A few years ago, a young gentleman, complimented me on my going out attire combined with my bicycle riding. Note to men when complimenting random women on the street: compliment a woman on things she has control over in a respectful manner. A cool outfit or a practical choice of transportation fall into this category. I even rode my bike this week to the club. Didn’t get any compliments but I did have a pleasant ride home after a fun night with friends on one of the last weekends of the summer. That’s what it’s all about.
My bicycle let me go visit friends when I was kid. It let me explore my neighborhood and day dream. I’m from Akron, OH. It struck a cord with me when Lebron James arranged for all the students at the public school for at-risk kids he started in our shared hometown, to have their bicycle. He talked about the freedom a bike gave him. How it got him out of bad neighborhoods. That’s his hope for the kids at his school. I was fortunate not to have the same challenges as James. My bicycle opened up the world to me. Let me explore on my own. It gave me a taste of freedom. And it still does today. I think bikes can do that for all of us no matter how old or young we happen to be.