When Bike to Work month came around last year, I felt that nagging feeling whenever anyone suggests taking on a new and healthy habit. Sure, I could start biking to work, but who has the time or the energy? I mean, I work a full time job and I’m already training for ultramarathons. Between the time spent at work and training, I didn’t see how it could happen. Plus I live in Seattle, where we have hills.
I could have let all those excuses stop me…and for a while they did. After all, I never biked to work during the actual Bike to Work month of May. But something kept telling me, “Other people have figured it out. Just try it.” After weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally worked up the courage to bike to work. I decided that June 1st would be the start of my own Bike to Work month and I engaged my own commitment device by telling my wife that I was going to do it. Thankfully, when the day came and I stuck to my word. I knew on that first day that it was a tremendous success. And while the hills were tough definitely tough, at least at first, I quickly saw the other excuses quickly melt away on that first ride.
There were many reasons it took this long for the habit of biking to work to “take.” The real issues of cars and hills are definitely there but if I have to be honest with myself, the real barrier in my mind was tremendous intimidation from American biking culture. I was afraid I’d look foolish, that I would be too slow and that I’m not knowledgeable enough about bikes to ride. Six months later, I now know that none of those things matter. However, I acknowledge that those doubts are a real barrier for millions of other Americans who would ride otherwise. I know I can’t be alone.
I’ve now been riding for almost six months and am planning on bike commuting year round. In that time I’ve faced some of the fears that kept from starting to ride (crazy/angry drivers, riding at night, riding in the cold, flat tires, riding in the rain, etc.) and found they are totally manageable and feel really good to overcome. Despite what the guys in sponsored jerseys and carbon fiber bikes would have you believe: anybody can do this. Anybody. And it’s incredibly empowering.
That said, it’s going to take a huge shift for American biking culture to adapt and to feel comfortable with anybody and everybody hitting the road. Thankfully, in cities at least, that shift is already starting to happen. The Lance Armstrong crowd is just going to have to save the machismo for the velodrome as they have to deal with my slow ass riding to and from work every day. I will be saving my speed for tempo runs.