Why I Cycle
Like many people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a child -- I think I was five. The bike I rode was a hand-me-down from my older sisters. It was fire red, which made up for the basket, streamers, and other girly accoutrements. I am sure it didn't bother me at the time as I was known to try to weasel my way into playing with my sisters by wearing dresses and getting my nails done. It had four wheels, training wheels included, and my street was not a busy one so I was able to learn quickly and safely. It was a simpler time.
Through my adolescent years, I used my bike to get around to my friends homes and back. We used our bikes to just play around. I expect this is the way it is for most children before of the age of 16. Bike around your neighborhood, see friends, toss your bike around, maybe it gets stolen, but the bike is never seen as any sort of right of passage or amazing privilege. It is just a play thing. Good for tricks and showing off.
Once I turned sixteen I was driving. That was it for me at that point. I was one of the lucky ones that had a car that I could use and I used it, or got picked up in a car by one of my friends, every time I had to go anywhere. No more bikes, no more bus trips. Cars! Woo! I did use my bike again every once in a while, but it was never for the purpose of real consistent transportation. It was still a play thing in many ways all the way up until the end of my high school years.
After my high school years were over, I had lost the car to my sister who had brought it down to New Orleans for her final two years at school. I went off to Mankato for college at that same time. I was as carless and as utterly stationery as I was when I was 5. Mankato, the lovely town that it is, is a place that if you do not have a car, it is not an accessible place. To combat this, I brought a bike down that I had ridden for the past summers that was previously my mother's. It brought me into a new frame of mind. I could ride off campus whenever I wanted to get away from the nuisance of trying to break into the cliquey and insular student body. Of course, that sort of strategy only serves that same sad end -- get away from the hard thing, rather than face the hard thing.
At the time, I felt like I had found a bit of freedom from all that. I could ride my bike for 10 minutes in one direction off campus and be surrounded by corn fields. An immediately freeing experience, but it was fucking windy so I never really made it that far on those roads.
Through many different robust communities on the internet, I was able to find that other people liked cycling too. It wasn't just people riding on Saturdays with thousands of dollars of equipment, it was normal people with normal bikes out there, because it was fun and easy to get around with it. Also, there was an amazing community of people who had decided to join up together and ride for activism, like Critical Mass, or for fun, like the rolling dance parties in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. I watched videos on YouTube constantly, trying to tap into what was cool about it and how I could meet those kind of people.
In the effort to find if these people existed in Mankato, I tried to organize a Critical Mass ride in Mankato. I put up flyers, advertised on bicycle forums, and tried to spread it by word of mouth. It must have been my amateur advertising, but it turns out no one likes riding bikes unless they are going to class.
No one showed up.
That is, except for one couple who had saw the poster and thought it was a neat idea. We rode around town for an hour or so. It was a nice time and it was nice to have someone else there, but it only reinforced the notion that I needed to track down the community that I wanted to be apart. So, at the nearest opportunity to leave, I got out of there.
Of course, I transferred to the U of M in the Twin Cities for a lot of other reasons besides cycling, but holy shit, was it so much more fun to cycle in the Twin Cities than Mankato. I biked everywhere all the time. I was gifted an amazing bicycle by my grandfather from an older bicycle maker called "Atala". It was the bike that my mom and her siblings had shared in Dickinson, North Dakota. It had a lot of history on it and in it. It even had those old school bike license stickers. I rode that bike until I built a new bike, which became my main steed.
By this time, I was really out there experiencing it, just hustling around town, and making it the mainstay for my lifestyle. It was exhilarating. In the same way that people feel empowered by mashing their foot against the gas pedal of a car and really taking off, I felt empowered by the ability to move myself around the city with my feet and my body. I felt doubly empowered when I could beat cars to destinations or cycle as fast as cars. I was seeing the city and my mobility in an entirely new way. Around this same time, I started getting involved in Minneapolis Bike Love, an online forum where cyclist in Minneapolis gathered to discuss anything, but mostly cycling related news, events, and culture. I was finally meeting those people who enjoyed this as much as I did.
Also, there were races. And they are fun.
Despite all of the community, fun races, and culture around cycling in the Twin Cities, it is simply a pleasant place to ride a bike. The traffic is generally light and there are fantastic bike facilities. The Greenway is consistently referred to as one of the premier pieces of cycling infrastructure in the United States. Every single lake has a trail around it you can cycle on, most major roadways have cycle lanes, and the river that carves its way between the two cities is lined with two contiguous bike lanes. The Twin Cities is just a great place to be a cyclist, whether your a hobbyist on the weekend riding around the lakes or you are a hardcore cycle scene-ster with a fixed gear like I was.
I loved being in the Twin Cities. Then, I moved to New York and it was a little harder to ride here, but not for the reasons you might initially think. More on that with my next post.