As you might imagine, in my line of work there are many rides to be led, and many routes to be created. Because I'm often planning routes for rides in places I don’t know well, I will typically draft them first in Google Maps, then drive them upon arrival to town. As I'm driving, the lines on my map become really real, and I sometimes panic: "Holy crap!", I say to myself, "We're all gonna die if I take us on this street!" Through my windshield, roads can look terrifying and I become one big NOPE. Yes, even me, even after all the riding I've done and the riding I've taught others to do. I still get scared. But I have a policy that I won't take people on streets I haven't been willing to ride on my own—during rush hour, if possible—so I strap on my helmet and set off to ride the route as planned.
I am happy to report that in almost in every single instance, when I actually ride the streets I'd thought would lead to certain death, it becomes “Oh! This is much different than I thought it’d be!” Motorists are respectful, passing slowly and with care, and I am able to notice all the pleasant things I never could while driving. Murals. Birdsong. Microclimates. Aromas (bakeries, laundry, flowers...). Every time I ride, I am reminded why I ride—because, quite simply, it's lovely to ride. But it's not just me, someone generally at ease riding on the road, who experiences this. On their evaluations, the vast majority of our ride participants suggest that riding is a joyful experience that is much, much different than they had imagined:
I'm grateful for my route planning ritual, and the fear it sometimes invokes in me. It's a good reminder that what seems so from the seat of a car can be quite different from how it actually is from the seat of a bike. And it's a good reminder of why it can be so tricky to get people to understand the joy that awaits them on the other side of their car windshield. Especially when we haven't ridden for a while, it's tempting to view riding a bicycle in traffic as extraordinarily dangerous; we can't even fathom doing it. Then layer on the fact that people tend to overestimate how long it takes to ride a bike somewhere, and fears of physical inadequacy, and I can see why people psych themselves out. That's why we at Yay Bikes! insist that most of our education happens on-road. Sometimes all it takes is taking a chance on getting out there, with some support if possible, and discovering for yourself the unexpected experience of riding a bike—yes, even in traffic.
Our Year of Yay! rides are a great way to dip a toe in and get some practice riding roads. Please, join me—rides roll on the second Saturday of each month! You'll get plenty of support and it may just change the way you travel, forever.