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Reaching out to New Cyclists: Downplay the Bad-Ass Factor

There are so many reasons why I ride my bike (for my finances, my physical and mental health, the environment, convenience, fun). It also makes me feel like a bad ass. Especially in the winter. Which is great – to a certain extent.

Last week I realized that sometimes I play up the difficulty of my commute to sound more bad ass or to impress people, which is pretty uncool. I was one of 5 women hanging out together: two of us were bike-committed, one was bike-casual, and two were non-cyclists. My bike-committed friend and I laid out our reasons for choosing two-wheeled transportation: convenience, speed, thrift, exercise.

And then I totally blew the bike evangelism pitch. One of the non-cyclists asked me if I worried about have mechanical problems and getting stuck. I said that I don’t, because I know how to fix most things on my bike and carry an extra tube, tire levers and hand pump at all times, and sometimes carry other tools. My new friends then concluded that I am definitely a bad ass, and that biking requires lots of knowledge and skills they don’t have and are not going to acquire any time soon.

I wish I could go back and answer that question again. I really do carry tools and know how to fix stuff, but when I first started bike commuting, a lack of tools and knowledge didn’t stop me. If you live in the Twin Cities (or lots of other cities), you’ve got options for dealing with unexpected mechanical trouble that require little or no mechanical skills.

– Catch a Metro Transit bus and put your bike on the rack.

– Go to a nearby bike shop. If your bike breaks down in Minneapolis, your odds of being within half a mile of a bike shop are pretty good. Don’t know where the nearest one is? Ask another cyclist.

– Lock the broken bike up, grab a Nice Ride, and come back for your own bike later (maybe not the preferred method for a valuable bike, but I like having options).

There are a lot of things that can make a commute easier or more enjoyable. Basic mechanical knowledge is one of them, but there’s no reason for anyone to think that she can’t bike commute because she doesn’t know the name of that thing that shifts gears (derailleurs).

As I’ve said before, we all benefit when more people bike. Yeah, the bike path might be a bit more crowded, but when more people bike, the rate of car-bike collisions decreases. Cycling becomes more mainstream. I can’t wait for the day when local new outlets stop writing stories about winter bike commuting as if it’s a fringe activity for adrenaline junkies. I now see that as cyclists, we sometimes encourage this perspective, maybe without being conscious of it.

Making bike commuting sound like the ultimate hard-core sport might appeal to a small group, but in my experience it alienates people. Portraying my commute as a dangerous, exciting activity is almost always wrong. I’m just another person headed to/from work.

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3 comments on “Reaching out to New Cyclists: Downplay the Bad-Ass Factor

  1. Very good advice Stephanie. One thing I bring along is a bike map. One that shows all the bike shops. That way no matter where I break down I know the closest shop.

  2. Especially for commuting, option #1 is awesome – even if I can do the fix, I might not have time or want to do it in my work clothes. I actually have locked up my bike and gotten on the bus, to get to work on time – once because the pedals fell off, once because I hit a pothole hidden in a puddle so hard, my front wheel went out of shape.

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