Last night was the annual State of the Union address from the president that describes the condition of our country and allows the president to outline their goals for the upcoming year. I could spend several posts on where our country stands in the cycling world, and what I think that we should be doing to promote cycling use. It is encouraging that a revolution of new riders and cycling advocacy has swept our country, and that the government is open to provide for the growing cycling needs. As more money is spent on cycling education, planning, and safety, one would think that the roads would be covered with cyclists. Unfortunately the numbers of cyclists, while they are increasing, are still at a fairly low level.
This thought made me wonder about what keeps people in their cars and off their bikes. My only solution was that it had to be fear. Fear of traffic, injury, looking silly, the bike equipment itself, failure, etc. Bike advocates don’t really focus on any of these fears. Bike groups typically focus on helmets, bike lanes, and laws. All of these things are important, but they don’t help get additional riders on the streets. I think that if more effort was spent toward answering the fears that potential riders have, then we could get more people out on 2 wheels.
By adding a little perspective to the fear scenarios, many of them can be put aside. According to the Florida Department of Health, three times as many pedestrians, three times as many motorcyclists, and ten times as many automobile passengers suffer brain injuries as bicyclists do each year. Most bicycle accidents actually come from cyclist error. Careless riding, riding against the flow of traffic, running stop lights/signs, and riding without lights or warning devices are some of the things that I have personally witnessed on the road just this week. If cars drove this way, drivers would be pretty fearful about driving a car as well.
The self conscience fears that people have can also be fought by education and a shift in perspective. Bicycle equipment can be cumbersome and look intimidating at first, but riders must always remember that the “fancy” bikes that they see in the LBS (local bike shop) have the same basic components as the simple bicycle that they learned to ride on as a child. These “fancy” bikes also ride and perform just as dependably as their childhood bikes once did, and can be pushed as hard as their level of fitness can provide.
Self-mastery is a natural aspect of cycling, but getting support can encourage and serve the needs of novice riders. New riders should look to bicycle groups and clubs to provide them with answers and confidence in their riding. In turn, these organizations should be more inviting and less intimidating to facilitate the needs of these riders.
Cycling, like most things in life, takes courage to undertake, but with determination and a realistic perspective on the perceived fears, it can be a fun and life changing activity.
Ride safe, ride hard, ride on!