• Bethany

Cycling: Beginning

One of the things I love most about being an unattached adult with no dependents is the ability to realize my hare-brained schemes with nothing but my own sense of self-preservation to hold me back.

It's a family trait, really; hare-brained schemes keep life interesting and are a spectacular way to fail or succeed and learn new things along the way. And what is life about if it isn't learning things along the way?

To that end, I have made the decision to sell my car and buy a bicycle. Not necessarily in that order.

Here are some pros:

1) Money. Necessity is the mother of invention. My car, Cecilia, is quite old and her maintenance and repair bills are mounting. She's nearing the end of her life, and I want to be prepared for what will come after. I would rather plan for her demise and be ready for it than suddenly stuck on the side of the highway faced with a carless future. Because the truth is, I can't afford to get a car right now. I can't afford car payments, and I can't afford an increase in my insurance. At least, if I decided I had to have a car I wouldn't be able to do things like save for retirement or emergencies, or go out to eat. Ever. And I'd rather have the luxury of saving for my old age and splurging on a hamburger occasionally than have a car.

So it's time to get creative. Which I love. The entire setup for my cycling (mis)adventure is laughably less than the cost of a car, repairs will be much less expensive, and I don't have to pay for gas or car insurance. I even have a pipe-dream of learning to do my own repairs. What's not to love?

2) Like many people, I feel better when I exercise. And I've learned over the years that I'm happy to commit to more labour-intense modes of transportation when they seamlessly integrate exercise into my daily life. I'd rather have exercise just be part of my life than have to Make Time For The Gym five times a week. I'd rather walk somewhere than drive, and, honestly, I'd rather walk than cycle, preferring the safety of my own two feet. That said, walking isn't really a practical mode of transportation where I live. On the outskirts of a small town, the nearest grocery store is an impractical 45-min walk (one way). My parents live about 10km away. So yes, cycling makes the most sense in these conditions.

3) Reducing carbon footprint. Who doesn't want to be a part of that? Contributing to a more sustainable future and getting another body on the roads proving the need for better cycling infrastructure sounds great to me.

4) I like adventure, and having little adventures like selling my car for a bike is right up my alley. You don't have to move across the country or sell everything you own to have adventures. Sometimes you just buy a bike. And the message I'm getting from people who do cycle is that it is very fun. I like fun.

5) A slippery slope into a lifetime of cycling. We'll see how it turns out, but I suspect that cycling in a small town may be a good way for me to get into cycling as primary transportation even if I were to move to a city someday. By gaining confidence here, maybe I'll be ready to tackle more traffic and aggressive drivers in a larger center. Traffic here is obviously negligible compared to larger cities I've lived in, and drivers seem generally less aggressive. I am comforted by the fact that I have seen cyclists around, although primarily in the summer. Add to this a high likelihood that drivers know or are related to the unfortunate cyclist they're about to run down, and I feel drivers will probably not try to hit me on purpose.

6) PENNY THE PUPPY IN A BIKE BASKET. This was almost a con because I don't know if my heart will be able to handle the cuteness overload. I'm getting a dog-specific handlebar basket for PenPen and am brainstorming ways to make a rainproof cover for it. Suggestions are welcome.

The Cons:

1) Weather. The weather here is often truly lovely. Sunny days with a bit of a breeze. Summer and autumn here are absolutely fabulous Most of the time. Except when the rain is shooting horizontally and the wind carries off my heavy patio furniture. With no car, I will probably be forced to cycle in these conditions at some point. I'm not above canceling appointments due to bad weather, so we'll see how it goes. I'm also investing in actual real outerwear for things like rain and cold and, eventually, snow. I want to try cycling in spring/summer/autumn first and if I make it that far, I think I'll be confident enough to start winter cycling.

2) Carrying things other than myself. I don't have laundry facilities in my apartment. Right now, I take my laundry over to Mom and Dad's on Monday mornings, bring Mom a sacrificial hot chocolate from the coffee truck in the Canadian Tire parking lot, and chat away while the laundry churns. With a bike... I'm actually not completely sure how I will make this work. Panniers (saddlebags, basically) will be involved, and potentially a backpack. I'm open to suggestions, but I know I'll figure it out somehow. I'm resourceful like that.

3) Injury and death. Cycling seems dangerous to me. And this small town is not set up for cyclists. Like a lot of places, it's very car-centric. Although I've recently learned that statistics say cycling is actually very safe, I worry about falling or getting hit by a car or getting doored by someone getting out of their car. Drivers in my little town are not usually aggressive, but I've witnessed some pretty terrifying moments due to inattention. I'd rather have aware-yet-aggressive drivers than ones who decide to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic because they just aren't paying attention or are perhaps too elderly to be safe behind the wheel. Ways I plan to mitigate these risks are to be SUPER visible by having flashing lights for all occasions, bright clothes, taking up the whole road if I need to, and good old-fashioned yelling at people. Ontario has changed me into someone who will yell if I have to. #arrivealive, folks.

4) What about long-distance travel? Well, the joke's on you because I already couldn't drive my car long distances. I once drove it to Halifax, a 3.5-hour trip, and a part literally fell off the car in the middle of the road. There was a cartoon clank of metal and everything. Acrid smoke started coming out of the air vents. Yeah... so I already have to borrow a car from my parents to travel long distances. And with the money I'll save in not buying a car, I could probably rent a car if I wanted to go on vacation or travel for work.

5) Didn't you just have surgery? Yes. I had a hysterectomy at the end of January. I will not be implementing #seebethbike until the beginning of April at the earliest. I will consult with my physician before undertaking any activity. I love being healthy and having functional core muscles, and I will do whatever my doctor and physio dictate to keep myself safe from stupid injuries. In my dreams, I start cycling a little bit to build up strength/stamina and sell the old car a month or two.

Further comments:

I don't know that much about cycling (although I have watched almost every cycling-related TEDx talk on YouTube at the time of writing). The last time I rode a bike I broke my tailbone riding through a pothole while doing a shoulder check. I don't wear lycra, I'm not a fitness buff, I looked online at bicycles and felt suuuuuuuper overwhelmed. For this whole adventure, I'm reminding myself that other people do this, and they don't have special abilities I don't have or access to knowledge I don't have access to. I can learn to do what they are doing. Honestly, that mantra has changed my life. I can learn to commute by bike. I can learn to cycle in all kinds of weather, or at night, or with my cute dog in a basket on the handlebars. I don't have to know exactly what I'm doing before I start doing it. I learned that in #seebethdma

If you're worried about my physical preparedness to make this big change, let me tell you that you're probably right to feel concern. I'm not a super athletic person. At one brief point in my life, I was running most days and rock climbing 3-5 times a week. I'd say I was reasonably fit then. But that was years ago, now I'm a "yoga sometimes, walk the dog, and occasionally go for a run" sort of person. Add to the mix that this is one of the least-athletic seasons of my adult life so far (pandemic + surgery + depression). But never fear! I'm not going to rush out and sell the car the second I have a bicycle in my hot little hands (spoiler alert: it's already purchased, it's just waiting at the bike shop for me to recover from surgery). I know that a transition period is called for, and I will do just that. Other than having had an organ removed a month ago (which feels awesome, by the way. Highly recommend getting volleyball-sized, tumor-ridden uteruses removed from your body, you feel amazing afterward), I'm actually in pretty good health. I don't have any chronic conditions except depression, which, it turns out, is actually improved by exercise, so yay.

All in all, I feel totally pumped and ready to make this change. I'm ready to have a little adventure, I'm ready to fail or succeed and learn so much and try to make this work. Right now, I'm planning to do a full breakdown of the adventure for you. I've scoured the internet and haven't been able to find anyone who really broke down what they were doing bit-by-bit (who wasn't already a person who cycled for sport). I am very much a non-cyclist, so I feel like this adventure will serve as encouragement (or perhaps a cautionary tale) to other normal people who sometimes wonder if biking to the grocery store instead of driving might be a good idea.

Wish me luck!

And yes, I will use the hashtag #seebethbike on Instagram. There's a bike-specific rain poncho in the mail for me, so you'll want to follow for the ridiculous pictures if nothing else.

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