When we were kids my friend Susie was just a kid I babysat, then a cooler-than-average-kid I baby sat. When we became adults we found we had so much in common, and continue to this day. She flew down, which shows just how much she cares since flying ranks higher than going to the dentist in things Susie hates. Of course I had to push the limit by getting her back on a bike. We used to bike as kids, we biked everywhere, because there was no way I was going to walk with all of those kids, and also I wasn't going to carry anyone older than three.
She was so nervous, probably because I made her wear a helmet. We didn't grow up wearing helmets in Alaska, and it sort of gave her the impression that it might be dangerous, after all they wouldn't tell us to wear helmets here unless it was dangerous here, right? She giggled when I went over signaling, and proper strap wear. I set her on Pinkie Pie, who is a stable upright stead, the equivalent of a gentle mare to help her get back in the swing. I pointed out they wouldn't have the expression "like riding a bicycle," if it was something you could forget. We set off for the mall and before we got to the next street she was terrified. I turned us off Meridian N to 162nd, it leads to 1st eventually, but through a suburban neighborhood rather than the main road.
She explained she really couldn't go any further, biking next to cars was terrifying for her, she was a mom and couldn't risk her life like that. She couldn't see how I did it. I begged her not to give up, and picked a closer destination, the Dollar Store (this is a novel treat for Alaskans) and turned her toward the Interurban trail. She had to push her bike up Densmore, complaining all the while how out of shape she was, I had to resist the urge to mock her for using a truck. Its not fair, but it biking in Alaska is not for the faint of heart. Furthermore, as a mom she had limited time, but she spoke with real desire to bike with her son over the summer. She flinched every time a car passed until we got to the trail.
The first shot is her on the streets, the second and last on the trailI look and I can barely tell its her and not myself. There's a few differences, but it looks a lot like I did years ago. Helps she's wearing my flannel, helmet, and kerchiefs, but that grimace? Yep, that was my own bike-face years ago. Really not even that long ago. I was not a confident cyclist when I came here, and it took a lot for me to have the courage to take the lane. I'm not really all that confident either, but I feel that way with a real beginner to 'vehicular cycling,' which is bike speak for 'riding next to cars with no protection like you are a car' and is not for those with poor nerves. Susie felt better on the trail, but not much better on the greenway. When I asked why she pointed, "The cars are still right there!" and that there was nothing to stop them from entering the greenway. Nothing, but the law.
I assured her we were fine, and we rode onward, completing our journey, shopping, and of course, gossiping. We had a cigarette before we took off, snickering that while we were dumb for smoking we weren't as dumb as the guy smoking next to the propane tanks. On our way back she marveled I hadn't given up the habit. I wish I could turn up one eyebrow like my grandfather, because I totally would have as I replied, "lung resistance training,*" and waited for her at the top of the hill leading back to the trail. At the top I assured her I would seek healthier habits if she did, and we laughed hard enough to need to catch our breath.
I wished we had more time, that the ride was longer. That we still rode together. Compared to other cyclists I'm practically a fair-weather type. If I'm not feeling physically up for it due to a myriad of conditions, I don't (this has presented a challenge in feeling the 'joy' in 30 days of cycling, but more on that later). But in the eyes of my friends, my family, and my coworkers, I'm so hard core I could do the Tour de France. This is because many of my friends don't cycle at all, my family that does bike uses motorcycles, and my coworkers can only vaguely recall the last time they rode. Moreover, I look fairly healthy enough, so to them I'm perpetuating a stereotypical cyclist; young, fit, white, and a "special" bike, and confident in her abilities.
But I'm not a stereotypical cyclist. For one thing, I'm only half white at best. I'm not that confident. At least, not when I ride alone. When I'm with someone else I'm totally confident, the more people, the more confident I am. I'm practically Wonder Woman on a group ride. I sound confident, but when I'm alone, I'm not. I'm so scared I'll get hit and there will be no one to call for help. I'm scared the person who hit me won't even know they did so, and I'll be a ghost bike. I'm scared I'll die in the saddle and Ben will never ride again because he won't be able to look at a bike again. That he'll buy a car and forget it ever made him happy too. I'm afraid of others, who, if I died biking, would never take it back up, or begin at all because it is too dangerous.
My bike isn't special. Okay, no that's a lie, my bike is special, its so special it had to be in my wedding somehow because I love it so much, but that's all that really makes it special. There are hundreds of folding bikes out there (hopefully not a hyperbole) and many that I know have more gears than Scamper, many made with carbon or titanium, many can carry more pounds and many are built to be faster. And most cost far far more than Scamper. A basic model of folding bike, with the basic number of gears. It is in fact a rather humble appearing bike if you know techs and specs, and let's face it, not even that many in the cycling community would know offhand Scamper wasn't a top teir kind of folding bike.
Its these things that make me the truly stereotypical cyclist; young, nervous, cheap bike, This is what the cycling community sees as the typical cyclist. The middle aged men in lycra, and the young racers? That's what the outside sees as the typical cyclist.
The only thing that makes me really stand out is not owning a car or having a licence, which most cyclist do, even the ones you can't peel out of their spandex.
A lot of progress has been made in changing how we cyclists are seen, even as we cyclists change. We move from being children just gaining independence, to adults who bike for so many reasons. I've gone from a traffic avoiding rider to someone who rides beside cars with no more protection that a stripe of paint, if that at all. Am I scared? Yes. Do I want better? Absolutely. Because I know now that I should have never changed, I should have stayed scared like Susie and the infrastructure should have been built with us in mind, instead of forever putting us in some subgroup whose needs must be "special interest" instead of perhaps the most non-partisan issue ever.
I hope Susie rides more, but I'm not going back North anytime soon to ride with her. But the Interurban is just a little more special for me in the meantime, its a place we rode together, and, just for old time's sake, I did the 'ol drangonfly maneuver, where we laughed, and, just for a moment, I could feel the girls we were riding with us.
That's all for now (surely you didn't think I'd be able to cram all that in the intro into one post? Dude, tl; dr) In the meantime, if you're going to make the pledge do so now, its closing soon!!!!
*a quote from Sister Sprocket from the Kickstand Comics