Cycling Stories

Changed Perceptions

April 30, 2020

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Changed Perceptions

Despite the common phrase, getting back on your bike after an extended absence can be a challenge. And the longer you go, the more difficult it becomes. 

Another challenge is changing perceptions and attitudes—our own, as well as others’. But cycling helped me face my fears, and it naturally followed that my attitude and perceptions changed.  

Here are several valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way: 

Cycling Isn’t Only a Sport 

 The first misconception I banished was the idea that cycling is only a sport.  

I’m a female rider who isn’t particularly sporty. I am not into racing, mountain biking, nor BMX. My greatest feat on a bicycle was a journey (interspersed with train rides) across Europe many years ago. 

Instead, my bicycle transports me to and from work, because it’s inexpensive and free to park. Worldwide, many like me also commute by bike. And along the way, cycling keeps me fit with minimal effort, and again, no extra cost. 

Many Roads Aren’t Dangerous 

My next mistaken perception was that roads are dangerous. Some are, of course, in which case they should be avoided. Or you can complain!  

According to some studies, mass participation is required to make cycling safer for everyone. Informal groups around the world, sometimes called Critical Mass, illustrate this by riding together in large groups.  

If you’re just getting started, try sticking to roads with bicycle lanes, which will allow you to get used to traffic. And when there’s no bike lane, you should move to the front of the queue at traffic lights, which helps you to be seen and to avoid exhaust fumes.  

I often reminisce about my time riding in Munich, which offers a cycling lane on nearly every street, and cars naturally yield to cyclists.  

Munich, Germany. Credit: Pexels

You can also try riding at low-traffic times, such as Saturday mornings, most Sunday mornings, or any weekday in any suburb between 9:05 am and 2:55 pm. 
 
I cycle for leisure with my children during weekends, with them riding on the footpath, of course. After all, they, like the adults who will not get ‘back on the saddle,’ are too afraid of traffic. (Those adults also perpetuate the problem when they choose to get behind the wheel of their cars.)  

Weather Is Not Your Enemy 

Another fear is weather—fair or not. But I’ll tell you this: I went out and bought over-trousers when I first started riding because I was afraid of getting soaked. To this day, I’ve scarcely needed them, so don’t be timid about getting a little damp on your ride. 

Even though my hometown gets relatively low rainfall (which undoubtedly arrives at 3 pm), I quickly learned that water falling from the sky creates heavy traffic, so plan for extra time if it’s wet out. 

Frost is fine, as long as you have chunky tires to crunch through it. Black ice is another matter altogether, though. Personally, I prefer rain during the winter, as long as it doesn’t freeze and become ice.  

The wind is a more challenging enemy for most cyclists, although this rests entirely on which direction it’s blowing, and whether or not it coincides with the direction you’re riding. As a perfect example of this, a week-long headwind warped my experience of riding across the Loire Valley, but the cyclists coming in the opposite direction were clearly having a marvelous time. 

It’s satisfying experiencing weather as a cyclist; you feel alive, and not bubble-wrapped. 

Enjoy the Climb Upward 

Our perception of hills, like the wind, is dependent on direction. Climbing on your bike poses a physical challenge as well as a mental one. But, like the view at the top, it’s worth it.  

Bottom line: All of our perceptions and attitudes can act as obstacles that prevent us from getting on a bicycle. We get on by challenging them.

Jackie McMillan lives and works in New Zealand's South Island.

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