I want to ride, but…

I overheard some of the riders this past Wednesday night talking about ways we might get more folks riding and the obstacles that frequently stand in the way. One felt that most new riders (or people who don’t ride but who might be inclined to do so if invited) only want to ride bike paths. Is this true? If so, why? Or, to put it differently, what keeps you either off the roads or off your bicycle altogether? More importantly, what can we do about it? How can we alleviate the concern?

Is it only a matter of educating would-be and novice riders? Is it a matter of educating the public, and particularly drivers? Is it a matter of generating a critical mass, of of riding as often as possible in pairs or in larger groups, both for the sake of our fellow riders and to raise awareness among those who do not ride a bicycle? Do we need to advocate for safer streets and “complete streets”? Or do we, in fact, really need to add miles and miles of bike paths, i.e., to build an alternative network solely for bicycle transportation?

Or is it something else? For instance, does the city need more bike racks? Do places like the YMCA, local colleges, and perhaps local bike shops need to be persuaded to offer bike hub services (e.g., anything from free air pumps, to covered bike racks, to personal and/or bicycle lockers, to showers)? Do we need things in place to make bike safety more affordable and more readily available ?Do we need bicycle co-ops that will get old bikes back on the road and help keep them running for next to nothing, while teaching riders basic bike maintenance in the process?

Are would-be and novice riders mystified by what are actually relatively basic issues like, how do I begin? Where do I ride? What route should I take? Do I have the right equipment? What do I do if my bike breaks down? Is there trepidation stemming from the newness of it all and not yet being comfortable and in the groove of riding? Or is there an intimidation factor, either in terms of thinking you haven’t got the right bike or gear to be “legit,” or else from the feeling that you’ll be a poseur if you can’t commute every single day, you ride slower than everyone else, or you can’t ride as far as others?

All of this is being pulled from the slowly-balding top of my noggin. It feels as if this list could go on indefinitely. I am really interested in hearing what others think, especially concerning the “what do we do about it” part of the question. Although traffic on this blog is decent enough, comments are few and far between. If you’re reading this, please consider chiming in, especially if your remarks refer specifically to Adrian and its environs. Of course it occurs to me as I write that pretty much anyone who might be inclined to visit this blog would be numbered among the already convinced, the proverbial choir, as it were, and therefore not necessarily the best candidates to answer the questions I’ve posed.

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5 responses to “I want to ride, but…

  1. I would guess that the idea of riding “in the middle of the road” is probably a big part of it. People are intimidated because they just aren’t familiar with the road rules.

    And then there’s the fear of rude/ignorant drivers, which goes hand in hand with a lack of road rule familiarity.

    I know that I was worried when I first started commuting by bicycle until I became more familiar with the rules. Of course, I’m still wondering how drivers could be a little better educated about it all, too. Maybe newspaper articles?

  2. So how did you overcome the fear? Was it a matter of just doing it and eventually getting used to it?

    As for educating drivers, I used to think the best way to do that with regard to motorcyclists would be to require everyone to ride a motorcycle for one year before obtaining a license to drive an automobile. I wonder if a similar approach would work for bikes. It seems a bit idealistic and naive, I’ll admit. Besides, more often than not, this already exists in effect, insofar as we all grow up riding our bicycles all over the place. So I wonder what on earth happens along the way.

  3. I know having the Kiwanis Trail has made it much less intimidating for novice riders to get out on their bikes. I hope we can start having over the road rides to neighboring towns on the weekends.
    A common theme I hear is “You are too fast a rider for us, we couldn’t possibly keep up.” or “We would just slow you down.”
    When we began riding several years ago it was because we were encouraged by biking friends that made sure we kept a comfortable pace. It was more important for them to have us along than it was for them to keep a fast pace. For the folks we ride with, some of which are very experienced riders, it is more about the relationships than going fast. They are just happy to be sharing an activity they love with their friends.
    So, I believe we just need to continue encouraging those who need encouragement. Some will progress to the road, others won’t.

  4. I hear things like that a lot, too (i.e., “I wouldn’t be able to keep up,” and so on), and I realize there are things I do (sometimes inadvertently, but not always) that unfortunately contribute to that apprehension on the part of the novice rider, giving them reason to doubt my repeated assurances that everyone is welcome and it doesn’t matter what speed, distance, or equipment they ride. It’s tricky keeping one’s enthusiasm at just the right pitch so as to invite and allure rather than to discourage and deter. I’m going to try being more mindful of that.

  5. Well, hubby bought me a brand-new bike because he knew that if he did, I would feel sooooo guilty that I’d begin commuting regardless of internal inhibitions, lol.

    I think a lot of it though was finally being in a place that had roads that were nice for bicycling. (Where I grew up, if the grade wasn’t about 20+%, your shoulder was non-existent — usually a straight drop-off 1000 ft down to a river or a straight rise up a cliff.)

    But having informative articles in the newspaper certainly helped; I remember reading a really good one about bicycle safety, that also directed the reader to the state DoT website’s page for bicycling. And learning that bicycles *are* vehicles, and MUST be in the road & follow road rules gave me courage. 😛

    What I think might really help would be getting some bicyclist-friendly drivers to spread the word. I think the common attitude is that since we’re bicyclists, yeah yeah, they don’t need to listen to us, we’re crazy after all, only kids ride bikes, etc etc…. If we could get more drivers to talk about it and say ‘Hey, they’ve a right to the road too,’ we might be in better shape.

    Or better yet, have them cover it in driver’s ed.