Recently, while checking in on the Craigslist Missed Connections (for the blog, I swear, for the blog!) I happened upon the following post:
MC with bike partner/mentor - 25 (Williamsburg) [original URL: http://newyork.craigslist.org/brk/mis/719927591.html]
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2008-06-14, 4:37PM EDT
Posting here since I don't think people read the platonic section and everyone loves missed connections.
I am a 25 year old female, just bought my first road bike (!) and it should be ready to roll next Monday (getting fixed up this week). I am looking for someone to ride with at least a few times, from williamsburg to battery park (or at least to the east river green path) so I can get the hang of it since I am a little nervous, esp. about getting off the w'burg bridge in traffic and finding the green path. I am just trying to avoid doing dumb things that might get me into the BikeSnobNYC blog and/or get me killed.
I can leave pretty much anytime from 6:30AM to 9:30AM. I live near the Graham L. This is probably really uncool but I don't care... I don't know anyone else that rides a bike regularly here.
This is not a dating ad, so whoever you are: whatever, just be nice and not creepy!
For all my derision, the last thing I’d want to do is discourage someone from riding a bike. If anything, I’d like to think I poke fun at the things that are actually barriers of entry to new cyclists, and not at new cyclists themselves. I’d also like to think it’s a good thing that someone might be afraid of both winding up on this blog and being killed, because some of the things I make fun of actually can get you killed. (Brakeless bike-salmoning, for example.) So with the bike boom in full, uh, boom, and with as many young people as ever moving to the trendier neighborhoods of various urban centers and thinking of taking up the filthy cycling habit, I think it’s worth taking a look at the barriers of entry to new cyclists so we can steamroll right through them and get more people riding:
The new or aspiring cyclist is afraid of many things. Among them are: looking stupid; getting lost; getting harassed by automotive traffic; and of course injury. Sure, fear is natural, but when it keeps you from doing something there’s really no reason not to do it becomes a problem. Being afraid of cycling is like feeling guilty about sex, except one keeps you from getting on and the other keeps you from getting off. But how do you lose the fear?
Paradoxically, you lose it by accepting the fact that every one of the things you’re afraid of will happen to you. You know what? You will look stupid. We all looked stupid on a bike at first. We all put on a jersey that was two sizes too big, pulled on our first pair of cheap half-shorts, tied our sneakered feet to our plastic pedals with some nylon straps, shifted into the small ring up front and the small cog out back, and let our dork flags fly. Not only that, but every one of us, no matter how experienced, still looks stupid today--maybe not to our riding buddies or respective cliques, but certainly to the world at large. The fixter looks stupid to the roadie; the roadie looks stupid to the mountain biker; the mountain biker looks stupid to the recumbent rider; and the recumbent rider looks stupid to everyone. And all of us look stupid to the non-cyclist. No matter who you are or what you’re doing, you look stupid to somebody. We’re all a bunch of preening, posturing, self-deluded roosters. Embrace it.
You’ll also get lost. It will probably be raining when it happens, too. Yes, you’ll be a lost, wet, cold, stupid-looking person, and you’ll be miserable. But it’s not that bad. You’ll find your way home again, you’ll learn some new roads, and you’ll be better for the experience. As J. Peterman said, being lost is “the best way to get someplace you've never been.” And in my experience with being lost, that place is often in New Jersey.
“But what about the cars?,” you may ask. “Surely I should fear the cars.” Well, you should be aware of the cars, and you should know that many of them are driven by people so stupid they can barely operate them, but you should not fear them. Rather, you should know them and understand them. You’re at a distinct advantage because, being stupid, most drivers are easy to figure out. It won’t take you long to anticipate their stupid behavior in the same way you can usually figure out what your dog is about to do next. Oh, and don’t let them bully you. Ignore the beeping. A driver honks to express one of three things: 1) I want you to get out of my way; 2) I want you to go faster; 3) I just don’t like you. The correct response to all of these is, “I don’t give a fuck.” Drivers don’t honk when they’re about to kill you because when they kill you it’s because they didn’t see you.
“Yeah, but cars or no cars, I might get hurt.” Hey, you will get hurt, I promise. But you can also get hurt eating a bagel, watching “Night Court” reruns, or masturbating. (Especially if you attempt all three at once.) It doesn't mean you shouldn't do them. Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad said it best: “You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street or sticking your face in a fan.” So go ahead, stick your face in the fan and get on your bike.
Another reason people are apprehensive about riding bicycles is that they perceive it as being difficult. The fact is that it’s only as difficult as you make it. Unfortunately, though, most people are completely delusional when it comes to cycling. Many cyclists think that they’re just a pair of Zipps, a Cervelo, and a few expensive coaching sessions away from going pro. Similarly, many non-cyclists don’t bother because they think it takes strength, dedication, and training to be a good cyclist. The reality is that both types of people are completely delusional—the cyclist is much weaker than he thinks he is, and the non-cyclist is much stronger than he thinks he is. So just get on the bike and have fun at whatever speed you choose. The fitness will happen by accident.
Any long-time cyclist has been asked thousands of times by non-cyclists for recommendations as to what kind of bicycle to purchase. And, because they’re cyclists and consequently compulsive and anal, they probably gave thoughtful, intelligent, and highly-detailed responses that flew over the person’s head like a pie plate-hating milking goose. This is because buying a new bike is like sex in that it’s impossible to get right the first time. Nobody can tell you how to do it. You’ve got to make your mistakes yourself.
Of course, if you’re considering a new bike purchase, you should do your homework, you should ask people for advice, and you should shop around. But you should also realize that since you’re not a cyclist yet you haven’t learned what kind of cyclist you are yet either, so you don’t know what kind of bike you need. Just jump in, buy what you can afford and what makes sense at the time, and try to ask a reasonable price when you put it on Craigslist six months later to buy the bike you now know you need.
If I’m hard on the fashionistas and the gear whores, it’s because I think one of the greatest obstacles to new cyclists is the uniform and equipment it seems necessary to own in order to join in the fun. From the outside you’d think you can’t own a fixed-gear bike without having full sleeves and a HED tri-spoke, and that you can’t own a road bike without having an SRM and a pair of wheels that costs over $1,000. And in either instance, it would appear to the non-cyclist that you certainly can’t be a cyclist yourself without having the right friends. As a commenter said yesterday to me:
Let's see your bikes. Let's see your face. Let's see your friends, your music and everything else. No, that would be too much. Then you wouldnt have anything to write about because people could rip you to shreds.
Guess what? You don’t have to have friends or listen to music to be a cyclist. All you have to do is ride your bike. (Okay, and maybe own a floor pump.) And the friends, like the fitness, will follow. Some people neither seek approval nor fear disapproval. Cycling doesn't have to be about who you know and what you ride. It's about who you are and that you ride. I find it interesting that the person who wrote the above Craigslist post is looking for riding partners online because “I don't know anyone else that rides a bike regularly here.” Hmmm, Williamsburg is in many ways the home of “bike culture.” Gee, could it be this “bike culture” is not as welcoming and inclusive as it thinks it is? And could it be the "bike culture" is not riding its bikes as much as it says it is?
One of the greatest things about cycling is you can do it with 10,000 people or you can do it alone. And you don’t need to engage in the “secret handshake” of name-dropping, proper equipment usage, and wardrobe in order to do it. Choose a group, choose a fashion, or don’t, it doesn’t matter.
So after all this, why would you still want to become a cyclist? Well, if nothing else, you’ll never, ever be bored again. There will no longer ever be a daunting empty window of time in your day, as you’ll always have something to fill it with. Even if you’re all by yourself.
(By the way, if you're nice and not creepy, email this person and go for a ride.)