Bicycling can be for everybody and every body

By Justin Resnick and Barb Chamberlain

Every year around Bike to Work Day, you read stories about dedicated cyclists who ride every day, suit up for even the nastiest weather, and say "it's easy; you could do it too!" "Sure," you think. "I'll get right on that."

And some of us do, which is awesome. Some people dust off an old bike or go to their local bike shop to pick up a fun and reliable new ride. And they fall in love with riding, sign up for an event, buy all the gear, ride the STP, and yadda yadda – you've heard this before...

Well this is not that story. This is not about another MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra ::cough cough::) conquering his challenge. Because I could point you to any number of traditional conqueror stories about bikes, but that's not what inspires a welcoming community for everyone. Riding a bike doesn't have to be a challenge or a goal – it can just be normal.
Left: May is National Bike Month, a great time for everyone to give it a try. Right: Having well maintained
bike infrastructure - a goal of our agency - can help encourage everyone to ride.

This post is about amazing people and organizations helping to make riding a bike normal for people who you don't always see in stories about bicycling – women/trans/femme/non-binary individuals; people from low income backgrounds; and people who don't look like typical models for active lifestyle magazines. No need for expensive bikes, fancy equipment, or a proverbial mountain to summit. Just people out for a spin and some fresh air with friends.

The mainstream world of bicycling is often a male dominated environment. Ask any female identifying person who rides a bike and she'll tell you a story of being mansplained to about a host of topics. And often times the man explaining really is just trying to impart some helpful knowledge (guilty as charged) without recognizing he's assuming his audience knows less than he does about the topic—maybe because of who they are.

The importance of being around other people like you can't be understated, especially for activities where you seem like the minority. Luckily, there are groups like Moxie Monday, She Bikes Cascade, and WTF nights at The Bikery. These are welcoming places where you can have fun on a bike, ride with other womxn, and learn to do your own repairs from a volunteer mechanic you can relate to.
Riding a bike doesn’t mean you need fancy gear, but having a good helmet for safety is always a good idea.

If you've ever been to a charity ride, bike race, or other large bicycle event, you probably noticed that everything looked expensive. And that can be intimidating for a new rider, particularly for lower income families. Enter organizations like Bike Works and the Major Taylor Project. Bike Works teaches maintenance classes where youth can learn to build and care for a donated bicycle that they can earn as their own one day. Students develop leadership and working skills with many participating in multi-day bike camping trips to push themselves and bond. The Major Taylor Project provides after school riding opportunities for youth in low-income and diverse neighborhoods to explore their community, learn bicycle safety and maintenance, and advocate for change where they live.

Finally, there's the all too common view of riding a bicycle as a form of sport or exercise in the pursuit of fitness. And while that may serve as motivation for some people to swing a leg over their bike, for others the view of bikes as exercise only excludes individuals who don't look like the traditional image of an "athlete." The with these thighs movement celebrates people of all shapes and sizes who like to go out for a ride whether it's for the sunshine, part of your everyday life, or because you really want to hit that ice cream shop across town.
Whether you’re wearing lycra shorts or blue jeans, bike riding is something anyone can enjoy.

Another aspect of stereotypes around what it takes to ride a bike is that many assume people who have disabilities aren't also people who bicycle. In fact, a disabled person might find a bike to be the perfect vehicle for getting around town if they can't drive, and adaptive bicycles put bicycling within reach for those who need particular types of equipment. The outdoor recreation accessibility organization Outdoors for All is one resource to get people rolling.

So no matter who you are, how you identify, where you come from, or what you look like, know that there is a place within your community of everyday people on bicycles where you belong. Ride to feel like a hero if you want, but you can also just ride to feel free. Or different, or special, or among friends. For connection, experience, or ice cream. Whoever you are and whatever you do most days of the week, there is a place for you on the streets, paths, or beautiful trails of the Evergreen State. So enjoy your Bike Month 2019 and share what inspires you to ride in the comments.

Note: while the author's experience draws primarily from the Seattle metro area, we'd love to hear about the amazing people, programs, and organizations in your area! Tell us who inspires you to ride!

And, if you've made it this far, thank you! Please consider taking a few minutes to complete a survey that will help shape the 2019 Active Transportation Plan. The survey is open until June 30 in English and Spanish on the plan information page.


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