The Self-Conscious Cyclist

19 Jun

Cyclist on the Dunsmuir bike lane. Photo by Dylan Passmore.

A recent article in The Tyee about the so-called “War on Cars” cities such as Vancouver are accused of declaring by creating designated bike lines got me thinking about why more people aren’t cycling. The City seems to think it’s because people don’t feel safe enough, and while I admit it can be downright nerve wracking to cycle in this city, that’s not the reason I choose two feet over two wheels.

It’s because I feel embarrassed.

Frankly speaking, I’m out of shape. Yes, any destination that takes less than an hour to walk I’ll go by foot, if time allows, and I don’t own a car. But once I get on a bike, even the slightest of inclines leaves me panting for air, sweat streaming down my face, muscles screaming. For the steeper hills, I just get off and walk.

I believe in cycling. I’d really like to be one of those people who can bike everywhere, smug in the satisfaction that I don’t need a car or a bus pass (and that I have fabulous thighs).

But I’ve never been in shape. I’ve tried, sort of. I remember one summer when I was in elementary school promising myself that I would use my step-moms work out tapes every day to lose those extra pounds. That got old pretty quick. In more recent years I’ve joined gyms, tried yoga, taken up swimming, and even started dancing lessons. But while I’ve lost weight, and gained some muscle tone, I’ve never been “in shape.”

I’ve always made excuses for not taking my bike: I live on a big hill, I don’t have keys for my bike lock, I don’t have the proper clothes (I tend to wear a lot of skirts/dresses, and the one pair of jeans I do own are uncomfortably tight enough without sweat streaming down them). I’m always waiting for the perfect timing, and always making excuses as for why it’s not right now.

But last Wednesday I decided to throw caution to the wind and, as Freddy Mercury put it, “get on your bikes and ride!” I’d moved closer to work (albeit still on a hill), found my lock keys, and improvised on the clothing dilemma: I wore a pair of blue undies over my red tights, under my skirt. I was hoping that if my skirt flew up people would think I was wearing (really) short shorts. Or that I was a superhero.

Going to work was fine: it’s either downhill or flat most of the way. Going home was another story. I made all the way from Georgia and Main to Commercial Drive when I finally had to stop. While I stood there panting, gulping water to get the coppery taste of defeat out of my mouth, at least 10 other cyclists whizzed by me, their well-toned bodies carrying them forward with ease. I was sure they were staring at me, judging my inability to keep up.

I was really embarrassed. Much more so when the old man sitting on a park bench near me finally piped up after about two minutes and said, “Nice day for a ride, isn’t it?”
I agreed, and, after a beat, explained to him why I was stopped: out of shape, first day on a bike in at least nine months, blah, blah, blah.

“At least you’re keeping at it,” he offered.

And he’s right. I may be out of shape, but I’m not dead yet. It’s never too late to get back on your bike and ride again, and while it has been four days now since I last rode, I’m planning on getting astride my blue and silver stallion (okay, Clydesdale) again tomorrow. Hopefully walking my bike one less block than last time.

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3 Responses to “The Self-Conscious Cyclist”

  1. Jackie Wong June 22, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    I totally relate to this, Katie. When I bought my bike from a used sporting goods store in 2008, I was so self-conscious and unsure of my abilities that I was too embarrassed to even test-ride it in front of the shop! At the time, I’d long admired my cyclist friends but always doubted my physical ability to do it—after all, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a kid and I had lots of re-learning to do.

    On my first rides to work, I was too afraid to cross the Burrard Bridge, pre-bike lanes. I spent weeks parking the bike on one side and walking over, the laughter of my coworkers. It also took me forever to feel comfortable taking my hands off the handlebars to signal, wave, high-five, etc. I realized, though, that it’s a huge confidence game, and the more you ride, the better it feels. Now, while I’m not an all-weather cyclist, I feel comfortable biking across the city and I’m even taking my bike on vacation this week, something I never thought I could do.

    The words of my friend Jen helped me when I was contemplating buying a bike, and perhaps they’ll help you too: “If I can do it, you can do it.” I totally believe it.

    Happy riding!

  2. Roland Gerard November 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi Katie,
    Same problem. I look for excuses not to ride (rain, too hot/cold, auto pollution, etc.). Some are legitimate, such as 3 city accidents at green lights with left turn autos when I had the right of way. It’s easy to ride in Delta or Pitt Meadows, not so much in New West., or the North Shore.

    While aging, I’m waiting for the relatively inexpensive, rechargeable, pedal assist, Green Wheel to become commercially available here for those steep hills.

    I would like to cycle more, but I’m a bit apprehensive as a colleague died of a heart attack while cycling not so long ago. Have to work gradually to get into better shape.

    Different topic. We had a short exchange about “mind wandering” on the Tyee. Did your dad work in New West.? If so, we were probably colleagues.

    • Katie Hyslop November 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Roland,

      he did not. My family’s from Newfoundland, and my relatives on the Hyslop side don’t extend beyond Ottawa. On a cycling note, I’ve been off my bike for a month due to it being old and crappy, so I’m worried I’ve lost all my momentum to get up a hill on two wheels, too.

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