Did you know you don’t have to wear lycra to ride a bicycle? That’s right. You can if you want to, and lots of people do, but it’s not a requirement. If you are a parent, you may have taught your son or daughter to ride a bicycle, and you probably didn’t pay any attention to what they were wearing, besides their helmet. A helmet is a good idea, for sure, but there is no specific uniform for riding a bicycle. Here are some other truths about bicycles:
Bicycles are fun. Sometimes we forget that, or spend a lot of time making them not fun. Sure, you can make your bike a torture machine, only use it as a tool to get your heart rate up, or get really serious about riding your bike faster than other people for a certain distance, but every once in a while, it’s important to remember that you ride a bike because it’s fun. If you forget, it’s OK. Just take your feet off the pedals and coast and yell (or whisper) WHEEEEEE for a few seconds. Or, put a cupholder on your handlebars, put a beer in it, and go ride around a park slowly, perhaps with a friend. Or, pick the biggest hill in your city and ride down it as fast as you can, at night. See, that’s fun.
You can jump your bike off things. Generally, the height of things you are willing to jump off decreases with age, but this is not always the case.
A commonly cited statistic says you can fit 10 bikes in the space occupied by one car on the road. You will likely never see this in action, but you can enjoy the ease of locking your bike to a rack 30 feet from the front door of a supermarket next to nine other bikes instead of driving around for five minutes looking for a parking spot. You usually can’t get as many groceries in one trip on a bicycle as you can in a car, but you can have fun on your way to and from the grocery store.
Some people believe they hate bicyclists, but mostly they hate them in internet comments or while they are behind the wheel of a vehicle driving behind a cyclist. If you ride a bicycle long enough, eventually someone will yell at you or throw objects at you. This is just the way it is, for now. When people teach their kids to ride bikes, they do not mention this part of riding a bicycle—they mostly focus on balance, confidence, and making kids feel better after they crash. But it’s a fact of life, and just another way we’re not nice to each other as human beings because we think we’re important or in a hurry to get somewhere. Studies have proven that many drivers perceive bicyclists as objects and not human beings. If you’d like to ready your kids for this fact while they’re young, you could say something like, “Now honey, one last thing before I take the training wheels off: Lots of people are going to call you an ‘asshole’ when you ride your bike. Don’t take it personally.”
You can die on a bicycle. This is a true thing. Sometimes it’s because people in cars hit you. Sometimes there are no cars involved. About 700 people died in bicycle accidents in the U.S. in 2012, accounting for about 2 percent of traffic deaths. Almost 5,000 pedestrians died in traffic accidents the same year, accounting for about 14 percent of traffic fatalities. You can die in a car crash, but driving a car generally feels much safer because you have a big steel cage around you. Life is fragile, and it would be nice if we all remembered that as we’re walking, bicycling, and driving, but obviously sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. You can get killed on your bicycle, but as Al Pacino said in Heat, you could get killed walking your doggy.
You do not have to spend $14,000 on a bicycle, or even $1,000. There are thousands of quite adequate bikes for sale for much less at your local bike shop or on Craigslist. The amount of money you spend on a bicycle has not been proven to have any correlation to how much joy you can extract from your purchase in the long run. The amount of usage, however, does correlate to how much joy you will experience.
Riding a bicycle will often cause you to sweat. So will things like CrossFit, having sex, or sitting in the waiting room before a big job interview. Sweat is OK.
Bicycle users are often segmented into different communities, whether they like it or not: mountain bikers, road cyclists, triathletes, bike commuters, the kids who do all that crazy shit in the skateparks, and a bunch of other informal niches. Bicycling is one thing most Americans have in common—a recent study found that 94 percent of American adults know how to ride a bicycle. Still, we find ways to not relate to each other, whether that’s through the way we dress while riding our bikes, the number of gears we have on our bikes, or even the sizes of the wheels we have on our bikes. Every so often, we are all united regardless of our differences when someone on a bike gets hit by a car and we spring to their defense, or when Danny MacAskill releases his newest video.
Bikes, unlike many other modes of transportation, make people smile.