A Woman on a Bike with No Instructions and No Experience, and That’s Okay

Maria visited New York City in September to experience the bike share program Citibike. Image Courtesy of  ReallyNathan  

Maria visited New York City in September to experience the bike share program Citibike. Image Courtesy of ReallyNathan 

Riding a bicycle gives me a fuller perspective of myself and my surroundings. This feature wasn’t mentioned in the product description, and its value has exceeded the $60 price tag. In 2010, I took home an ill-fitting mixte road bike through a hasty Craigslist transaction.

“Cool. What else do I need?” I asked.

 “Nothing. You’re all set.” I was informed.

I failed to do more research, and I was too intimidated to do a test ride in the parking lot. The steel frame bicycle weighed 20 pounds more than I could handle for lifting onto the bus and carrying to my apartment upstairs. I paid the price to prepare for CicLAvia—a bike- and ped-friendly open streets event in Los Angeles that’s been a recurring hashtag on my Twitter timeline. The tune-up at a local shop cost me more than my bicycle. No regrets.

The upkeep was more than expected, and I’m not just talking about maintenance and repairs. Friends were serious when they said “a bicycle becomes part of you.” I didn’t plan on starting a new hobby, so transforming it into an extension of my body was not likely. I learned that investing in a bicycle also includes making time for it. When I spontaneously got into biking, I simply sought enjoyment in a casual activity as a way to spend time with a significant other and as a simple means to get to Taco Tuesdays without the madness of driving and parking; it turned out to be so much more.

Through organized and unofficial bicycle networks, I’ve relished the company of new friends and people who enjoy biking too. Volunteering, petitioning, teaching, blogging and tweeting for the love of bikes—this is optional for anyone, but it became my reality. Years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined this level of involvement, but one bicycle inspired me to change things. Advocacy aside, a bicycle is a still a vehicle for fulfilling my initial goals: to have fun, to create better relationships, and to explore my neighborhood in an economical way.

Thankfully, the trendy hipster jokes have gone stale and negative opinions from family members are changing. The bicycle remains beautiful and meaningful to me. Biking has become part of my identity, whether I like it or not. This is a privilege and sometimes a drawback of being an advocate riding down a path that crosses so many. Despite that, I’m content with the direction I’m going in. After all, I’m steering and powering my own movement that began with no instructions or experience.

Part of the allure is spontaneity: getting to know my city and making connections in other places without reservations, an itinerary or a road map. Seeing more of the world doesn’t require a passport either.

Thanks to the bicycle—a vehicle, companion, and ticket to good health and independence—I have a better picture of life and what makes me feel alive. Whether I’m in Los Angeles or New York with friends or on my own, I always feel close to home.

Like this piece? Read more of Maria's writings from her Women on Bikes SoCal archives here! 

About Maria Sipin 

Maria Sipin is a Southern California native who advocates for active transportation, community partnerships, and improving the lives of youth and LGBTQ persons who are affected by discrimination, poverty and chronic illness. Maria is a health communications specialist at the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Her professional experience is grounded in nonprofit community health and clinical research for HIV prevention and care, where transit plays a key role in linking people to essential services. Maria is keen on social media and the role of technology for achieving health objectives and enjoys working on projects with a public health and social equity focus that facilitate wellness, creativity, and structural changes. She is an advisory board member for Multicultural Communities for Mobility, promotes the joys and benefits of bicycles through Women on Bikes California, and is a League Cycling Instructor.