Connectivity, Vulnerability & the Bike Part I

For the past month or so I have been on a journey to delve into and polish my skills as a storyteller to better serve this website and the bike advocacy we're doing here at Women on Bikes SoCal and the national Women Bike initiative. I am so very proud to share that this month we successfully hosted a group of nine women from different parts of Los Angeles and Long Beach to become League Cycling Instructors with the League of American Bicyclists and I'm looking forward to bringing their inspiring personal stories to you as we prepare to launch the Street Savvy adult bicycle safety classes soon.

Three years ago this weekend I got back on a bike again for the first time in almost thirty years. I've been saying twenty, but sitting here right now and counting it out, I realize I've been wrong. Amazing how time flies, isn't it?

I'd been pondering riding a bike again for over six months. I had already begun researching and brainstorming on bicycle advocacy with Georgia Case. Three years prior to that I'd given up my car for health and financial reasons. I'd been watching the urban bicycling revolution blossoming outside of the bus windows, or on my many walks, out and about here in Long Beach with great interest. Above all the bike looked like fun. I recalled with great joy riding my purple-tassled-banana-seated Schwinn as a child.

But I was afraid to try. I was afraid that I didn't have the strength. I was afraid that I'd ride out too far and wouldn't have the energy to get home, that I wouldn't have the strength to get the bike on the bus rack, and that I'd make an idiot of myself trying. Frankly I was afraid of having to deal with my own vulnerability. I felt much safer on the bus and walking thank you.

Then Charlie Gandy asked me to join himself, Bernard Serrano and the Cyclone Coaster group, and other bike advocates along with Suja Lowenthal in the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade. Charlie said that Bernard even had a vintage cruiser that I could borrow. And so I finally said yes to the bike, and I've been saying yes to the bike ever since. I wouldn't have gotten here without a lot of help - from Charlie, from Georgia, from Bernard offering that first bike loan, from my family and friends. No, I wouldn't have gotten here without connectivity.

Since then the bike for me has become a tool for connectivity and optimism. When we ride a bike we are visible to the world in a way that we simply aren't in a car. We can be ambassadors for friendliness and courtesy by smiling and waving at neighbors and strangers as we pass by. Or we can plug in our earphones and tune out, each person for him or herself.

Like many, I have been captivated by Brené Brown and her TEDx talk which I've shared above. I found her equally compelling in her conversation with Krista Tippett of OnBeing.org this weekend. I invite you to watch and listen to both. I think you'll be glad you did.

But what, you ask, could a research expert on vulnerability have to say that would be valuable for bicycle advocacy? We already know we're vulnerable out there damn it! What's to discuss? I'd like to humbly put forward nothing short of everything. I feel vulnerability is at the heart of the matter - but it's the white elephant we don't want to face.

Driving makes us feel invulnerable but it's an illusion. Riding a bike for many makes us feel vulnerable but it's an illusion as well. Life is inherently risky. We can take every precaution known to be a safe driver and yet someone driving drunk, or simply running a red light, can wipe away the safety net our skills and our car usually provide within seconds. We can take every precaution known to be a safe driver and yet the very act of choosing to drive over and over again rather than an active form of transportation can lead us (and our children) straight into the unsafe condition of heart disease, diabetes, and other very challenging sedentary diseases.

I don't make these comments to be dramatic, but to invite us to reconsider what makes us feel safe. We do have a choice. If we can go to that uncomfortable place of facing our own vulnerability and question it, it can provide us with rich and rewarding answers that might just save our lives in a myriad of ways we never considered.

For myself personally riding a bike means I feel more connected to where I live and the people I pass as I ride by. It also means that most of my need for daily exercise is taken care of when I run my errands. What does a riding a bike mean personally for you? I'd love to know.