Holidays are an opportunity to be deliberately, vocally thankful. Commuting bicyclists out there: Thank you! Your presence on the streets makes a tangible difference. SLO is on the map in this country as a bicycle-friendly city. Though we’re a small community, the American League of Bicyclists acknowledged us at the silver level.
In the past year, 1,400 bikers were helped at the Bike Kitchen, 4,800 bicycles parked at Valet, 1,000 people were educated at Bike Ed workshops, and more than 200 families participated in Kidical Mass. Bicycle Month was one of the best yet. The tweed ride went down in bicycle history, making the front page of SLO City News. The Mardi Gras herd was brilliantly out of control. The finale made the craziest Bike Happening seem tame. The Bob Jones Trail extension in Avila Beach was finished, reaching farther toward the ocean and with a safer crossing at the lights. The bicycle community has remained cohesive and strong while gaining new friends.
Despite a positive reputation as a bicycle-friendly city, we are challenged daily. Sometimes we must fight for a slim piece of the road (even on Higuera!). And huge victories with city funding often result in only a few more feet of bike path.
Winter solstice just passed. It’s dark by 5 o’clock, and most of us pedal home from work with little visibility. We trust drivers watch for and give ample space to our small blinking red lights. Though some cyclists seek the thrill of danger, I believe most of us feel edgy riding at night.
A longtime SLO resident, bicycle lover, and tourer stated he’s confident on a bicycle: “I feel most intimidated by cars in the winter rain. It rains so little in SLO that drivers don’t know how to drive, especially when the oil builds up on the roads, making them slippery.”
Vanessa Amerson, mother of two and leader of Kidical Mass, said she feels less confident when pedaling with her children: “I have to have greater faith in humanity. Feeling safe is difficult when you don’t feel in control.” Rightly so; being out of control is frightening.
Leslie Bloom from the Bicycle Coalition advised new riders to pedal as much as they can to build self-assuredness: “Even if it's just once a week, you'll build up your confidence to choose it for future trips. Start small, and you'll get addicted to the feeling of riding, just like you were when you were a kid! Certain routes are more accessible and calm for bicycles; the same route you might take in your car might not be the best for your bicycle; stick to neighborhood streets and those with lanes to increase your comfort.”
Being on a bicycle wakes us up to our mortality, our preciousness. We realize just how delicate we are, how powerful cars are. We don’t need to have an accident to realize this. When a mammoth pickup truck revs by, my bones rattle.
This body aliveness is good. Being alert turns transporting ourselves into a conscious, deliberate, and empowering act. We’re unafraid to be seen lugging our groceries up a hill, whizzing down Higuera for the fourth time that day, dressed like a pirate during Happening, or slumped over our handlebars in exhaustion. Being on the road, exposed simply as who we are, is a beautiful statement.
In pedaling, we show willingness to be vulnerable, an internally powerful place. Being visible, you are unable to hide anything: a text conversation, cigarette, or beer. In our vehicle-centered society, it is empowering to stand up for human-powered transport. I am grateful to myself and fellow commuters for continued willingness to choose the bicycle seat and demand a place on the street, in this country. I long for the day (and know we are working toward this) when bicycling anywhere is safe, expected, and respected. ∆
Alycia Kiley’s Way of the Wheel appears the last week of the month. Send comments or ideas to email@example.com.