Monday, August 11, 2014

BIKIN' IN BROOKLYN: IT TOOK A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CYCLIST


I am proud to be a lady biker.  A Brooklyn-based lady biker.
But I wasn't always one.  I was too scared to ride a bike alone and in traffic.

My man bought a bike for me many years ago when we were newer to Brooklyn.  I rode a few times with him, and that was it.  I was too scared to ride in traffic on my own, so Pink Bike sat idly, chained up to to a street sign on our block. 

Years passed.  I joined a health support group at a local YMCA. We set goals each week and rallied around each other to reach those goals.  One week, I said to the group "I am going to get on my bike and ride it for TWO BLOCKS to the neighborhood park." "That is a great goal!" said the group.

I was scared, I mean really scared, to get on the bike without the company of my husband.  I did not know traffic rules.

But I got on the bike, and started pedaling toward the park. 

Once my trip was underway, a strange thing happened: I got to the park, but instead of stopping there, I kept pedaling.  I somehow remembered the way, more or less, to a path by the water that went through Brooklyn Bridge Park and then into DUMBO.

Wait a sec, how did this happen?

I pedaled home, not believing what I had done.  When I got off my bike to lock it up, I was shaking pretty hard.  I don't know if it was from fear, fatigue, or both.

But I had done it - I had ridden my bike through traffic all by myself!

It's weird, because adults aren't supposed to get excited when we overcome fears.  But I think we should! And we should celebrate our successes and share stories of overcoming fears with other adults.  Why?  Because it breaks down the isolation we experience around the fears we carry, and  because we can help inspire each other to address our fears with support.

Example:  I was chatting with one of the employees of the place where I bank.  He told me he would love to learn how to swim, but never had taken it on because of a near-drowning experience he had when he was very young.

I told him about my experience with riding a bike alone. I said that I thought it was much easier to deal with fears with the support and accountability of a group, like the one I was part of at the Y.  I told him that the Y taught people just like him how to swim.

The next time I came into the bank, I asked Banker Man if he had taken any steps toward swimming. He said he had told his girlfriend about the idea, and that they were thinking about taking a swim class together.  I was so excited to hear this!

Back to biking for a minute.

There are some other things I did to keep building courage and support around being a lady biker.  I discovered a great organization called WE BIKE NYC.   WE BIKE is a community of women who ride bikes and who provide a safe space for women to ride together regardless of speed, skill, and riding style.  Every month, they offer different events to get more women on the road. These events include social rides, training rides, mechanics workshops and field trips.  

I went to a WE BIKE Rules of the Road workshop, a social gathering at a Lower East Side bar, and met up with some WE BIKE cyclists in Red Hook after they had rode their bikes in from Manhattan.  (I'm not quite ready to do the Brooklyn-Manhattan round trip yet.)

I also went to the New York Bike Expo just to hear a group of women panelists speak about Women's Biking in NYC: Your Questions Answered.  Very inspiring!

And guess what?  I did once injure myself, trying to be a bad-a**. Yes, that's right, I tried to jump a curb, but did not have enough speed to clear it.  So I sustained a painful soft tissue injury on my hand for a number of months.  But I survived and kept going.

Now, basically anywhere I would normally walk to, I ride my bike. 
Also, my bike has gotten me out of some pinches, like the time the F train was not running and I was going to be late for a doctor's appointment where I would have been fined for not showing up.  I hopped on my bike, raced through traffic to another subway line, and got to my appointment.

One last thing:  I am still scared when I ride my bike.  But I am also having a great time.  I am so glad I decided to push past the initial fear, with the help of a great group, and pursue my desire to ride. 'Cuz now I can ride like the wind!

Do you have any fears that you have overcome with the help of a group or another person?  Do you have any current fears you would like to overcome?  What might be a next step for you?

Whatever your goal may be, I am here cheering you on!
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