I don’t like bikes but I like what they can do for us

Christine Bruce —

Last week, while doing early morning errands on my bike, I watched a young mother and her two sons cycle nervously through a quiet intersection, signal and then turn into the yard of my primary grades school. There had been a noticeable increase in bike traffic that morning. Of course! Kingston was celebrating Leave Your Car at Home Day! I stopped them and gave the mom one of my business cards, hoping to get a bike interview from them about their commute.

“You must really like bicycles!” she said to me.

bikes-over-TO-FI“No,” I said. “But I really like what bicycles can do for us.”

“Oh, I know!” she said enthusiastically. “The boys and I have been thinking about doing this for weeks, ever since the snow left. And now that my school term at the college has ended, I have more time to do it with them.”

“How do you feel about these institutionalized days, like Leave Your Car at Home Day?” I ask her, curious.

“For some things—when you commemorate something important, or promote an issue of international concern, I love it,” she declares. “I’m uncomfortable that our society has to institutionalize things like anti-bullying days, things that should just be common sense, and not tolerated ever.”

Beside her stands her youngest son. Whenever I try to meet his gaze, he looks away quickly. “How did you like the ride into school today?” I ask the younger one, his eyes big but eager.

“I liked it,” he responds politely. “I liked that we didn’t have to wait for the bus, but could just go when we were ready.”

“I like not being tied to someone else’s schedule, too!” I agree. “And when the bus has lots of people on it and I can’t get a seat, that’s no fun.” My new young friend pulls a face and then laughs.

“I like your orange bike,” I call to the older brother, who has been riding circles around the yard, but who now wheels ever closer and tighter circles, in case his cool factor has excluded him from a fun opportunity. “Are you glad you rode to school today?”

“Yes!” he says energetically, his former standoffishness forgotten. “I get to show off my new bike with the guys!” He’s beaming at me, grateful for the chance to talk about his new friend. “Those racing stripes on the frame are awesome,” I suggest, winking at him.

“You’re going to be very popular. You might even make some new friends today.” He blushes and grins broadly. “We’ve been trying to get more exercise,” the mom says to me when I turn back to her. “And we’ve been exploring the city on our bicycles. It’s amazing!”

“You see different things, and the same things but differently on a bike,” I tell her. “I love seeing Kingston by bike.”

“What time is it?” the older son asks, impatiently. “Where is everyone?”

“I guess we left earlier than we needed to,” his mother confesses. “It takes so much less time to get to school on a bike.”

“And did you ever feel unsafe?” I ask, starting to put my helmet back on. I note that they all have helmets, bells and lights on their bikes.

“I thought we would, so we kept to back streets when we could. Only once did the boys have to ride on the sidewalk, and maybe that was just me worrying about the morning traffic.”

“When you’re worried, it’s better to do that,” I agree. “But by and large, most cities are full of courteous people who are impressed with anyone who wants to use a bicycle for transportation.”

“All my friends said they admired me for trying this today,” she shares, locking the boys’ bikes up and preparing for her ride home.

“Well, have a terrific day,” I salute the boys. “And thanks for sharing your bike stories. I’m glad we met.”

“Let’s keep in touch!” the mom says.

“Yes, let’s!” I promise.

Most cyclists can’t tell me what brand of bike they own, apart from its shade. What they can tell me, and in fact are very keen to share, are the advantages a bike gives. A bike is independence and freedom. It’s a fast mode of transit. With the activity comes improved health—physical, mental and emotional health. A bicycle is an excellent companion. And my favorite advantage of all is that bikes build community. You see your city in new ways, you can greet others and you can get involved in their lives.

Bikes are awesome. I love what they can do for us.