Do you remember that glorious, powerful feeling of your first self-propelled ride on a two-wheeler? Can you still feel the air pushing past your face and the momentum beneath the tires? Can you again sense the slight wobble and then the joy of the straight line?
If you’re like me, you may also remember the fall that came shortly after those initial euphoric moments, the one that happened at the far end of the street, with your parents at the other end, waving figures beckoning you to get back on and ride home. I still remember that moment and the follow-up, when I looked at the blood on my knee and the gravel on the palms of my hands—and climbed back on. I was hooked.
Or you may be someone who didn’t ride a bike as a kid. Maybe you’ve always wanted to give it a try, but the opportunity never presented itself. Maybe you’ve looked longingly out your car window at the smiling cyclist making a faster go of the traffic and wished you’d learned to ride way back when. It’s not too late!
Bikes are back—or a bigger thing, anyway, as you can see in the bike lanes being added to city streets in communities big and small, in the bike loaner and rental programs popping up everywhere, and in the crazy variety of kid carriers now transforming bikes into commuter vehicles for families on the go.
Just in time, Anna Brones’s book, Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (Ten Speed Press, 2016; $16) provides guidance on everything from bicycle etiquette and street smarts to what to wear and what to eat to feel your best on the bike. With creative illustrations by James Gulliver Hancock, the book is a fun and entirely practical guide for anyone interested in jumping into the biking life—whether for transportation, recreation, or fitness.
Here an excerpt from Hello, Bicycle provides a glimpse into the book with “The Many Benefits of Bicycles.”
The Many Benefits of Bicycles
Riding a bicycle may seem like just a small, unimportant act. How could pedaling once or twice a day make the world a better place? But while cycling is certainly a simple act—you are, after all, just pushing down one foot after the other—the benefits are limitless.
Bicycles make us smile, they keep us in good shape, and they help us make positive changes. Riding a bicycle is empowering, freeing, because you are dependent only on yourself. A bicycle gives you autonomy. The one thing needed to get you from point A to point B on a bicycle is you. You don’t need to buy a ticket; you don’t have to follow a timetable. You don’t need to go to the gas station to refuel; you don’t need to check the oil. You don’t need special gear or vocabulary or advanced technical knowledge. You need a bicycle and yourself. That’s all.
People who cycle regularly have been shown to be healthier and live longer, with better blood pressure and a lower likelihood of being overweight than their car-driving counterparts. Women who bike thirty minutes a day or more have a lower risk of breast cancer, and adolescents who bike are almost 50 percent less likely to be overweight as adults.
But the benefits of cycling aren’t just personal. When we ride, we inherently make our communities a better place to live.
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More cyclists on the road—who might otherwise be driving a car or taking the bus—means reduced carbon emissions. For example, in the bike-friendly Danish capital of Copenhagen, bike traffic prevents 90,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually. If in the United States each of us made just one four-mile round-trip by bicycle instead of by car each week, we would burn almost two billion fewer gallons of gas per year. And you know what else that accomplishes? It helps reduce economic dependence on foreign oil. Cycling is patriotic!
How often does something that makes us feel personally great also offer an extensive list of external benefits? Even those riding a bicycle for only selfish reasons are doing their part (even if they don’t realize it), benefiting the entire community around them.
Given all the benefits, what’s stopping us from riding?
Many of us learned to ride as children, yet somewhere in the journey into adulthood we lose the art of cycling. Pull up a memory of your first bicycle. Maybe it was red, maybe it was blue. Maybe it had streamers on the handlebars. Maybe it had those crazy colored spoke beads that made noise as the wheels turned. Whatever your first bicycle looked like, chances are you probably remember it clearly.
What Biking Won’t Do to You
Give You “Bike Face”
In the late nineteenth century, female cyclists were warned that riding could lead to “bicycle face,” a look of being exhausted and weary. In truth, if cycling gives you any kind of a face, it’s a face with a smile!
Turn You into A Cycling Geek
Well, unless of course you want to be one. You can make cycling a part of your everyday life and stay perfectly normal— although eventually your two-wheeled life will become your new normal, which in turn might turn you into a little bit of a cycling geek. But that’s not a bad thing.
Force You to Wear Spandex
You can ride in your everyday, normal clothes and feel good about it. No need to be intimidated because you don’t have the “right” clothes. Eventually, if you start doing long road rides or racing, you might want sportier attire that’s more comfortable for long stretches of cycling, but don’t let a lack of special clothing.
Reprinted with permission from Hello, Bicycle by Anna Brones (Ten Speed Press, 2016). Illustrations copyright 2016 by James Gulliver Hancock. Hello, Bicycle is available for sale here.