For Angus, it was a childhood bicycle crash that gave him anxiety about getting back in the saddle as an adult. But, Margie had watched too many Tour de France stages and was sure she couldn’t ride a bike without a full kit and a team car. Old Earl had his reasons, too. He was sure that, at his age, cycling just wasn’t safe anymore.
Scads of excuses – both real and perceived – litter the landscape when it comes to encouraging our non-cycling friends and family to join us in this sport we love so much. This makes offering such encouragement a sometimes delicate matter. People have their reasons for not doing it, and those boundaries should be respected.
That said, many of us want to – and probably should – gently nudge people toward cycling, a safe sport enjoyed worldwide. Advocating for cycling is great for everyone, and those who accept the challenge are often rewarded with a lifelong hobby – one that is satisfyingly unique in its ability to offer both fun and fitness.
And that is usually where I begin my efforts to encourage others to ride: my own experience. First and foremost in my cycling odyssey, which now spans 12 years, I’ve found that there simply isn’t another exercise routine that’s as much fun or more fulfilling as riding bicycles.
People are interested in both fun and fitness. And, while most people know how to have fun, they’re unsure how to add fun to their fitness. They envision painful treadmill sessions and lashings of monotonous, boot-camp-style calisthenics led by a barking instructor. I tell people it doesn’t have to be that way … cycling could be the answer for you.
My encouragement is gentle and focuses on the fun aspects of cycling (sightseeing, a sense of freedom, a sense of adventure, etc.) and the physical and mental fitness aspects (increased stamina through cardio, fresh air, sense of accomplishment, better outlook). “Is there some other activity that so successfully combines fun and fitness?” I ask them.
The answer is always no.
It’s also important to dispel common misconceptions about cycling.
“No, it doesn’t cost a fortune to start cycling. Bikes don’t necessarily have to be purchased. They can be borrowed and rented. Even very old bikes can be restored to safe riding condition, given the proper service. A helmet is sincerely encouraged, but they don’t cost much.”
“Yes, cycling is safe! Especially in Northern Michigan. While riding on the road is pretty safe, there’s no need to risk it, given this region’s robust array of paved and gravel trails. Safe, worry-free riding opportunities abound here. Don’t fret over unsafe riding conditions. Jump out on the Little Traverse Wheelway and have a ball!”
“No, you don’t have to as fit as Christian Janssens to enjoy bicycling as a beginner. Sure, everyone dreams of being THAT fit. But, most of us don’t quite hit that mark! I was very overweight when I started cycling 12 years ago. I’m still not super fit, but riding bikes has helped me lose weight and I feel a lot better.”
“Yes, your butt might hurt when you ride bikes for extended periods. That comes with the territory and, while you don’t actually develop any callouses in weird places, you will grow more accustomed to that feeling and it will become less of a prohibitive factor for you. Padded cycling shorts or an alternate saddle might benefit you.”
“No, you don’t have to ride super long distances to have fun and achieve fitness. Shorter, but more intense rides can help balance that scale. Start off by exploring your own neighborhood, then branch out to more distant destinations. You’re free to decide how far and fast you go.”
As for Angus, Margie and Earl, whom we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we have advice for them, too.
“Angus, invite a friend to ride with you on a short, gentle ride. Take it very easy and try to have a chat with your friend as you ride. Hopefully, this will help you overcome the latent fear of bicycling, brought on by the memory of your childhood bike crash. Try to focus on the carefree fun of riding and relax. Repeat this ride as frequently as possible and soon you’ll be riding again, getting fit and having fun.”
“Margie, Tour de France cyclists are professionals, provided with top-of-the-line bicycles, clothing, helmets, shoes – everything. Mere mortals are we and, hence, require no space-age fabrics, goofy looking helmets or $300 bib shorts. Sure, those things are nice. But, there’s no dress code for casual riding. Wear whatever you want, but don’t go topless again like you did last summer. Think of the children.”
“Earl my man, one is never too old for bicycling. Even senior citizens with questionable balance and false teeth like yours can find some kind of bike to ride – be it a Terra Trike or a traditional tricycle. There’s no shame in that, sir. Bike sellers understand your situation and are often prepared to help you find a solution so you can begin or continue safely riding bikes, having fun and enjoying the fruits of your fitness.”
Also, remember that your friends and family might not fall in love with cycling the way you did. And that’s OK, too. If you led them to the sport’s door, you’ve done your part. Now, move on to the next one and do it again.