Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Biking and stopping. And riding. And stopping.

Me riding on the D&R Canal Trial

If you're a friend of mine, you know I've recently been really into biking. It's consistently all I want to do. And now that the weather is finally turning, it's not so easy to keep going on my long 10 mile nightly rides. I know I will miss being outside. It felt so wonderful all this summer to just go somewhere, watch the sun set, be on my own (relatively, I still am in a city) and push myself to do the longest rides I could. As long as it was daylight, I was riding.

The view over Falls Bridge in Philadelphia, off of the Schuylkill River Trail

Monitoring my health has become very important to me recently (this may have something to do with the advent of health insurance). I thought cycling would be an easy way to keep myself in balance. I'm not a very fast cyclist. I never have been. I'm a petite woman, so my bike - and more importantly, its wheels - are much smaller than average. I am regularly passed as if I were never on the road by those who are much taller than me. This coupled with the fact that my bike is a single speed means I often go a bit slower than riders, as it takes a lot more effort for me to get up to higher speeds.

Bridge over the Manayunk Towpath at sunset

I don't mind going slow. I don't mind meandering down the Manayunk towpath at sunset while a few other daredevils speed by me. I occasionally am overwhelmed at how beautiful stretches of the Schuylkill trail look and I have to stop and admire them. I have to take a break from biking on my seat that I still haven't upgraded. I have to rest mostly to enjoy the beauty around me. The pictures that accompany this post are about just that.

Biking in Washington Crossing State Park, NJ

I am in favor of stopping. Of slowing down. Of looking at art slowly. But most of all, I am in favor of biking slowly when you have the luxury to do so. I am in favor of stopping and walking your bike whenever you like. I am in favor of looking, seeing, drinking in the views that surround you, and not feeling some invisible force pushing you to pedal on, skip this for now/forever, because your journey is just as important as your destination.

A stop along the Schuylkill River

That is really what I enjoy most about cycling. It is so easy to just hop off and start going again. Switching between being a vehicle and a pedestrian with such ease is the biggest benefit to cycling. It is also perhaps our Achilles heel: many cyclists navigate between vehicle/pedestrian spaces without paying heed to the rules that govern them both, and consequently it is the number one reason cyclists are faced with such animosity. I am mindful of which role I occupy at all times and follow rules as such. However, I've noticed that although I am very careful with being a law-abiding citizen, many around me don't seem to view it that way.

The Mural Arts Program created this wonderful piece visible from the Manayunk Towpath. Title: Waters of Change by artist Paul Santoleri

If I am walking my bike on the sidewalk, I am met with sideways glances. A man literally attacked me once, yelling that my bike belonged on the street and I was taking up "his" sidewalk. If I pull over off the road and stop and walk for a bit, I see motorists shake their heads. Are they jealous of this middle-space that bikers occupy? Do they wish they had the power to just pull over and walk when they felt like it, and have their vehicle tow along behind them?

Biking up to Belmont Plateau offers spectacular views of the Philadelphia skyline while secluding the viewer in nature

I often walk up steep hills. I don't mind it. It's a welcome break. If the break in my journey is long, I might even listen to a podcast. Inevitably, this is where I am most often met with rebukes from other pedestrians. "Why do you have that thing if you're not going to ride it?" When I'm on a trail, other cyclists seem to shake their heads, as if me walking my bike diminishes their existential experience as speed demons.

Biking on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

This post is in favor of stopping and taking your time while cycling. Once your workout is done, why not pursue cycling as a leisure sport. I fully believe in the right of cyclists to hop on and off while following the rules of the road. And I fully believe that more of us should. Walking can easily be fatiguing and is too slow. Cycling allows for destinations to be reached with time to spare. Cycling is therefore one of the best means of seeing and appreciating all in the city precisely because it enables citizens to transition between vehicle and pedestrian status. Slow down and see your city. Stop and hop off your bike when you're interested. After all, it's how I got all these great shots.

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