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Words by Burton Wong
Ever watch Le Tour de France and see an epic collision or fall? That’s what my mother thinks about when she’s reminded about my cycling. She would rather see me pursue speed walking or golf, because it’s safer. Good thing she doesn’t know about my buddy taking a ball to his groin a few years ago on hole 6. Side note: Never stand anywhere except behind your over-zealous friends who can’t drive a golf ball straighter than a shopping cart with three working wheels. Unfortunately, my mom isn’t alone with her fear about cycling.
For most inexperienced riders they only imagine the epic crashes of grand tour races or being crushed by a giant SUV that has never tasted anything but asphalt. It’s a bit sad when somebody explains to me that they won’t ride because they don’t trust the other people on the streets. Or that they don’t feel confident about their riding skills to be on the streets or in a group. It’s sad, because in a cycling rich city like Vancouver, that’s akin to saying you won’t walk in the rain (which is about 10 months of the year here) because you’re afraid that giant SUV (yeah, that SUV) might broadside you at the crosswalk, or that you might slip on a some wet maple leaves and bust your head open (thus missing a few weeks of yoga that you pre-paid for). But you never say that when it rains, right? That’s because you know how to walk.
You had years of preparation and thousands and thousands of kilometres of training. You learned to be aware of your surroundings, using your eyes and ears to expect the unexpected. You can bravely venture into the West Coast monsoons to get your grande half-caff, low-fat something-something latte. You give the torrential showers the proverbial middle finger by defiantly wearing Gore-Tex and Hunter boots. Water doesn’t scare you one bit. Okaaaay, I’m exaggerating a bit (except for the latte thing). So you didn’t need years and thousands of kilometres of disciplined walking to be comfortable in the rain. But hey, you learned to get confident somehow, somewhere, right?
Cycling is the same thing. It won’t take years, but it does take time to build up your skills to the point where you can easily transition from your driveway to the seawall. Then from the seawall to the bike routes. And from the bike routes to, finally, the streets, where you’ll mingle with other cyclists who have learned to ride alongside that giant SUV. You won’t need years. I promise. You just need saddle time and encouraging friends who have conquered the roads of Vancouver. Find somebody who will patiently ride with you, no matter your speed or distance. And if you don’t have cycling friends, Vancouver offers a wide variety of resources to tap into if you want to improve your skills or ride in a group. Check out HUB’s Streetwise Cycling Courses to learn from a certified cycling instructor. Look to Meetup groups and Craiglist postings for other like-minded cycling folks. Lycra is totally optional.
Riding a bike in the city streets is very rarely a Tour crash day. In fact, with all the improvements this city has been providing us, it’s much more civilized than you think. Thousands of cyclists in this city can’t be all wrong. And with all the money you save from not taking transit or driving, you could put that towards a respectable bar tab each month. Let’s be honest, the only way I can drink at all is because I ride. What, you think I ride because of the Lycra?