I’ve been riding bicycles my entire life, but some people might find it surprising that my wife only took up riding as an adult around 5 years ago. She started tentatively, testing the waters on short rides on bike trails and local streets, eventually working up to the point of confidently navigating city streets in heavy traffic. It was a slow building process that took a number of years and couldn’t be rushed.
When approaching others about taking up bike commuting and utility riding, it’s important to remember that hopping on a bicycle and sharing the road with motorists can be quite intimidating to those who haven’t previously ridden bicycles as an adult. Those who are already riding bikes for sport or recreation may find it easy to make the transition to riding for transportation, but those with less experience need time and positive experiences to build their confidence as riders.
When talking with potential newcomers, suggesting an occasional short trip to a local grocery store or coffee shop might be better than suggesting they immediately jump into a full-fledged commute. In the case of my wife, she took short rides on backstreets and trails long before venturing out onto main arterials. Over time, she extended the length of her rides, and as those rides became longer, she also moved onto larger, busier streets. This slow building process enabled her to improve her skills and build her confidence at a rate that matched the conditions in which she was riding.
A number of studies have shown that the number one reason more people don’t ride bicycles is the fear of sharing the road with cars. The U.S. is sorely lacking in subjectively safe infrastructure in the form of separated bike lanes and trails, and unfortunately this is not likely to change in the near future. In the meantime, it’s important to remember how intimidating our roads can sometimes be. We should encourage newcomers by suggesting that it’s OK to start slow and small before eventually stepping up to the larger challenges when they’re ready.