“I haven’t biked for about 6 months.”, “I haven’t been on a bike for ages!” – responses uttered, usually with worried expressions, by some of our tourists at Minneapolis By Bike when asked if they are bikers. As owner of the company and a tour guide, I give these tourists a smile and say, “That’s okay! We are not in a race, we are out for a ride and to enjoy the sights and see the city! You don’t need to be a professional to join us! If you bike, you are a biker.” As many times as I’ve heard these phrases voiced, it still sticks out in my mind and slightly saddens me that people still carry the sentiment that they aren’t “good enough” to be considered a “biker”. Also, they are potentially worried that if they don’t go fast enough, people won’t wait, they will fall behind or will feel discouraged. I make sure to stay together as a group during tours. Letting people know that if they have to walk up a hill, that’s okay! We’ll all be waiting and cheering them on at the top!
I’ve been biking for about as long as I can remember. In fact, there probably aren’t many childhood memories I have that don’t involve a bike. I’ve been around the bike scene in Minneapolis for quite a while now too. I’ve gone to alley cat events, bike coalition events, work in the messenger world as well as the tour guiding business, and I’ve done all types of biking and enjoy them all equally; BMX, cyclocross, mountain biking, road biking/touring, messenger, etc. And still, I will agree that the more you go to these events, the more you realize that if you don’t dedicate yourself to just one, you can feel you just don’t quite “fit in” to any one group. If you lack appropriate gear, well, that can be even MORE intimidating. Then I think about bicycle advocacy and getting people out to bike for transportation, commuting, grocery trips, running errands and any other way they can replace their bike for their car. I ruminate about how bike lanes and other infrastructure can alter the experience of bike commuting for some who don’t feel comfortable on non-bike lane streets. Then, I ponder how other aspects of biking communities or sub-cultures can be very discouraging for some bikers.
We had a nice reprieve from winter recently, but winter is back upon us with a vengeance! Biking in Minnesota winters is viewed as something for the “hardcore biker:” the person who can tough it out despite slippery and sometimes dangerous conditions. It elicits conversations of studded tires, fat bikes, tire pressure, adequate gear, etc. While I don’t deny that sometimes appropriate, albeit expensive gear, can make life a lot easier – I also have to question whether or not all these talks scare away or discourage novice winter bikers from the experience?
Does the mere appearance of more seasoned bikers scare newbies away? This goes for more than winter biking, as I believe it happens in all seasons. Recently there were two interesting articles in both MomentumMag and Bicycling Magazine that addressed this very issue. While I do believe if you spend a significant amount of time outside on your bike (say 20-40 hours versus shorter commutes), investing in some appropriate gear (most especially studded tires) can be beneficial, making winter biking a bit more pleasing. On the other hand, you do not need to invest hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in gear to be a “biker.” Has the biking culture in and of itself led people to believe that they can’t BE a biker if they don’t do/buy/invest in these items? Does not having these items make them feel less of a “biker”? Do the images that we see widely spread across the Internet of “bikers” dissuade “would-be bikers” from joining us?
As a winter biker and someone who works in the messenger world, I would be considered having limited biking gear. In the summer months, I perform my job on an upright Victorian style handlebar bicycle. I find great joy in breaking the expected perceptions of what a messenger “should” look like. While admittedly, some gear investments are necessary for me and I know some additional items would make life a bit easier, I feel okay with not fitting the image usually conjured up when thinking of messengers. In fact, I hope by not fitting into an image, it helps encourage others who are questioning if they can be a “biker”. I’ve often found in races and other events, it’s not about your equipment, it’s about how much you bike and the time you dedicate to your craft. Which brings me back to how I encourage all my biking tourists, “If you bike, you are a biker. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.” Are you questioning whether you can winter bike or not because of lack of gear? My answer? Get some studded tires (if in snowy places like MN), experiment with layers and ride on, winter biker! Yes, you can be as intense as the rest of us! As you will more than likely enjoy it and want to be out more and more, who knows? You may just end up with more gear investments after all.
Minneapolis By Bike