I’ve been thinking about something that occasionally happens to me after a bike ride in the rain, or the cold, or pulling my daughter in the bike trailer, or any type of cycling other than the flat, short, sunny kind you see in REI catalogs.
I’ll get where I’m going and a well-meaning person will say something like “that’s hardcore” or “you’re a badass” and it’s hard to resist the rush that comes with getting complimented on one’s fortitude. So I’ll say “thank you” and that’ll be the end of it.
But what happens in these situations is this: by accepting the compliment without following up, I’m perpetuating the stereotype that cycling is difficult, or only for the fit athlete, inaccessible to the flabby masses. That I somehow deserve a reward for riding a bike under less-than-ideal conditions.
Getting where you want to go by bike is NOT badass. It’s not extreme or special or difficult, especially in Seattle. It’s something almost anyone with two legs* can do. So by letting cycling have an unchecked aura of unapproachability, I’m actually hurting the chances that the other person (or anyone else in earshot) will try it some day.
Riding a bike (even in the rain, or pulling cargo) isn’t “badass.” It’s what you do when you want to save money, save time, stay safe, help the planet, etc. That’s called “normal”. Driving a car short distances is what you do when you want to stay broke, sick, and sad. That’s not normal. And if your commute is so long you “have” to go by car, that’s just crazy.
Know what’s badass? My friend and co-worker Lindsey started a nonprofit to teach robotics to prison inmates, to reduce recidivism rates. That’s badass.
My close friend Abby was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, fought the cancer off, got a clean bill of health, and when the cancer sadly came back, she started treatment again THE NEXT DAY. That’s really badass.
So keep riding your bike, and also find some real badasses who deserve the title. Then, when you mistakenly get a “badass” comment for riding, you can say “thank you! Speaking of badasses, you should meet my friend…”
* Actually, I once got passed on the Burke-Gilman Trail by a cyclist with ONE LEG. So I take back the “two legs” thing.