July 27, 2012

My Fear of Bicycling. ~ Cassandra Smith

Photo by Carly Carpenter

Excuses, Fear & a Pink Bicycle.

When I moved to Boulder four years ago, I had planned on joining the environment-loving two-wheeled warriors in their journey toward sustainability.

That plan failed miserably. And it’s all my fault. Well, mine and the person who stole the bike I brought up with me for college.

The part of it that’s my fault is the part where I used “my bike was stolen” as an excuse to mask my fear and intimidation of cycling in a busy city.

As I drove my car around Boulder, I was both amazed and terrified by the seemingly courageous commuters who wove in and out of traffic only inches from cars. Every time I passed a bike in the bike lane, I could feel my muscles contract and anxiety level rise.

What if I hit someone? What if the biker lost control and veered straight into my car? 

The only biking experience I had prior to moving to Boulder was riding around the suburban sidewalks of my childhood, going to friends’ houses, and of course, the mall. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone riding in the street with traffic.

In bike-crazed Boulder, my intimidation level rose to outright fear. I pictured myself as the person who accidently veered straight into oncoming traffic. I became content and comfortable taking the bus and hiding behind my little excuse.

But recently, I saw that my excuse was just that, an excuse. I could afford to get another (used) bike. I was just too scared to ride it in Boulder.

Photo by Carly Carpenter

So, I took action. Inspired by my bosses Waylon Lewis and Brianna Bemel who ride their bikes virtually everywhere they go, I bought a cute little $25 pink and purple bike at Goodwill and got back on the road.

I was really nervous the first time I took it out to campus. The street I live on has a bike lane, so I had no choice but to just get out there and face my fear.

With butterflies in my stomach, I waited until there were no cars coming and edged off the sidewalk onto the pavement. As I started pedaling, I heard the whir of an engine coming up fast and my knuckles tightened on the handlebars. I was about to be riding side by side with traffic.

What happened next caught me off guard. It wasn’t scary at all. To my surprise, there seemed to be plenty of room in the bike lane, and I didn’t feel like I was going to get hit by any cars. My knuckles relaxed, and my butterflies subsided.

Far from the terrifying experience I had expected, I actually had a lot of fun.

I found that when riding my bike, I experience so much more. Since I’m going much slower, there’s actually time to look around and remember how beautiful Boulder is. I get the chance to experience the smell of flowers and yummy food, the sound of the water rushing down Boulder Creek and the taste of mountain-fresh air.

To my surprise, biking actually reduced my stress level. And apparently I’m not the only one.

A 2011 study showed that people who commute by bicycle have “lower stress and greater feelings of freedom, relaxation and excitement” than their car-driving counterparts. One startling infographic also claims that long commutes in cars can increase risk of heart attack, obesity and divorce.

Now that I’ve been riding for a couple of months, my old fear-based excuse for not riding my bike seems silly. Not only did I not have anything to be scared of, I was purposely excluding myself from having a good time and improving my wellbeing.

Getting over my fear of bike riding has also taught me something about fear itself.

It taught me that sometimes fear is there to test us, to push us further along our journey. If we make excuses about why we can’t face our fear, we won’t ever learn what it has to teach us.

Facing my fear of city bike riding opened up a new world to me. I’ve made new friends, improved my stamina and discovered parts of Boulder I never knew existed.

What might facing your fears do for you?



Cassandra Smith is an editorial intern at elephant journal.  She is a fifth generation Colorado native who believes dance has the potential to liberate human consciousness from its cultural prison.  Cassandra formerly trained at Boston Ballet and is currently a senior at University of Colorado Boulder studying journalism, sociology and philosophy. Visit her website at cassandralanesmith.com, and follow her on Twitter.


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