Cycling is generally seen as a weekend activity or a “nice” way to spend a day. For me, cycling is a quintessential part of a minimalist lifestyle.
A good friend of mine told me that if more people could experience how much easier a road bike is to ride compared to a typical Wal-Mart bike, more people would take the plunge into cycling. A new road bike runs a pretty penny if you’re used to the usual run-of-the-mill less than $200 range of bikes, so of course I hesitated for a while. I was very much sold on the car-lite idea, after reading posts like these. For a while, I got into the habit of biking everywhere less than 10 miles away with my cheap Wal-Mart bike. As the end of the cycling season drew near, I walked into one of my local bike shops last year, not knowing that I would walk out with my very first road bike with a 20% end of season discount. That was August 2015. I’m coming up on my one year anniversary with my bike and I’ve ridden over 2,200 miles on it.
Cycling is an activity associated with both rich white men who dominate the sport – the Tour de France is entirely male – and poor people who cannot afford a car.
This polarization concerns me, because cycling is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone in reasonably healthy condition and intact limbs, but it has a mix of negative reputations, such as
- Being unsafe. More on that below.
- Full of fashion faux-pas….understandable. Like race cars, cycling kits are portable billboards for sponsors eager to plaster their logos and names onto jerseys and bibs. Spandex is not generally a fashion statement, nor was it meant to be. But it is going to help you go faster.
- Being a “bro”-y activity. Except in Amsterdam where female cyclists outnumber male cyclists.
How Minimalism and Cycling are Related
Cycling is about efficiency. And so is minimalism. Cars are laughably inefficient vehicles – so much bulk to transport a tiny human! When I walked into the shop to try my first road bike, I had no idea I needed to get sized for it. Different bikes have different geometries to fit people of different proportions, namely for height, leg length, and reach. If you fit your bike perfectly, the power you put into the bike to make it move is not wasted.
When I embark on a journey with my bicycle, I have to be more thoughtful about what I choose to bring with me. Whether or not you install panniers on your bike or carry a backpack, every ounce of additional weight will reduce your potential speed. Part of the reason why people choose road bikes is how light they are, and while they can be incredibly light, the weight you bring on the bike can negate it. You quickly learn the advantages of being lightweight and are less inclined to bring too much stuff with you. You learn to optimize your load, especially on longer journeys.
But What About Safety?
Let’s face it, hitting something on a bicycle is going to do way more damage to you than if you were in a car.
To make matters worse, many cyclists skirt the rules of the road, nonchalantly riding down streets the wrong way, running red lights, speeding through intersections without checking for drivers, wear headphones while cycling, among other heedless behaviors. With cyclists being so unpredictable, it is no wonder drivers get uneasy or even resentful of cyclists. Ticketing cyclists is rare, so the problem persists.
The problem is largely systematic. Cities do not always build the appropriate infrastructure to reduce the risk of accidents. If the bike lane is right next to a row of parked cars, then riding in the bike lane could potentially be more dangerous than riding with traffic due to the risk of being “door’ed.” Some roads are simply too narrow. Add that to a crowd of impatient drivers and you have a perfect formula for accidents. Still, most accidents can be avoided. All I can say is, with the proper precautions and avoidance of high-risk routes, cycling can actually be safer than driving. Find a route free of cars and clutter, bring just the essentials, and enjoy the journey. There is something just so relaxing about the feeling the fresh breeze as you glide around town by bicycle.
Perhaps you can start by taking your next trip to the grocery store by bicycle. I guarantee you’ll be more wary about how much you buy, and in a good way!