Three Tricks for Overcoming the Dread of Everyday Biking

I want to confess something. Even though I've been biking all year long for years, it still happens a lot. I don't like to talk about it, but there it is...

I still get bike dread.

Bike dread is that sinking feeling when you realize you have to ride your bike but large parts of you don't want to. Not all of you, but large parts of you.

Bike dread can strike at any time, but it usually comes during times of bad weather or rush hour. Bike dread strikes when looking out the window at a tree bending in the blowing wind, silhouetted against a darkening sky. Or it can strike at unceasing sounds of motors on the other side of the door, the honking of a horn, the thin rumble of a revving motorcycle.

When it strikes, bike dread can paralyze. It can leave a bicyclist sitting on their couch staring at the wall, often for hours. Bike dread seems to drain the body of fortitude, leaving its victim unable to get on their bicycle and tackle the city. Bike dread can strike a bicyclist prone, succumbed by thoughts of steep hills or the terror of a car-choked corner. Bike dread renders people with bicycles immobile and stunned by inertia, the dread of the bicycle trip.

For me it happened last Friday. I had a coffee meeting with a friend at a coffee shop across the river. But seeing the snow flurries flit past the window, and the wind whipping my Saint Paul flag around like ocean spray, I kept delaying my plans to leave the house. Maybe I'll take the bus? I thought. If I owned a car, it would have been irresistible.

Instead, I stared at the wall, pet the cat, glazed over social media feeds, and turned the pages of an endless book on my desk. Bike dread had taken hold, and it seemed like nothing other than the passage of time would rescue me from its relentless grip.

But that's not the end of the story. Eventually I cured myself from my stupor and found the will to continue. And it wasn't so bad.

Here a few key tricks to overcoming bike dread. It's possible, and you can do it.

Trick #1: Think about health

As yourself one simple question: "Would I be better off if I got some exercise today?"

Unless you wake up and work out, the answer is almost always "yes." Our American lives are sedentary affairs, where even the act of opening up a car door with your hand has become automated. Bicycling is one chance to get relatively low-impact exercise. Even better, and unlike the gym, it's meaningful work that gets you where you need to be.

(Note: I stole this trick from Mister Money Mustache, and it works wonderfully.)

Trick #2: Don't be in a hurry

[Biking with a sweetheart helps you pace yourself.]
Nothing is worse than being filled with bike dread and being late at the same time. Normally contemplative bicycling can transform into a harried battle with the elements, topography, and equally flustered drivers.

I like biking at a pace where you can enjoy where you are, notice the city around you, stop for a second at a shop, for a coffee, or for a chat if you encounter a friend along the way. It makes the bicycling into less of a trip and more of a pastime. But it doesn't work unless you leave extra time for yourself to ride at your own pace.

Of course, some people love riding fast, and that's cool too.

(Note: This tip comes from Lindsey Wallace's excellent bicycling advice. And the rule is also essential for humane urban driving.)

Tip #3: Appreciate the out-of-doors

There are very few weather conditions that are completely unappreciable. As a Minnesotan, I can say this with confidence. Maybe a below-zero wind chill or a cold horizontal rain. Probably a tornado.

But the vast majority of the time, you can appreciate the weather. If you take a moment to look around at the plants, buildings, and surrounding sky, you realize that this moment on the Earth is a precious thing. You realize that, unlike all the people stuck in their cars or homes, you are out there and can hear the sound of the chickadees singing slightly different songs, or the smell of springtime mud or coffee beans roasting or both. You are one of the few people in the city out there noticing the trees just clinging to their leaves or the buds about to pop. Each moment the sky offers something slightly different, and you're there to see it, to feel the wind and its changing seasons.

On the Friday when the bike dread was getting me down, the weather was particularly intense. It kept snowing in Saint Paul, light fast bits of white snow appeared and vanished a few minutes later, only to be replaced by bright springtime sunshine. Back and forth like that for hours in the middle of the day.

The wind was coming out of the Northwest, and for a while it was discouraging, but as I biked down and up the Saint Paul hills, I realized that this was probably the last gasp of the wintertime. I could give myself permission to savor it.  Not for many months would something this coldly dramatic take place. And all around me, as I biked down the empty city streets, I began noticing the first flowers.

Here's a final word: it's almost never as bad as you imagine.

Bike dread can almost swallow up you and beat you into a state of submission, where anyone can simply say "are you sure you don't want a ride?" and you immediately cave.

But actually riding your bike is almost never as bad as you think it will be. Almost every time, when I find myself getting onto the seat and heading out down the street, I'm happier with myself. Bike dread is a state of mind, and the physical experience of biking in the Twin Cities is usually far more enriching.

So if you're riding your bike every day in April, or on any day where bike dread strikes, try one of these little tricks.

Like millions of Americans, you're not alone. Your bike has the cure for bike dread.

[Some of the winter/spring flowers I noticed after I overcame my bike dread and went on the Friday ride.]

1 comment:

Trevor Henry said...

Hey Bill,

I also had to get up the hill last Friday, during rush hour traffic. I had the same feelings. The wind was blowing downhill, hard. So cold. But then, like you, I made it. It was Friday and I was on top of the hill.

"...April is the cruelest month..."