Life is Better on a Bicycle
Returning home from a friend’s party one night recently, I almost started crying with joy. The sun was beginning to set over the Mississippi River and the heady, pollen-laden air whipped in my face. My legs burned and ached, and my asthmatic lungs were bursting from persistent peddling over the Twin Cities’ Lake-Marshall bridge, but I felt perfect contentment. I felt free. It was the same happiness and sense of belonging I feel during a punk show, except I was on a bike for the first time in over 15 years.
Silly, right? You came here to read about punk rock things and instead I’m waxing poetic about riding around the city on my bike. This will tie back to punk rock, I promise. Getting back on a bike after so many years took inspiration and support from a community of bike lovers which feels very punk rock.
Like most American kids, my bike was my pride and joy. Growing up in rural America, there wasn’t actually anywhere for me to ride my bike to, but hours were spent racing around the dirt driveways and paths of the farm I grew up on. Eventually, my first car took the place of that bike. While it brought similar freedom, the responsibility of having a car overshadowed the euphoria I felt while riding a bike. So, when I moved to the Twin Cities in my early 20s, I couldn’t wait to buy a bike and start riding again.
Unfortunately, I’d soon discover that riding a bike wasn’t as easy as it had once been. My health was poor in my 20s. I was constantly sick with some respiratory issue or illness. Out of control allergies and asthma plagued me each day. It was difficult to even walk somewhere outside during the Spring without having an asthma attack. This made bicycling an arduous activity. But being stubborn, I still rode that bike to school, parties, to the bar to play backgammon - asthma be damned. Frankly, I probably did a lot of damage to my body because most bike rides resulted in my lungs shutting down and every joint in my body screaming in agony from oxygen depletion. I feel fortunate today that my asthma and health are under control because what I was doing to my body was downright stupid. Yet, poor health is not why I quit riding a bike.
One of the last times I remember riding a bike alone, I narrowly escaped what could have been an assault. After all these years, I don’t recall where I was returning from, but I was heading home in the late afternoon. I was less than 10 minutes away from my apartment near a frontage road, just needing to make it up a large hill and through a small community park. Upon reaching the hill’s peak, I slowed to give my lungs a chance to recover. I have no idea where they came from but three young men on their bikes suddenly surrounded me. “Bitch, give up your bike.” “I’m gonna knock you off and take that bike, cunt.” “Crack open that bitch head.” They were shouting violent and aggressive things while working in tandem to cut me off and stop me from moving forward. My flight, freeze, or fight response kicked in and I started pedaling as fast as I could and charged through them. They followed, shouting obscenities. One caught up and started kicking his leg out at my pedal. It felt like this went on forever, but it was a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds. I heard other voices shouting, and the men turned and sped off in the other direction. I continued pedaling fast but looked behind me to see that a group of women had come out of an adjacent apartment hi-rise. They shouted at the three men, scaring them off.
Terrified, I sped home in record time. I don’t remember much of what happened, but I remember sitting in my apartment’s kitchen shaking as I relayed what had occurred to my boyfriend (now husband) and roommate. It’s difficult to know what would have happened, but I feel strongly that those women saved me from an assault. I wish I had stopped to thank them, but I was too scared to do anything other than get home as quickly as possible. This experience, paired with poor health, made it easy to hang my bike up for years until two weeks ago.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched my husband cruise around the Twin Cities on his cargo bike. He doesn’t drive, and the cargo bike is his primary means of transportation, using it to operate his business and ride around the city with friends. Riding to shows, ball games, and vegan picnics in the park, it was something I desperately wanted to be a part of, not just the activities but the ride with friends. Yet, a lingering sense of danger wouldn’t budge.
Then, his cargo bike was stolen. He was devastated. The loss of that bike would have been a massive blow to his business if it weren’t for the community that turned out to recover the bike and raise funds for a new bike. Neighbors, friends, and people connected with various bike networks and online communities combed the city looking for that bike. When it couldn’t be found, they contributed to a Go Fund Me to help purchase a new bike. Not too long after it was stolen, a friend and neighbor texted my husband while at a Cattle Decapitation show that he had found the bike! This community was ecstatic that it had been found. Complete strangers were celebrating the bike’s recovery.
The kindness, passion, and DIY attitude from the Twin Cities bike community felt punk and it inspired me to get back on a bike. Felt punk. I mean, a bunch of strangers has your back because of a shared interest. What’s more punk than that? I wanted in.
Two weeks ago, I bought a new to me bike. I love it. I think about it all the time. I think of excuses to ride it. More plants for the garden? Let’s ride to the farmer's market. Home improvement project I’ve been avoiding? Let’s ride to the hardware store. Bored? Let’s go for a ride. I’m always looking forward to the next ride - solo or with a group.
Am I angry that I allowed three misogynistic men to take my power and freedom for so long? Yes. But now I know there is a strong community of people who have my back. I will no longer let that experience rob me of the sheer joy of the wind in my face, the sun on my back, and the occasional bug in my teeth.
I’ll end by sharing a bike riding playlist courtesy of Jessica. I’m not confident enough to listen while riding yet, but it will be the first playlist I listen to when I am.