I didn’t always love bikes. Actually, I really disliked them. My dad is a cyclist and growing up I remember feeling shame and embarrassment whenever seeing him come home in spandex. My sister and I instituted a rule requiring him to change out of his riding gear in the garage. I didn’t understand what drove him to ride a bike (pun intended).
Fast forward 10 years to when I moved to San Luis Obispo, CA for college. I considered myself an environmental advocate and I sure let everyone know. I was always preaching about what others should do to reduce their impact on the planet, whether it was eating less meat, recycling plastics, or driving less. I found sustainability-related clubs a great outlet for my teachings and joined as many as I could.
After a couple years of volunteering, I landed the position of co-director of a campus environmental group. The group organized events for volunteers, including beach clean-ups, tree planting, and Earth Day celebrations. In preparing for one of our monthly beach clean-ups, my co-director came up with a novel idea. He suggested we ride our bikes to the beach. WHAT? Ride there? I was shocked, confused, and mostly terrified of the idea. I mean, this was a 10 mile ride! One-way! I thought there was no way my legs could get me there, let alone back.
Letting fear get the best of me, I offered to drive to the beach those people who didn’t want to ride. When my carpool arrived to the beach, I was surprised to see how many people showed up with bikes. These people weren’t wearing spandex, they weren’t all on racing bikes, and they weren’t all insanely athletic men, which was my conception of bicyclists up until then. This was the first point I remember thinking that bicycling might be a viable transportation option.
With my tail between my legs, I admitted to my dad I wanted a bike. He bought me the cheapest Schwinn he could find, assuming it would spend most of its life in the garage, but boy was he wrong! I started with small trips to the grocery store and then slowly worked up to the 1.5 mile commute to downtown San Luis Obispo. I realized very quickly how easily I could get from one place to another without using a car. I never thought bicycling would be something I would be able to do, but the more I rode, the more comfortable I got with being on a bike.
Today I am an avid bicycle commuter. On most weekdays I put my bike on the subway to get to work in downtown Los Angeles (I still haven’t found a way to not be sweaty all day) and I ride my bike five miles home. I find that driving, taking the subway, and riding a bike to/from my job all take about 30 minutes, so why not ride?! I notice that I’m happier on those days that I ride home because I feel proud of myself. I am proud that I am staying healthy, that I am conquering my fears (yes, the streets still scare me sometimes), and that I am practicing what I preach.
When I am on a bike I feel like I experience more. I take in the streetscapes and can smell the food trucks. I can make eye contact with pedestrians and say hello to other bicyclists. I feel like I’m a part of the scene, rather than just moving through it. When I’m riding, the commute becomes part of the fun, not just a means to get where I’m going. I now understand my dad’s love of bicycling and I hope others will learn to love their bikes, too!
Jessie Holzer grew up in San Clemente, CA. She recently moved back to Southern California after completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Jessie now works as a bicycle and pedestrian planner at Alta Planning + Design in Los Angeles. In her free time she enjoys exploring LA and discovering all that Southern California has to offer.