By Sarah Smellie.
I know you know it’s good for the planet. I know you know it’s good for your health. I know you know that here in St. John’s, we often only have three legitimately snow-free months and voluntarily spending even one unnecessary second of those months trapped inside a car is totally ludicrous.
I also know that it seems lot easier to just keep driving and leave your bike at home.
But easy doesn’t mean better. So here are a few tips on how to get yourself inspired—and keep yourself safe and savvy—to ditch your freakin’ car already, and start cycling.
Just look to the streets. These days, you’re very likely to see cyclists jousting with the car-bound drones at all times of the day. Observe how fabulous these cyclists look—muscled and smiling, free from the tyranny of road closures, detours, parking fees and other regulatory nuisances that drivers must abide by. Sure, the top-half-of-an-alien-pod bike helmet is a bit dorky, but they still look cooler than the chump in the SUV who’s absentmindedly picking his nose, no?
Of course, there are legit studies and stats you could have a look at. It’s a well-known fact that exercise is an effective anti-depressant. And cycling is great exercise: thirty minutes of it will burn anywhere from 200 to 550 calories, depending on your weight and speed.
The best thing about cycling, though, is that it’s not just exercise. It’s cheap and effective transportation.
Ease into it
Now, obviously, to burn all those calories, you’re going to be doing a bit of work. This might take some getting used to.
First, map out your regular route to work, school, or wherever, so that it avoids monster hills and insanely busy streets. Then give your route a few test rides. This lets you see how much time it will take, how sweaty you’ll be, and lets you experiment a bit.
If you’re sore the next day, or any day, take it easy and walk—don’t drive!—and bike again the day after that. Don’t push yourself too hard, you’ll only get discouraged. If you keep it up, your regular ride will become too easy and you’ll be looking for bigger, better rides to challenge yourself with.
Watch the weather
The weather can certainly suck. This is St. John’s, after all. But that means you probably own a rather effective set of rain gear. Well, that rain gear is just as effective when worn on a bicycle. Yes, you’ll get a bit wet. You’d get wet running to your car, too.
Avoid the hills
They’re huge. They’re brutal. They’re everywhere. But there’s usually a way around them. For example, to get out of downtown, Queen’s Road is a bit gentler than, say, Victoria Street. If you’re up for a scenic tour, taking a side street around the Alliant building and zooming up Rennie’s Mill Road will get you out quick and easily.
Of course, there’s no shame in walking your bike up a hill. I’ve walked my bike, Godspeed, up some of the finest hills in Eastern Canada—the Cabot Trail mountains, Kelly’s Mountain in Nova Scotia, that one stupid hill in the middle of P.E.I.—and it never ruined my day. I was even given a beer one night for having the good sense to walk it up Prescott Street.
Biking in St. John’s can certainly seem like a suicide mission. The roads are narrow, some are narrow and busy, and the potholes appear bottomless. But if you plan your route and aren’t adverse to taking an extra ten minutes to use residential streets, you’ll be fine. If you have to use a busy and/or narrow street, be assertive. You are traffic, so take your space. Despite any swearing and/or obscene gestures, the cars will be fine if they have to slow down and get around you.
Honestly, though, the most immediate obstacle will really be you. Some days you just won’t feel like it, and not even the thought of your hot self breezing into work/school/whatever, all rosy-cheeked and breathy, can bring about the requisite oomph. While you’re flipping your car keys off their hook, just remember: If you leave your beloved bike cold and alone today, you’ll have a much easier time leaving it tomorrow. You’ll also feel a whole lot better about yourself, whether you’re cranky at the beginning or not, if you just cowboy up and ride.
Illustration by Tara Fleming