Why So Serious?

When did bicycle commuting become so serious? Perhaps you’re really new to bicycle commuting and the grimacing look on your face is the end result of either missing your car or getting your behind used to the saddle again. SMILE! You’re participating in one of the healthiest, funnest and safest ways to get around!

Why So Serious?

Starting last Spring, I noticed that people on their bikes — especially the ones wearing backpacks and riding near rush hour — are generally pretty serious folks. They don’t acknowledge other cyclists and they don’t look happy to be on a bike.   I know most people aren’t all that excited about their commute, but even the motorists I see on a daily basis don’t seem this earnest.

I’ve been the Pensive, Serious Cyclist plenty of times. It doesn’t do much good. I’ve found that simply smiling while you’re riding makes things a lot easier. You have to mean it, though. Your “soul” has to smile. Quit thinking about where you’re trying to go or what you’ll need to do when you get there. Start thinking about where you are. Start living in the moment. Maybe try remembering why you’re riding in the first place. The reasons and benefits to bike commuting are different for everyone, and there are too many to list here.

Being happy and content gives you confidence. Enjoying your saddle time gives you purpose and belonging on the road, and will likely make your rides to and from work seem a lot less perilous. Let’s shift from being Serious Cyclists to being Fun Cyclists who take our mode of transportation seriously.

(Photo: Modifications and sincere apologies for propagating viral Internet marketing campaigns provided by Noah. Original photo Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution: 01790 by Thingo on Flickr.)

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0 thoughts on “Why So Serious?”

  1. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    This is true! Back when I was a newbe, ohhh. Now I smile, sing and wish everyone a good morning or day….

  2. Nice post.

    Several weeks ago I, with my wife joining me for company, was riding my morning commute to work. We were coming off a short greenway multi-use path onto a larger street that many cyclists use to get into downtown Omaha.

    As we approached the intersection, I noticed a cyclist off on the sidewalk adjusting his bike. Coming down the busy street toward the intersection was another commuter. As fortune would have it, the four of us converged at about the same time. Being a new commuter myself, I was excited to see others commuting. However, the guy on the sidewalk was ecstatic. With the biggest grin on his face, he raised his hand in the air “power to the people” style and shouted, “Yay! Bicycles!”

    There are a few hills I ride where I can’t help but grimace a little bit. Other than that, often I feel like I can’t help but smile because it is so much fun.

  3. Erich says:

    Why am I so serious? Mostly because I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings and hyper-alert to the not-insignificant likelihood that some cellphone-talking, latte-swilling, makeup-applying bimbo in a Hummer is about to convert this happy-go-lucky husband, father and avid bicyclist into roadkill. The situation just isn’t conducive to grinning like a chimp on my 5-mile commute, I don’t know about yours.

    And if you don’t have that attitude in my area (metro Kansas City MO) you’re not going to survive, it really is that bad.

  4. Noah says:

    I am in Kansas City! I ride from Lenexa to Downtown KCMO (near Central Library) every day.

    You can be aware but content, alert and happy.

  5. rayhead00 says:

    I have a grumbly inner dialog…but I greet all other bikers with a wave at least. Perhaps I should up my medication.

  6. Tom says:

    Pick up you head, look around. Note what is going on around you. Go really fast and yell woo hoo! Go really slow and note the sounds and smells and feel of the place. Stop along the way and accomplish an errand. Ask a home owner if you can pick an apple. Pull into a gas station next to the pumps, eat a snickers bar, and then take off. Take a camera and shoot some photos. Stop and pick up two plastic bottles and throw in a recycle bin. Stop at the top of a hill and admire the view. Buy a cigar and smoke it as you go (don’t do that often…. but once is kind of fun). Sing a song (but get rid of the ipod!). Ride naked (um, better not its against law- wear lyrca instead).

  7. ethan says:

    I have trouble smiling even when I *am* happy. But I totally agree.

  8. Juan says:

    I think it has to be in you in the first place. I try to be upbeat and considerate no matter how I’m getting from here to there. If I’m on my motorcycle, and see another coming the other way, I always give a wave. If someone has their blinker on and needs to get in my lane, I give them the room. And I wave to every bicyclist I see, whether it’s the backpack/pannier commuter or group ride out training. I don’t think a bicycle is a free pass to the land of blissful happiness…..but it helps!

  9. jdott says:

    It seems to me that it sort of matters where you are at the moment. I commute to the University of Utah from south of Salt Lake City. Most of the ride is on a MUP, and everyone is pretty friendly (except for runners, but that’s another story). Then I take 2nd south up the hill. I very rarely see anyone – I take it that most people hop on the train to get up to campus. On the way down, there are plenty of people on bikes. There are so many different types of riders, but there is (unfortunately) plenty of time at every stop light to chat a bit. We exchange pleasantries and tips – have even set up a quick lunch occasionally. Then comes the stretch in front of the Gateway (big downtown mall). For that 6 or so blocks, it’s all you can do to avoid being killed by a motorist trying to park or leave the parking lot. I got passed by an SUV going about 40 – on the right, yesterday. Not good. Honestly, I can’t remember ever seeing another actual (not on the sidewalk, etc.) cyclist in that area. I guess that’s the forced tunnel vision others mentioned. I’m just so thankful that it’s such a small portion of my commute. Once past the area, everything is back to being friendly.

  10. acline says:

    Perhaps your data set is too small.

    Perhaps, like the guys from KC, some commutes require focused attention to traffic.

    Perhaps some commuters feel isolated by a biking commercial culture that priviledges sport biking over commuting.

    I generally feel fairly jolly on my ride–a short 2.25 miles through town traffic. I’m not sure how my face would look if I were doing one of those 10+ mile jaunts.

  11. locus says:

    I think I’m with Erich on this one.

    Biking the mean streets of DC during rush hour is not for the faint of heart. We have more than our fair share of iPod wearing pedestrians head down and texting very important messages. I see many car commuters doing lots of things in addition to driving in heavy traffic (eating, applying makeup, texting, etc.) If you’re not HYPERAWARE, you’re going to get into trouble quickly. If you add your kid-sized passenger on the back of your ride (like I do on many mornings), you’d better have your head in the game.

    Ask me about bike commuting at any other time, I’ll be the first to show you my pearly whites and enthusiastically list the benefits. However, in traffic, I’ve got my game face on.

    Style over speed, my ass. It’s rough out there and the consequences are literally life and death.

  12. Noah says:

    It’s not about style and certainly not about being unaware or ignorant of traffic and road hazards. You just don’t need to wear your battle face ALL. THE. TIME.

    In traffic, I wouldn’t expect anyone to be cavalier, la-di-dah riding no-handed waving at every passing cyclist.

    I’m talking about the riders I encounter on the back roads, parking lots and multi-use-paths who have some kind of Anime-Manga Inspired expression with their teeth grit and eyebrows down low. That’s kind of ridiculous. When you’re in an environment like that, you can enjoy it. Riding doesn’t have to look painful and wretched…

  13. idbob says:


  14. kaz kougar says:

    This post is long overdue. I’ve had a problem with other bike commuters for sometime. I have regulars that I pass on the bike path, free from automobile traffic mind you, every day and they don’t even look my way. They look crabby and unhappy to be on a bike. I tend to nickname these people for some odd reason. So my question to Parka Chick and The Martian (meemeemeemeemeemeemeemee-nunununununununu) would be, “Why?” If you don’t like it find other means of transportation, we have an excellent bus system in our area.

    On a more positive note there are regular cyclists, runners and walkers that I see every day that I always exchange greetings with.

  15. Patrickz says:

    (from Oregon)
    I’ve noticed general grouchiness, but some people do act friendly around here. I often wave (discreetly, in a matter-of-fact manner) or nod. Older (40+) people seem more willing to greet or wave back.
    Surprisingly, I’ve had beaming smiles from drivers…go figure!

  16. When I first got into commuting by bike (this season) I expected it to be like bus drivers and motorcyclists. They always wave at each other.

    So I know what you mean. I look at every rider going the other way for a wave and get a little sad inside when they don’t even glance at me (most don’t).

    The only time I’m serious is when I’m tackling a big hill. I probably look like I am constipated trying to make it to the top.


  17. Roger says:

    Hmm. Well at least I’ve noticed that on the days I can bike commute, I’m in a much better mood. On the bike I’m pretty serious, but very happy. There’s no conflict. I am happy doing things that force greater mental and physical involvement.

    Even so, I make an effort to greet other bikers and be friendly.

  18. Stuart M. says:

    Here in Japan where everyone rides their bike on the sidewalk, there seems to be a lot of confusion over which side of the sidewalk one should ride the bike on. Cars in Japan are supposed to ride on the left, so you would think bicyclists might keep to the left of the sidewalk. Noooooo, they come at you willy-nilly, fingering their cell phones and you have to shout at them to look up. It makes for a bad mood. Yes, I do ride on the road in some of the quieter neighborhoods, but there the bicyclists come riding at you when you are on the left side of the road! I think this disregard for any rules of the road is compensating for the Japanese attitude that bicycle riding is shameful and only people with no driver’s license or no money do it. I do ride very carefully around pedestrians and often exchange friendly words with them. I’m guessing they probably have a very bad opinion of bicyclists, so I’m hoping to show them we are not all bad.

  19. Jun says:

    A commute is act of getting from a to b. Bike commute in a car culture is not the safest way to get to b. It’s OK to smile when you are aware of your surrounding. It doesn’t help you a bit much if you’re about to be terminated by a car flying over 40 miles/hr. Bike commuting is a task, not to be taken lightly. Safety first. When your all safe at home and tired, go ahead smile as long as you can for the rest of the day 🙂

  20. Making an effort to greet other bikers and be friendly is good. Just don’t be sad if they don’t even glance at you. Just enjoy the ride.

  21. Anonymous says:

    If my area had safer and better developed bike lanes and paths, I’d have a very good reason to smile. Other than that, having cars come within inches of my handlebars easily wipes whatever semblance of a smile my face may tend to have.

  22. Seamus says:

    We’re all different
    You can’t expect us all to conform
    to your ideal of comportmant behaviour.
    Maybe that IS their smile?
    The glas is always half empty.
    And cracked.
    And I just cut my lip on it.
    And chipped a tooth

  23. Owen says:

    That’s a good word. Thank you for that. In my Canadian motown of bike hating motorists it’s easy for me to forget to smile as I commute.

  24. Kaz Kougar says:

    They say it takes more muscles to frown than it does smile so in theory those crabby, frowning commuters are distracting themselves from the cars all around them.

  25. DaveP says:

    I cycle for exercise,
    I cycle to rid myself of the hum-drum tediousness of -The Daily Grind’,
    I cycle because it makes me smile.

    I just don’t cycle enough.

    As I ride to work I look at those around me and wonder why the other -Gutter Bunnies’ (http://www.twinsix.com/gear/gear_t609t05.htm ) do it..
    None of them smile; very few even acknowledge my wave or -Morning’, and for once it’s not just the Roadies, even those riding Mountain bikes and Hybrids are tight-lipped and scowling at the road ahead. OK, so first thing in the morning I’m not at my best until at least the second coffee and I’m sure only 5% of the population really want to do their commute.. So why do we ( they ) zone-out like the car drivers do? It’s often said that drivers travel in their own bubble, isolated from their surroundings, treating everyone else on the roads as just impediments to their safe and speedy arrival at their destination – what’s the difference? I see it as being a variation of infrastructure agnostic “Target Fixation”. 🙁

    QED: On the way to work: traffic often stops to let me across busy junctions, busses give me space on narrow country lanes and even White Vans pass without trying to decapitate me with their rear-view mirrors. Should I be surprised that on the way home things are VERY different..? 😉

  26. Hashbrown says:

    Where i commute everyday, you get stereotyped as either insane for not owning a car and riding every day or simply having a DWI / OWI and you cant drive your SUV while eating a double cheeseburger / smoking a ciggy / and talking on the cell phone.

    Its hard to smile all the time when people are expecting you to be carrying a case of blatz on your handlebars and wearing a trash bag to keep the rain off

  27. nat says:

    You know, some of us just aren’t extroverts. I’m almost always happy, and with a song in my heart (or at least head) that i might even sing along to. I might be the most upbeat person i know. But I don’t often smile. And even when i don’t have headphones on, i’m about as likely to say ‘hi’ to a stranger as i am to sprout wings. Just because someone doesn’t say ‘hi’ doesn’t mean they’re not friendly–and even if they’re not friendly, that doesn’t mean they’re not happy. Some of us are introverts. We interact with others when we must, but that’s it. And, you know, some people can be happy without having to show the world (to gain validation of that happiness by others’ responses?–i dunno).

    I’ve always been a little puzzled by this call for camaraderie between cyclists, like being on a bicycle trumps all other differences–I don’t feel camaraderie with the idiot riding the wrong way, i get pissed off. And the vast majority of cyclists i see are doing something stupid like that (wrong way, no lights, on sidewalk, not paying any attention to the traffic around them, riding right next to parked cars, running stoplights, etc.). Sometimes i take the time to point out how foolish/dangerous/inconsiderate their behavior is. Mostly i just shake my head and move on. Plus, I don’t feel any particular camaraderie with other motorists when I’m driving, so why other cyclists when i’m cycling?

    And that’s without even considering the very real need to be alert and attentive while cycling (because some idiot driver might decide to pass a flatbed truck and the line of cars behind it on the left side, around a blind turn, crossing the centerline to do so, when the big truck has its left-turn signal on, and thus be coming straight at you on your side of the street as you approach the intersection to turn left–not that anything like that has ever happened to me, and certainly not this morning on the way home from work. grrr…).

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