Why I haven’t been riding my bike

This will be my last post in this forum, at least for a while.

I’ve come to realize that caring for an infant full-time doesn’t leave a lot of extra wiggle room in my day to do much of anything else. The part-time work I’m doing these days from home is squeezed into the often-unpredictable nap schedule of my rapidly-changing 6 month old (time, I’m told, that I’m somehow supposed to be sleeping myself).

A somewhat gratuitous photo of my 6-month-old.
An admittedly-gratuitous photo of my 6-month-old.

But as I sit at my desk typing these words in the early morning hours while my husband takes the baby out for a walk before heading to his office, I realize that really time constraints, 3 a.m. feedings and the other obstacles to getting anything done but care for a small human being are but one part of the challenges standing in the way of my monthly obligation here.

The other overarching consideration, the one that leaves me who could once list 20 ideas for essays on biking off the top of my head panicking as a deadline nears, that makes me feel a bit silly attempting to offer up meaningful insights on commuting by bike when my turn rolls around, is that, I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit, I really haven’t been riding my bike much at all lately.

For all my swagger about biking while pregnant, my expectation of doing things differently from most, my silent judgment about so many things that other parents do that I vowed not to repeat after having a child of my own, I’ve fallen into the trap of so many others in this car-centric landscape of ours and become far too familiar with the curve of my car seat, the feel of my keys between my fingers.

To my amazement, I can count just three occasions in which I’ve been on my bike in the past six months. And even as I do a good bit of walking around my neighborhood, more than I used to even, and am very thankful to live in a place that affords me the chance to do most of what I need to do on foot, this is the most car-dependent I’ve been in a very long time.

Getting a pedicab tour of Davidson College, my husband's alma mater, earlier this month.
Getting a pedicab tour of Davidson College, my husband’s alma mater, earlier this month.

I can come up with plenty of excuses to help justify my habits of late. For one thing, my favorite bike got stolen a few months back, an apparent casualty of a growing bike theft ring in my city that at once speaks to limited economic opportunity and the growing appeal of biking here.

Tuesday night gatherings of the group GetUpRRide are a testament to the growing popularity of biking in my city. Photo by Stosh Kozlowski
Tuesday night gatherings of the group GetUpRRide are a testament to the growing popularity of biking in my city. Photo by Stosh Kozlowski

Then there’s the point that essential baby supplies, many of which I’d never heard of six months ago, seem to be concentrated in the suburbs, virtually unreachable except by car.

There’s also the fact that at 6 months old, my son is roughly half the age recommended by pediatricians to begin putting a kid on a bike, though a few weeks back, my husband and I rigged our new bike trailer to accommodate his car seat and took a magical 30-mile ride on a protected trail outside the city.

But the unfortunate reality is that I haven’t been riding my bike very much lately because I’m scared. Scared of the drivers out on our roads who seem to not recognize the very high stakes involved in getting behind the wheel of a car. Scared because we live in a society that makes it far more dangerous than it should ever be to get around outside a two-ton steel cage.

It is somewhat ironic that in this car-dependent period of mine I expect will be finite, committed as I am to overcoming my anxiety, that I have become more resolved than ever about the necessity – the urgent obligation even – to do things differently.

This is what comes to mind when I hear that traffic fatalities were dramatically up last year.

Or learn about Karen McKeachie.

Or read about the two people seriously injured in hit-and-runs in recent weeks in my city while riding unsuspectingly in bike lanes, one of them a block away from my house.

Or encounter someone like the drunk driver I met last Saturday when she smashed into the rental car my family was riding in back to our North Carolina hotel after dinner. The woman attempted to drive away but we caught up with her, and as she staggered out of her car unapologetically and I held up my still-sleeping infant, shaking with fear and anger, she declared: “I was on my way to pick up my 3-year-old.”

What if she had another way? I found myself thinking. What if we all did?

beaux and hudson biking
My husband pushing our son part of the way down our street during his ride home from work.

Emilie Bahr is a writer, urban planner and healthy communities advocate living in New Orleans. She is the author of the book Urban Revolutions: A woman’s guide to two-wheeled transportation.

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8 thoughts on “Why I haven’t been riding my bike”

  1. Josh Lipton says:

    Becoming a mother is a life changing transition. Trying to fit cycling into the equation, especially in the early days is certainly no easy feat. Take it slow and look for the opportunities to get back on the bike that come naturally.

    Don’t feel bad at all about prioritizing you and your son’s safety. The fact is that in most parts of the U.S. it can be very challenging to safely ride bicycles even without kids. There is a real art and skill to safe cycling. And when it comes to biking as a new parent, this safety factor is massively increased. So give yourself some time for your son to get older and for yourself to settle into your new life as a parent.

    Finally, we really appreciate all of your great contributions here at the Bike Shop Hub blog and will welcome you back whenever you’re ready.

  2. Emilie Bahr says:

    Thanks so much, Josh, for the encouragement and the kind words. I’ve so enjoyed the chance to set aside time each month to think hard about biking and what it means. I truly believe that the bike is a vehicle for change for the better in the world and one of the solutions to so much of what ails us!

  3. Brent says:

    I think there’s a something of a trend here:

    Cycle advocate leaves America for Holland because she’s beyond “high alert” riding:

    Industry worker quits commuting because he’s a parent:

    Seattle rider hangs it up:

    My own take on it:

    In a sense, we are all suffering the same cycle of enthusiasm-then-despair. Riding with cars and drivers is not fun or safe, and in my opinion, cannot be made safe. Infrastructure would fix everything, but in reality, we have little political will for such changes in most of North America. I don’t want to die for the “cause” of riding my bike to work.

  4. Matt says:

    At the end of the summer of 1987 our son was born. I remember getting his car seat into a new non foldable Burley trailer and at least taking one ride that fall. By spring we were back on the road. There was no cycling infrastructure. Cars then we’re not slower than today, and they certainly were not smaller. Drivers screamed at us regularly. I don’t think we mentioned our riding to his doctor. None of us… Doctors or families… Would have ever thought to make it a topic. I couldn’t even say if bike accident or fatalities were even counted, then.

    We were not an “super cycling” family. We had two cars and our location didn’t lend itself to grocery runs by bike. We tried to ride daily and most weekends. When our daughter came along two years later, the trailer just got heavier … And my legs got stronger.

    We’re we afraid sometimes? Sure. Did other, non bicyling family and strangers make it difficult physically and emotionally? Definitely. But we just did it. We got creative on our routes. We made ourselves visible and sometimes, an obstacle. We shared our frustrations with like minded parents around us. And we all survived… And at least two of us… My wife an I… Enjoyed it.

    You’ll do fine.

  5. Emilie bahr says:

    Thanks so much for the encouragement, Matt! I think I neEd to surround my self with more stories like these. Incidentally, I grew up rolling around on the back of my mom’s bike as a baby in Baton Rouge, hardly a paragon of bike friendliness back then (or now). I have no doubt we’ll figure it out.

  6. Matt says:

    Thanks Emilie for sharing your skilfully pennned and thought provoking posts. Im sure you will have inspired many many more journeys by bicycle than ones you have missed out on since the birth of your child.

  7. Matt says:

    The art and skill of safe riding: have been thinking a lot about this since riding with my family in the UK this summer. Many solo miles of developing and employing tactics to make motorists sometimes painfully aware of my presence came into focus. I felt concern for my loved ones seemingly not being so conscious of the potential danger. Without a detailed discussion here of what you so rightly call “an art and skill,” there is a big difference in my personal opinion between how as a 6year old I was taught to cycle on the road legalally and “safely” and the assertiveness with which the modern cyclist needs to protect themselves on the road today. Perhaps more in a future blog and would be very interested to include opinions / pics / vídeos of others.

  8. georgie says:

    Hi Emilie,
    Yes, the world is a very different cycling space post-birth. I too rode through my whole pregnancy and as someone who is an avid everyday cyclist my world rapidly changed.
    I actually found I got out with my little one quite a lot at first – earlier than is recommended, but it wasnt an issue. He mostly slept in his trailer. These were leisure rides on the canal whilst I was on maternity leave from work. But after getting back to work things changed dramatically as our infrastructure isn’t safe here in the UK either.
    I’ve ended up with a new arrangement where my husband uses the car to take my little one to the childminders and I have a short commute to work and back. My weekly mileage is now a tenth what it was but I’m getting out there and loving those few minutes to myself in between the insanity of work and the non-stoppness of motherhood.
    Good luck and make the most of the family cycling holidays 🙂

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