I ride a bike but I try hard not to be a cyclist. That's because, where I live at least, cyclists have a look and an attitude that can be very off-putting to adults who just want to get back on their bike. And it is those people who I am interested in helping. Even though there is a lot of emphasis placed on getting young people outside and active, realistically our community is too diffuse and the roads too bad for them to embrace cycling at this point in their lives. If we want to increase awareness of active transportation alternatives we need to reach opinion makers. If we want to create new habits and interests that will last a lifetime we need to engage adults who are reasonably financially secure and are looking to add a new facet to their lives.
I know from experience that many of that target group reject cycling because they feel it requires a certain look and type of equipment. My goal has been to show them that you don't need elaborate and expensive gear to get back on their bikes. I help them with an initial bike purchase based on their three to five year goals, then help them become comfortable with longer and longer times in the saddle while riding on the trail and finally use the same incremental approach to explore the roads of the province. I am pleased that many of those I have coached now incorporate biking into their lives in important ways.
I don't think I would be as effective in delivering my message if I rode a fancy bike or wore funky looking matching clothes (known as kit in cycling lingo). For that reason, until last year, I just used a bike known as a road hybrid, equipped with a bike rack and fenders. The bike is clearly utilitarian and has little in common with the racy machines we associate with cyclists. I do use clipless pedals but favour a style used by mountain bikers. My shoes look like hiking shoes and I can walk normally in them because the cleats are recessed. Although I wear bike shorts and jerseys the shorts are always black and the shirts don't have text all over them.
Then last year I bought a new bike. It is a wonderful carbon frame road bike with electronic shifters (For those who care it is a 2013 Specialized Roubaix Expert DL Ui2.) I love the feel of the bike on the road - it feels like an extension of my body and when I am not coaching I can make it fly. Even though I acquired a fancy 'cyclist' bike I was still using the same type of shoes and clothing. But the shoes I wore with that bike were never comfortable. This week, in a vote of optimism for the future and to prepare for fun in August, I bought a pair of really nice road shoes. They are much stiffer and lighter than my others. And they required that I upgrade to a new type of pedal and cleat. The cleats make me look like all those other cyclists - there are big lumps under the front of my foot so I have to gingerly walk like an inebriated duck.
I have made some sacrifices in choosing the new shoes and cleat system. I won't be able to walk as comfortably should I be in an accident and have to walk home. I can no longer claim to be 'just a biker' and will have to think carefully about which bike and apparel I wear when I coach to ensure that I convey the right message. But those sacrifices are worth it! I love my new shoes, I love my increased ability to generate power on my bike and I love that I let my personal preferences override what might be best for the group, at least this once and on a reasonably meaningless point. Don't worry - I'm not getting soft. That's about as big a step as I can take. I promise that you will never see me in matching kit!