It’s been a few months since we last spoke with Sarah Berry after reading her Medium post, “Diary of a New Cyclist,” and much has changed in that time. What hasn’t changed, though, is Sarah’s passion for riding her bike. While it has had its ups and downs, which Sarah has detailed on her page, the journey continues.
We decided to check back in with Sarah, to see how being a more-experienced-than-new cyclist has been treating her.
How has your cycling journey been going?
It’s a great time to be asked that. My cycling journey definitely has had its ups and downs. I’ve had times of feeling really free and happy and really accomplished with it. I’ve been riding into central London in a way that my colleagues who knew me before covid were astounded to see.
Then one day I had a ride that was really unpleasant. Nothing major happened. I didn’t get hit, I didn’t fall off, I didn’t get abused more than I normally would. But I just had so many close passes and so much aggression that I found after that for a really long time I just didn’t want to ride my bike at all. It was really different from how I had been feeling in the months before that.
Thankfully, in the last month or so I am getting past that and I am getting back on the bike again.
As you are getting back on a bike how do you motivate yourself and stay calm to focus on riding the bike and not the worries?
The thing that helped me, especially the first time, to get back on the bike and get out there was not allowing myself the opportunity to think about it, stress about it, worry about it too much.
One day I had a few errands to run and not enough time. My partner said, “Well, why don’t we cycle?” And I just said yes and then two minutes later I was on the bike and off and going. I just didn’t give myself the opportunity to be anxious about it, to give myself the opportunity to think about what the last experience was like, those sort of stories of what could go wrong.
And then when I was on the bike and actually doing it was great. The bad rides are actually really really rare. It was pleasant and I shared space with cars then they gave me space and I got to where I was going and I got there really quickly. When I was actually riding my bike there were no thoughts like that, it was just oh god this is fun and it was efficient. It is so much faster than walking. Those are the kinds of things going through my mind.
When I got home I was out of breath. I was sweaty. I felt accomplished and the next day wheSet featured imagen I needed to run an errand it felt really natural to get back on my bike. Just cutting it off at the source and not letting myself get to the “Oh, what could go wrong place.”
You’ve written about asserting yourself on a bike. How does it affect your ride when you allow yourself to say, “I belong here”?
I think it makes a huge difference, but even as an assertive cyclist, someone who takes up space, when your road infrastructure is really bad it doesn’t matter how assertive you are. You are still going to be in those risky situations where you have to predict what other people are going to do.
In my area where the cycling infrastructure is much better, I can be a little more confident holding that space because the roads are wider, there is more room for people to get around. I’m not going to be in a situation where a car is going to go into oncoming traffic then put us both into danger.
But the thing that gives me confidence is the fact that when I do ride like that, which I try to do all the time, and if I do have a person behind me who is impatient and wants to get ahead, I always find myself overtaking them again a couple hundred meters up the road. City streets are just so congested that there is no way that they are going to get ahead.
How has your relationship with the cycling community progressed these last few months?
Before I was cycling I was really intimidated by the cycling community. It looked like a group of people who were so self-assured, so capable, who so knew what they were doing. And I wasn’t expecting them to be super welcoming to a new convert or a beginner. What I found was that I was so completely wrong about that. The cycling community more than any I’ve been a part of is just so excited to have people around them that love this thing they love.
When I was going through that really bad period after taking that ride I was struggling to get back on my bike, I asked the cycling community for help. I went out on twitter and said have you been in this situation? What do you do? And I was completely inundated with offers from people to come ride with me. People from all over the country who were like I can get the train down to London this weekend and we can take a ride together or I can come pick you up and we will take your bike out to here and it will be lovely.
The cycling community is also certain that things have to change, and they won’t stop until they do. I find that group of people so completely energizing.
You’ve also written about the history of women in cycling. What have you taken from that history?
I was really delighted to learn about the activist feminist history of the bicycle. Originally they were things that were designed for men and adapted for children. And women were like if men can ride them and children can ride them I’m pretty sure that we can ride them too.
That was in a time when women were chaperoned everywhere. The idea of having a bike and being able to get out on a bike on your own was incredibly freeing and it had a huge impact on how women lived in society. Not only where they could go, who they could see, and how they could get there, but also what they wore.
Just hearing about the fact that this thing that I really struggled with for a long time that I always thought was beyond me, but has transformed my life and given me such a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment, also had that effect on other women throughout history.
I think cycling now in a lot of ways is still really hostile to women. I know women still really tend to have a harsher time on the roads in terms of the abuse they will suffer, from drivers and catcalling and other sexual harassment that can happen. There are people out in this world who think this is not the place for me and they are wrong. I am going to take up that space on that road. It feels really nice to know that this is a sort of continuation of that rebelliousness.