Good things about 2016: Cycling

Stonehenge, on a bicycle

2016 has been an undeniably shitty year in many respects, but some things were not so bad. I’m challenging myself to write about a few of them.

For me, 2016 was the year that I finally got over my fear of cycling on the road. I rode my bike over 700 km and went all sorts of cool places, including up the River Lea, to Stonehenge, to a castle with bitchy tea room ladies and the bird sanctuary at Rainham Marshes. I’m very much indebted to the lovely people that work at the London Cycling Campaign for the incredibly subsidized road cycling lessons and a lot of the awesome cycling infrastructure around London. Had my life not been in such disarray this past year I probably would have cycled a lot more.

I can thank a government-subsidized program for turning me onto cycling this year. I’m so used to being not quite poor enough, and of the wrong kind of demographic to participate in these kinds of things in Canada, so I was genuinely surprised that I was able to sign up for an introductory cycling program. There was no minimum requirement or criteria that I had to fulfill. All I had to do was show up.

They lure you in with the promise of a £10 bike.

For £10 you get the use of a bike for a month along with a lock and accessories, such as a helmet, hi-vis vest and lights. You also get a membership with the London Cycling Campaign and are enrolled into their liability insurance group plan. As part of this program you have to keep a diary about how much you used the bike and check in regularly with the people running the program.

The idea behind this program is that you take people who are not currently cycling and you give them the chance to cycle with minimal investment on their part. But also that you make sure they are doing it with the right kind of equipment to get started: a bicycle of reasonable quality that is in good working condition, so they won’t have any mechanical problems, that is the correct size for their height so they will not feel particularly uncomfortable. And they set you up with all of the accessories that help keep you safe as well.

I think this is a really important bit. How often have you tried out a new hobby and skimped on the supplies, getting the cheapest ones that you can find, or getting something second-hand that might not work properly. On the one hand, it makes sense. Why invest a lot of money into something that you might not ultimately like or decide to pursue for the longer term? On the other hand, when you approach it this way, you’re adding an extra barrier to your own success and enjoyment of that activity. You add the frustration of dealing with inadequate equipment to the inevitable setbacks that come from being a beginner. So this kind of program sets you up on the right foot to really decide whether you would like to continue cycling after the trial is over.

As part of the program you also have the option of taking two one-to-one cycling lessons at no additional cost. That’s really the reason why I signed up in the first place. I could have probably bought a bicycle for myself but the real thing that was keeping me from doing so was the fact that I was very nervous about riding on the road, especially in London where the roads are narrow and the drivers are a bit crazy.

The lessons were just what I needed to get over that and help me develop the confidence to ride on the road by myself. They tailor them to your level, wherever you are at. And since I’m not from the UK, it was very helpful to have someone go through all of the rules of the road. If someone hadn’t done this for me I probably would have gotten myself killed at some point.

After the month is through, you have the option of giving your bike back or buying it at a discounted rate which works out to be about £100 below MRSP. I bought mine and couldn’t be happier with it. Seriously, why didn’t I get a bike earlier?

I’d been considering getting a bike taking some cycling lessons but it wasn’t until I saw the ad for £10 bicycles that I finally did it. It was a great program and I hope the government keeps funding it.

2016

Icy pond

As seems to be the case these days, I’ve left this blog alone for too long for much of what I was going to say to have much relevance anymore. I’ve been busy, but also I’ve felt that 2016 is a year when so many things have happened so quickly that there has barely been enough time to react to them. It was a year when change was constant and the only constant was a sense of overwhelm.

A few years ago I left my job because I’d begun to feel stagnant. I could not have imagined the impact that would have on my life, and the things that that would set in motion. It started a period of my life that has been full of many interesting and rewarding experiences on the one hand, and compounding uncertainty on the other.

Since then I have not lived in any one place for a period of more than six months. Stability in my employment has been illusory. I survived a merger at work only to lose my job due to tightening visa rules which ultimately meant that I had to leave the UK at short notice. On coming back to Vancouver I made the jump from working full-time to freelancing, which is great for flexibility, but not great for certainty. Lots of things I’d previously taken for granted as stable have not been, and the pace of change feels like it’s been accelerating to the point where I feel like everything in my life is just one big game of wait and see.

I remember being in the UK during Brexit and hearing people say that years of history had been squeezed into just a few days. I wondered why everyone was singling out Brexit. This whole year has been like that in life, in politics, in pretty much everything. Living through Brexit innoculated me to the bewilderment and shock of a Drumpf victory, though I’m no less concerned and anxious about it than anyone else I know. This year I’ve like life had taken a turn toward the surreal. The US election was confirmation that things really are worse than a lot of people thought. The federal government’s greenlighting of the Trans Moutain pipeline project and its disappointing approach to electoral reform have rubbed salt into the wound. I’m taking comfort in the fact that many around me are using the events of this year as a rallying cry to take positive action. It really blunts the edge of what would have been a sharp despair. So much piled on all at once, and a lot of it not very good.

I’ve always found it funny how much emphasis people put on the end of the year. A lot of the significance we ascribe to it is arbitrary. And yet I get sucked into it as much as the next person, with plans and hopes and resolutions. It’s not even over yet but a few weeks ago I started going through the checklist that I do at the end of the year, trying to reconcile and evaluate everything so I can start fresh next year. I guess I hit a point where I thought I’d had enough and it was time to move on.

Uncertainty and politics aside, I’m cautiously optimistic about next year. I have some plans I’m excited about that I will share in due course. 2016 was a year of uncertainty and great destabilization. My hunch is that that in 2017 that uncertainty will bring opportunities that I haven’t imagined yet.

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