Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bicycle Education

Yesterday was the first all day class with my students for the 2010-2011 year. I'm teaching all freshman and sophomores this year. Since they were trying to get to know me and I was getting to know them as well, I opened myself up for questions from them. I was pleased when they wanted to know about riding my bike to school, and well, everywhere around town. It gave me the opportunity to encourage them that they too, could do it and save themselves a little bit of money, do something good for their bodies, and have fun and be independent doing it. I modeled my helmet for them, including my rear view mirror. I'm often amazed at how people don't see the value of the rear view mirror when cycling. I guess I didn't either until I obtained one. Now, I don't like to go anywhere on my bike without it. In fact, as a teacher, I've often found myself wishing I could get away with wearing a rear view mirror as I teach class and walk down the hallway.
I didn't go so far as to model my reflective vest and ankle band for them, but I would have had they asked about it. In a typical reaction, a female student was amazed I'd ride for fifteen whole minutes to get to school; around three whole miles!
Most of the students were convinced it wasn't a cool idea, riding a bike that much. Instead, it just reinforced their "herd" mentality of disliking anyone who thinks for themselves and does something which leaves them vulnerable.
I think that was difficult for me to cope with these last three years as I've rode my bike to school more and more, the vulnerability of the cyclist. Not only are we vulnerable to injury from vehicles, but we become vulnerable to people's curiosity. We travel at a slower speed which gives onlookers ample opportunity to stare, look, and point. Inside a vehicle the passengers and driver are protected from the world by steel and glass. It's like they have their own mobile museum partition which travels with them wherever they go. When I'm on the bike I can feel people's stare, I'm going much slower than a vehicle, yet they have the option of slowing to my speed. However, I don't have the option of speeding up to their speed. They can inspect me with ease and comfort and safety behind a pane of glass. Yet, if I wish to escape their glances, there's not a lot of recourse for me to take. I can turn and change my route, which entails lengthening my commute, which I don't desire to do.
Anyway, I shared some of my thoughts and approaches to cycling with my students, because some of them were curious. They were probably not curious about cycling as much as they were curious about this strange guy they would be spending the year with in a teacher-student relationship.
Just like with fashion and nearly all trends and technology, the Midwest will catch on 10 years or so later, maybe even an entire generation later. I feel like I'm starting something in the small Northeast Kansas town where I live, and am serving as an example for the people to see it can be done and that I'm a regular guy.

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