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How I’ve expanded my bike joy, and how you can do it too

Courtney Cobb’s bike and hoops at the Chicago lakefront. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

When spring arrived this year I set a goal to spend as much time as I could outside during the summer. I was feeling restless in my full-time job as a therapist. I decided to do my best to leave the position before summer arrived. I came across a tweet referring folks to apply to be a Bike Ambassador with the Chicago Department of Transportation. I mentally filed it under my list of “look intos”. A few days later a friend emailed me the same listing. I took it a sign I should at least apply. I created a colorful resume and wrote a heartfelt cover letter expressing my desire to help get more folks to switch to biking and transit for environmental and public health reasons.

As some Streetsblog Chicago readers may know, I was chosen for the job. I looked forward to being paid to bike around the city and share the gospel of biking. I quickly realized that the position wasn't a good fit for me. I wrote my resignation letter on my birthday and submitted it a few days later. But my brief experience as a Bike Ambassador increased my confidence to ride more often and ride on streets I'd normally shy away from. 

I continued to ride my bike as much as possible over the summer. I went from being an almost daily CTA rider to a daily cyclist. I enjoyed feeling the sun on my skin, seeing all the beautiful flowers, getting a peek into interesting homes, meeting other folks on bike, and jamming out to my music as I rode around town. I posted somewhat regularly on my Facebook page about my rides. Sometimes I was angry about harassment from drivers, and other times I shared how much fun I was having and encouraged my friends to swap some of their car trips for bike trips. 

Some of the most memorable moments of my year involved biking. I met some really great people via my biking and public transportation-focused Twitter account. I won a cool Timbuk2 backpack by attending an event showcasing the work of 2wheelgods Gods, a biking collective for Black and Brown queer people. I experienced my former neighborhood of Kenwood in a new way through biking with community. I influenced an associate to buy a bike. I waved at a handful of children who were so jazzed to see me bopping around on my bike. I biked around with hula hoops on my arm or strapped to my bike. I met a few Streetsblog readers on the Lakefront Trail or while out and about. There are plenty of moments I feel alone and distraught at the lack of progress we've made as a city, state, and country when it comes to sustainable transportation. Having people come up to me thanking me for my articles or the things I say on Twitter helps me feel less alone.

My trusty bike and hula hoop at the lakefront. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Photo: Courtney Cobbs
My trusty bike and hula hoop at the lakefront. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

I'll never forget the afternoon a neighbor told me she sees me biking everywhere and I look so happy and free. She said seeing me made her consider hopping on her bike. One of my intentions in biking for transportation and biking for recreation is to show people just how fun biking can be. There can be joy in traveling a bit more slowly and being more in touch with your environment. If you'd like to move a bit faster or have physical challenges that are a barrier to riding a regular bike, an e-bike is an increasingly affordable option.

Along with embodying the joys of biking this summer, I read a lot about biking culture and learned some new perspectives that can aid in spreading the joys of biking.

Here is a short list of reads that added to my bike joy this summer:

"On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life" edited  by Amy Walker

As the title suggests, this anothology shares the ways in which biking can change and is changing people's lives. I felt so inspired after reading many of the stories in this book. Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield wrote a chapter about the Humboldt Park-based community bike shop West Town Bikes.

"Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to Two Wheeled Life by Anna Brones

This is a great book for the novice looking to bike for transportation. Guidance on choosing the best bike, changing a flat, lubing your chain, carrying cargo, traveling with your bike, and more are covered.

"Bikequity: Money Class, & Bicycling" edited by Elly Blue

This book included personal essays about biking for transportation explored through the lens of class, race, and gender. It's a quick read that I feel many within the biking community would do well to read in order to hear underrepresented perspectives and experiences. 

"How Cycling Can Save the World" by Peter Walker

If you're someone who enjoys a good mix of personal anecdotes and data, this book simply makes the case for cycling for economic, social, health, and environmental reasons. 

"Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places" by Jeff Speck

I carried this book with me to a few of my meetings with my alderwoman to advocate for sustainable transportation. It's a niche read because it seems to be aimed more towards planners, transportation engineers, economic development professionals, and elected officials but I found it to be a page-turner. I certainly recommend that you bring this book along with you to meet with an alder or some other influential person who can be swayed with facts and figures.

All of these books can be checked out through Chicago Public Library.

I hope 2020 and the next decade are full of growth for the Chicagoland biking landscape. As many Streetsblog readers know, ridership follows investment. We need streets that lend themselves to safety and comfort for all road users. I pray we will see more infrastructure that lends itself to safe, comfortable, and fun biking experiences for folks of all backgrounds. 

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