The first time I rode a bike, or should I call it a trike, was when I was about 5 years old. My Dad bought me one and I was on it practically all the time around the house.
With the kind of environment and roads we had, I could only ride it inside our compound – my parents were worried about me getting injured or worse, getting hit by a passing vehicle. Bear in mind, helmets were unheard of. By the time I turned 7, the trike was no longer functional, and a replacement never came. It was school time, play time was over.
Around age 13, I went to boarding school, and made friends with a boy who owned a bike. He seemed to be having a good time on it, but I was fascinated – how did he manage to balance himself on this thing? One day, I asked him to teach me how to ride his bike. His idea was simple… let us go to the top of the nearby hilly street, sit on it and ride down the hill. He promised to help me along slowly to gain and maintain balance. Well, that was it. I was left to ride down, alone- no helmet. How I survived that first 80-meter ride, without falling, is still a mystery. A few rounds of this “sink or swim” method and I was riding.
As I did not own one so to ride, I had to share with friends and neighbors whenever their bikes were available. Besides, the streets were not too safe for cycling where I grew up so it was not always a smart idea to bike. For us kids, a bike was for recreation, not a means of transportation.
Come September 2000, two decades after my trike, I found myself in Lyngby, Denmark. Practically everyone I met biked, regardless of age. And I noticed it was so easy to ride everywhere. The infrastructure to do so was just excellent! There seemed to be no barriers to cycling. I decided to start biking. One friend from campus gave me his bike and after a few months of riding I was hooked! I cycled almost everywhere. I loved it so much, leaving Copenhagen after 2 years was hard.
When I moved to Calgary, I got a bike as quickly as I could and rode to most places, especially around the University of Calgary campus where I lived and studied. When I moved to Ottawa in 2008 after school, I was fortunate to have met a few co-workers who also loved to cycle. So, it was very easy to slide right into it again and start commuting to work between May and October every year. I slowly discovered the right clothes for Ottawa’s weather and pushed my limits to ride from April until snowfall (November/December) of every year.
My family loves to ride as well and the children ride to school when the weather permits. Our favourite time riding together is during the Tulip Festival. We ride along the Rideau Canal to Commissioners Park several mornings during the festival.
On weekends, I ride with my son when he feels like going for a long ride, to be capped off with hot chocolate and doughnut!
People you meet on a trail regularly, whether they run, walk, bike for the sake of biking or use it as a means of commuting, become your friends and somehow, you notice when a friend is away, or late, or maybe taking a different route. Somehow, you meet again, and a passing conversation confirms this. It is interesting to see new bikers on a familiar trail and how they pick up speed in weeks and months. And then there are the occasional surprises of known (famous) people who you never thought you’ll see biking who pass you by.
Nothing compares to seeing nature on an early morning ride. Whether it’s the sunrise over the Ottawa River, a porcupine crossing a street at Gatineau Park, a fox tracking a squirrel, or a heron hunting fish, the experience is indescribable – one must go out and experience it for themselves on a cycling trail.
During the pandemic, I have had the chance to ride even more and have taken to riding to Gatineau Park regularly before/after work and on weekends. I have enjoyed exploring many of the biking paths around the city and seeing more of Ottawa and its surroundings.
This year, for the first time in almost 14 years living in Ottawa, I have biked regularly through November to January and I am planning on doing this through the winter. I have even cycled on the Canal…
Why do I love cycling? The list is endless… the freedom! no traffic! free rigorous exercise! no waiting for a bus/train! reduce my carbon footprint! the opportunity to explore places I otherwise would not have even noticed – Oh the places you will see!