Cycling and Mobility: The Great Equalizer

About a week ago, I twisted my right ankle, managing to sprain it and repeating an injury I sustained around nine years ago. As I heard the two pops that accompanied the twist, aside from being in a large amount of pain, I had one main fear enter my mind. Will I still be able to ride? Not because I'm a hard core sport cyclist training for an event - if you know me at all you know that's not the case. I was afraid because for the past few weeks, I have been taking my children to day camp at Granville Island, a location that requires a tricky forty-five minute transit commute, or a pleasant ride for the same amount of time along the seawall. I have also been going into work more regularly following drop off, which is only accessible by car or bicycle (or transit, but with an unpleasant walk along a very busy road for about 10 minutes). So if this injury made it impossible to ride, I was in for a very difficult and undesirable couple of weeks of transportation.

Photo by Chris Bruntlett.

Not being one to admit defeat when it comes to riding a bicycle for transport, the next morning I strapped on my ankle brace - good thing I held onto it - and headed to the garage with my kids to grab our bikes and start our day. I gave myself more than enough time to get to their day camp, acknowledging that I may need to abandon the plan at any point if my ankle proved too sore to ride. Well, I'm so glad I did, because I quickly realized that resting my feet on my pedals and taking a slow ride was much less jarring on my ankle joint than travelling on foot. Turns out, it is true! Riding a bike is most certainly easier than walking, and despite my injury that will weeks to heal, I will not have to greatly reduce my mobility because of it.

Photo by Chris Bruntlett.

The idea that bicycle can provide increased mobility to people of all ages and abilities is not a new concept. This humble contraption has been getting people from point A to B and every where in-between for over a century, and was a huge contributor to the increase in women's independence in the 1890's. It was just over a year ago that I heard the story of a local woman, for whom a bicycle is one of the easiest ways for her to get around. Cecily Walker, featured in one of the early #CycleChicFilms, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and some days is completely unable to walk. Cycling is one of the few activities that minimizes joint pressure, allowing her to maintain her mobility and independence despite her debilitating disease.

Photo by Allan Crawford.

Photo by Allan Crawford.

More recently, I read about Charis Hill in Momentum Magazine. A little over a year ago she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is another type of arthritis. She, like Cecily, is in almost chronic pain, and takes life one day at a time. For her, riding a bike is one of the greatest pleasures she takes in life, and allows her to stay social when most days it's enough to find the strength to just get out of bed in the morning.

"For people battling serious chronic illnesses, so much of our energy is focused on survival we don’t count on having fun or doing activities that bring us joy when we choose. I appreciate my bike because being on it allows me to be in control of something in my life, and since it is my main transportation it allows me to be active and to be around people who also ride bicycles - sometimes the only socializing I have the energy for."

Despite the sports imagery that tends to dominate bicycle marketing, there are so many people like Cecily and Charis - people for whom riding a bike is their main means of mobility. What this past week has proven to me is that the bicycle truly is a great equalizer. Despite health, injury, age, socio-economic status, anyone is able to ride a bicycle. I have never felt more free than when I'm cycling. The independence it provides me to get around the city, even when I am not at my peak health, makes me grateful to have the privilege to use it each and every day.