In a conversation with coworkers years ago, one person reflected on his summers spent in their backyard pool in California. I responded with excitement and jealousy that he had his own pool when all I had was a bike! Another coworker who grew up in Hong Kong, exclaimed with awe, “You had a bike?!?”
Wow. I laughed at my own ignorance to my privilege. To think she grew up in a large city and didn’t have a bike at all made me realize just how special it was that I could spend my summers biking and exploring. If I’d had to choose between a backyard pool and a bike, I think in hindsight a bike would have been a better choice for me.
As a child, my bike was my freedom. It allowed my sister and me to spend summer days at the pool in a neighboring town without limitation of our parents’ schedules. We biked to get ice cream, eat lunch in the town square and even to rent canoes. We’d practice riding without hands and see how far we could go. Our bikes were extensions of ourselves throughout the summer.
Once we could drive, bikes temporarily lost their appeal for transportation. Enter my college years where I didn’t have a car, and my bike allowed me to get to classes and work. Every time I allowed less time for travel meant my fitness benefited from pedaling faster to get there in time.
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed mountain biking and group rides immensely. Participating in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons have been rewarding experiences. This summer is a summer for biking for me. I signed up for the two-day Seattle to Portland bicycle ride, and I’m excited to do what is a bucket list experience for me. Being able to train and do the ride with friends is gratifying for the camaraderie beyond the health benefits.
Bicycling suits me well given the impacts Multiple Sclerosis has created in my spinal cord. I love jogging and manage extremely well, but bicycling allows me to continue when my feet lose feeling and coordination. Hills create natural intervals where I can put forth effort and rest on the downhill to best leverage my energy. Fatigue lessens and I sleep better when I’m active.
I have a new bike!
This summer, I was fortunate to have been gifted a bike from the organization Meat Fight. I love my new light and zippy road bike. It allows me to go faster and be more comfortable while riding. Having an expert watch me ride, ask questions and adjust the bike to me was fantastic for improving my experience cycling. Through their Meat Fight’s Meat Bike program, they give bikes to people with MS. Becoming a part of this group is fantastic for connecting with people with MS of every level of active from extreme endurance events to beginners wanting to start riding. Bikers ride all types of bicycles ranging from road bikes to recumbent trikes to hand cycles.
Bike options for all abilities
The more I pay attention on the trails and online, I see that bicycling can be accessible to anyone these days. The options available accommodate a lot of health issues that result from aging, chronic conditions and disability.
Recumbent bikes are great when balance might be an issue. Electric-assist bikes can be useful when wanting flexibility and back up for pedaling. Tandem bikes come in both side-by-side and in-line, and they can be excellent options if vison is impaired. Handcycle bikes are propelled using a person’s upper body instead of their legs.
When disability advances beyond being able to pedal solo or at all, there are bikes with wheelchair tandem setups that allow people to sit in front of the cyclist pedaling. An organization near me, Sequim Wheelers, provides free bike rides to elderly and disabled community members, including children. When I saw this, it heartened me to know that people who are not able to enjoy trails on bikes under their own power can now do so. The fresh air on the face, the beauty of the landscape, socializing with others in an active, outdoors setting – these can be available to everyone.
I’m encouraged to know that cycling can be adapted to suit my needs should my abilities change with age and Multiple Sclerosis progression. Being outside, active, and among friends improves my health and maintains my well-being mentally and physically. It comforts me to know this hobby can change and adapt with whatever the future brings. The only limitations are my ego and perspective.