Aviva Stephens: How a bike saved my life

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m excited to feature this post by Aviva Stephens, a Seattle native and financial professional who discovered the benefits and joys of cycling on her challenging work commute between Ballard and the Eastside. Find more of her writing on Medium and follow her on Instagram at @avivarachelle.

I am a working stiff in the corporate rat race where I spend most days tethered to desks, meeting rooms, conference calls, cocktail bars, and motor vehicles: which means a lot of sitting. Early in my career I found that I could not sit for long periods of time so I learned to use a standing desk, take frequent breaks, and not work crazy hours, but I always struggled to incorporate sufficient exercise into my daily routine. Since I am in an occupation that’s known to be stressful (not sure which occupation is relaxing) I took up yoga and got really into it for some time. While yoga is a great all body workout and helped me stop smoking, it’s expensive and yoga studios have an ironically pretentious and cultish environment that I could never quite get with.

Bikes in Seattle

As a struggle to vinyasa some sun salutations into my daily routine, I saw that the bike community in Seattle had grown beyond bike messengers and white middle aged weekend carbon fiber road bike worriers (aka, Lance Armstrong drones). During this time, I moved into a sweet new pad and next door to Swift Industries (the most awesome bike bag company), and they inspired to hop on the bike!

Well … it didn’t happen overnight. While my friends at Swift were super inspiring, I was super intimidated to ride a bike in Seattle (hills, rain, hair, cold, traffic, sweat, apparel, can I even ride a bike?) and they were my neighbors for at least a year before I took the leap onto the peddles.

Although I loved riding my bike as a kid, the adult version was overwhelming and elusive. The turning point came when I got a new job and had to endure a long commute for the first time in my career. After a year, I finally lost it on a hot August evening after sitting in traffic for more than 2 hours. When I finally got home, all I could do was drink wine and eye guzzle some Netflix crap that I had already consumed.

Barrier to entry

During the hot August days, I was eager to get on a bike (and out of traffic) no matter what the challenge. Hence, I faced my fears and focused on how I could incorporate a bike into my daily commute.

My challenges included:

  • Weather — I live in Seattle, known for its hills and rain
  • Hair — My Afro will not fit in a bike helmet
  • Community— Professional black women don’t ride bikes to work
  • Infrastructure — Sidewalks, bike trails, bus bike racks, roads with cars, cars
  • Gear — Can I wear my black lace bodycon dress on a bike?
  • Bike — Beach cruiser, mountain, road, carbon fiber, tricycle, fixie

Continue reading at her blog…

About Aviva Stephens

Aviva Stephens is a Seattle native and financial professional who discovered the benefits and joys of cycling on her challenging work commute between Ballard and the Eastside. Find more of her writing on Medium and follow her on Instagram at @avivarachelle.
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15 Responses to Aviva Stephens: How a bike saved my life

  1. kommish says:

    I love this! I have a stressful, sitting-job too, and have found my bike commute to be what keeps me human and pleasant for my loving family. As Aviva so beautifully puts it: the best part of my day is on my bike, “the moment in my day where I am liberated to breath, observe, and appreciate my life and the world around me.” So true, and something that feels more needed every day.

    Thanks, Aviva, and thanks Tom for giving space for her writing!

  2. Davepar says:

    Can we please stop invoking the “middle aged white men in lycra on carbon bikes” cliché. It’s offensive. That’s pretty much where I stopped reading, so whatever point you were trying to make is lost on me.

    • Gary Anderson says:

      No “in lycra” in her article. I’m an old retired white man (yes, with bike shorts) riding a nice carbon fiber bike and not just a weekend worrier (sp? warrior?). I think she is spot on. I took no offense — took it as an honest observation on her part. On my weekday rides I see a far greater diversity of people on two wheels than I’ve seen in the past. It’s all good.

    • Kimberly Kinchen says:

      One reason that image gets invoked is that for many years it is what kept a lot of people away from riding. I can’t speak for the author. But, for those of us who didn’t want to ride fast or aggressively, what place was there for us? For those of us who couldn’t afford pricey bikes and all the gear, or simply didn’t want to spend a small fortune on a bike, how would we fit in, and what bike shop could we go to to find something we could afford or liked?

      Most men, and particularly white men, don’t realize how unwelcoming they can make any environment for those who are not also men. You can choose to be offended when someone invokes a symbol of privilege, passive but very real exclusion, and even aggression. Or, you can ask yourself why people invoke that symbol in the first place and whether you are helping feed and reinforce that privilege, exclusion, and aggression.

    • Southeasterner says:

      I’m not sure about offensive but it’s definitely a cliche.

      Change the wording a bit – “I saw that the basketball community in Seattle had grown beyond aggressive pick-up games and young black men in Jordan’s and Golden State Jerseys (aka, Stephen Curry drones).”

      The problem with biking is you are comparing the sport of cycling with a transportation mode and trying to lump them together. The exact same problem that city planners and engineers continue to aggravate by trying to come up with infrastructure that supports a 2 year old going 3 mph on a balance bike, a competitive cyclist going 30 mph on a road bike and everyone in-between. It creates tension between various biking communities instead of cooperation.

      The cliche remarks miss the history. Road cyclists are the backbone of organizations like Cascade that bring in millions in revenue from organized road rides. That money is largely used in support of the broader cycling community, including investment and expansion of biking infrastructure primarily used by commuter and recreational cyclists and for initiatives like Major Taylor that reaches out to thousands of minority kids in the region and gets them interested and excited about cycling.

      The dumb cliches do nothing to encourage some of the great cooperation that is going on in the cycling community.

      The writer should learn more about the local cycling community and attend a few Cascade events to understand the meaning of community.

    • Gordon says:

      From one white dude to the others in this comment section: I encourage you to look around next time you are on a popular bike lane or trail. How many people look like you? Is it a majority of men? Is it a majority of white men? Is it a majority of white men with nice looking bikes? How might this kind of image of who cycles be off putting for people who don’t look like you, or can’t afford a nice bike? What might you do to help the bike movement (whether sport or transportation) be more inclusive?

    • Ben P says:

      I think there description is apt. I’ve seen plenty of cyclists matching that description. At 27, I’m nearing that myself. I am a white male with a professional job. I ride crabon in matching kit to work. Me favourite part of the description is “Road Warrior”. Keeping up with traffic on large roads requires bravery, muscle, and sharp reaction time. I think people use the description semi derisively because the MAMILs are not very relatable to many people who are otherwise interested in bikes. Anyhow, to the extent the term is dated is how far Seattle has come in making cycling mainstream. I remember biking in Seattle when I was a kid. People like Aviva and Tom, cliches or not, have made a huge positive impact on Seattle. We should thank them for that.

  3. Ballard Resident says:

    I’d like to know how she handled wearing a helmet and having an afro? That’s a pretty big challenge when you have don’t have straight hair. I need some tips.

  4. Stu says:

    I really cold see the value in this inclusive revelation about the evolution of cycling here and elsewhere. The idea of cycling for sport took on such a prominence that I certainly believe it deterred cycling rather than encouraged.

  5. Don Brubeck says:

    I don’t enjoy being profiled either. But if as a white man you are so offended by such mild profiling of the majority of bike riders as “bike messengers and white middle aged weekend carbon fiber road bike worriers,” (what she wrote, not what you said she wrote) that you stopped listening, then maybe you should spend some time thinking about what what white people have for quite some time called various people of color, and how the effects of that profiling compares to what you are experiencing. And start listening.

  6. Dave says:

    I love your comments, Aviva, love your story. I’m an old white guy who rides in lycra sometimes, particularly love your comments about yoga–best laugh I had all week–and hope you are a cyclist for life.

  7. Robert says:

    I’ll say this much…Some excellent points have been raised in the comments…how we should understand the evolution of diversity in the cycling community, and how the much maligned “white men in lycra” have both built the cycling community, and make it so uninviting at times.

    But for those proverbial “white men in lycra”, I only have one small, teensy, weensy request. I’m begging you. Please, for the love of God, can you say “On your left!” the next time you shave past me at 25 mph? Is that too much to ask? Or am I being too much of politically correct snowflake to ask something that will prevent serious injury for the both of us? You know who you are. We’re both on the Burke at 5pm. C’mon man, have some common courtesy.

    • Ben P says:

      I find people often do unpredictable things when I call out, including moving the exact wrong way. Also, many have told me they hate when people call out before passing. I try to pass as wide as possible, and if I need to pass close, I slow and say good morning if we make eye contact. I try to respect all, but I don’t think “on your left” polite or helpful.

  8. Gary says:

    At 8 miles a day, you must either live closer to work than “Ballard, to the Eastside” or you are doing the combo ride, with a bus for the fast cross lake transit. If so, it’s great that you can do that to make it work for you.

    Anyway, welcome to the club.

    As an old white guy, the only people I saw commuting to work via bicycle when I first moved to Seattle in ’80 was other young then white guys who looked as nuts as I must have looked. The bicycle infrastructure and the respect by drivers on the road has gotten so much better. And I rode because I was too poor to afford a car, and I liked it.

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