Guest Post: Biking with Out-of-Towners

Please welcome our guest blogger Elysha Jones. Elysha and her family love biking and live in a car-light household. Elysha tells a great story about having out-of-town guests and showing them how awesome biking in Madison can be. Especially for those of us who already regularly ride, it is easy to forget how others perceive biking—dangerous, weird, requiring special gear, not for families, and so on. Elysha's post puts this in perspective and reminds us that getting around by bike in Madison is pretty convenient and fun. Thanks for sharing, Elysha!

A little background on us: Scott, my husband, and I were both born and raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO. During a visit to Amsterdam we fell in love with the biking life. But back home in the suburbs we found that we couldn’t bike everywhere like the Dutch did. So we decided to move some place more bike/pedestrian friendly, and Madison fit the bill for us. For five years now we have called Madison home, and we haven’t looked back. 

This past weekend our friends from St. Louis came to visit. Weeks before the visit I talked with Becky about all the stuff we could do here, and I kept mentioning that biking would really be the best way to go to all the different places. She was very skeptical and told me she wasn’t sure she could handle biking with her two kids (ages ten and eight). I told her I have a bakfiets and could borrow a long tail bike from a friend. Another excuse for Becky not wanting to bike was curbs: Becky was sure there would be curbs that we would have to maneuver. So on one of my many errands by bike I stopped every now and then to take pictures of the bike trails and streets they intersect with and sent them to her. Again she worried: What should she wear while biking?! She didn’t own “bike clothes” and neither did her husband. And again I tried to reassure her by taking pictures of me in my “biking” outfits, that is, just regular clothes. Still, Becky remained unconvinced and tried one more excuse: Her husband, he didn’t want to bike at all. He thought it was really weird and had no desire to do it all. So I hatched a plan to convince him it was normal to bike around in Madison. 

When they got into town, on Friday, we took them out to dinner. We live just a bit off of Atwood, and so we walked down to Glass Nickel Pizza and then walked from there to the Chocolate Shoppe. I made sure we walked down the bike path. I wanted to normalize biking as much as I could. I also made sure to point out all the “regular” people biking by and the Bicycle Benefit stickers at all the places we went to and explaining to them what they get for that little sticker on their helmet. Finally, we got back to our house and they were a bit unsure of biking still. But I could tell: At this point they were at least thinking of it as a possibility. I thought it would be best if I showed the kids the bikes they could ride on and let the grownups see our bikes too.  I opened our garage door and told them to go ahead and pick out bikes that would work for them. They had a blast in our mini bike shop. They all picked out bikes and we went for a quick ride around our neighborhood. There was a lot of laughter and cheering. It seemed like my plan was working!

Saturday morning I suggested we bike to the farmers market on the Square. They all agreed, and the 12 of us made our way downtown. Our friends were impressed by the bike paths and the bike elevator and cars stopping for us! After walking around the Square I suggested we bike down State Street to the Union Terrace. Again, this was a huge surprise to them: a street just for bikes and special vehicles! They loved the Union too, and when we got home and they realized they had biked 12 miles round trip, they were all pleasantly surprised. “It didn’t seem that long!” 

On Sunday I suggested we go to the zoo and I said whoever wanted to drive could and whoever wanted to bike could. All the kids wanted to bike, and my friend’s husband wanted to bike too!!  Even though he said he was a bit sore from all the biking the day before, he still chose biking over driving! So we all biked to the zoo and then on to Ella’s Deli for ice cream. Their kids chatted about how they wanted to live in Madison when they got older, and our friends were able to see how and why biking was such a big part of our lives. It was a huge success and made us really appreciate the biking infrastructure that Madison has.

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