Riding a bicycle is so much fun, and so good for the individual and the society he or she lives in. I'm thrilled that it's gaining popularity.
One of the things that is holding people back from cycling is their limited view of what it's for. It turns out that there are lots of reasons, and they're all great.
1. FitnessLots of people cycle for fitness, either on the road or on a stationary exercise bike. It's great for cardiovascular health.
2. AthleticsMost people think of bicycling for athletic reasons in terms of racing. Racers tend to have light, expensive ten speed "road bikes" (with no fenders, kickstands, or baskets) and wear spandex designed to look like it's got corporate logos on it. They bike for energy efficiency and speed. Distance cycling is related. I don't wear spandex, but I don't knock people who do. For long rides it helps a lot in terms of undercarriage comfort.
Racing and Distance biking on road bikes.
But racing is not the only kind of athletic biking. Mountain biking is cycling in the wilderness. Up and down mountains, through trails, etc. Mountain bikes have knobby tires and shock absorbers.
BMX bikers are like the skateboarders of the cycling world. They cycle obstacle courses, skate parks, and random structures in the streets. It's best to see it on video (it's long, you don't have to watch the whole thing to get the idea): http://youtu.be/7Dw5BAZJuqk
3. RecreationBiking is a hell of a lot of fun, no matter why you're doing it. Cyclists who bike for fun tend to have upright, "Dutch-style" bikes with fenders and baskets. They will go for a bike ride on sunny days, maybe packing a picnic.
Recreational cycling. Note that every single one of them is wearing their helmet incorrectly. It should be about mid-forehead, so that the helmet is not tilted. Of course, they really shouldn't be wearing helmets at all.
4. TransportationThis is the reason I wish more people in America and Canada would appreciate. It means that the bike is used to get places. When you need to go places, you often need to carry things, so panniers (the little bags that connect to a rack on the back of the bike) or baskets are handy.
Note the high heels. It's actually easier to bike on heels than it is to walk on them.
Serious load-hauling requires a cargo bike. There are lots of different kinds.
Isn't this adorable? Makes me want a bike like this. Then I'd have to have a child to justify the purchase.
5. ConclusionI've tried to hit the broad categories here. If I've missed any, please comment.
If you're not a cyclist, and you have not really ridden on a bike since you learned to drive, please just leave your worries behind and take a bike ride. You can probably rent one somewhere. It's safe, it's good for you, and you will feel a rush of pleasure.
People get hung up on the athletic reason for cycling, and think they need high end gear to get started. You don't.
You don't need a $1500 bike, you don't need spandex, you don't need a helmet. Just get on a bike and start riding.
When you feel how much fun it is, you'll find your own reason.
Pictured: In the summer, Ottawa closes several roads on Sunday morning for cyclists and in-line skaters. This is a picture I took on Colonel By drive. It's great, and I am so glad they're doing it. However, it's a result of, and reinforces the idea that cycling is not for transportation. Ottawa is basically saying "We'll let the bikers have the road at the time when they are least likely to need the road to get anywhere."