In honor of National Bike Month, we brought you the Why I Ride series. This month, in anticipation of the National Women’s Bicycling Summit in Long Beach, Calif., we’re bringing you the Women Who Ride series to showcase the presenters and organizers of this first-ever event.
In addition to serving on the Women’s Summit steering committee, Fionnuala Quinn is a board member for Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a licensed civil engineer working for Alta Planning + Design, and an advocate on a range of bicycling infrastructure issues in her suburban community.
“People who spent their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms.” ~ Flann O’Brien
I started riding my bicycle the four miles to school back in 1974 when we had a nine-week bus strike in Dublin. But it really wasn’t until college that a bicycle became how I got absolutely everywhere. Looking back, I took the enjoyment of cycling for granted, but now that is something I truly value. Decades have passed and I suspect that I might have developed a touch of ‘‘bicyclosis.” This is a condition identified by Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman, which refers to a process of molecular interaction by which people who ride bicycles “get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles.” Even if I do have a case of bicyclosis, it’s pretty harmless and “a little of it is a good thing and makes you hardy and puts iron on to you.” Yer all suitably warned.
“There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met” ~ William Butler Yeats
Mostly, I ride because it’s my favorite way of getting around. I like seeing street life and buildings at the pace that I can take them in and I enjoy the everyday encounters with other people as I travel. In my college days back in Dublin, I would chatter the rest of the ride in with pals I happened upon on the way. Today, it’s more likely to be at a stop on the street to catch up with one of the neighbors. Plus, living here in the Virginia suburbs, there are always the unexpected nature encounters, which add to the small dramas of being a cyclist. Just last week, I had to move a turtle to the side of the road and saw a deer with only one antler.
“The bicycle is a great good” ~ Samuel Beckett
Call me an old fogey, but I dislike inefficient design. I come from sensible stock and cycling feels like the practical way to get places. The bicycle itself is an impressive device and, with all the parts at work, it leaves you feeling like a more competent and capable person for having gotten yourself somewhere. This isn’t to say you won’t find me ferrying teenagers around the suburbs in my mini-van. But I like to arrange my life so that, when I can and as much as I can, I bike instead. It’s fast and it’s cheap and just seems like a Good Thing. I should officially note here that any and all money saved by using a bike is completely negated by husband’s purchases of fancy electronic devices for his bike. However, I figure that one way or the other between the two of us, we still come out ahead.
“On my tenth birthday a bicycle and an atlas coincided as presents and a few days later I decided to cycle to India.” ~ Dervla Murphy
While I can only wish to be even a tiny bit as daring as Dervla Murphy, bicycling does add adventure and exhilaration to everyday life far more than my mini-van ever has. The act of cycling has gone from being completely unremarkable in my Dublin days to where it can, at times, cause me to be regarded as almost the seventh wonder of the world when I arrive on two wheels instead of four. Reading through the many personal comments submitted through the APBP Women Cycling Survey, many spoke of consciously considering themselves a role model and wanting to encourage other women to cycle too, something I hadn’t really thought about. I now ride knowing that women who see me may realize that lots of trips are already bikable in our community: most of our trips are short and there are already many suitable areas to safely and comfortably ride to get places. In the meantime, I also ride thinking about how to fix and improve those areas that are not safe, suitable and comfortable for riders like me.
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.