Guest Blog: Bicycling brings the freedom of choice
Cesar Olivas, a member of our RIDE committee, shares what bicycling means to him
This story was originally published in Ride Time News, our bi-annual print newsletter for members of Bicycle Colorado. Want to receive future editions of Ride Time News? Become a Bicycle Colorado member today.
In early September of 1997 I hopped on a bus in Pasadena, California and made my way to my first day of middle school. This bus was different than the one I was used to taking while in elementary school. It was painted black and white, I was the only kid on it and I had to pay for the ride. We were a one-car household, not by choice, and my parents were unable to drop me off at school due to their early work hours.
That first month of school I was late countless times. The bus was constantly late and, sometimes, it just wouldn’t show up. The unreliability of our city’s public transportation is what motivated my parents to allow me to bike the two-and-a-half miles to school instead of riding the bus.
For my parents, riding a bicycle still has a social stigma, but for me, it represents freedom and a choice I’ve actively made.
Here was an 11-year-old kid who was no longer limited to bus routes and unreliable bus schedules. A kid who had been given the freedom to be out in the world. A world that was begging to be explored. I would constantly change my bike routes to school and would navigate through different neighborhoods. I had a long route, a short route, a fast route and even what I called a scary route. I felt free and unbounded. The world had suddenly opened up to me, and I wanted to see it.
My family moved to Denver in 2003, the summer before my senior year of high school, and I continued commuting to high school and later in college, upgrading my bikes as I got older and always testing my abilities on a bicycle. I continue to test myself to this day. I have ridden over 150 miles in one day, accomplished my first 14er on two wheels, explored mountain trails and commute by bike every day.
The bicycle gave me a freedom that I would not have been able to experience without it. It was at first driven by necessity and there were times that I was looked down on because I rode a bike instead of driving a car. Especially in the car-centric world of Southern California. When riding no longer was a necessity but a choice, the way I felt about the bicycle expanded into more than a means of transportation. It became the healthy choice, the affordable choice, a pastime. The bicycle has an opportunity to mean so many things to so many different people.
Here was an 11-year-old kid who was no longer limited to bus routes and unreliable bus schedules. A kid who had been given the freedom to be out in the world.
Over 20 years have passed since I felt the world was opened to me because of a bike. But it wasn’t until I felt it was a choice and no longer a necessity that I felt truly empowered by a bike. Sure, as a kid I could explore my surrounding neighborhoods in ways I couldn’t before. But I also wasn’t at a legal age to drive or in position to afford a car, so this was the best and easiest way to get around. But as I got older it became a symbol of low socioeconomic status I had to endure through. To this day my parents still tell me that I don’t need to ride a bike. They struggle with the fact that their 11-year-old son needed to ride a bike to get to school because they couldn’t get him there and seeing me still riding a bike reminds them of such a time. For my parents, riding a bicycle still has a social stigma, but for me, it represents freedom and a choice I’ve actively made.
That empowerment of choice is what I have today and what my parents didn’t have those 20 years ago. Today I choose to ride, I choose to explore the Colorado mountains by single track, I choose to commute by bike, I choose to experience Colorado on a bike saddle. I choose.
– Cesar Olivas; Father, Son, Husband, Cyclist