Can you recall feeling like you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed? Was it yesterday, last month, several years ago? For me, it had been awhile. Most winter mornings I motivated myself with the thought of fresh coffee. Those days, I didn’t get up because I felt an internal desire to. Coffee was my extrinsic motivation. Something outside myself drove me to the behavior. I did it for that hot cuppa.
When we choose a behavior because it satisfies us, our motivation is intrinsic. It feels natural.
That’s the feeling I rediscovered when I joined a cycling challenge this Spring. There was no promise of prizes or applause. I wanted to ride for the freedom I feel moving through the world by the power of my own two legs. Although I continued drinking coffee, it wasn’t my reason for rising anymore. I could hardly wait to get on my bike. Feeling powerful and independent motivated me to go farther, crank harder. I wasn’t competing or training for an event. Riding for sheer joy was everything.
When I biked to work or social events I was in integrity with my values. Choosing sustainable transportation felt right. And then there was snow. In April. Did I mention this is Minnesota? On those frigid days I wanted to stay in bed. Coffee wasn’t enticing enough. The taste of those first fair weather Spring days was fresh in my mind. Biking through snow was not appealing. Thankfully, I found motivation in an unexpected place. Social media.
The 30 Days of Biking challenge began in Minneapolis and spread around the world. Through hashtags and online groups, I connected with dedicated cyclists sharing experiences. Some were getting back on bikes after recovering from accidents. Others never before believed they could ride everyday. One couple had been cycling for over a thousand consecutive days. Their stories inspired me and I was motivated by people who said they were inspired by me.The longer my consecutive days of cycling streak became, the stronger my internal desire to keep going grew. Through rain and snow, I rode because I wanted to.
The challenge ended, but I’m still riding. Letting the power of pedaling move me toward new people and experiences feels natural. It’s who I am, a cyclist. It’s okay, even necessary, to depend on extrinsic motivation sometimes. Working for a paycheck lets us pay our bills. Rewarding ourselves with dessert can motivate us temporarily.
Ultimately though, intrinsic motivation defines who we are, what drives us from within.
When our actions light a fire inside, the reward is the act itself. Coffee, money, and cake become perks. Are you teaching for a paycheck, or are you a teacher? Do you cook to pay the rent, or are you a chef? The lines get blurry. Even when we’re doing what we love, there will be days when we do it for the coffee, and eat the cake too.
When I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota I was clueless about city culture. Growing up in North Dakota with six siblings did not prepare me for navigating the life of a single college girl, alone in a metropolis. The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul are many many times larger than any of the small rural towns I had lived in. I arrived green eyed, eternally hopeful, and way too cute for my own good (as they say). Naive was my middle name. Looking back, I sometimes marvel at how I thrived. Or at least, survived. Thankfully my positive energy attracted mostly good people and I’m creative enough to problem solve most unexpected situations.
As a child my nickname was Min, as in Minnie Mouse, because of my tiny size. I didn’t outgrow it. (Hey, I just revealed the origin of my username, min in the city). Settling into my dorm room, I felt worlds away from small town life, both physically and emotionally. There I was, feeling independent and free, yet directionless. I knew I wanted something more, but what?
My family gave me very little direction and a hearty helping of unnecessary fear. I recall a conversation with my sister about getting around the sprawling campus alone. I said I felt safer on my bike than on foot. Her response was that biking instead of walking wouldn’t keep me safer. A rapist could hide in the bushes, jab a pole into my wheel spokes as I passed, and attack me when I fell off my bike. Thanks for the pep talk, sis. I get it, sort of. None of my family members had lived alone in a city this size. How could I, the littlest? And why would I want to? All they saw here was too much traffic. But I saw opportunity. Stepping out of the little box I was raised in, beyond my comfort zone, growing.
After several years of living at Minneapolis addresses, this city was becoming an important part of my identity. When I accidentally moved to St Paul, it was weird realizing I’d become so attached. The University of Minnesota is immersed in the city and it’s not obvious where the Minneapolis and St Paul campuses begin and end. When my future roommates and I chose our apartment I didn’t realize it was just outside Minneapolis city limits. So, for one year, I had a St Paul address. I never connected, though. No offense STP. My heart is in MSP. My favorite city lakes and parks, bikes shops, restaurants, co-ops, and other local businesses are here. I never felt a strong sense of place as a child because we moved to different parts of North Dakota. Finally, I understand why people express pride in their home city.
Although I wasn’t the passionate cyclist I am today, I loved experiencing city life on two wheels. No need for gas stations stops or parallel parking skills! After years of grinding on pavement with my mountain bike, I met a changemaker. This guy chased me down the Greenway bicycle path. I on rollerblades, he on bike, we introduced ourselves. Thankfully I said yes to meeting for a bike ride several days later. Now he’s my favorite guy. And more to the point of this story, that ride motivated me to get a bike more suitable to riding on pavement. I sold my mountain bike and never looked back.
It seems obvious now, but I didn’t know any cycling enthusiasts until I met him. I didn’t get it. I thought there were bicycle riders like me, and cyclists who wore spandex, clipped their shoes to the pedals and showed up everywhere drenched in sweat. I was NOT a cyclist. I was a girl who rode bikes… I’m so grateful I started exploring various riding styles and began my journey to where I am today. Sometimes I am that cyclist clad in spandex, clipped in, and wiping sweat out of my eyes. Sometimes I commute and do errands by bicycle. Sometimes I go on joyrides to my favorite places. And approximately once per year I saddle up and ride a century (100 miles in a day) just because I can.
Thinking back to small town life when I wanted five children, or my college years when I studied Elementary Education, I never dreamed I’d become a cyclepreneur.Cycling entrepreneur. Sharing my love of cycling and sustainable transportation with the world is everything that girl never knew she wanted.
Flat tires, forgotten wallets, blizzards, thunderstorms, road ragers, dead cell phones… How do these problems affect cyclists differently than car drivers? I’ve learned first-hand the determination it takes to triumph, or at least survive, on two wheels. Some call it grit. Since selling my car and living a more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve felt it.
I’ve experienced two tire blowouts driving cars. [I’m using the word “car” to refer to any four-wheeled motor vehicle]. Thankfully I veered into shallow ditches, not oncoming traffic, or a tree. No one was seriously injured although my heart nearly stopped. I waited comfortably in the car until help arrived in one case. The next time, I locked the car and left it to be towed later. No grit required. When a bicycle tire goes flat, you can’t sit comfortably or lock the doors and walk away. You have to carry your vehicle along, at least far enough to safely lock it up. If you remembered your bike lock. I’ve learned to bring a spare tire tube and tools. I’m learning to change a flat myself.
When I owned vehicles, I kept “emergency cash” and a spare credit card locked in the glove compartment. I knew I’d drive somewhere without my wallet and need food or gas. Or to pay for parking. There is no lockable secret compartment on my bicycle to stash cash or hide credit cards. I could zip them in a bag attached to the bike frame. Risk theft if I locked my bike in a public space and walked away, forgetting about the back-up money? No thanks. Remember, this situation assumes I forgot my main wallet at home. I clearly can’t be trusted to remember everything, everytime. This lesson is a hard one and I’m still learning. Earlier this week I was out riding later than planned and my stomach started growling. When I finally pedaled to a favorite source of cycling fuel (Taco Cat, for the locals) I noticed a feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. That sinking feeling when you realize you forgot your wallet and you really want to eat NOW. By the time I grudgingly pedaled home, I had gone from hungry to hangry. Be thankful you weren’t there!
This is an actual weather term here in Minnesota. Most commonly during Spring, we experience storms with a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, hail, lightening and thunder. When “thunder snow” is forecast, any type of precipitation could accompany the BOOMING! As a car driver, you can pull over and wait out the storm, maybe play some games on your smartphone. If it’s not too severe, you can slowly drive home, no raincoat or goggles required. When your vehicle is a bicycle, you are in it. I’ve ventured out in exciting weather, experimenting with goggles and other gear. Finding my personal edge is exhilarating. There’s grit, and then there’s reckless abandon. For cyclists in Minneapolis, it’s a fine line. I am regularly humbled by riders I see killing it in weather conditions that sent me pedaling for home as fast as my legs could move. Or trudging along pushing my bike because the snow was too deep to ride. (I don’t have a fat tire bike - yet!) When the limits of my being and my bike have been reached, there is always someone out there grinding along. At least until a 50 mph gust of wind knocks them to the ground.
Angry drivers are dangerous regardless of how many wheels your vehicle has. For me, road rage feels more threatening on two wheels because many car drivers target cyclists. Like toddlers, they don’t want to share. But, I have to share roads to get from A to B. Sure, when I’m out for a joyride, Minneapolis has an excellent trail system. Can the bike fly from my garage to the bicycle trail? What about pit stops? When a bicycle is your vehicle, you ride to work, grocery stores, friend’s houses… not just on bike trails. Some roads have “bike lanes.” To many drivers, they are little more than painted art on pavement, ignored or unnoticed. Well intentioned bike lanes are frequently blocked by illegally parked cars, delivery vehicles, or waiting taxis. During winter, the bike lanes are often covered with the snow plowed out of vehicle lanes. It has to go somewhere. This is Minnesota. When angry drivers swerve to within inches of cyclists, or intentionally hit us, we have very little protection. A high quality helmet offers some. Our vehicles have not received five star safety ratings and are not equipped with air bags.
The dreaded dead cell phone battery. In a car, you can likely plug your phone into a power source while continuing to drive toward your destination. Or, in many cases, stop to buy a charging cord at a gas station without major inconvenience. Traveling by bicycle, it takes a bit more preparation to charge a portable power source and pack it along. Most likely, if the battery dies you’ll have to survive without a phone until your own pedal power takes you to another charging option. A place with an electrical outlet can be few and far between on long bicycle tour routes. I’ve persuaded staff at coffee shops and restaurants to give my phone a little juice when I forgot my own cord. It’s a great conversation starter… The most vulnerable experience I’ve had with a low phone battery was while riding the last ten miles of a century (100 miles in a day). I was alone, long after sunset, on an unfamiliar route from Brainerd to Bemidji. Living in a huge city, I often forget how dark it is in rural areas without light pollution. During those (literally) dark miles, I fought feelings of dread by repeating positive affirmations and forcing myself to keep pedaling. In the end, I felt independent, brave, and gritty. Next time, I think I’ll bring a back-up charger though 😉
A bit of advice before wrapping this article up: If you enjoy cycling, I recommend you go without your phone at least once. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling to move through the world by the power of your own two legs – without worrying about your battery level, stopping for selfies, or measuring your mileage with an app. The same advice applies to runners, hikers, and really everyone. It feels like FREEDOM!
Bonus photo:How to get your slice of pizza home when cycling without a bag!
*All photos are my own, featuring me and my bikes, on cycling adventures.
Share your car-free experiences in the comments! I’m intending to blog regularly and would love to connect.