I Don’t Bike in NYC. Do I Not Still Deserve to Find Love?
Every relationship voided because of a difference in biking ability is a policy failure.
11:00 AM EST on February 14, 2023
What terrible things about online dating can be said that haven't been already? For every friend that met their significant other via a dating app, there's another who was ghosted, or breadcrumbed, or orbited, or some other term that was made up by a 25-year-old on TikTok three months ago.
Yet in my years of being on and off the apps, no cringe, offensive or outright weird thing I've seen has haunted me quite like this response to a Hinge prompt, which I clocked sometime in the spring of 2021. "One thing I’ll never do again…" the prompt began, to which the man in question responded, "Date someone who can't ride a bike…microcosm of a larger issue(s)."
As a non-bike rider, this made me pause. Was my inability to comfortably ride a bike a minor inconvenience, or was it truly a microcosm of my larger issue(s)? More importantly, had it been fucking up my dating life without my knowledge?
If you stayed in New York City during the pandemic, you know that suddenly bikes were everywhere. (And if you didn't stay here, I don't want to hear about why, I don't care.) Bike traffic increased 33 percent between May and December 2020 when compared to the previous year. (The number of Instagram videos I watched taken from behind bike handlebars increased by 1,000 percent. Put your phones away while you ride! That's dangerous!) Friends who hadn't biked in years picked it back up like it was…well, riding a bike. Friends who were once, at best, casual bikers, eagerly made it their whole personality. It felt like there was a clear line between Those Who Could Bike Ride and Those Who Could Not.
In June 2020, a guy I was talking to, with whom I'd eventually have a doomed situationship, used a then-popular tweet format to post something along the lines of, "Boys will say they know a spot and then take you for a bike ride to Red Hook to watch the sunset and get key lime pie from Steve's." What was the height of romance to him would have resulted in an anxiety attack from me, at best, and at worst, my actual death. Only now, two years later do I have clarity: He was looking for someone who was so comfortable with their mortality that they'd risk their life for a first date. And that just isn't me.
In a city where a returned text in and of itself can feel like a marriage proposal, is someone's bike riding ability really that important? Unfortunately, yes.
While some cyclists like 34-year-old Caroline Golum chalk bike riding up to, as she put it, simply "extra points in the flesh market that is modern dating," others have real concerns about how they'd fare with non-riders in the long haul.
"I think if I met someone who didn't bike at all, it would be really hard for us to spend time together, because it's such a thing I love to do," Caroline Wood, 30, said; she met her girlfriend through the group NightCAP. (CAP stands for "Cyclists Against Patriarchy.")
Bike riders think riding speaks to a person's general character—their sense of adventure, their risk tolerance, their political views, and how they interact with New York City at large. A bike in a dating profile is more than a person's preferred mode of transportation; that bike symbolizes that they're leftist, that they care about climate change, that they're brave, altruistic, a perfect person. (OK, I might have added that last bit.)
State Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, 38, wrote to me about an ex she tried to teach to ride, but who was reluctant to learn.
"I started to think, wow, if this person is so rigid and unadventurous that they don't even want to experience something they haven't ever done, I'm not sure this is the person for me," Gallagher shared. "Eventually, I broke up with him, and he called me the next week and told me he had taken a bike riding class in the park, like that was going to get me back. This proved to me that he was primarily driven by fear rather than curiosity."
While this grand gesture might feel very "third act of a rom com," it was ultimately ineffective. "I could tell that someone who was already not a bike rider and not interested in even experiencing it would never be able to keep up with the life I wanted to have,” she told me.
When I asked 26-year-old Saeed Nassef if he could date a non-bike rider, he was skeptical: "Maybe very casually…but I imagine that if something were to get serious, they would have to bike."
Do I understand, in theory, that bike riding can be an indicator of other qualities? Yeah, sure. Do I think it's that deep? With apologies to my bike riding friends, absolutely not.
Plus there's this: As a friend put it to me via Twitter DM, "I wish I were a bike person, but I'm afraid of dying :(."
Per Transportation Alternatives, three cyclists have died in crashes this year; 17 were killed in 2022. More than 5,000 cyclists are injured each year in New York City. While biking surged in New York City during the pandemic, so did driving, with, according to one report, a 224 percent increase in car ownership in 2021.
Another important thing to consider other than death: Some people who love to ride bikes are really, really annoying about it.
"People who would talk about it were really into it, and they made a big point of how it was really important to them," Selina Lee, 33, said. "It made it seem as if it was, like, a total no-go." She paused. "Surely we can do other stuff together?" One would think, but one would be wrong.
Sean M., 33, described a recent date that hit a speed bump when he revealed he didn't ride.
"I joked, 'I guess that's just an incompatibility,' and she said, 'Yeah, it's not one you think about, like wanting to have children or religion or something, but I guess it does matter,'" he recalled. It was their third—and final—date.
I believe in learning to bike for yourself (how's that for the end of a rom com), and not for another person. I'd like to believe that if biking in New York City was safer, this would no longer be an issue dividing potential couples. In fact, I'd go as far to say that every relationship voided because of a difference in biking ability is a policy failure.
In the meantime, as winter and cuffing season linger on, there's at least one thing that unites us.
"There is something to be said for being on a train and making out," Golum told me. "Obviously making out in the back of a cab, I wouldn't trade for anything in the world."
Try doing that on a bike.
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