Slow Cycling Gains Momentum: 5 Ways to Slow Down
There's a new cyclist in town, and he's eschewing spandex and speed for comfy clothes and picnics. Slow cycling — intentionally setting out for a leisurely ride, with the goal of socializing and exploring — has become organized. Groups have cropped up in cities all over the U.S. as the slow cycling movement has picked up speed, and some even vie for last place in slow bicycle races.
Though bicycling at a leisurely pace is nothing new, organized rides have traditionally been the domain of those riders looking for a serious workout. But as urban transportation changes more and more Americans are taking to their bicycles as means of everyday transport, increasing the number of competent but casual cyclists on the road.
"It’s getting really expensive to drive in the city," says Sarah Murray, founder of Chicago's Slow Bicycle Society, where dapper duds are preferred over lycra, and speed is capped at 8 mph. "To have something to do where you’re kind of getting around by bicycle and meeting different people is a win all the way around. It’s just an easy thing to do."
When Murray started cycling, she was eager to share her new hobby with others, but had trouble finding her place in the bicycling community.
"I stopped driving, and I was exuberant about my new bicycling world," she says. "I looked to see what groups I could join to sort of get in the mode and meet people, and everything was for fast [riders]. They’d say 'Oh, we’re having a slow ride, it’ll be 15 miles per an hour.'"
Murray began gathering her friends for slow rides to restaurants, bars, and picnic spots, taking their time to socialize and explore the city. The rides caught on, and now the official Facebook group boasts 343 members of varying ages and backgrounds.
"People are usually excited to participate [in part] because they’re afraid to cycle in the city — and that’s one of my goals, to get people not afraid to ride their bicycles in the city," Murray says. "The streets are theirs too, and it’s so much better for the environment to jump on your bike to ride to Target versus getting in your car to go half a mile."
Thinking of taking up slow cycling? Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Choose a comfy bike. Racing-style bikes have low handlebars that will leave you with a sore back after a long, leisurely ride. If possible, find a cruiser or other upright frame to take slow cycling.
2. Stay safe. While you may not be rocketing down hills, safety still comes first on your bike. Bring your helmet, make sure to stop and signal at lights, and consider your clothes. Long, flowy skirts or loose pantlegs can still get caught in gears, even at a slow speed.
3. Choosing a theme isn't necessary, Murray notes, but it certainly is fun. Some groups choose costumes, themed destinations, or specific geographic areas to explore as a way to bring their riders together. "The goal is to create community," she says.
4. Remember to share the road, especially when in groups. Leave room for others to pass, and be prepared for faster cyclists to do so.
5. Keep an open mind, and welcome newcomers to your group. "There’s space for everybody on the road," Murray says. "You don’t have to be any particular type of cyclist, just show up and ride."
Editor's note: Though the photo above depicts young people riding without head protection, we recommend always wearing bike helmets.
— Image via iStockphoto/