Boston Bike Story: Eliana Golding

Eliana Golding, Jamaica Plain

How do you identify?

I am a queer woman, I am white, I am a daughter, sister, pal, student, and I guess I’m an organizer. Those are the things that are important to me. Oh, man! I’m also Jewish! 

I just love biking. And I also like, I don’t particularly identify with bike culture. I was trying to think, I don’t feel like — I don’t hang out in bike shops. This is another thing. I’ve taught myself a lot of things about my bike because I didn’t want to have to go to a shop. One time, my derailleur was making noise and I didn’t know what a derailleur was really. I took my entire derailleur system apart on my bike — accidentally. I was not meaning to do that, but I was like, “oh, I should unscrew this screw, and move it” — took it all apart. And then I was like, “oh shit, now I took my entire like, gears, mechanics apart.”  I took off the stuff, and so I had to put it back together. And I did. 

What is your bike story? 

When I was in college, it seemed like the easiest way to get to class, so I biked places. I lived in Cleveland one summer, and then Boston one summer. I didn’t have a car, and biking was the way that I got around. I think those summers were when I learned to bike in a city, because I had to. It’s my favorite mode of transportation.

I’ve found in every city that I’ve lived in and biked in, it is often the fastest way to get places. And I, for some reason, am really obsessed with getting places fast

Tell me about your relationship with your bike.

Oh my god, I love my bike. It feels like an extension of my body. You know? I always have this moment when I’m biking more than a few minutes at a time where I’m like, “Oh, this is so much more fun than any other form of transportation!” Having spent so much time on my bike, there’s a level of comfort. And because of the mechanics of the bike, and how I’m operating it. My legs are operating the pedals, and my hands are operating the brakes and the gears and whatever, and it just feels like it’s a part of my body. It’s just sort of an extension of what I do. And it’s really fun. 

I biked to Walden Pond a few weeks ago with a couple friends, and when we got there someone said something like, “Wow, we got here with our very own bodies.” We didn’t walk here, but our human body power plus this like tool, this machine, this mechanical thing that we got here with. It was really cool. Every time I ride in Somerville after having biked there from here [JP], I’m like, “I got here! I did it!” 

Yeah, I love my bike. I feel really attached to it. Even though I have to fix the gears or whatever. 

You started biking again as an adult. What made you think to start biking again? Why did you stop and start up again?

I grew up in the suburbs — a rural suburb — so bike rides were intentional bike rides. When I was really little, we used to bike up and down the street with our neighbors, and that was really fun. But there wasn’t really anywhere to go. 

Then [as an adult] it became utility. It wasn’t just fun. It became utility when I was getting to class, or getting to my job. It just made the most sense. It’s cheapest; I don’t have to pay anyone to get on my bike. I guess I have to pay for repairs when it breaks, which it does, but I don’t have to refill its gas. 

Here’s another thing about identity. When I was biking to and from work this summer, for the first time in a while, I had negative feelings about other bikers that made me grumpy. I would take the southwest corridor most of the way to work. It’s not very wide, so in the morning when there was a lot of traffic on it, people are bunched up together. There’s a particular type of man on a bike who is really convinced that he is faster and a better biker than everyone else, and who does everything he can to get around the group.

I find that really frustrating, because 1) It is almost never true that he is faster and more capable than the crew, and 2) It feels dangerous, it feels unfair. If you’re in a car in traffic, you’re not trying to weave around, right? Something just made me really annoyed about that. And I was thinking: What does it mean to be a considerate biker, to be a considerate person in a bike community, if that’s something that exists? So it made me more conscious of the way I bike, and when I’m passing people, I’m doing it nicely and not in an aggressive or huffy-puffy way, which is sort of what it would feel like when some people would pass me. But yeah, I was jokingly like, “We should have women-only bike days.”

It’s just like, the infrastructure sucks. There’s parts of it where like the pavement is really sucky, and like delivery vehicles have to park in the bike lane. It’s just like we’re set up to fail. Maybe we’re set up to hate each other because we all have to share space, in a way where no one actually feels super safe.

What advice would you have for someone who hasn’t started biking, but is maybe interested in it?

My friend, Katie, taught a bunch of people in our cohort how to ride bikes. She would get the [bike-share] bikes and put the seats all the way down so your feet would touch the ground, and  you’d use your feet to glide. That’s how you’d learn to feel comfortable with the weight balance. I thought that was so cool. So, my advice would be: Find Katie, and have her teach you how to ride. 

But honestly, my biggest piece of wisdom about this is that confidence is really important. And I feel that about driving too, in Boston. Asserting your presence is okay. It takes a while to get there, because it’s scary to bike in traffic. People are not trying to be nice to you on the roads. But sometimes you just have to assert that you are there. 

The piece to go along with that is if you’re afraid to start, or if you’re nervous about it or haven’t done it before, find a pal who will bike your route with you. Having someone with me to bike certain routes, even if I’d done it before, made me feel a lot more confident. Now, I just do it.

Is there anything that you wish people knew about biking in Boston?

I wish drivers were more kind.  Drivers sometimes just like arbitrarily yell at me, and I’m not even in their way. I’m like, there’s no possible way that I’ve interfered with your life, but you’ve taken time out of your life to yell at me. And it’s happened multiple times, where I’m like, this is confusing, what do you want? 

So I wish people would just let me be a little bit, let bikers be. And I think this goes for everyone: Just be more aware of your surroundings.