Lapsed cyclist returns to riding during COVID-19 pandemic

“As soon as I hopped on my bike, I sounded like a 12-year-old again. I said, ‘Now I can go biking with my friends!’”

By Greg Basky

Rachel Fritzler remembers growing up riding bikes around the family farm, to town and back, exploring dirt roads, and zipping around at the lake in the summer with friends. That relationship with two-wheeled fun ended when she moved to Saskatoon at 18. “I didn’t touch my bike because I was very uncomfortable and unfamiliar with biking in the city,” says Fritzler, now a physiotherapist at Royal University Hospital. While her bike came with her to Saskatoon, it sat unused, collecting dust. Eventually, between moves, she lost her old friend.  

This spring, at age 30, Fritzler decided to give cycling another shot. She wanted to try driving less; Rachel doesn’t much enjoy driving. Fritzler figured she could save some money, protect the environment, and get her fitness fix. “I was mulling it over, thinking about it once COVID hit, and decided I would give biking a bit of a try because the streets were a lot less busy,” says Fritzler. “That was way more appealing to me to give it a try.”

Fritzler didn’t rush right out to buy another bike. Instead she borrowed a friend’s early 2000s Trek mountain bike and did a few short, easy rides around her Stonebridge neighborhood. The borrowed steed wasn’t a comfortable fit. But it rekindled a spark.

“I found myself smiling on my bike and enjoyed being outside and getting around and just getting back into it.”

After doing some online research, and testing out her boyfriend’s late model hybrid on a few errands, she ordered herself a new Cannondale hybrid through Bike Doctor in April. “I definitely wanted to buy local,” says Fritzler. Her new purple pal arrived in late May.

She has a ton of friends who ride outside and a sister and brother-in-law who really got into biking last year. “As soon as I hopped on my bike, I sounded like a 12-year-old again. I said, ‘Now I can go biking with my friends!’” 

Rachel hasn’t ridden to work yet — she’s still carpooling. But she’s planning to swap in a few commutes by bike each week. She’s already done some test runs up Preston Street, then hopped on the pathway along 14th; it takes her around 22 minutes door to door. She’s surprised that even new neighborhoods like Stonebridge aren’t more bike friendly. “The overpass from Preston to Stone Bridge…there’s no easy way through there. “The bike paths around the river are great though. I have some friends who live in Evergreen. It’s great because they have either a path through parks or routes down Central to take, but not everyone’s quite that lucky.” 

Comfort with city riding increasing 

“I definitely still have to make myself a little bit more comfortable on the street, especially now that more people are driving again and going back to work.” While Fritzler still feels more comfortable riding with a partner, her confidence riding solo is growing with each trip out on two wheels. 

Touch wood, she hasn’t had any bad experiences out there yet —  beyond the odd driver who “hovers” behind her, rather than simply pulling around to pass. She’s glad to be getting acquainted with city riding while traffic is somewhat quieter. “It’s been pretty good so far. I’ve been lucky with it being a little less busy. However, I have an inkling that will change with more traffic out. And I’ll be quite honest, I am a little bit particular about the times I go out so far and the routes I take.”

Fritzler says she’s brushed up on cycling etiquette, though she wonders how many drivers know those same rules. “I make sure my head is on a swivel, for lack of a better term. I’m being very aware, you know, noticing what cars are doing. I think I just know more about the rules and how to make myself feel more comfortable: shoulder checking behind, looking ahead, making sure that there are no opening car doors, just little things that I wouldn’t even have thought of before.” 

Fritzler is happy to be back in the saddle again — even if it took a pandemic to put her there. And she’s noticed that she’s not alone. “I’m definitely not the only person that’s getting back into biking. It’s amazing to look around even your neighborhood or just around the trails around the river and just how many people are biking and the variation in ages. It’s awesome!”

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