News / Edmonton

Cyclists form bonds with bikes, University of Alberta researcher finds

Researcher Karly Coleman wrote her master's thesis on how people's identities are connected to their bikes.

It turns out a bike is more than just an environmentally friendly, healthy way to get around the city, according to an Edmonton researcher.  

A bike can also be your buddy.

As part of her master’s thesis at the University of Alberta, researcher Karly Coleman interviewed 28 cycling enthusiasts to get a handle on how people’s identities are linked to their bicycles.

Coleman (a proud owner of 15 bikes) found the users formed strong bonds with their bikes, and in many cases were quite attached.

“They all really loved their way of getting around and how they can interact with the world as a consequence of the way they’re moving through it,” Coleman said.

The survey participants said they also got to know the city better as they were more likely to travel through small streets or back alleys.

“You know your neighbourhood intimately; you know the stop signs, the potholes, your neighbours, the dog that will brush the fence … It creates a way of knowing a place that is really, really strong,” Coleman said.

Because a cyclist is not stuck in their vehicle, they pay more attention to their surroundings, Coleman said. That leads to an even greater appreciation of the city.

For one interviewee, who hailed from England, riding a bike provided a sense of familiarity that he couldn’t find navigating the city in his car.

“Mostly, cars provide the skeleton that doesn’t connect you as intimately or as tangibly with your environment,” Coleman said. “In your car, it’s very unlikely that if you see your neighbour, you’ll stop your car and roll down your window and hold up a great deal of traffic to chat with them about their flowers.

“You’re not going to have those conversations.”

All of the people Coleman interviewed said they experienced a feeling of nostalgia when they cycle, which is another reason she believes people form an attachment to their bike.

“It does create a desire to ride it more frequently,” Coleman said. “You experience pleasurable memories of going out with your friends ... I think that’s why people are so devastated when they are stolen.”

Coleman is currently working on a PhD on how bicycle infrastructure is handled in cities. 

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