As a Master of Public Health candidate at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, Rachel Usher knows the importance of staying active. She makes the two-mile commute from her apartment in North Druid Hills to Emory’s campus on her bike daily. She started biking while she an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, so when her work schedule after graduation made biking impossible, she really missed it.
For Rachel, biking to school gave her the opportunity to be physically active without having to think about it. She didn’t have to plan additional time into her day to get some exercise because she had already planned the commute time. So, when she planned to return to school as a master’s student, she knew that finding an apartment where she could bike to school was a top priority.
Now, Rachel is happy to be back on her bike. Even still, there are always challenges to biking. Rachel says that choosing a bike commute means that she must be more intentional in her planning. It means that she is checking the weather forecast regularly to make sure that she has the appropriate gear she will need which, she says, is key to sticking to her commitment to biking each day. For Rachel, a big positive is that Emory has lockers and showers to help her feel refreshed after a hot morning ride. If she knows that she won’t have access to a shower, Rachel says that she brings basics like deodorant or a clean shirt to make sure she is still comfortable during the day.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about biking for Rachel is how it makes her feel: powerful.
While riding a bike on the road can feel vulnerable or nerve-wracking, especially for new riders, Rachel says that there is something profoundly important to her about taking up space alongside the cars. Rachel says that “biking is a way of claiming space in the world and owning my body and my fitness.”
Above all, Rachel wants to see other people feel empowered by and excited about biking. For her, biking has the potential to not only be good for the environment, and physical and financial health, but it can be a space to promote equity and opportunity.
But that doesn’t mean that she is totally comfortable – many times she isn’t. Rachel admits that she still isn’t totally comfortable riding on streets where the car speed or shoulder width are concerning. That’s why she says that community is so important. In her academic work and personal life, Rachel has found that having a solid community is fundamental to behavior change. For individuals who may not feel comfortable biking for whatever reason, having other people who they can identify with and who are willing to help them feel confident are key. Members of the biking community, she says, can give you tips for everything from finding good routes to signaling and gear, and “bikers are so willing [to help] and excited to see other people on bikes.”
That’s why she says: “I’m incredibly proud to be a woman on a bike.”