Bike to Wherever Day is just around the corner, and every year we highlight a member of our community that embodies the joy of biking and inspires others to ride a bike. Meet Hansel Palarca-Reiva, our 2023 Bike Champion of the Year. Read more about how Hansel got into biking and why it’s so special in his life, and get inspired to bike to wherever on May 18!
Tell us about yourself and how biking is part of your life here in the Bay.
I actually learned to ride a bike as an adult, and I have the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Adult-Learn-To-Ride class to thank for helping me get started. I still consider myself pretty new to biking as it’s been just about a year now that I’ve been able to actually ride a bike. I’m enjoying seeing how my skills have grown over the past 12 months, and car-free spaces like JFK Promenade have been crucial to my growth as a cyclist. Having grown up in San Francisco, I thought I already knew a lot about the city, but riding a bike around town is a totally different experience that has helped me discover new layers of an already vibrant and complex urban landscape. I took the SF Bicycle Coalition class in May of 2018, and although I could not ride a bike after one lesson, I felt so inspired that I immediately bought a bike to commit myself to learning. However, I lived on Church and Market at that time, and there was really nowhere for someone at my skill level to practice easily and safely. It was not until the pandemic and the advent of Slow Streets/car-free streets that my skill level really took off.
Where’s your favorite place to bike in the city?
I have a personal affinity for Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park because I grew up in the Outer Sunset and have many memories attached to that part of town, so the Great Walkway is basically my cycling church. However, San Francisco itself is such an exhilarating place to ride that I can’t just pick one favorite place to bike in the city. Aside from leisure/therapy rides, I love doing simple things by bike that I used to rely on a car for, such as picking up groceries or performing my job as a Social Worker, conducting home visits all over the city.
I just wish there was connected, safe, protective infrastructure throughout the city so that I could reach all parts of town at my skill level without fear. I am so thankful for things like Slow Streets because they have been instrumental in my ability to expand on my cycling map. Without Slow Streets and car-free streets, I would probably not be riding a bike as often as I do now, which is nearly daily.
How do you bring the joy of biking to your community?
When I was a public school teacher, one of the strategies I learned and employed often is “modeling,” which basically just means showing by doing. One of the challenges I faced when I was first learning to ride a bike, which I still struggle with now at times, is feeling embarrassed or feeling like an impostor, because my idea of a “cyclist” growing up did not necessarily match what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I’d like to think that I try to spread the joy of biking in my own small way by doing it often and having a lot of fun while doing it, so that someone like me may be inspired to give it a shot despite their trepidation and fear. I now have two bikes (which still shocks me), both of which are step-through, because when I first went to shop for a bike, I was told that “step-throughs are for women” so I said, “f*** that patriarchal bullshit” and got a step-through. Cycling for sport/competition is amazing and inspiring, and I’m not trying to knock that, but bike joy is not limited to Strava segments or timed trials. Riding an upright steel bike around town is truly a spiritual experience. I’ve said to people before that my bike is the best therapist I’ve ever met, and riding my bike has produced a lot of positive outcomes for my physical/mental health. Riding my bike innately brings me a lot of joy just from the act of doing it, and I hope that the joy I emit can help spread some light in some teeny tiny way in my little corner of the universe.
I also try to stay engaged with local activism as much as my time and energy will allow so that we as a city can continue to make progress towards becoming a more bikeable place to live for all types of people.
Any words of encouragement to folks that want to start riding a bike in our city?
I know that the idea of learning to ride as an adult is terrifying, embarrassing, and intimidating. The joy that awaits you is truly worth the struggle, and I say all this from personal experience. You are not alone.
Get ready for Bike to Wherever Day with us, and stay tuned for more info on where to find us and other fun stuff we have in store!