selfaware soup

Esther Weidauer

Back to School - at 25 km/h

I'm a student again, and I'm riding an electric bike now.


Photo of a black bicycle with a red bag mounted on the rear rack, standing on Tempelhof Airfield on a sunny day

Two major changes have happened in my life. I’ll start with the one that came unexpectedly.

I’ve been riding bikes ever since I was a kid, even though I learned it relatively late. But for most of my life I’ve been a “bike person”. It’s my main mode of transport and a core part of my identity. I join protests for better bike infrastructure, I get into confrontations with reckless car drivers, all that stuff.

Starting some time during the lest 12 month though, my physical fitness has declined sharply. While I was easily cycling the 25km from one end of the city to another to visit a partner, I now hesitated even taking the bike to the grocery store down the road. I struggle with climbing stairs and lifting or carrying heavy things. I don’t know the cause of this. Maybe I did have Covid at some point without major symptoms and now I’m suffering long term effects, maybe it’s just a shitty part of aging that hit me, who knows. My doctor had no clear conclusions either, other than suggesting stronger vitamin supplements, which I tried but didn’t change anything.

For now I’m going to adapt my life to this new reality of “my body doesn’t cooperate the way it used to”, which was a big thing to accept for me. I’ve never been a super sporty person but I’ve always been physically active, moving and in somewhat good shape. The idea that this may no longer be who I am was scary and had a lot of internalized ableism attached to it.

The biggest issue was cycling. I absolutely didn’t want to give that up but I just couldn’t go places anymore on muscle power alone. So now, I’m riding an electric bike and it’s amazing. With the electric assist cycling feels like it used to. It still requires me to put in some energy but it scales really well to the level of exertion I can do for extended periods of time now.

A funny change is in speed. Electrically assisted bicycles are regulated in the EU to stop applying motor power above 25km/h. You can go faster but then you have to do that on muscle alone. 25 km/h is a perfectly fine cruising speed but it is also both slower than the top speeds I used to do and faster than what I could manage on an incline. Now I pretty much go at a constant speed of 25 wherever I go. On average in city traffic this turns out to be a little faster even, a one hour ride before now takes maybe 50 minutes.

I didn’t expect to use something as a mobility aid anytime soon, but here I am. And this bike definitely is a mobility aid. Without it I would have to rely on public transport and couldn’t get around as easily as I used to. It’s an interesting relationship with a machine that I hadn’t experienced before, one where the device doesn’t add something new but restores something that was lost.

I also started university this month. I’m now officially a student of psychology, working on a Bachelor’s degree.

This was the plan when I left the tech industry in 2022. I wanted to take some time off, enjoy my unemployment benefits, and then start this degree. It’s ridiculous how quickly all this time has passed and now it’s actually happening.

Lectures have begun, I got a lot of stuff to do and it feels amazing. The fact that I can (and am supposed to) focus entirely on this one thing that also fascinates my is incredible. I haven’t felt this engaged and energized in a very long time.

Selfie in a library full of old books

I get to hang out in libraries, listen to interesting lectures, write papers, the whole deal. And this is my life for the coming years. Fuck yeah!

It’s also interesting to be around so many people who are significantly younger than I am. It’s strange because I have so few memories from my early twenties so I can’t really compare or relate in a lot of ways. But also this is an opportunity to re-live that time again. Transition is often kind of a “second puberty” and it’s not uncommon for trans people to wish for a do-over of the formative times that can feel like they’ve been lost and that’s very much the case for me. Now that doesn’t mean I’ll go out on bar nights with a bunch of people who could be my kids, age-wise. But I do enjoy having the university vibe again and getting involved in things like the student council, or doing little side projects with other people, maybe even making some new friends.

And I’m not the only older student there either. The median age in our year is 21 but the range goes from eighteen to the mid forties.

To mark the start of this new part of my life I also got a new tattoo:

Upper arm with a tattoo of four swords

It’s a slightly abstracted version of the Four of Swords Tarot card. The swords are a rough cross-section of what you’d find in eEurope from antiquity to the Renaissance:

It was done by the awesome Michael Dee who I’ve worked with before. As usual, he did great work.