Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, people think nothing of driving an hour or two from residential towns to jobs in the city. If there’s an accident, or if it’s Friday afternoon, this can easily stretch to three. However, mention the possibility of a two-hour bicycle commute, and people start looking at you as a candidate for a sanitarium.
That’s exactly what happened when I brought up the subject to my colleagues one day. Upon learning that I live 30 miles (48 km) from the office, they started calculating the ghastly hour at which I’d have to awake, the safety hazards of pedaling on the roads, and my disheveled appearance upon arrival. I admit, I’ve pondered these difficulties myself with no small degree of dread. But what’s really wrong with this picture?
The Dutch and Danish bicycle to work as a matter of course, as well as to school, the grocery, the bank, and the post office. The Italians ride wearing Valentino. In fact, most major European cities have recently debuted, or are currently installing, bicycle sharing programs that allow users unlimited free 30-minute rides, or longer rides for nominal rates. And you’ll see people riding as a means to get somewhere, in attire ranging from jeans to suits and dresses.
Aside from the variations in distance and urban planning, the real difference is that Europeans see bicycling as a means of transportation, while we Americans still see it primarily as sport. And we’re squeamish about mixing exertion with professional life (how banal!). We drive to the gym, but shudder at bicycling to work, when we could spare both our wallets and our health by simply putting the bicycle between ourselves and our paychecks.
Now what’s so daunting about that?