The environmental benefits of biking a short (< 5 miles) distance rather than using a internal combustion motorized vehicle are so numerous and significant I am not going to waste internet elaborating on them. (Yes, it even saves water). They are similar to the obvious benefits of putting your empty Coke can in the recycling bin versus throwing it in the trash. The question then becomes: Why don’t we consistently bike to work? Developing some of my own personal excuses, here is why I suspect we don’t:
1. Out of Shape
Biking is work, exerting a force over a distance. Using your legs to turn the crank to move your body is somewhat like staring at yourself in a mirror. A couple of things become immediately obvious to me: my weight and my aerobic capacity, and I don’t like what I see. There is a sublime ignorance to sitting in a car. I can’t sense how my physical body is affecting the transportation, and I don’t become winded by stepping on the gas pedal. And this ignorance is comforting, like putting your head in the sand. When this ignorance is shattered it can be tough to pick up the pieces. Thus, I don’t like to bike to work because I don’t like being reminded of how I have neglected my physical self prior to 9AM (or after 5PM). It’s the same reason that I dont step on the scale after brushing my teeth. Its just…easier that way.
2. The Raw Environment
The environment can be intimidating, even a little scary. Maybe thats why most newscasts in America do the weather right after the top stories, and the Weather Channel can make a very pedestrian rainy day seem like the next weather apocalypse. You need to know: should I be worrying about this? Most of the time that answer is no, unless you are on a bike, then the answer is yes. The wind, rain, snow, sun (do I need sunscreen?), are all factors of which you have no control over, and can be quite menacing when you are pedaling yourself to work against the elements. This lack of control, this subservience to nature, can seem pretty intimidating. It is the opposite of how we prefer things, most of the time. My hair gets messed up, I get wet, the wind dries out my face - nature is messing with my physical self.
All of this makes the climate control, reclining seats, and windshield of our automobiles very attractive. I can get to where I am going in total comfort, unaffected by and somewhat oblivious to the raw nature on the other side of the glass.
3. All My Stuff
My computer, charger, phone, phone charger, soccer cleats, textbook, pencils, headphones and water bottle all weigh me down. And I need all of these things, or at least I think I do. I can’t bike, because how would I get all my stuff where I need it. It makes the trunk of my car seem like something I cannot live without. I need the space.
However, if my life were simpler, I would not have all this cargo (weight) to transport along with my body to work. In this way, using a bike as primary transportation requires a revaluation of the material complexity of my life. This can be quite challenging, and makes biking less attractive.
4. Don’t Live Near Work
Many of us live relatively far away from where we must commonly be (i.e., the office). This wasn’t always the case, and we have the Interstate Highway System to thank for that, in part. Don’t get me wrong: the highway system in America is a national treasure; however, prior to its existence, Levittown was not capable of existing, and driving miles and miles into centralized commercial/industrial locations was just not a thing.
This suburban development in America has taking biking (or walking) to work from a common occurrence to something rife with nostalgia, or even odd. But now, in the age of $4.00 gasoline, climate change and traffic jams we must ask: why do we live this far away from where we are often required to be?
I can’t tweet while biking. I can’t tell all my “friends” how my night went while I am biking that morning, or what funny thing my roommate said at breakfast. I can’t look at your pictures on Facebook. I can’t call, email or text. I can’t sneak a peek at the headlines. I can’t purchase some new shoes. I just need to be a human being, alone (unless tandem bike), with my own legs and my own brain. Perhaps this is something that has become very difficult to do. Am I capable of being ‘offline’ long enough to bike to work?