|Let's talk about riding to work|
In order to understand a challenge or problem, I like to break it down into its parts, and look at the sub-problems within each part, so that rather than one big mess of scary impossibility, the challenge can be seen as a set of smaller problems, some of which are already solved, and all the rest of which can be solved, one at a time if need be.
So, as far as bicycle commuting goes, there are really two main sub-parts in the bicycle commuting instruction manual:
Bicycle Commuting Instructions
1) Get on your bicycle
2) Ride your bicycle to work
That's really all there is to bicycle commuting. If you are interested in commuting by bicycle, but feel uncertain or overwhelmed by the idea of it, take a look at the two simple sub-parts of the idea, above, and take them one at at time. Don't focus on irrelevant or extraneous questions, keep focusing on these core issues.
For example, it may be hard to get on your bicycle if you don't own one. That's not really a bicycle commuting problem, that's a bicycle ownership or access problem. You can tackle that.
Or let's say you have (1) nailed, but get hung up on (2). Again, that's not really a bicycle commuting problem so much as a route-finding problem, or an endurance problem, or a traffic problem, or whatever. Again, you can tackle that. Look at your options. Most important of all, don't get hung up on one dead-end answer that leads you to conclude that (1) or (2) is impossible. They are not. It is much more likely that you have just not thought of, or tried, all the options you could. Keep trying. See what works. In large part, the hundreds of posts on this blog are either directly about that, "keep trying, and see what works," or else are the happy results of this part scientific, part fun-engineering (I like to call it "fungineering"), ongoing process.
You can spend a lot of time and effort working on the sub-sub-problems between (1) and (2), but really, I can tell you from personal experience, the actual problems are not larger than those, and most are smaller and easier to solve.
However, I have noticed when talking to pretty much everyone I know that I never get that far. I never get a chance to talk about how easy and straightforward the Bicycle Commuting Instructions are to follow and implement because people are so hung up on mythical objections to bicycle commuting: that riding your bicycle to work requires a Stoic effort of will (think about the movie 300) which results only in blood, sweat, and tears.
Another way to restate the myth: it's dangerous, you'll stink, and it's impossibly difficult.
Blood No activity that we do is perfectly safe, it's true. I have found that by learning, practicing, and using safe riding skills, though, my confidence about riding in and around traffic has risen, and I have put the risks into perspective. Let's talk about perceived risk compared to actual risks. The actual risks that I'm talking about are heart disease, heart attack, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and type II diabetes, just to get started. A sedentary and typical affluent 21st Century lifestyle contributes to these. In addition, I have a family history of people dying from those and related conditions. Those are the statistics to go and study and ponder, these are the real dangers to health and happiness to figure out how to conquer. Focusing on the dangers of riding a bicycle distract attention from these real threats to life that you can see all around you every day. The benefits of riding your bicycle to work are directly targeted at lowering the risks of these real dangers. And regarding the perceived (and distracting) dangers of commuting by bicycle, they pale in comparison. The real threat here is a slow death from stress, overeating, and inactivity, not from riding your bike to work. The real threat is compounded by the impacts automobiles have had and continue to have on our cities, our environment, our psyches, and our world. These costs are substantial, and dwarf (again) the risks faced while riding your bike to work. There's practically no comparison.
Sweat First, a brief editorial comment: sweat is not a toxic fluid that kills all who come near it. It is often the result of hard work, and I suppose for a long time was recognized as such, but in recent times we've taken to covering up its presence and even taking steps to prevent working up a sweat. Our present squeamishness about it seems bizarre to me, but I harbor no illusions that I would be able to alter that a bit. So let's talk about managing it. The ride into work does not need to be a workout, or a race. Take it easy, ride at a moderate pace, learn to achieve thermal balance and control through monitoring your effort and adjusting your layers of clothing, and you can manage your sweat to a large extent on the way in to work. On arrival, clean up as much as you need to in as convenient and efficient a way as you can manage. I always shower before I ride in, and that seems to help, perhaps by decreasing odor-causing bacteria, but I don't know about the science behind that thought. Save the workout or racing for the ride home at night, and go crazy then if you want to.
Tears Once you fulfill the basic Bicycle Commuting Instruction steps (1) and (2) above, this one starts to seem absurd, that you could have ever thought that it would be hard to commute to work by bicycle. I think it is true that anything worth doing may entail the possibility of difficulty and disappointment. It may take you longer to commute by bicycle, and it probably is more physically demanding than driving a car or riding a train, that's true. Once you get into the swing of it, though, and once you get your legs and lungs into decent shape for riding, it's a pleasure. It truly is. I find that after two years of commuting full time by bicycle, my overwhelming emotional response to it is happiness and laughter. It has become a mental and physical fitness ritual for me that I would be very reluctant to give up. Rather than tears, I find that more than anything else, laughter is the emotion that goes with bicycle commuting for me, and I can't say that any of the other methods I've tried (car, bus, subway) even come close.
There are other benefits to commuting by bicycle that I haven't gone into here: economic, social, traffic (my bike means one less car on the road at rush hour), and more. The main purpose of this post was to list the core bicycle commuting instructions, and to start to try to dispel the myths that people always, always raise, to tear down the mythical barriers they habitually and reflexively throw up, when I tell them I commute by bicycle. Blood, sweat, and tears are not valid reasons to avoid commuting by bicycle. If that's all that's stopping you, please see the instructions above to get a view of the actual steps to commute by bicycle.
|The path of no blood, sweat, or tears at all|