About halfway through my four mile bicycle ride to get my car from the auto repair shop (transmission was wrecked), I needed to stop. The ride seemed all uphill, and the only thought in my head was “this is really tiring.” It then occurred to me that I am out of shape.
Luckily for me, out of shape just means I’m my same old lanky self, but can’t run up and down a basketball court quite as easily as before. Still, the idea of being out of shape and using a bike for transportation got me to thinking about the state of bicycling in the United States, and why it is so different than in other countries, particularly Europe.
The United States doesn’t crack the top ten in a list of countries with the most bicycles per capita. Even China, known for it’s shoddy environmental record, has more bikers per capita than us. At more than 30 percent, we do top the world’s rankings in obesity though. I can’t help but think the two are at least somewhat related.
The attitude towards biking in Europe and here is starkly different. For example, Amsterdam and bicycles go hand in hand nearly as much as Amsterdam and marijuana. There are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam, I was proudly told by my tour guide there. They just look at their bikes differently. While we for the most part just view biking as an exercise to lose some weight, Europeans view it as a form of transportation. The exercise portion is just a perk to them. I noticed the “American-ness” of my thought process towards biking the week I needed to rely on my bicycle for transportation.
Everywhere I went, biking seemed like a chore. It tired my legs out. It took longer than a car would. I personified the bicycle as some sort of annoying personal trainer yelling at me to keep going. “Come on you loser!” I imagined my bicycle screaming at me as my legs grew tired and I cursed my car’s faulty transmission that got me into this mess in the first place. My car, on the other hand was the coddling mother reassuring me how perfect I am. “Never change, Brian. You the man!” I imagined my car saying to me. It didn’t care what kind of shape I was in, I could drive it just the same. Not like that judging bicycle.
At least from my experiences, I’ve also noticed a subtle yet evident resentment towards bicyclists in the United States coming from their driving counterparts. Maybe it’s because we see bicyclists whoosh through stop signs while we wait at them like idiots, but it’s a deep down hatred. In Minneapolis, which is among the most biker friendly cities in the country, anytime I need to slightly move over in my lane in order to not hit a biker, a little part of me seems to die. Living as a bicyclist for a week showed me the other side of the coin here. The sidewalk says “no bicycles” on it. So I need to ride on the road obviously. There’s no bike lane though, so I’m clinging close to the curb as cars zoom by, seemingly inches from murdering me. I’m cursing them for getting close. Just as I would curse at the bikers for making me move over. Here’s where I should learn a lesson after biking a mile in their shoes, but what can I say? I’m an American, biking sucks.