When people at work or around my neighborhood see me on my bike or toting my pannier, they frequently ask about my commuting experience. It probably makes sense that bike commuting provokes a reaction, given the fact that we bikers are few compared to our motor-borne brethren. But lots of folks seem to see biking as difficult, wildly adventurous, maybe foolhardy. These perceptions might have gained strength this winter, since we’ve had a bit of cold and occasionally sloppy weather. Sometimes people assume that I have a hard-core interest in cycling as an avocation. But I am no more a “serious cyclist” than I am a professional badminton player; I simply happen to get to and from work by bike. And even temperatures in the teens and twenties don’t demand superhuman resilience from a bundled rider.
I am sometimes discouraged by these interactions because they indicate that people think it takes a lot to commute by bike. Perhaps one of the best things we can do to increase our numbers is to demonstrate that getting on a bike and going to work is more straightforward than it might seem. This would seem especially true for people who have short commutes like mine (only three and a half miles).
Once I disabuse people of misconceptions about bike commuting—reasons not to do it—I find arguments for hopping on a bike easy at hand. For years before arriving in Atlanta, I commuted half an hour by car. And though I did not suffer through egregious traffic, I labored under a guilty preoccupation with my expanding carbon footprint and stiffness from an hour of imposed lethargy. I gloomily totted up my weekly mileage every time I stopped at a gas station. And I disliked arriving at work in a torpor and spending time getting myself engaged in work. Now, I take satisfaction in monitoring the tons of carbon I have not emitted, listed for me at my commute log. And I get to the office with my blood circulating vigorously, thoroughly awake. (Even if it’s bearable, the cold does have its effects.)
Happily, across only three years of bike commuting, I’ve noticed an increase in two-wheeled companions. And fewer car drivers seem perplexed about how to deal with us. The more of us there are on bikes, the easier it is for others to imagine joining us.
Thomas D. Rogers is associate professor of History at Emory University.