I used to commute by bike to work when;
- I had a shower in the building I worked in. Now I don't.
- I didn't have to deliver children to daycare and pick them up in a timely manor. Now I have kids and daycares are not interested in you being 30 minutes late because of a flat bike tire. Not to mention it might slow you down to ride with the kid carrier to work and back to get the kids home. And, where do you park that gear at work?
- I had a reliable work schedule. I now work self-employed and meetings and work can take me anywhere in the Kansas City area. Some routes just are not doable for bike riding and there's not enough hours in the day.
Every ride I have been on, I've had some sort of negative interaction with a motorist. I always ride the curb and try to stay out of the car paths, but inevitably a car driver will honk because the had to slow down on a hill and lose 10 seconds of life, they don't think we should be on the road when there are laws that say you cannot ride your bike on the sidewalk if you exceed a set speed, and overall there's the stigma that a cyclists is just a nuisance.
I didn't have an obligation to go to after work.
I didn't need to take work home.
What sparked these thoughts was an article on Business Insider that speaks about what Americans don't get it when it comes to cycling.
It kind of misses the point when they state, "Workplaces in Copenhagen don't provide showers — and people who live there don't understand why Americans feel they are necessary." The article goes on to explain that personal hygiene is more of an issue in the States, but it's more than showers. More later on why Copenhagen to the US is no comparison.
The workplace is a fierce place and if you have an office job, you are expected to be on time, dressed appropriately, not smell and not have chain grease on your slacks. If you come in disheveled or late from a flat tire or slow bike ride, then you will have plenty of time to cycle while looking for a new job. It feels as if 90% of US employers are more focused on making profits and succeeding instead of contributing to environmental conservation and assisting employees with commuting options. It's a different world and US companies as a majority are not equipped or interested in making cycling to work an option.
Sure, there are hundreds and thousands of "average cyclists" that are not extreme Lance Armstrong wannabes (or whoever took his place after he admitted to doping) that would relish the chance to bike to work every day. But, for those that cannot afford the extra time to commute more than 10 miles (which would take 30 minutes if you averaged 20 mph), it's just not feasible in this day and age of suburban sprawl. We would need to move back into the urban areas to shorten the commutes to gain acceptance on a much larger scale.
I've been pretty lucky as the city I live in tries to incorporate bike lanes on new road projects. But, some of those roads are off by themselves and appear to be more for obtaining federal funding by meeting a minimum number of bike lane-miles. They are not set up in a logical pattern and in no way would they get me from my home to any former places of business without using roads with no bike lanes.
You also have to consider the weather. We range from 20 degrees to over 100 through the year in KC. Copenhagen ranges 28 to 69 degrees. It's easy to bike in the 70's and not be sweaty. Ever bike in the 100's and 80% humidity. Ya, you're not going to be able to wear that shirt at the office after that bike ride.
Commuting to work by bike just is not feasible for a family and in most US cities. The weather is too extreme, there's not enough infrastructure to support safe cycling over long distances (from suburbs to cities) and employers are not ready for sweaty Mr. Lumbergh tracking down rouge TPS reports.
Yes, these are excuses, but they are also realities. It would be a huge undertaking to create a movement to divert millions of dollars of infrastructure funding to create miles and miles of bike lanes just in someplace like Kansas City. Imagine larger markets like New York, LA and more. Governments are not going to do it, and personally I would rather they spend the money on police and firefighters to come get me after I've been hit by a motorist while biking...
Ryan Falkenrath is a married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. He writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, Endurance Sports Examiner and runs the Man Vs Triathlon project while participating in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans (soon to be Ironman distance in 2013). Contact Ryan at: email@example.com or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.