fietsers and feetsters
May 12, 2022 3:35 AM   Subscribe

This has been, for me, one of the losses from Covid and the move to WFH - I went from riding my bike ~16 miles a day to almost never going out. Yes I can go for a bike ride whenever I want to, but it's not the same thing at all. (Also every one of the Not Just Biking videos makes me want to move to the Netherlands so bad). And given that I was riding my bike downtown where I would then walk around for errands or lunch or meeting friends, it all added up to a much healthier and happier me.
posted by KirTakat at 6:27 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]

Yay!: Advocating for walkable/bikable cities, sharing the joy that a walking or cycling commute can bring you (if you don't feel like a car will kill you at any moment), talking about the efficiency of getting your commute and exercise done at the same time. I miss my bike commute even with the cars may kill me risk, and one of the benefits of being forced back into the office twice a week is I'm getting that activity again.

Boo!: Referencing Super Size Me and the "obesity crisis" - Daily activity is good regardless of whether it leads to weight loss, and even better when you can seamlessly incorporate it into your life. Also, it would help with the message to acknowledge accessibility and illustrate how walkable/bikable cities can be designed to also be accessible, and getting more people out of cars and onto bikes/transit/etc can improve mobility for those who do need to get around by vehicle.

[Super Size Me has been fairly thoroughly debunked - check out the Maintenance Phase episode about it.]
posted by misskaz at 6:31 AM on May 12 [16 favorites]

just fyi I think NJB has talked in another video about accessibility in a walkable city - esp with microcars and wheelchairs being able to use bikefriendly infrastructure. Just to point out that he has spoken on it, just not on this video :) Probably could use more of a deeper dive on it though, but to be fair NJB is for me just the gateway to these topics.
posted by bxvr at 7:13 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]

When my wife and I visited the Netherlands, I was in awe of the sheer quantity of cycling infrastructure. Anywhere that you can travel to in a car, you can travel to on a bicycle.

I would have found trying to bicycle in Amsterdam intimidating, though - there are so many cyclists packed together that you really need to know what you're doing or you'll collide with someone. But I was still in awe of Amsterdam cyclists, for whom bicycling is as natural as breathing - they would control their bicycle with one hand while carrying a package home in the other.

In my native Toronto, bike lanes are gradually being implemented over the objections of suburban politicians, but cycling is still a risky activity - drivers here are very aggressive. So much so that even being a pedestrian can be dangerous - drivers run yellow or red lights without thinking or turn right into traffic without checking that a pedestrian is in front of them. As a general rule, I now never step in front of a moving car even if I have the right of way (if the car is heading toward a stop sign or a crosswalk, for example).

I can't help but think that visiting Europeans would be in real trouble if they visited Toronto. When I was in Madrid, cars always automatically stopped for pedestrians and obeyed signals. In Toronto, where the working rule seems to be that the first driver gets to go through the crosswalk without stopping, a European pedestrian would likely be killed.

Having said all that: I love living in a part of the city where almost everything I want is within walking distance, and the rest can be reached by public transit.

One other benefit of a walkable city is that it is possible to increase urban density without causing gridlock. The province of Ontario and Toronto in particular are suffering from a severe housing crisis, but the city is now just starting to make it possible to increase density without requiring one parking space per resident.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:52 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I'm a believer in normal exercise: aerobic dish-washing; mowing the lawn; chopping firewood . . . and cycling. 30 years ago I had to commute 15 miles / 25km a day in a million person city which made zero concessions to cyclists. But cycling was the quickest way to arrive at city-centre work for normal business hours, it was also the cheapest, so that's what I did. I often solved intractable coding problems while trying to stay alive [alert!alert] on two wheels. So that's win win win.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:35 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]

I'm going through some minor medical problems right now, so instead of *exercise* I started walking to places that were firmly cemented in my mind as "for driving only", like two miles away. And it's actually been more than fine, it takes less time that I would expect. I don't have to deal with the stress of traffic signals and other people's bad driving habits and parking and window smashes and catalytic convertor theft and other problems.

Of course, I am blessed with mild weather, flat terrain, and neighborhoods that are adjacent to one another instead of being connected by highways. The only problem is if you need to go to the bathroom, since public access here is very hostile due to the high number of people here experiencing homelessness.

Sadly some of the people that are most against changing cities to be more walkable / bikeable are the elderly, who would benefit the most. Instead many demand the right to drive everywhere with their deteriorating senses and health, a net loss for all.
posted by meowzilla at 9:04 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]

I went in for a checkup two months ago (for the first time, a while), and was a bit surprised to see that my cholesterol and weight were up a bit higher than my doctor and I would like, for the first time ever. I was worried for about an hour - but then I realized:

a) I'd spent the past year and change being largely sedentary, due to a one-two punch of Covid and a broken knee.

b) I'd developed a bit of a takeout habit for the same reasons.

Then I got the news that my insurance company was booting me off physical therapy - but my therapist said that "you know, you could totally do this on your own from now on at a gym or something." And since the gym would also address the slacking-off on exercise, AND it would be cheaper than what I was paying in co-pays, I joined a gym, and started going there twice a week. I started taking the bus there - then a couple weeks later started walking there. And last week started occasionally walking to work as well. And when the weather gets even better I may add in walking home from gym or work as well.

So I've gone from "sitting around all the time" to "walking almost everywhere" again, and....y'know, just this morning, after only a couple months of this, I'm noticing my waistline is already about an inch or so smaller.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

Yay!: Advocating for walkable/bikable cities, sharing the joy that a walking or cycling commute can bring you (if you don't feel like a car will kill you at any moment), talking about the efficiency of getting your commute and exercise done at the same time. I miss my bike commute even with the cars may kill me risk, and one of the benefits of being forced back into the office twice a week is I'm getting that activity again.

I tried the bike commute off and on for several weeks when I had a short-ish commute and gave up on it - biking in work clothes sucks and I got tired of showing up at work to spend the rest of the day soaked in sweat. Not ideal when you have a job where you're expected to frequently wear a suit and look presentable. Would honestly love to know how people pull that off, esp if your office doesn't have shower facilities.

That being said, I'm preparing to move from a transit-iffy US city (good transit options, but it's scary to walk/bike here - too many crazy drivers massive 6-lane roads) to a major European capital, it will be interesting for sure - I'm really looking forward to being able to at least have the option to walk/bike without fearing for my life.
posted by photo guy at 11:00 AM on May 12

The advent of electrical bikes (i.e. the bike has a electrical motor that assist you to some degree while you are pedalling) has gone some ways to make my hilly city more bike-to-work-friendly. And as far as I understand "cheating" with an electrical bike still gives the user a surprising amount of benefits wrt exercise and mental health.

They are still quite expensive, though.
posted by Harald74 at 11:05 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I do think that differences in climate aren't given enough attention. According to this website, the average high temperature in Amsterdam in July is 70F. The average low temperature in January is 34F. I've never lived in a place with such mild temperatures. The "bad" weather that this guy is talking about is, in comparison, downright pleasant.

I mean, where I live now, there are long stretches in the summer where the temperature and humidity is so high that trying to bike to work could actually kill you. Winters aren't as bad as they are up north, but there are still many days when mornings are quite icy.

That's not to say I think we have to be so reliant on cars. I'd use an e-bike on hot days if I could afford one and there were good bike lanes where I could use it. I'd use public transport on icy, rainy, or snowy days if we actually had a decent public transport system. I hate not living in a walkable city, I just think we have to consider what is actually realistic given climate and terrain, too.

And yeah, there have been many days where I was physically capable of biking in to work but didn't because I wouldn't look professional by the time I got there. I do wonder how people handle these day-to-day details in these high biking cities. Is the commute just usually mild enough that it's not an issue? Are there showers? Is it just considered culturally okay to arrive drenched in sweat and then just let yourself dry out and sit in it for the rest of the day? I think these are important questions too, because often these little details are overlooked barriers.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:28 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

often solved intractable coding problems

Years ago I was working on a large project which I’d broken down into a set of independent tasks, some well understood and some which would require a breakthrough. I’d work on the well understood ones first while, in the background, puzzling over the others. It turns out I solved all of them while cycling home after work. I highly recommend it.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:31 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

Biking to work was good for me because I had a system:
Never bike hard enough to work up a sweat!

This works because I don't live somewhere that gets too hot (at least not in the morning commute).
It takes longer than biking hard, but not as much as I'd thought.

In the winters when I'd HAVE to bike hard to stay upright after snow dumps, I would just bring an extra tshirt (and deodorant). That solved most of my stink problems. I think.

Many people do a wet cloth wipe when they arrive to work.
posted by Acari at 11:34 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]

I do wonder how people handle these day-to-day details in these high biking cities.

Amsterdammer here. When people talk about commuting via bike they don't mean 20 mile bike rides at high speed. A bike is a casual form of transportation and used, for example, to get across town. You shouldn't break a sweat. If you work in a different city, you take a train then bike to your office from there.

I spend a lot of time on my bike but that doesn't mean I go for long sweaty bike rides. It's more like this: You want some bread for breakfast and go get it from this baker across town. You hop on your bike and ride a couple miles. Now you need to drop off the kids at school so you throw them in your bakfiets and ride to the school a mile away. You work in Amsterdam but don't live there so you take the train then you hop on your bike at the train station (an old beater you own for that purpose) and bike a mile or two to work. During your lunch break you bike across town to meet a friend. At the end of the day you bike to the station and back home from your own station. In the evening you pick up your kids or bike over to another friends house etc.

The bike is a casual device. You hop on it, ride a few blocks at a leisurely pace and hop off it. Whatever you are wearing. No lycra or special gear needed. No special shoes. No helmet. Its not uncommon to see people heading to weddings or a night out at the theater going by on bicycles.

On the weekends you might go for a longer bike ride - there are bike highways that connect cities. Then you might break a sweat but that's ok.
posted by vacapinta at 12:27 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]

There's something mentally stimulating about walking in cities that is lost in suburbs. Walkable cities have a lot more going on, and it is easy to get lost in your mind. I walked to the store in suburbia which is about 1.5 miles away, it might as well have been a multi-week trek through suburbia. While it is easy to hate on the monotony of the suburbs it is ... house after house, same SUV driving by, exact same wrought iron fence. It is not meant to be walked but passed by in a car. To get America more walkable is not just getting rid of cars but fundamentally changing the architectural infrastructure of our cities.

Even downtowns in many midwestern cities are scarred by highways and multi-lane roads that ruthlessly cut through commercial and industrial areas leaving urban islands of dilapidated parking lots.
posted by geoff. at 12:33 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

biking in work clothes sucks and I got tired of showing up at work to spend the rest of the day soaked in sweat.

I don't work in a suit, only nice-enough business casual, but don't bike in your work clothes! Wear gym clothes, and then change in the office. You don't have to shower. Just wash your face with cold water and drink a cold drink to cool your insides.

My clothes were fine, and in about 30 minutes no-one knew that I biked unless I told them.

I sweat a lot, so I get sweaty biking at 32F and am insanely sweaty at 80F with a dew point of 74F, which is regularly the summer temperature at 8:30am where I live.

The changing clothes and sweating kind of sucks, but the barely adequate biking infrastructure between my home and office was so much worse.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:07 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

Fun random fact: the Dutch word for bicycle means "substitute horse" (literally "vice-horse"). The Dutch quite sensibly distinguish between different types of cycling; everyday transport (generally on an upright bike with fenders, a rack, and lights) is "fietsen", going fast on a road bike in lycra is "wielrennen". Americans seem to think cycling consists mostly of the latter; the lack of bicycles that are practical vehicles and not sporting equipment or toys is probably a factor in USians' perceptions of bike commuting (even in places that have some degree of infrastructure for active transit).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 2:17 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

This NJB video gets me the most. It's a comparison of a business park next to an airport, and has a traffic light for cars that immediately changes for cars in light traffic. The rest -- well you can hate on bikes for reasons, but that is just galling to see that technology exists.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:19 PM on May 12

"Fun random fact: the Dutch word for bicycle means "substitute horse" (literally "vice-horse")"
As a Dutch person I am very curious to what this word might be...
posted by Thisandthat at 2:26 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

Borrowed from German "Vize-Pferd", see
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 2:32 PM on May 12

Biking to work: I wear bike clothes and pack work clothes, then get in 15-20 minutes early to freshen up and change in the restroom. It is no big deal. I have a washcloth, towel, deodorant, toothpaste, and hairdo supplies that live in my office. My bike clothes soak up the sweat and I can generally towel off with a wet washcloth, add more deodorant, and put on my fresh underwear, socks, work clothes and shoes.

Showering is generally unnecessary, through the heat here tops out at 85F and dry, so your mileage may vary. (When I was walking to work in NYC summers, I did more or less the same thing.) My colleagues don't have a problem with it since I'm the first one in and nobody is waiting for the restroom. My bigger concern is parking my bike-- here I'm able to lock up indoors, elsewhere it would require a tougher lock and I'd need to bring in my front wheel and seat.

At work I also have a tub with a whole spare set of clothes, instant coffee, and shelf stable lunches, which is super handy for emergency preparedness, glitter glue accidents, sudden weekend trips, slept through alarm and forgot coffee, etc. My only wish is for safer roads in the winter-- it's technically possible to bike in Anchorage in the winter with a fat tire with studs, but functionally super unsafe because it's dark and most drivers need to fuckin' hang up and drive. So I take the bus or drive in the winter.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:43 PM on May 12

> The changing clothes and sweating kind of sucks, but the barely adequate biking infrastructure between my home and office was so much worse.

I have bike lanes almost all the way between my house and work, but I end up driving because my car is also my break room and locker.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:55 PM on May 12

When people talk about commuting via bike they don't mean 20 mile bike rides at high speed.

I'm not talking about that either - although some people's commutes are that long, mine haven't been. My commute when I was in grad school was about two miles, for example. I also live about two miles from downtown now. I like to bike that, since it's enjoyable and avoids the issue of parking.

It's back to the climate and the terrain issue. Biking when it's above above 90F/32C with high humidity is just a lot different than biking at 70F/21C. These are the types of temperatures where the government issues advisories for people to avoid outdoor physical activities when possible - and they can last for weeks in the summer. Biking up a hill is also just a lot different than biking on flat terrain.

Like, I'm in better physical shape than most and am pretty heat tolerant. I work outdoors in the summer now; I've done fieldwork in the Sahel during the hottest part of the year. I can walk all day in really hot temperatures. Yet I once almost landed myself in the hospital trying to bike downtown on a day when it was too hot. I'm not exaggerating! I had the symptoms of heat exhaustion and my mom almost took me to the ER. (Maybe she should have; instead I convinced her to just take me and my bike home. In her car.)

I think wider adoption of e-bikes would go a long way to address this, so it's not like this is insurmountable. But I do think that this is legitimately one of the reasons why a lot of people in my area don't bike more.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:07 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

My family recently sold our one car after not using it for literally a couple of years, thanks to electric cargo bikes.

The difference an ebike makes for heat is pretty huge. The analogy that I’ve heard is that an ebike is basically at least as cool as a car without air conditioning, but honestly, in my experience if you have a short commute along a river like I had (until my commute was just across the house), the ebike is actually better. A car sitting in the sun in that kind of weather is way worse than regular outdoor temperature, and might not really start to cool down until you’re basically home, but on an ebike as soon as you’re rolling you’re cooler than when just standing. Also, while going 20mph and lazy pedaling is pretty cooling, adding a pump-to-pressurize spray bottle that gives you a cool mist to pedal into absolutely amazing. I’m sure it’s less useful in high humidity, but I’ve gotten around on a bike in our occasional 100 degree heat in oregon that way lots of times and not broken a sweat.

I did find that at the other end, I needed to dress a lot warmer if I wanted to go 20mph without working hard when it’s cold outside…but you can definitely adjust your effort to stay warmer without sweating, or just go slower.

NJB, of course, also has an excellent take on the practicality of getting around on a bike in the snow

(edit to add that I also live on top of a hill with sections above 15%)
posted by kevin is... at 6:55 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

Kutsuwamushi: that's a really good question and the answers are a mixture of climate, gradient, bike, attitude, ...

I used to live in a very hilly city (Wellington in New Zealand, if you're an American think San Francisco). I first used a mountain bike for commuting. My ride was almost all downhill to work, and so I'd wear work clothes, but I'd have to shower and change at home after the grind uphill. We did have a shower at work, and my other cycle-commuting colleagues would generally shower and change.

Later, after a move or two, I was at the same workplace but living in a different part of the city. I rode a standard Euro-style city bike with an ebike adapter kit. I had some uphill segments on my ride to work, but I used the ebike assistance just enough to avoid breaking a sweat.

I now live in a flat city. I still have the modified ebike, but I never turn it on. I don't break a sweat on the way to work. I have observed the difference between going as fast as possible and proceeding in a stately manner is only a couple of minutes (like, 25 minutes vs 23 minutes) owing to the times I spend waiting at intersections etc. I wear a suit to work and it's fine. Am considering removing the adapter kit because it's dead weight most of the time.

I deal with cold and wet by careful layering of clothes (good fun if you are a menswear enjoyer like me) and by having really top notch rainwear and a waterproof pannier. "Cold" for me is around 0 C midwinter (32 F I think).

Max summer temps here are around 32C (90 F?) so I can get away with a short sleeved shirt and a gentle ride and not be unacceptably sweaty at destination. Again, judicious use of e-bike power and/or choice of pace are likely the key to ekeing out more days where you don't break a sweat en route. I also strongly suspect there is an element of activity-specific fitness here. You can be very fit but still bust a sweat with an unfamiliar activity, while people who do it all the time don't.

Of course there are always going to be cities and distances outside the envelope I just described: in that case, I guess bikes become an option for the good days, rather than the everyday choice, but maybe you can get half a year's worth in spring and autumn?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:49 PM on May 12

I live in AZ. I do have an upper biking temp, but it’s 110F. (As in, if the day is going to be 110 or higher, a regular occurrence in our summers, I will not bike in the morning).

This is doable because 1) I have a flat ride 2) my ride is only 15 min 3) It may already be 100F when I ride in, but it is usually dry, so I can wear a wet cotton t-shirt. It dries by the time I get in, and I stay cool. I switch to my work shirt on arrival. 4) I am lucky enough to have actual separated bike lanes (as in, a curb separates me from the cars) for about 1/3 of my commute.

It’s great, but biking everywhere (and with objects—coffee, groceries, on one occasion a broom…) and comfortably and safely is something I really miss about Copenhagen. I also miss having a random bike store about every block along the way. I am lazy and not great at patching my own inner tubes.
posted by nat at 11:11 PM on May 12

Pseudonymous Cognomen: Borrowed from German "Vize-Pferd"

That’s a monkey sandwich, I’m afraid, and merely one of many folk etymologies. The etymology of fiets is not at all unclear, in fact, as the verb fietsen was known in regional dialect well before the object fiets existed. It meant ‘to hurry, to walk in a brisk pace’ and is related to the frisian fiterje, and likely to the english fit.
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 1:04 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

That said, it is true that the bicycle is colloquially known as ijzeren ros (‘steed of steel’), and I must confess that I like thinking of a plastic rain suit as a modern-day suit of armour. Moreover, the word for bicycle parking (stalling) is indeed related to the word for ‘stable’.
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 1:10 AM on May 13

I spent my entire adult life living in college towns or dense urban metropolises (metropoli), places with good-by-US-standards transit and bike options.

At 33 I moved to the most walkable neighborhood I could find in my current car-centric city and in the four years since have gone up two pant sizes. And this is even with taking the bus* 2-3 days a week (my commute is 5 min by car, 30 min by bus, but I prefer the bus for the first/last mile walk and not having to pay for parking).

The hard lockdown of spring 2020 was actually good for me. I went for a 3 mile run nearly every day. But while HIIT is great and all, nothing beats the impact of having the activity just part of your day.

*People look at me like I've got two heads when they find I voluntarily take the bus. Because round here, only "those people" take the bus.
posted by basalganglia at 3:55 AM on May 13

Also, yeah, I gave up biking when I realized the "best" route between home and work was going to be a combination of disrepaired/cracked sidewalks, unprotected bike lanes next to cars at 45 mph, and a straight-up six-lane stroad. And again, this is the most walkable part of town. I love so much about my house and my job, but I look forward to retiring just so I can move somewhere more ped/bike friendly again. Maybe the Netherlands.
posted by basalganglia at 4:04 AM on May 13

« Older she doesn’t trust the words to do their work   |   War, death, destruction Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.