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On Biking: Driving a car to work just isn't the same as pedaling

Posted by Your Town  February 4, 2013 08:54 AM

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Two weeks ago I drove to work for four days in a row. For most Americans, that is the norm, but not for me. For the past ten years I have lived near enough to my job that I can walk, bike, or take the T to work, except when I have meetings outside of Boston.

But two weeks ago I was working on a group project in Westborough. Which meant five days of driving. Sure, I could have biked to Westborough. I’ve done that in the past (once), though it was a warm summer day. But two weeks ago was the week when we were hit by an Arctic cold front, and Boston Harbor felt more like Baffin Bay. Not to mention that I would have had to head out before dawn and not get home until well after supper if I wanted to commute by bike. Plus I would have to find a way to carry 15 pounds of files and a computer on my back. All of which meant that even for me, a guy who likes to rack up the miles, riding to work was not going to happen.

And so I drove.

My first day of driving to work went fine. My car, unlike my bike, has heated seats. Except for a brief traffic jam, my commute that Tuesday was without incident. I even got to listen to The Allman Brothers Band rock out at the Fillmore East.

The next day was cold, once again. The wind-chill was brutal, and it felt well below zero. But no traffic jam, just me and those Allman Brothers grooving along.

But by Thursday, a switch got flipped. It was still cold, and I still liked The Allman Brothers Band. But that night, I felt antsy and restless, and a little on edge.

I was having two-wheel-withdrawal. I missed biking to work.

Most Americans drive everywhere, whether it’s to run errands (often less than a mile away) or get to work. Until recently, that seemed fine.

But no longer. Climate instability and the real cost of that gallon of gas mean that our auto-centric culture is simply no longer viable. As Mayor Menino is fond of saying, car is no longer king.

But even if it were, and even if we didn’t have to change, driving here, there, and everywhere, day after day, takes its toll. Traffic jams, the high cost of gas, and the hours spent strapped in to our cars: it’s a recipe for angina.

Drum roll, please: here’s where the bicycle steps in to save the day. Biking is good for our waist line, our wallet, our planet, and our mental health. If Big Pharma could bottle the bike, they’d have a blockbuster medication that would make them even richer.

On Monday, after my week of driving, I smiled as I biked to work. I felt happy, both from the feel-good chemicals that coursed through my brain as I pedaled, and from the fact that I was not in the traffic jam to my right.

On Monday night it began to snow, a carpet of white that blanketed the roads. As I pedaled home along the Charles River, I once again rolled past the cars that were stuck on Storrow Drive. The snow blew in my face and muffled the sound from my tires. I felt like I was in a real-live shake-me-up.

My commute home was so much fun that I added an extra loop to my ride. I wondered if anyone driving was doing the same. And when I got home I felt invigorated rather than depleted.

Nothing too complicated going on, just the power of the pedal on a cold winter night.

Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.

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