This is part of a series of stories by Coyne, who's writing about bicycling.
The best thing about commuting on a bike is getting in touch with the world around you. Instead of winding myself up over terrible drivers during rush hour traffic, an easy bike ride home de-stresses me after a hard day's work. Of course, the physical engagement of riding loosens my muscles and provides great exercise as I get from point A to point B. But more importantly the mental engagement with my surroundings prevents me from tangling into a ball of stress.
Think of yourself. You're fighting rush hour traffic in a jam-packed downtown at 5 p.m. on a Friday. It's been a long week with one crisis after another at work. The drive home feels like eternity as every jerk with a license cuts you off. Something clicks inside of you, and you slam on your brakes. You yell a string of obscenities, perhaps with an accompanying hand gesture.
The lack of driving etiquette on the road becomes an excuse for you to forget your own manners. In frustration, you begin to tailgate. You cut off other unsuspecting 5:00 drivers. You rush to each intersection, wasting fuel with every tap of your brakes. With each unpleasant exchange, you feel your muscles tighten. And by the time you arrive home, your frustration over the drive compounds your frustration over work.
Now imagine yourself commuting by bike. Instead of rushing to your car to be the first out of the lot, you saunter to the company bike rack. You take your time; check your bike and maybe reattach a wheel or a seat. You strap on a helmet and off you go. A breeze whistles over you. The sun shines down on you. Your lungs fill with air and sweat beads form on the small of your back. You start to find a rhythm between you and the road.
Pedaling along your chosen bike lane or trail, you see a nasty exchange between drivers. They're rushing to get ahead of each other, only to be stopped at the next red light. You sail up to each intersection, catching up to the cars that whizzed ahead. In a sideways glance, you glimpse a driver with a furrowed brow and a white knuckle grip on his steering wheel. He's muttering to himself, angrily.
You feel sorry for him, but before you have a chance to put your feet on the ground and give him a smile, the light changes. He rushes ahead again, as you pick up your own pace. You're enjoying yourself as you nod to passing pedestrians, wind through a park of practicing drum lines and pause to marvel at a three-story mural.
This has been my experience over the past week. I biked some; I drove some. To get to my apartment on the Old Northside from the West side of downtown, it takes only ten extra minutes when I account for traffic. Each day I drove, I came home feeling terrible and tense. Each day I rode, I came home refreshed and ready to relax. I might spend ten extra minutes on bike, but I definitely save a whole hunk of grief.