Monday, October 20, 2014

Bicycle Commuting Rage Against Your Machine

Outside Magazine has an article on commuting by bike in the US - Rage Against Your Machine.

This is usually understood to be by car. Its not clear, then, how the Census would categorize Joe Simonetti, a 57-year-old psychotherapist who lives with his wife in Pound Ridge, New York. His commute takes him from the northern reaches of exurban Westchester County to his office just south of Central Park.

Its about three and a half hours each way.

By bike.

When I heard about Simonettis commute—some 50-odd road miles as Google Maps flies—I was vaguely stupefied. It may or may not be the longest bike commute in America, but its certainly the most improbable. In my minds eye, there was the dense clamor of New York City, then a netherland of train yards and traffic-clogged overpasses, then an outer belt of big-box retail, and then you were suddenly in the land of golf courses and five-acre zoning—where middle managers crowd the bar car on Metro-North and hedge-fund analysts cruise in 7 Series BMWs down I-95.

The idea that this landscape could be traversed on a bike struck me as fantastic. This is America, where 65 percent of trips under one mile are made by car. But at 7 A.M. on a mid-November Thursday—among the last of the year on which Simonetti was going to ride—I packed my bike into the back of a hired minivan and headed for Pound Ridge, noting with subtle alarm the ticking off of miles as we pushed north.

Simonetti obviously isnt the typical bike commuter. For one thing, he does it only twice a week, weather permitting. For another, he doesnt ride home the same day; he has a crash pad in the city where he can shower and sleep. But in following this supercommuter, I wanted to open a window into what it means to be a cyclist in a country where the bicycle struggles for the barest acceptance as a means of transportation.

Over the years and the miles, Simonetti has experienced just about everything a cyclist can on the roads today: honked horns, cramped bike lanes, close calls with cars, and even a few crashes—the last one landing him in the hospital. I was curious to ride with him for the sheer novelty of it, and also to get a handle on what seemed to be an increasingly prevalent culture war between cyclists and drivers, one that was claiming actual lives. At least for one beautiful morning, I wanted to move beyond the alarming headlines and toxic chat rooms and into the real world, to get a sense of how, why—and if—things had gotten so bad.

My interest isnt because Im a cyclist, though I am, in the loose recreational sense. Rather, the issue was forced upon me by the publication of my 2008 book Traffic, which looked at the oft-peculiar psychology of drivers. Cyclists were among the books most devoted readers, although Im still not sure if its because they found my dissection of drivers foibles educational or cathartic. After all, the little things that drivers think are excusable—forgetting a turn signal, weaving a bit as they fumble for their Big Gulps—can range from frustrating to life-threatening for a cyclist.

Simonettis house, a cozy ranch that he jokes is the smallest in Pound Ridge, sits on a twisting country lane. The walkability-measuring Web site gives his address a rating of zero, meaning, basically, that you cant get around without a car. Tall and trim, with a professorial salt-and-pepper beard, Simonetti is waiting with his LeMond Buenos Aires, a 50th-birthday gift that, he jokes, makes him look "like a real cyclist." Clad in a helmet, gloves, and a blue cycling jacket, he fills our bikes bottles with a mixture of juice and water, checks that his back pouch has spare tubes (Ive forgotten mine), and clicks his shoes into his pedals.

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