My wife and I spent the last two weeks in Europe, so I’ll have lots of stories and observations to share with you in the coming days.
But let’s start with bicycles.
It’s expensive and unnecessary to have a car in most major cities — particularly those with good public transportation — but even more so in a place like Copenhagen. If you buy a car there, you’re going to pay sales tax equivalent to the price of your vehicle, as if you were purchasing two of them. Gasoline will cost you about eight bucks a gallon, and the fee to park on the street within the city limits will be four dollars an hour.
Instead, you can get a decent bike for commuting for about $100 — nothing special, not a lot of gears, but good enough to get you around town every day. Best of all, you won’t be competing with cars and trucks for space on the roads, which all have separate bike lanes. In fact, if you’re a pedestrian, you have to get used to crossing a bike lane, then a traffic lane, then a traffic lane in the other direction and yet another bike lane before you reach the far curb. It’s a skill the locals all possess and tourists learn quickly — or else — kinda like being sure to look to your right for oncoming traffic in the UK.
There are more and more bike lanes in the US, but American cyclists only get a couple of yards of room right next to those much faster and bigger exhaust-spewing vehicles whose drivers see them as annoyances. That puts cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam (which has a population of 850,000 people and 600,000 bicycles) way ahead of American urban centers when it comes to clean commuting.
The problem for me would be not being physically clean at the end of the ride. Though they’re both very flat cities, I would still work up a sweat. That’s a problem I had even before becoming a fat, middle-aged guy — my metabolism warms up (and occasionally overheats) easily. I don’t want to say I perspire a lot, but sometimes I need to shower after taking a hot shower.
I couldn’t bike to work and then wear those sweaty clothes all day long. Sure, I could jam another outfit into my backpack and change in the men’s room, but that’s more than a bit unwieldy — and still leaves me with a sheen that won’t go away quickly.
When Seth, my brother, was Deputy Secretary of Labor, he’d often ride his bike to the department’s headquarters in DC, but he was fortunate enough to have a shower in the private bathroom attached to his office. Thus, he was able to refresh before donning a suit and tie and getting down to business.
This is apparently not a problem for all of those European bike-to-workers, whose pores must have become conditioned to the activity and/or who see being on two wheels as a way to avoid the inevitable road congestion of those on four wheels or more.
You’ll find other entries in this series here.