A Call to Action: Commute via Bicycle!

A few weeks ago, my wife Katie and I visited Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. We stayed at Hotel Mr. Jordaan, and I absolutely fell in love with the neighborhood. I liked Amsterdam so much that I told Katie I could see us living there in the future!

Katie and I both love exploring new places on foot – we’ve walked all around Paris, Marrakech, Barcelona, and London, so of course we also hoofed it around Amsterdam. This would be fine for any other major European city, but not for Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has these beautiful canals that I fell in love with, but it’s also actually the bike capital of the world – there are literally more bikes than there are people, and they ride everywhere. You may know that I like bikes a wee bit, so I found this to be absolutely remarkable. Now that I’ve been back in New York City for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking about and it got me thinking about bike riding in America.

In Amsterdam, I saw thousands of bike riders, but only a handful of cyclists. I know this because of what they were wearing.

The cyclists were wrapped in skin-tight bodysuits, sleek sunglasses, and an aerodynamic helmet. Even while waiting for traffic lights, they looked fast.

This was a stark contrast to the bike riders wearing khakis, dresses, and nice shoes. These people looked like they were on their way to work, or a meeting, or a date. They look like they were regular people, using a bike to move from point A to point B.

It seems as if all of Amsterdam commutes using bicycles, everywhere they go. As Katie and I walked to breakfast one morning we were passed by so many cyclists that I can only explain it as being next to an army of ants.  Calm, cool, and chic Dutch ants.

I’ve read a number of articles about cycling culture in Amsterdam since returning home, and they all discuss this bike commuting as casually as most Americans discuss driving to work in the morning.

The bicycle is simply a mode of transportation, a way to get around. It’s beautiful. It also made me think this:

Being moderately active throughout the day, including commuting via bicycle, may be better than our typical American pattern of being completely sedentary other than the time we spend at the gym.

Think about it: Most of us spend the entire sitting at tables eating, sitting in cars or trains commuting, and at desks at work. When it’s time to exercise, we head to the gym with the hope that 30-90 minutes of physical activity can combat the relative inactivity of our days. Having dedicated exercise time is definitely important, and it’s just as important to include movement throughout the day.

This isn’t a case of one or the other – this is a case of benefitting from both.

Our ancestors spent almost the entire day moving, and modern life means we’re already moving far less than our bodies are actually capable of. I’m a fan of including as much movement throughout the day as possible, whether it’s walking a little bit farther through a parking lot or taking the long walk home from the train station.

Our ancestors spent almost the entire day moving, and modern life means we’re already moving far less than our bodies are actually capable of. I’m a fan of including as much movement throughout the day as possible, whether it’s walking a little bit farther through a parking lot or taking the long walk home from the train station.

If you really want to go all-in though, using a bicycle to commute can be one of the best physical activity options out there. Although to be fair, it might be easier to do that if your surroundings look like this:

The number of bike paths in New York City has increased dramatically in the last few years, with many other US cities developing the infrastructure necessary to make commuting via bicycle a viable option for people with ridable commute distances.

I’ve been taking advantage of these bike paths for the last two years that I’ve had a road bike, and there are two types of people who I love to see as I ride:

  • Smiling Citi-bike riders wearing dresses, suits, and leather backpacks, on their way to or from the office.
  • Hardcore cyclists in Lycra with powermeters who are hammering hauling ass up or down the river as they get their training rides in.

Personally, I flip flop between the two.  Some days I’m really mashing the pedals and focusing on fitness, while on others I’m simply riding from Harlem to MFF in Hell’s Kitchen or the Bowery.

When I’m commuting, it’s as simple as getting from point A to point B. On the oher days it’s about a 2-3 hour investment in the fitness I want for really big adventures.

As I consider the benefits of being a cyclist, a commuter, or neither, I know this: Casually commuting may be better for the majority of us than the serious endurance training required for competitive cycling.

If I had to choose for all of us, I think commuting is better than cycling.

Ride for 20-40 minutes to get from home to work, and then ride back. That low intensity physical activity has a ton of health benefits, but let’s not call it a workout. It’s a commute.

A few days a week you’re probably going to the gym to lift weights or to a yoga class, so on those days maybe take the train or drive. Traditional strength training says we shouldn’t add in activity if it will compromise our ability to train hard.

In recent years I’ve softened on that stance, as I care far more about how well we can take care of our bodies health over decades, not our performance over years.

This isn’t about adding hours of exercise to your week, or adding a specific type of structured training plan. It’s far simpler and significant than that.

If you’re able to, choosing to commute using a bicycle rather than a car or train can add a fair amount of physical activity to your day. Activity that might feel significant at first, until you get used to it. Then it becomes part of the routine, part of what you do, part of who you are.

When that happens it’s the real magic, because then you won’t have to think twice about it. You’ll simply get on your bike to get to where you’re going.

Moving is almost always better than not moving, and choosing to commute via bicycle can be exactly what you need to make that happen.

I’m not sure what your personal situation is, but I’m more than happy to chat about strategies to help you include more physical activity in your life. Leave a comment, send me an email, or message me on Instagram, and we’ll continue this conversation!

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