My wife and I sat on the couch, curled up in front of our TV when the commercial began to play. The Christmas ad, in which a husband surprises his already-fit wife with a Peloton stationary bike began to tell its thirty-second story in between NCIS reruns. We both commented on the ridiculousness of the ad, featuring a vloggin young woman on her year-long journey that “changed her,” presumably from skinny to skinny-er.
The internet has had a field day with this privileged depiction of overcoming fitness “struggle” and it’s supposed life-changing effects. In fairness, I take a lighter perspective on this, appreciating anyone’s drive to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a desire for an all-season approach to physical activity. I will never condemn someone for doing what it takes to stay active and physically And mentally healthy.
But as a person living in a snowy New York State who is a year-round cyclist for transportation, my journey begins every morning when I gear up for my morning commute by bike. Depending on the condition, I might take a trail, a road, or a combination of these. Brutal July sun, punishing Spring rains, sub-zero winters with a foot of snow and 40mph headwinds are the kinds of “journeys” I and my fellow hearty two-wheeled community members endure. In a world where most people view cycling as a form of fitness, we make the more sustainable choice to attack the elements and commute through the barbs that Mother Nature throws at us.
We do this because we understand that it’s better for our planet, as every mile we drive adds nearly one pound of CO2 in the air. We do this because we know that our cities are better off when we make the choice not to drive a car. We do this because we now know the real reward lies in the greater connection we have with our surroundings when we step outside of our private boxes on wheels and experience our community without windows or walls. Finally, we do it because we don’t have $2,200 and $40 a month for something that sits in our living room and does nothing but makes you sweat for a few minutes each day.
In amazing cities all over the world, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, cycling is the #1 mode of transportation. The citizens of these cities are far healthier than we are, as are the cities themselves. In these places, exercise is part of how people commute and navigate their surroundings… healthy living isn’t a static piece of equipment in their living rooms, it’s the result of every ride to work, every trip to the store and every family outing to the park. Healthy living is embedded into their life.
For those of us who live in the U.S., where cyclists only make up about 1% of daily commuters, the rewards are still the same. Despite our car-oriented America, we ride because we know it’s a better choice for us, for our community and for our planet. And yes, we are all a lot healthier when we use our own power to get us to our destination. No spandex or bike shorts… I just wear what I have on, maybe throw on some rain or snow gear if necessary, and ride to work.
The feeling that I might be contributing in a tiny way to a better community and better planet makes me happy. The bi-product of my daily self-powered mobility ventures is, of course, better health and fitness. By no means would I call myself an athlete, but my legs are strong and my body is surely in better shape considering I bike between 2,000 and 4,000 miles each year.
Yes, feeling empowered by better fitness can be empowering. And yes, a Peloton might be just the thing for a some people. But real “change” goes beyond the one-dimensional metric of personal fitness. Get a real bike for far less than a Peloton and commute to work by bicycle. Realize that a journey doesn’t happen in your living room, it happens out here in the real world, where we can challenge ourselves to access jobs, resources, grocery stores and local shopping, restaurants and events without driving a car, or worse yet, a 7-seat SUV… and yes, improve your physical AND mental health in the process. The journey of real transportation cycling empowers the whole self, and the “change” that happens as a result is the kind our country needs more of.