Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bicycling as Exercise or Transportation?

As a public health professional, I think a lot about the health benefits of cycling. Cleaner air, lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower injury rates, and more social interaction can be achieved with more cycling and less driving.

The most well-known health benefit of cycling is physical activity. Many Americans ride a bicycle almost exclusively for exercise, and countries with large numbers of cyclists generally have lower rates of obesity and other health problems.

"Exercise" in Amsterdam
Occasionally, I wind up in a debate with the exercise and recreation cyclists. I want to avoid sweat, dirt, and major exertion. They seek them out. I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, in everyday clothes, while keeping my outfit in good condition. They want to wear athletic gear and work up a sweat. These differences lead to disagreements over bicycle routes, parking, and design of the bicycle itself. I just had to explain the purpose of a chain case to someone.

I visited Amsterdam with the Beau last spring. These people were not sweating, straining, or getting dirty. They did not have 50 gears to choose from and spandex to wear. They had well equipped city bikes, cargo bikes and bakfiets, and their daily lives to live. They went to the restaurant, opera house, office, etc. How can I help Atlantans imagine their city like this?

A Cargo Trike in Amsterdam

Bicycle parking at the Opera House (Concertgebouw). It was overflowing during concerts.

By the way, there are plenty of stylish bicyclists in Atlanta, but I rarely get a shot of them due to traffic conditions, lighting, or just slow reflexes. For instance, the chap on Marietta Street this morning with the military cap, red bike with chrome fenders, and hands stuffed in his pockets while he waited for the light. Fabulous. And not a chance of a photo as I was in heavy traffic.