Things we have forgotten: Distance

“Don’t you have a car?” is a question that carries a fair amount of judgement. If you’re a frequent rider you may have heard it before. What do you reply?

The first time I was asked why I didn’t drive I felt obliged to explain myself and justify that riding was my preferred choice. At the core of the question is people’s default assumption that everybody drives, everybody owns a car, it’s just “natural”.

I touched on our car centric look and approach last time, but I’d like to dig a bit deeper. Our love affair with cars, or “Automophilia”, manifests itself in so many aspects of life, which are worth to examine and become aware.

This is a great exercise to conduct amongst your colleagues or friends: when we talk about the distance of destination we will usually say talk about time as in “that’s only 20 minutes away”. This, of course, is entirely based on driving distance – on some instances perhaps walking or public transport. Then there will be the two different travel variants: Peak-hour and quiet times, which will be the time it takes to commute or drive in a perfect world where you are the only one on the road (read: never).

People don’t think of destinations anymore and know the actual kilometres. They know the driving time and the sad part is, they have no idea how far or close things are to travel by bicycle.

Let me give you two examples. Last weekend was the first social ride of the beginner ladies on bikes group. The first session is always tricky. Participants tend to be nervous and as a coach you really need to see the riders out and about to make a judgement on how far you can travel. The rides start being slow and short and progressively get faster and longer over the course of six weeks.

We rode for half an hour, waited for the very slow people to catch-up, did some skills training then turned around and rode back. The entire group was baffled when I said they just did their first six kilometre ride. Most thought that was quite a long distance (I didn’t tell them that by the end of week six I was hoping to ride 20 kilometres with them, baby steps). Did they think six kilometres were such a pleasurable short distance to ride? Nope. Would they walk six kilometres? No way.

Example two. The Fremantle train line broke down a few weeks ago. A gentleman in the coffee cue in front of me was complaining. He lived in Swanbourne and had to use busses, there was more traffic than usual, he had been late. He’d drive into the city if parking wasn’t such a huge problem, blah blah blah.

I asked him whether he had considered riding a bike. After all, he could ride along the train, or even better, along the river. He said “No way, that’d be way too far. See, I live in Swanbourne that’s like 28 kilometres from here”. Swanbourne? That’s 10 kilometre from Perth’s CBD.

See where the problem is? We have no clue anymore. We don’t know what’s far or close. We have no idea what it feels like to ride a distance for half an hour, enjoy it without sweat trickling down like a waterfall. We sure don’t know what’s completely doable to ride on bicycle without being “sporty”.

We have become so accustomed to use our cars whenever we “need” to without considering alternatives. While it may not be an alternative for everyone, every day, the truth is that often a bicycle is a real transport option.

Over to you: do you have similar experiences? Have you had to “learn” distances again? How do you respond to people’s Automophilia?

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