Cars distort our perceptions of time and space. They act as portable extensions of the shelter offered by our homes, numbing us to the reality of the distance travelled and blinding us to the topography we travel through. By using massive amounts of energy, cars reduce the physical effort required to move through the world to nothing more than a twitch of the toe and a flick of the wrist; a physical effort on par with flipping through television channels or surfing the web.
Cars also cut us off from the reality of weather. Headwinds and tailwinds have no meaning from within a car. Rain is only an inconvenience. Freezing temperatures only require adjusting a knob on a thermostat. Experiencing a storm from inside a car is akin to watching a nature movie in a comfortable, temperature-controlled, personal theatre.
Cycling, on the other hand, makes us more keenly aware of the nuances of the landscape and the energy required to cover a distance. Cycling takes us out of the sedentary womb of comfort and convenience provided by the automobile and immerses us in the real, physical world of weather, hills, car exhaust, barking dogs, natural smells, and beautiful sunsets. Driving a car is so effortless, hardly a thought is given to whether a trip should or should not be made. Cycling for transportation requires concerted effort, and consequently, encourages consideration and efficiency. Cycling, by its nature, discourages wasted energy.
We pay a heavy price for the convenience offered by the automobile. Dependence on foreign oil, global warming, smog, traffic fatalities, and many other problems are all part and parcel of our desire to extend our creature comforts beyond our homes by driving our cars. The question is whether it’s worth it, and if not, what we choose to do about it.