The other day I had a physio appointment about 20 minutes drive away (around 12km as the bike flies), but I was exhausted – far too tired to drive. So I rode my bicycle instead. Bear with me – that’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. The trouble was that I was far too tired to drive safely. I was seriously concerned that I might fall asleep at the wheel. But I wasn’t physically tired – just overwhelmingly sleepy. Not an uncommon state of being for parents of small children, but also pretty common for all of us at one time or another.
Getting behind the wheel of a car in that state is one of the most dangerous things we can do – akin to driving very drunk indeed. Tucked up safely in a warm, cosy box, insulated from fresh air, road noise and our fellow human beings, listening to our favourite music, it is incredibly easy to nod off. Potentially micro-sleeping my way into the path of a truck wasn’t on my todo list for the day.
A friend of mine once fell asleep behind the wheel and woke up on the other side of the road, facing the other way. He was incredibly lucky that the road was empty. The dangers of driving while tired are seriously underestimated, largely because we treat driving as a not negotiable necessity. We have to drive – how else could we get home? Never mind getting a lift, public transport or a taxi, these are not options in most of our heads. We treat driving as a fundamental human right – something that would, no doubt, seem puzzlingly ludicrous to someone lacking food, water, or adequate shelter over their heads.
Ok, perhaps we can agree that driving while tired is a dumb and dangerous thing to do. But why would I choose to ride my bike, when I felt too tired to drive? There are two big reasons why you will be far more alert when riding your bike:
1. It’s physical exercise – guaranteed to get the blood pumping, the oxygen coursing around your system, and the adrenalin flowing nicely. Exercise is the single best wakeup drug there is, even better than caffeine (heresy, I know).
2. You are in the world, not cocooned away from it. With the wind blowing in your face, the cars around you audible in their approach, and the birds, trees, passers by all making themselves known to you, it is much easier to stay alert and integrated in the world around you. In a car you are cut off from all of that. The world is shut out, and it can take a lot to impinge on your attention – how many times have you not known of an approaching emergency vehicle, sirens screaming, until it was all but on top of you? In a car, that happens all too easily. On a bike, it simply doesn’t happen. (Unless you are crazy enough to cycle with earphones & an iPod or some such foolishness, but let’s not go there!)
For short distances, which most of our trips are ( by short I mean under 20km – the more you ride, the longer your definition of “short” will become), cycling makes a trivial difference to the time it takes. The biggest adjustment is mental. Deciding that cycling is a serious transport option, rather than an occasional recreation, will change your life. And it gives you another option when you are too tired to drive. What could be better?