Back to the Future - On a Bicycle

In Vienna, Cycling is the Fastest Way to Get Around - and No Need to Find Parking!

Opinion | Mazin Elfehaid | November 2006

In the Middle East, everybody drives cars.  There’s no way around it, since gas is cheap, distances from point A to point B are relatively large, and public transportation exists pretty much only to cart underpaid migrant workers from their barracks to work and back.

So I came to Vienna three years ago with the attitude that cars are great practically carved into my neural pathways.  Slowly I came to realise though, that public transport was the easier, faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to get around a big city.

And frankly, driving through small city streets while dodging pedestrians that are convinced my car won’t hit them when they step right in front of it, because they have the right of way, was a bit nerve wrecking.  I was sold; it was Strassenbahn all the way, just the thing to soothe my bruised spirit.

Then my girlfriend bought a bicycle, and I fell in love twice over.

What?  A bike?  I hadn’t ridden one since I was a kid, scraping my knees in my back yard!

In our speed-driven, information culture, time is money, so getting from home to work, to lunch, and back to work in the shortest amount of time possible is key. And it turns out, that bikes are, without question, the fastest way to get around Vienna.

There is no waiting for the bus, no long treks to the next station, and no delays.  For former car users, the frustration of looking for parking and getting lost down one-way streets becomes a thing of the past. Crazy drivers will no longer get on your nerves, and there are no red lights. I mean, not really, not in the same sense.

But it gets better.  As a bike rider, I no longer have complicated rules of the road and pissed off drivers to deal with.  I don’t pay for gas, or U-Bahn tickets, and sometimes on empty streets, I even run red lights — just because I can.

There is also the adrenalin factor, which our thrill-seeking culture craves so much.  There is nothing like the threat of being crushed by an oncoming garbage truck to give you that early morning wake up call.  A quick hop up to the curb with your bike, and you’re back in safety, though the old lady you almost hit to get there will probably give you the evil eye.

Then there is the sense of moral superiority that each of us will revel in when, while waiting for a green light, a car driver shoots you a nasty look for accidentally having your wheel over the curb and on the road, which is supposed to be his domain.

"In our world," we say to ourselves, "we simply steer around such obstacles."

Bicycle riding is more than just a means of transportation.  It’s a philosophy.  We score points for not destroying the planet with exhaust fumes and honestly, every single one of us can use the exercise.  Besides, would you really rather spend an hour running circles on a treadmill, trapped like a hamster in a cage, or free, an animal chasing its prey through a concrete jungle?

On the U-Bahn, I was a modern man, with all my needs taken care of before I knew I had them.  On the bike, the spirit of the bedouin awakens within me. I plunge ahead on my proud steed, roving wherever I please.

Of course there are drawbacks.  Vienna gets damn cold and windy.  But as with all problems, there are solutions, such as snow pants or thermal underwear.

Bike riding is not about comfort, as my saddle painfully reminds me on a daily basis.  It’s about freedom.  And that concept is something that even the people of the fume-choked USA, or the dictatorial Middle East can relate to.

Other articles from this issue