I have been cycling for the past ten years as the main means of transportation for me. This has left me with some unforeseen side effects, which I want to share here. It is about vigilance, natural speed, stamina, weather awareness, clothing, starting any time, minimalism on vacations.
The passive protection on a bike is very low compared to the one on a car. In most crash scenarios the cyclist likely suffers severe injuries or even dies. Therefore it is important to always stay observant of the traffic to provide active protection. People have told me to “stay save”, to “look out” and the like. And I had a few close situations over time, so I eventually got to a point where I did not “look out”, but I've turned gather vigilant.
When there are parked cars on the right side of the cycle path, I try to keep around 1 m distance to them. And when I can't, I still try to look into every single car, figure out whether there is somebody on the driver seat and whether they are going to open their door without having seen me. This is incredible energy consuming, and driving through the city is exhausting mentally in this way.
Also I am very wary about getting passed. Although the required distance is 1.5 m within city limits and 2.0 m outside, car drivers often fall short of the requirement. Some passings even feel like 0.5 m, and it really startles me. Unfortunately in Bonn there are many constructions where there is a 1.25 m cycle “lane” painted right next to parking cars, see my German article about that. With a distance of 1.00 m to parking cars, a handle bar width of 0.70 m one sticks 0.45 m out of that “lane”. Car drivers lacking the knowledge about the required safety margins will sometimes even honk as they feel getting blocked.
I have little possibility to prevent these close passings. I can just try to keep enough margin on the right such that in the case I get passed, I can escape a little bit to the right. Whenever I hear a car approaching from behind, I start to tense up, feeling that I need to react. This is not limited to actual cycling any more. When I walk on a sidewalk, I also have this sensation. I check every time whether my hand protrudes from the sidewalk and also anticipate a car side mirror being awfully close. And even when I am in bed and hear a car pass right in front of the bedroom window, it startles me almost in the same way as it does while riding the bike.
This vigilance has kept me safe from accidents with people so far, but it comes at the hidden price of being restless even in other situations.
Currently I drive a car perhaps one day a year. And when I drive, I find that around 35 km/h are a very pleasant speed. This is my usual top speed on the bike, and I rarely go faster than that. I can do 45 km/h for a short sprint, and 60 km/h going down a hill. When driving a car within the city where the speed limit is 50 km/h, I usually find the speed rather fast.
The positive turn is that I just don't have the inclination to speed, I am very content with 30 km/h and find everything above that really fast. The downside is that it takes me a short while before I feel comfortable on highways again.
When I began cycling, the thought of having to climb around 90 m of height going from downtown Bonn to Venusberg, where I stayed with my parents, was intimidating. I only had done the route via car or bus, and never walked or cycled it. When I started compulsory community service, I used the bike and just took the time I needed to drive uphill. The first week was bad, the second week started off badly, but then it started to be okay.
During studying I one managed to go from the university in Poppelsdorf to my parents in 16 min. A few weeks ago I went from Endenich to Ippendorf in 14.5 min, though I was very exhausted afterwards. In general my stamina became much better. I can ride with an average speed of around 18 km/h for hours without feeling exhausted now. For errands, commutes and the like I really don't mind it any more.
Weather awareness & clothing
When one is driving a car, the weather does not really matter much. If there is a short shower of rain, one just activates the windshield wipers. And if the temperature gets too hot, one just turns on air conditioning. The only problematic weather is ice on the road, or enough rain for aquaplaning.
With the bike there isn't a steel and class enclosure around, so one needs to wear clothing to protect from the elements. In summer that means a lot of sunscreen and light, breathable clothing. Ideally something that dries quickly, like training shirts made from plastic. Jeans dries super slowly, so I usually wear pants made from thin fabric, sometimes trekking pants.
One also needs to carry rain gear, see my article about gear. To carry all that stuff, I have a rather large backpack where I can fit a rain jacket, rain pants, rain shoe covers and a helmet rain cover.
As I do not want to ride around in full gear every time, I try to read the weather closely, determine whether a light rain is going to increase and I should put on the gear. Or sometimes it is just so light that one would sweat more under the rain gear than the rain would.
When one has traveled around in a city for a while, one starts to make out certain routes. And when one has to travel some new place, one can sometimes figure out how one would go there. As I have been going almost exclusively with the bike for so long, I see the roads that are most sensible for cycling. I can plan routes which are the most direct way on nice roads. But when I have to drive a car through the city, I must plan completely differently. For instance stretches between parts of the city are best done on major roads, sometimes even the highway. These are either stressful or forbidden to cycle on. Sometimes I need to consult Google Maps and tell me the route for cars because I am reluctant to include certain streets for their horrible cycling infrastructure.
Additionally one will get a better feeling for elevation. As one has to work harder to go uphill, one certainly remembers these stretches. With a car one does not really care that much, the car engine does all the work anyway.
Starting any time
The bike has the great advantage that I can just start riding whenever I want. If I start a few minutes later, I will arrive a few minutes later. Whenever I have to take a bus or train, I feel restricted by the schedule. With the bus starting 1 min to 20 min later means arriving 20 min later. Also in Bonn it usually takes longer with the bus than with the bike. There are some very straight bus routes, especially those going uphill, where the bus really is faster. Bonn has a centralist bus route system, so going from Endenich to Ippendorf means that one has to wait for the bus to the main station and take it. Then there one has to wait for a bus to Ippendorf. The rides are 15 min and 20 min. With the additional waiting time, buffers and walking from and to the bus stop, one easily spends 45 min for the whole trip. With the bike I can do it in 15 min uncomfortably and in 25 min very comfortably going uphill. Downhill is even faster.
In this regard I can totally understand the freedom that car drivers perceive about their car. Just that I would fear finding a parking spot and still prefer the bike or the bus.
Minimalism on vacation
When I go on a bike vacation, there is both a space and a weight limit for stuff that I can carry on my bike. With the two rear panniers and a backpack I have enough space to back clothing for a week and also bring my laptop and other niceties. But there is not enough space to bring every conceivable thing that could be useful. So I need to prioritize on the things that really bring value to the vacation.
In the end it has helped me focus on the environment and the cycling, and less on bringing stuff around. And especially when I had to carry the bike up a flight of stairs, I really felt the weight of everything I brought and started questioning whether I needed that again.