THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU DEFINES AN "EXTREME COMMUTER" AS SOMEONE WHO SPENDS MORE THAN THREE HOURS GETTING TO AND FROM WORK.
This is usually understood to be by car. It's not clear, then, how the Census would categorize Joe Simonetti, a 57-year-old psychotherapist who lives with his wife in Pound Ridge, New York. His commute takes him from the northern reaches of exurban Westchester County to his office just south of Central Park.
It's about three and a half hours each way.
When I heard about Simonetti's commute—some 50-odd road miles as Google Maps flies—I was vaguely stupefied. It may or may not be the longest bike commute in America, but it's certainly the most improbable. In my mind's eye, there was the dense clamor of New York City, then a netherland of train yards and traffic-clogged overpasses, then an outer belt of big-box retail, and then you were suddenly in the land of golf courses and five-acre zoning—where middle managers crowd the bar car on Metro-North and hedge-fund analysts cruise in 7 Series BMWs down I-95.
The idea that this landscape could be traversed on a bike struck me as fantastic. This is America, where 65 percent of trips under one mile are made by car. But at 7 A.M. on a mid-November Thursday—among the last of the year on which Simonetti was going to ride—I packed my bike into the back of a hired minivan and headed for Pound Ridge, noting with subtle alarm the ticking off of miles as we pushed north.
Simonetti obviously isn't the typical bike commuter. For one thing, he does it only twice a week, weather permitting. For another, he doesn't ride home the same day; he has a crash pad in the city where he can shower and sleep. But in following this supercommuter, I wanted to open a window into what it means to be a cyclist in a country where the bicycle struggles for the barest acceptance as a means of transportation.
Over the years and the miles, Simonetti has experienced just about everything a cyclist can on the roads today: honked horns, cramped bike lanes, close calls with cars, and even a few crashes—the last one landing him in the hospital. I was curious to ride with him for the sheer novelty of it, and also to get a handle on what seemed to be an increasingly prevalent culture war between cyclists and drivers, one that was claiming actual lives. At least for one beautiful morning, I wanted to move beyond the alarming headlines and toxic chat rooms and into the real world, to get a sense of how, why—and if—things had gotten so bad.