While I interviewed one official, unbeknownst to me his colleague was calling my office in London, "just to check you were who you said you were", as he later explained. "We were concerned because you turned up on a bicycle".
The time-and-date stamp for this event was summer 1990, in the village of Schengen in southern Luxembourg. I was writing about the introduction of Europe's "open borders". You probably recognise the village name: Schengen is the point where France, Germany and Luxembourg all meet, and was chosen by the (then) Community symbolically to signify a Europe-without-frontiers.
I had arranged a meeting with the customs' officials to find out what they thought about the prospect. The interview proceeded cordially, while my credentials were double-checked.
These days, I hope my preferred choice of transport meets with approval rather than suspicion or disdain. But even if it does not, I shall keep pedalling: the bike can bestow the shrewd business traveller with plenty of benefits.
First, at a time when it is considered beneficial to proclaim one's green credentials, riding a bike comprises a rudimentary offset scheme for people who fly frequently.
Next, cycling can be a devastatingly effective way to deliver yourself to meetings on time. How many times have you heard (or, worse, said) " Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible" or "The Northern Line/Metro/Sydney Harbour Ferry let me down"? The most predictable form of urban travel is the bike, punctures notwithstanding; on average, I get a flat tyre every three months or so; for the remaining journeys I can predict my arrival time to within a few minutes, mad motorists permitting.
That is the downside; not every country (and I include the UK here) is bike-friendly. I once spent a week in Istanbul attending a conference, and took my folding bike. On day one, it became clear that I was the only cyclist in the entire sprawling western half of the city. By day two, I found out why, during a series of close encounters with all kinds of vehicles travelling at absurd velocities. The automobile anarchy is presumably what finished off Istanbul's cycling pioneers (I hope not literally).
By day seven, life got really dangerous - because I had mastered the art of cycling the wrong way down one-way streets. Staring the enemy in the face and being able to swerve out of the way in time seemed to be the way forward.
Luckily, I survived the day and flew back that evening. I have been back several times to Turkey's wonderful top city, but opted to leave the bike behind. Rome, Naples and Barcelona are other locations where I judge it best to quit cycling while I'm behind, rather than beneath, the traffic.
In much of the rest of Europe, cyclists are given preferential treatment. In any Belgian, Dutch or German city, you can undertake many journeys across town with little more than a nod at motorised traffic. Copenhagen is a dream for the business cyclist, with an original - and successful - municipal cycle scheme. You pick up a bicycle at one of dozens of locations, and drop it off at another.
Paris has just introduced a similar civic bike system, and I urge you to try it. French motorists are remarkably tolerant, indeed well disposed towards cyclists. There is no finer way to get to know the "City of Light" than from a vélo. And turning up on two wheels will earn you a figurative yellow jersey among business counterparts; the Tour de France remains a national treasure regardless of the scandals that dog it.Reuse content