May’s Bike Month is just around the corner, so I thought I’d put together a series of bicycle commuting articles to help get people started. In this first article, I hope to answer the question, “Why would you want to ride a bike to work in the first place?” I asked myself this question, and came up with ten answers, answers that best describe why I ride my bike to work, and have been doing so for over two years now.
10 REASONS TO COMMUTE BY BIKE
- Commuting by Bike is Fun! Do you remember your first bike as a kid? A bike was speed, independence, and adventure. A bike was freedom. If you haven’t ridden a bike since those days, you may be surprised that these qualities have not changed. It’s every bit as fun as it was as a kid, but many adults have just forgotten how to have fun. We could all use more fun in our lives. Having a little fun each day will make you live longer.
- Exercise. In addition to needing more fun in our lives, we Americans need more exercise. Riding your bike to work gives you the opportunity to get some exercise doing something you already have to do anyway. And since bicycling is a fun activity, you’ll find yourself wanting to ride more often as your fitness increases. It’s an exercise plan that you’ll actually want to stick with and look forward to.
- Efficiency. The bicycle is a highly efficient machine. Using only the power one would expend walking at a casual pace, a cyclist can travel 3 times faster than a walker. For short trips around town, a bicycle is often as quick or quicker than a car. Ask yourself, “Am I the type of person that needs 5,000 lbs of metal, plastic, and imported fuel to get myself 3 miles down the road?” If you already own and ride a bike, the answer is probably “No”. Save your car for multi-occupant trips or distances outside your bicycle’s range. If you live too far from work, consider having a bicycle at work for short errands around town, or take your bike on the bus and ride part of the way to work.
- Less Stress. One thing I noticed when I began bicycle commuting is that my stress levels dropped. Once you step away from being in the car every day, you’ll begin to realize just how stressful driving a car can be. I’m amazed now when I witness road rage over petty incidents. If it’s perceived that another driver steps out of line, horns are honked, angry words are exchanged, and fingers are pointed. You’ve probably heard the joke, “Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac.” You just don’t encounter this behavior anywhere outside the car; for example, have you ever seen shopping cart rage at the supermarket? Four wheeled carts chaotically zig-zag up and down the aisles, their drivers making frequent stops. While this type of behavior may lead to the brandishing of firearms on the road, people seem to work it out just fine in the supermarket setting. If an error is made, smiles and the words “excuse me” are exchanged. When you take away the safety and anonymity that the enclosed car provides, people are forced to be civil with one another.
- Reconnect with your community. You’d be surprised how much you’re missing when you zoom through town in an enclosed vehicle. When you slow down, get off the freeway and main thoroughfares, you’ll experience your city in a whole new way. You’ll see things that you didn’t even know existed. Historical buildings. New restaurants and shops to visit. Hear the conversation and laughter coming from the street-side cafes. Enjoy the smells of summer gardens and evening cookouts. Stop and talk with friends, and meet new friends along the way. It’s like being a tourist in your own town.
- Save Money. Driving is expensive. Gas prices are averaging close to $3.00 per gallon right now, and we can expect them to climb even higher into the summer as demand rises. Then there’s a car payment, registration, insurance, a drivers license fee, repair, and maintenance. While many of us would have a hard time getting by without a car, we could certainly get by with owning fewer cars or simply driving less. Maybe riding a bicycle will put off that new car purchase. I’ve heard people say they need to get a second job so they can buy a new car to get to work. Bicycles are far cheaper to own and maintain than cars. Drive less, work less, play more.
- Save Time. As I mentioned earlier, short trips around town on a bicycle are often as quick or quicker than short trips by car. But to fully realize how much time you’ll be saving riding a bike, you also have to think of how many hours you’ll have to work to pay for driving vs. riding a bike. Bicycle ownership is fairly inexpensive, so you’ll be working far few hours to keep your bike going. And since you’re already getting exercise on your bike, maybe you don’t need to hit the gym after work. Invest the time you save into something that pays high dividends like family and friends.
- Self Sufficiency. Have you ever stopped to think of where the gas in your car came from? No, I’m not talking about the Chevron Station. Before that. The gas in your car most likely started off as oil half way around the world, under a desert, in a country that’s not too fond of the United States. Or maybe it was pumped up from beneath the ocean at some dark and stormy northern sea oil platform. From there the oil was transported through a complicated series of pipelines, oil tankers, trains, refineries, trucks, and has traveled thousands of miles before it hits the gas tank of your vehicle. And all this has to happen “just in time”. Any breakdown of the supply chain due to natural disasters, geopolitical strife, or man caused accidents, can mean shortages and price shocks for the consumer at the pump. Relying on my bicycle as my main mode of transportation gives me peace of mind knowing that I will still be able to get around quite easily, regardless of world events.
- Reduce Pollution. Reducing the number of cars on the road reduces the amount of pollution in the air we breathe. Millions of cars spew their dirty exhaust into the air daily, and often the cars aren’t even going anywhere while they’re polluting. Look around and you’ll see cars idling in driveways, at stop lights, in the drive-thrus, in front of schools, or just circling the parking lots. Much of this pollution could be done away with if people used their bicycles for short trips. And fewer cars on the road would encourage more people to ride bicycles or walk. Safer roads mean more kids walking or riding bikes to school again, which means even fewer trips made by car. Not only would we have cleaner air to breathe, we’d have much less noise pollution too. Sometimes it gets so loud on our streets that we can’t even hear each other talk. Riding a bike is quiet and non-polluting, and helps to create a better city to live in.
- Riding a Bicycle is Patriotic. Reducing our Country’s energy needs provides national security and is patriotic. During World War II, Americans conserved energy and rationed many items to pull through the tough times. It was a way for all Americans to serve their country, not just the enlisted men and women of the armed forces. Today though, the American Way of Life seems non-negotiable. America has had it good for so long, that many of our luxuries now feel like necessities. Giving something up or scaling back feels like an infringement on our freedom, and conservation is labeled radical left-wing environmentalism. But for a country that imports over half of its oil, using less energy should just be common sense. Ride a bike, serve your country.
I’m sure there are other reasons to ride your bike to work. What reasons would you include to this list?