The Benefits of Cycling

How Bicycling Can Save Money, the Environment and Your Life

There are, in fact, over a billion bicycles in the world and more bikes are produced each year than cars. There have also been upsurges in bike advocacy and increasing improvements in bike facilities. There’s a positive feedback loop here to those who want to bike rather than drive: better biking conditions make it easier to bike more often and, by biking more often, we can inspire more improvements in bicycling conditions. That’s the kind of upward spiral that can make bicycling better for everyone and cut car dependency.

Bicycling can save your life and your health

“the proof that people enjoy cycling to keep fit,” notes Maria Lowe, “is in the populations of stationary exercise bikes; the iron, however, is that so many people drive to a health club to ride them.” Like walking, regular cycling can increase life expectancy and help prevent heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and other illnesses. Because it builds muscle strength, balance, and endurance, cycling can also protect against indjury and disability. And it procures endorphins that mitigate pain and depression. As Tom Davis has put it, “I did not need an expensive psychiatrist to tell me why I was depressed since, after a brisk [bike] ride, I was depressed no more” 

Bicycling saves money

If a car is never a cheap date, at least a bicycle can be one. You can find good used bikes for less than $100 in many places. On one trip back to/my old hometown in northern California, I needed a way to visit friends and wanted it to be car-free. I checked the paper my first morning there, found a bike advertised for $50k walked two miles to the owner’s place along a creekside trail, and got a nature hike with my bike-shopping errand. The bike was in good shape, with a rack and wire baskets that could carry luggage. I bought it, spent about $25 more on accessories like a light and lock *I had a helmet with me), and got a week’s transportation for $75 and some muscle power. Bike maintenance costs, too are minimal, even if you don’t do your won repairs, and bicycling can save big money on car costs. Bike commuters in China can cover all their travel costs with a one-time $100 investment in a bike and under $25/year for maintenance. While only ten percent of the world’s people can afford a car, it’s been estimated that 80 percent have enough to buy a bicycle. 

Bikes can help whole cities save money, too. They make more efficient use of roads, and building bike facilities costs less than infrastructure for cars. While a single mile of urban interstate highway might cost $100 million, the same amount can build 1,000 miles of bike paths even entire countries have saved money with bicycles. When the government of Ghana realized that years of motorization had failed to give it a transport system that met people’s basic mobility needs, it switched to bikes. It now promotes production and use of bicycle trailers and builds roads for lighter non-motorized vehicles at a cost that’s only about eight percent of building a conventional road. 

Bicycling save the air

Again like walking, bicycles can replace short car trips, and so replace the most polluting journeys. Even a little biking can help the air a lot. Switching a five-mile commute form car to bike for a month keeps close to a pound of hydrocarbons, six pounds of carbon monoxide, and half a pound of nitrogen oxides from entering the air. Cyclists not only help society by keeping the air clean, they help themselves by becoming less vulnerable to dirty air. At least one study found that cyclists end up with less pollution in their blood than drivers. A physician interpreting this study’s data speculated that “the cyclists’ more active respiratory systems did a better job of expelling the pollutants than did the relatively sedentary systems of the people sitting passively in their cars.” 

Bicycling saves energy

Every transit commuter who bikes to the station instead of driving saves an average 150 gallons of gasoline a year. Every car commuter who switches to biking and transit can save 400 gallons of gas a year, on average. And bicycling is the most energy-efficient form of travel, using less energy per passenger mile than any other mode. While walking a mile uses 100 calories, bicycling a mile uses only 35. As Marcia Lowe points out, “In the rush to run engines on gasoline substitutes such as corn-based ethanol, decision makers have over looked a technology that converts food directly into fuel. A cyclist can ride three-and-a-half miles on the calories found in an ear of corn-with-out any distilling or refining.” 

Bicycling saves time

The average speed of a commuting car (22 miles per hour) isn’t much faster than a cyclist’s usual ten to 20. That means door-to-door travel times for bikes and cars may be only a minutes different. Phil Hammerslough of Vermont describes a day when he and his wife left at the same time for the three-mile trip to the business where they both work. He cycled, taking a standard route and stopping for lights, while she drove and took shortcuts. “I arrived less than a minute after her,” writes Phil. “She was quite shocked.” Bicycles’ more efficient use of spaces makes it harder to get stuck in traffic on them and means they can sometimes travel more quickly than a car, particularly during city rush hours where traffic may slow to five m.p.h. (eight km/h). Studies in some Eastern U.S. cities found that bicycles often get their riders to work in less time than cars would. 

Bicycling saves land

“The family car consumes about three times more space than the average family home,” writes David Engweicht. But bicycles require much less space. At least eight bicycles can be parked in the space required for just one car. Bicycles encourage more compact communities, require less asphalt, and save land for other uses. As Lester Brown writes: “It is in the interest of societies everywhere to foster the use of bicycles…Not only will this help save crop land, but this technology can greatly increase human mobility without destabilizing climate...the land-saving, climate-stabilizing nature of bicycles will further tip the scales in their favor, and way from automobiles.” 


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