The Quadruple Advantages of Bicycle Commuting
The expression "killing two birds with one stone" is popular because we like the idea of getting double value out of whatever we do. Quadruple value is twice as good as that, but there are few situations where we can find four equally strong advantages, all benefiting concurrently. I claim that bicycle commuting is such a case.
Benefit of Bicycling to Work # One: Saving a Buck
Riding a bike to work can save lots of money. How much money varies according to motor vehicle use. The greatest savings occur with those who can avoid purchasing a car. Since the average car cost $6,150 a year to operate in 1997 (not counting tolls, fees, fines, or indirect costs), not owning a car can add $500 a month to the bank account. Whenever the bicycle is not adequate, public transportation or a rented car can be used instead. Because I don't own a car and use the bike for all my transportation, I have been able to retire early on half of the income I would otherwise need. Other cyclists may own a family car which the spouse needs to get to work. If the cyclist can ride a bike to work on most occasions, the extra expense of a second car can be avoided. If riding the bike to work can't reduce your car ownership, the savings will be less. Still, bicycling on every occasion when possible can reduce vehicle mileage, thus allowing the motor vehicle to last beyond its years. My old van served me for 24 years because I would allow it to sit for three and four months at a time after its eighth year. I kept it only to haul big stuff and to make long trips to see my mother. For a complete discussion of savings, see my article on Auto Costs vs. Bicycle Costs.
Benefit of Bicycling to Work # Two: Better Health
The greatest health hazard in this country is a sedentary lifestyle. Less than 50% of Americans get any real exercise, and less than 10% get enough. Exercise, although very beneficial to the body, can be very harmful under some conditions. It's dangerous to go long periods of time without exercising and then to overindulge. The weekend warrior syndrome, although not as dangerous, can also cause problems. The weekend warrior avoids exercise during the week and then makes it up during two hard, stressful weekend days. Bicycling ten miles every day at a reasonable pace will give avoid the weekend warrior syndrome and provide the 2,000 kCal recommended for a long and healthy life. Riding a bike ten miles has a health benefit which is about equal to the health deficit caused by smoking a pack of cigarettes. Even if ten miles a day is impossible, some mileage during the week will prepare the body for the weekend rides. Some bike commuters, recognizing the need for more miles on their daily commutes, take the long way home whenever possible. Another way to increase weekly mileage is to use the bike to run errands, such as purchasing groceries and going shopping. Back when I had a van, I even used the bike for such tasks as getting my driver's license and auto tag, and making my insurance payment (which made one insurance agent very suspicious ). To learn more about health benefits, visit the health directory.
Benefit of Bicycling to Work # Three: A Better Environment
While the other three benefits of cycling help mainly you, this third benefit of protecting the environment helps others as much as it does you. It is your gift to share with others. Motor vehicle use degrades the environment in a number of ways, but bicycle use does not. Noise pollution, for instance, is a real problem for those living near highways, but bicycles produce no noise. Congestion creates stress for motor vehicle users, pedestrians, and cyclists, but bicycling does not significantly add to congestion. Adding extra lanes to existing roadways and building limited-access highways can degrade or even destroy neighborhoods, but creating bikeways or adding shoulders to roads, which can be used for cycling, have beneficial affects. Motor vehicles are the primary cause of air pollution in the US, but bicycles produce none. And carbon dioxide from motor vehicles adds to global warming, but bicycles are again innocent. One article discussing these benefits is Should Cyclists be Paid to Use the Roadway?
Benefit of Bicycling to Work # Four: It's Fun
This benefit has to remain a secret among cyclists. If your boss asks why you have to ride a bicycle to work every day, tell him that you're broke, which might lead to a raise, tell him that you want to remain strong and fit, which may lead to your being seen as an athlete, or tell him that you want to save the environment, which will cause everyone to see you as the altruistic type. But never, never, never tell him that you are doing it to have fun! What kind of social degenerate are you that you expect to enjoy life? Even winos and drug addicts are only trying to kill the pain! Why should you, of all people, be allowed to enjoy getting to work when everyone else is miserable? If they find that you are enjoying your ride, they will see you as a selfish and inconsiderate fellow, intent on your own personal pleasures, no matter how much inconvenience you happen to cause others. Whenever you get to work by bicycle and have put your bicycle up, always be sure to wipe that silly grin off of your face and to walk into your workplace with a grim and perhaps even constipated look. If anyone asks you about your ride, tell them about the pain and trauma you have had to endure. Then they will see you as a brave and noble soul who is willing to sacrifice to save a few pennies towards retirement, to keep the body in tiptop shape for employer and country, or to help save endangered species, no matter how far away. For a follow-up to this point (and the others too), see Why I Ride a Bike.
Possible Slight Benefit of Bicycling to Work # Five
For some people, there will be even yet another advantage to bicycling to work: it will be faster. This advantage is not at all certain. It depends on the traffic flow along your commute and whether you are stuck in the traffic as well. It also depends on how far you would have to walk from the parking lot or garage if using a car. As the average downtown speed for motor vehicles is about 13 miles per hour, at least the possibility exists of getting all your other benefits and saving time as well. However, this benefit, even where it exists, is very small and wouldn't be even mentioned except for the fact that people have an exaggerated sense of how long it takes to get to work by bike. Most cyclists can cover a five mile distance in 15 to 30 minutes (ten to twenty miles per hour). After getting to work, they can often park their bikes closer to the job (sometimes in their offices), thus saving the long walk from the parking lot, not to mention the expense. However, in the event that you are able to make it into work faster than anyone else, don't go around pointing out that fact to everyone -- they won't appreciate knowing it. They are paying $20 a day to get to work, plus parking fees, and the fact that you are getting there even faster for less than a buck won't warm the cockles of their hearts. It's best to leave for work a little early in the mornings, so they will never notice you passing them along the way.
There you have it, four undeniable advantages to riding a bike, and possibly a fifth. If only the first four advantages are true for you, then the only cost for these benefits is some extra time and whatever slight grief jealous motorists can cause along the way by being rude and obnoxious. If the fifth advantage is also true, you are most definitely getting to keep your cake and to eat it too.