You should bike (if you want to)

For someone who has spent a bunch of time on the internet talking about bicycles, I don’t bike all that much. Sure, I usually bike to work, but then my work is a 15 minute bike ride away. That, and the occasional errand, and that’s that. I am certainly no Eddy Merckx. So what gives me the authority to talk about biking or be advocacy at all? Well, for one thing, nothing, but I don’t have to have any: this is how the internet works. For another, though, I think there is a benefit if some people who discuss biking and bike advocacy are not hardcore bikers. 

So here’s the thing. Many people who might benefit from biking don’t do it. And I think one possible reason why is that it’s seen as something with a steep learning curve, which it isn’t. But another reason why is that it’s seen as this moral obligation, that you should bike “to do your part” or “to be a good person”. I know that motivates some people, but it turns other people, like me, off, because we don’t like sanctimony or moralizing. So I want to point out that people should also be biking for totally self-interested reasons. Not all the time, not exclusively, but I have found that adding biking to the modes of transportation available to me has been very helpful. Consider:

1. Biking saves you time

This seems counterintuitive because a bicycle is usually slower than a car. And it’s obviously not always true. If you live 50 km on a highway from where you’re going, then biking will not save you time*. But if you’re in the city, your trip is under 10 km, taken during normal hours, and you would otherwise have to search for parking, it does. And most trips are like that. Consider: you are never stuck in traffic. In however many years, I have never been stuck in traffic on a bicycle. That means that you can usually plan the amount of time to get somewhere without giving yourself a lot of extra “but what if there’s a stall” leeway. You don’t have to look, or pay, for parking. You don’t have to waste time standing and waiting for the bus. You can take the most direct route from point A to point B.

2. Biking saves you money

Biking is a cheap form of transportation. In terms of maintenance, a bicycle is much cheaper than a car, or even a monthly transit pass. Of course, you might want to have all three. But the money you save on car maintenance and gasoline by driving less will more than make up for bike maintenance money, even if oil prices continue to drop, because bike maintenance is really cheap. Also central to this point is that you don’t particularly need to be outfitted in all lycra, spandex and biker’s cap. In the same way that driving clothes are clothes you drive in, so biking clothes.

3. Biking is enjoyable

The feeling of biking is fun. This is of course, subjective. I know lots of people who think driving is fun, for example, even if I’m not one of them. If every time you go somewhere on a bicycle feels like excruciating torture, then (a) adjust your saddle! and (b) maybe biking really isn’t for you. But many people do enjoy it under the right circumstances, and the trick is to figure out what those circumstances are, and bike when they apply. Don’t be dogmatic about it: if biking in the pouring rain is not your cup of tea, then bike when it’s sunny and pleasant. That way you’ll be doing something enjoyable, which should make you a happier person.

4. Biking is not a deathsport

A lot of people will happily agree to points 1-3 above, but never ever bike as a means of transportation, because they think that biking in an urban setting, you’re liable to get run over and killed. Part of that is that the media often aims to make everything sound scary and dangerous, and biking is no exception. But part of it may just be a natural response. I understand that kind of panic, because I feel the same way about driving – it never seems safe to me, total disaster always milliseconds and centimeters away. But that’s not something that a rational person should base their decisions on. So let’s take a look at the stats. In this case, stats provided in this article by Kay Teschke at momentum mag. Obviously, the source is biased pro-cycling, and you should probably just ignore the infographic at the top. However, the article itself seems to me to be sensible and to include actually relevant statistics. And this is what it says: per trip, bicycling is about as safe as driving or walking. Per unit distance it is more dangerous than driving. But walking is even more dangerous by that metric, yet I never heard of anyone totally disavow walking because it’s unsafe. I’ve also never heard anyone object to me walking without a helmet.

5. (Optional) Biking saves you from guilt

And if you really want to, you can use biking to feel good about yourself – how much exercise you’re getting, how you’re helping the planet, whatever. That’s great – it’s important to feel good about yourself, and to get exercise, and to help the planet. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to regard biking as this cod liver oil pill that you have to swallow to better yourself. It’s just something that’s often a good idea.

*However, if you’re frequently in a position that you have to drive 50 km along a highway, you might want to arrange your life differently so as to be happier, biking or no. I currently do this twice a week, and it’s definitely making me significantly less happy.

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