Why You Should Ride A Bicycle
There are many reasons to ride a bicycle, fun not the least among them. But if you sometimes find your pedaling enthusiasm is not high, there are other motivations for riding a bike. Cycling cuts emissions, so it’s good for the environment. It improves your physical and mental health. It is even good for your neighbourhood.
You Can Cut Carbon Dioxide
If you ride a bicycle rather than driving a car, that is harm avoidance on an immediate basis. A typical passenger vehicle emits one kilogram of carbon dioxide every four kilometres. On average use, this adds up to four and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Vehicle emissions make up about a fifth of greenhouse emissions in the developed world. In Australia, emissions per person are among the highest of all nations, so we are an outsize contributor to a global problem.
Riding a push bike has far less effect on the atmosphere. If you travel four kilometres by bike, you might generously expect to burn the carbohydrate in a small slice of bread. In the process, you would breathe out thirty grams of carbon dioxide. That is 97% less than using a car for the same errand. Under the Paris Agreement, nations pledged steep emissions cuts to avoid severe global warming. But with slow growth in renewable energy, it is unlikely these targets will be met without cuts in consumption. A bicycle can be an important tool to that end.
… And Other Emissions
Not taking a car also avoids another problem. Combustion engines produce toxic gases from nitrogen and oxygen. Diesel engines, while they emit less carbon dioxide, produce more of these nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen emissions are long-lived greenhouse gases and also damage health. They contribute to lung diseases like asthma, both directly and by forming particles and ground-level ozone. Over time, they also convert to acids and wash out as acid rain. The Volkswagen scandal was a effort to evade regulation of these emissions.
Nitrogen emissions are a problem with all combustion. They form simply by heating air to high temperatures. Electric vehicles, if linked to coal-fired power plants, still produce nitrogen (and sulfur) emissions, just at a different site. Hydrogen cars produce nitrogen oxides too, and biodiesel sometimes gives more nitrogen emissions than diesel. In contrast, a cake-fueled outing to the shops on a bicycle produces no nitrogen emissions at all.
Exercise Will Improve Your Physical Health
Another big reason to ride a bicycle is the effect of exercise on health. Today’s urban lifestyles offer few incentives to be active, but many to be sedentary. Bodies that always moved during human evolution are now in an oddly inactive state that seems to promote disease. Chronic health problems, including some that shorten life, are more common in those who do little exercise. Conversely, exercise reduces the risk of diabetes, stroke and cancer. It also lowers inflammation, giving major health benefits at middle and later life
When time is short, it is worth killing two birds with one stone. Riding a bike to work is a great way to get exercise while getting to where you need to be. The benefits can be massive. A five-year study showed that cycling to work was linked to a 40% lower risk of death, including from heart disease. If you can have your children ride a bicycle to school too, that can reduce their risk of developing chronic disease. But even if not, your example is important. Too many children grow up observing that adults don’t exercise. Offering them a different perspective could one day save their lives.
… And Your Mental Health
Studies show that exercise in any form improves your sense of well-being. Self-esteem and mood can be improved even by a single bout of exercise. Improvements in depression, anxiety and eating disorders can also come about when we move. Exercise in nature has even more benefits: green environments seem to make us happier.
Above and beyond the effects of exercise in general, cycling offers specific benefits. If there are safe bike routes, riding to work can be more enjoyable than a congested car trip and may even get you there faster. Compared to other forms of exercise, a bike also offers the chance to go further and carry more. On a bicycle, you can opt for a touring weekend or a bikepacking trip. Electric bikes add even more options, if your fitness needs some work. And especially if you ride off-road, a bicycle can take you to green spaces that will lift your mood.
Your Suburb Can Be Better Too
Building and maintaining roads is a major public cost. In Australia, annual spending on roads is around $15 billion. Spending is driven both by vehicle damage to existing roads and by demand for new roads as more cars come into use. If you ride a bicycle, you both avoid road damage and reduce the demand for more roads. Road project costs are high, in the range of $3.0-6.5 million per lane kilometer. Cutting this spending frees up funds for other worthwhile goals, like making better green spaces in your suburb.
Avoiding using the car also makes your suburb safer for vulnerable pedestrians like children. And when there are fewer cars on the road, there are more options to rework existing roads for active travel. Separated cycleways are a great way to get more people riding without the risks that come from having fast vehicles passing close to unprotected road users. If you start to ride a bicycle regularly, you may find you want to get involved with cycling advocacy groups to help create better cycling conditions in your area.
Getting Out There
There are many good options for buying a bicycle that fits your needs. At the same time, over half the households in Australia own at least one working bicycle already, and one third of Australians have ridden a bike at least once in the past year. Getting riding, or riding more often, could be as simple as getting a quick service and linking up with a local cycling group for tips. At Bike Knack, we are always happy to help get you moving, so feel free to phone Dave on 0437 017022 or send us an email.