Until recently, bicycle commuting was an almost renegade activity in America. But it’s made a stunning turnaround thanks to frugal recessionary habits, hipster fetishization and smart urban planning. Nationwide, commuting by bike is up 60% in the past decade, to nearly 800,000 people. That’s still a tiny percentage of Americans, but the rate of change is telling.
The bike lanes that have overtaken city streets in the past several years have made streets safer, encouraging more riders. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: more riders leads to greater driver awareness and safety, which leads to even more riders. Sure, it might make you a little sweaty or get bike grease on your socks, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Take a look at some of the unbeatable advantages.
1. It’s liberating. A cyclist never feels quite so smug as when sailing past gridlock. Bikes don’t get into traffic jams; they can always walk past construction on the sidewalk. That red-knuckle, horn-honking frustration of rush hour? Gone. That helpless agony of train delays and sardine-packed subways? Same thing. No longer beholden to timetables, you can get going whenever you like.
2. It expands your horizons. Apartments close to the subway are more expensive than those farther away. If you commute by bike, it opens up transit-starved—and cheaper—neighborhoods. The New York Times has reported that housing options change when you have a bike and renters can get more for their money. Thanks to 350 miles of new bike lanes since 2007, renters in Brooklyn now consider neighborhoods like Wallabout, Red Hook and parts of Bushwick that are a hike from the subway.Commuting by bike in Chicago. | Photo courtesy of John Greenfield via WikiMedia.
3. It’s cheap. Not only can cyclists ignore fickle public transportation systems, but they can save over $2 a ride or $100 a month. Nonprofit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives estimates that for frequent cyclists, bike riding costs less than half as much as mass transit per mile traveled, even counting the cost of a new bike every three years. And don’t even get into the cost of owning a car and paying for gas—the comparison’s not even close.
4. It’s green. A European study found that the bicycle is the lowest emitter of greenhouse gasses compared with cars and buses. Emissions for cycling were 21 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger, per kilometer. A public bus measured 101 grams per person and a car 271 grams. Reducing the number of cars on the road has many benefits, like reduced ozone concentrations and fewer asthma attacks found in an Atlanta study.Bike lane in downtown Manhattan. | Photo curtesy of Jim Henderson via WikiMedia.
5. It’s healthy. Bicycle commuting is a pleasingly efficient way for busy urbanites to fit in a workout. Most riders will easily meet the Center for Disease Control’s minimal requirements of 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. It burns an average of 540 calories an hour, depending on your weight and speed (estimate your expenditure here). Men who cycle to work are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese than those who drive. Active commuters have better BMI, blood pressure and triglyceride levels. The list goes on and on. Bonus: You can do away with that pricey gym membership.
6. It makes you happy. With your heart beating and wind in your face, biking can be hard work. But that very stress makes your brain produce endorphins and proteins to limit the pain, making you feel euphoric. The effects of these mood enhancers is similar to drug addiction and leave you wanting more. So yes, you can basically become addicted to exercise. And the happiness benefit of exercise extends to off days. If you haven’t been exercising, you’ll actually get more of an endorphins boost from a 20-minute commute than a triathlete. Beyond the aerobic effects, many studies have shown that bike commuters are happier with their commute than people driving or taking public transportation—even in cold cities like Montreal.Cover photo courtesy of Dylan Passmore.