Photo: Flickr via eucyclistsfed
Although the U.S. has seen 40 per cent growth in the number of bicycle commuters since 2000, their numbers have yet to even surpass 1 million.That’s a shame.
Not only do bicycle commuters have the potential to improve their own health, wealth and standard of living, but the ripple effect of more cyclists coupled with fewer cars on the road could give the entire country a much-needed boost.
After digging through years’ worth of research and government data, it’s clear that the pros of biking to work far outweigh the cons.
Due to rising fuel costs and tire upkeep, the cost of owning a car increased nearly 2 per cent in 2012 to $8,946, according to AAA.
It costs just $308 per year to keep bikes in shape----nearly 30 times less than cars.
Per the Sierra Club: 'If American drivers were to make just one four-mile round trip each week with a bicycle instead of a car, they would save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, total savings would be $7.3 billion a year.'
Cycling could help you get there faster, especially in areas with bike lanes that are separated from regular traffic.
'Half of the working population in the U.S. commutes five miles or less to work, with bike trips of three to five miles taking less time or the same amount of time as commuting by car,' writes Kiplinger editor Amanda Lilly.
There's been a wave of new bike-sharing programs in major U.S. cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago and Miami Beach, offering commuters have a hassle-free way to incorporate cycling into their daily routine.
Bike shares typically allow riders 30 to 45 minutes of free transportation for a small annual fee.
The U.S. may have lead this year's summer Olympics in gold medals, but it's getting obliterated on the bike commuting scene.
According to the American League of Bicyclists, there are more than twice as many cyclists in Quebec alone as in the whole of the U.S. The city saw a 500,000-strong surge in cyclists since 2005 and boasts a 54 per cent rate of daily bicycle commuters (about 2 million to America's 730,000).
In Copenhagen, 68 per cent of residents cycle at least once a week and 35 per cent bike to work each day
Researchers have found a direct link between the rate of walking and cycling activity and obesity levels in countries, according to Science Daily.
'European countries with high rates of walking and cycling have less obesity than do Australia and countries in North America that are highly car-dependent,' the study says.
On average, daily bicycle commuters lose 13 pounds in their first year of cycling.
'The most important socio-economic impact of cycling lies in the area of health care,' says Andy Clarke, president of the league of American Bicyclists.
'When we cycle we save ourselves and society as a whole significant health care costs, including saved treatment expenses and increased tax revenues as result of fewer illnesses.'
Nowhere is that more clear than in Portland, Ore. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found 'during the next 30 years, Portland's residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because of an investment into biking culture' and 'fuel savings of $143 to $218 million.'
Much of the fear associated with bicycle commuting has to do with road collisions.
While there's no denying that bicycling fatalities do happen, a Rutgers study found pedestrians were three times more likely than bicyclists to be involved in traffic fatalities.
And there's strength in numbers. International research has shown that the rate of bicycle-related accidents actually don't increase as more riders hit the road.
'It's a virtuous cycle,' Dr. Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW, says. 'The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle.'
There's something to be said about breathing in open air on a bike rather than being packed into a small train car with dozens of other passengers' germs floating around.
In fact, a recent study by the University of Nottingham found public transit riders were 'six times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory infections,' the New York Daily News reports. Supposedly occasional riders were even more at risk.
Cars aren't much better either. Another study found a host of illness-causing viruses lurking in passenger vehicles, including E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter, according to Safetyissues.com.
Since January 2012, cyclist commuters have been entitled to a $20 per month tax-free reimbursement for bike-related expenses.
This applies to workers who bike at least three days per week to the office.
Qualifying expenses include bike repairs and storage expenses, according to the National centre for Transit Research.
As women age, they become increasingly susceptible to bone deterioration through osteoporosis.
A team of researchers from a Swedish university found middle-aged women were less likely to sustain wrist fractures if they commuted by bike or participated in other physical activities like walking.
Hundreds of major companies have entered the American League of Bicyclists' 'Bicycle Friendly Business' program.
The list includes Fortune 500 giants like AstraZeneca and government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, which have proven they're committed to encouraging employees to bike to work.
Cities like New York also require commercial office buildings by law to offer some sort of bike storage for workers.
The beauty of bikes is that they're incredibly simple to store. As noted earlier, check to see if your state requires commercial office buildings to provide bike storage for workers. If so, ask your building manager where to park.
Otherwise, invest in a sturdy bike lock and all you need is a spare bike rack or street sign to park your ride.
Folding bikes are another useful option, as they can be packed into a bag and stashed easily under a desk or a closet.
Many corporate office buildings have showering facilities cyclists can take advantage of, but there's no reason to let that sweaty back of yours keep you off the bike path.
Tote fresh clothing in a pannier or basket (both can be found for under $30) or keep a dry cleaning bag with clean clothes hanging up in your office for easy access.
Baby wipes might be the cheapest and most efficient way to freshen up in a rush.
Along with traffic jams, heavy work loads and sitting at desks all day, American workers are subjected to a lot of stress.
Like all aerobic activity, cycling can help channel that negative energy in the most positive way possible.
A study published by Arizona State University researchers found exercise not only reduces stress but can help manage anxiety as well if performed several times per week.
While American commuters waste way in cars and then sit at desks all day, we're missing the opportunity to harness our own power to help improve the economy.
Cyclists in cities like Copenhagen have become the poster children for the benefits of cycling, both at the micro- and macroeconomic level.
In its 2012 Bicycle Account, the city says bike commuters have generated savings ($0.42 for each mile biked) in just about every way imaginable: lowered transportation costs, security, branding/tourism, traffic infrastructure and public health.