You do not need to be training for the Tour de France to take to the streets on a bike. However, according to Ipsos, while 69% of those surveyed in the U.S. know how to ride a bike, only 25% of adults do so at least once per week, and only 5% use them to get to work or school. These statistics starkly contrast the Netherlands, where 65% of adults ride at least once a week, and 30% do so to their places of work or education.
The U.S. could match those numbers with some motivation. This year’s Nation Bike To Work week spans May 15–21. It’s the perfect time to explore the various benefits for those who frequently bike — strap on your helmet.
Good For The Body
First and foremost, biking is an excellent form of physical activity — an aerobic and cardiovascular exercise. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” adults should fit in 150 to 300 minutes of this workout type at a moderate intensity level weekly.
Turning your commute into a workout can kill two birds with one stone, ensuring you keep your heart, brain, and lungs healthy.
This exercise lowers blood pressure; reduces the possibility of having a heart attack and developing cancer or Type 2 diabetes; prevents Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other cognitive decline; and ultimately leads to longer lives.
In fact, if adults aged 40 to 85 engaged in slightly more physical activity — even 10 more minutes daily — we could collectively prevent 110,000 deaths annually, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It is no wonder that the National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Foundation says regular cyclers have the fitness level of someone 10 years younger.
Mental Health Benefits
From a mental health standpoint, biking also has a lot to offer over alternative commuting methods. It adds to the convenience with which you get to work, eliminating the most stressful part of many peoples’ days.
By avoiding traffic jams and being able to park anywhere with a pole or rack your lock can fit, it is usually faster than driving. Some cities, such as Austin, TX, and Cincinnati, OH, have driving speeds of only six to nine miles per hour, according to INRIX’s 2013 report, whereas bikes can often go at least nine miles per hour.
Additionally, biking outdoors allows riders to get fresh air and explore their surroundings. “Survey after survey says that the happiest commuters are bike commuters. You’ll notice a new shop that’s opened, a new place to eat — it’s a really fun way to get to know your community,” Ken McLeod, policy director at the League for American Bicyclists, told Consumer Reports.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise improves mood and decreases our susceptibility to anxiety and depression.
Helping Out The Wallet
Biking is also a financial win. According to the American Public Transportation Association, downsizing to a single-car household can save $10,000 annually, cutting the purchase, maintenance, and operation costs associated with car ownership. In comparison, the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club state that the costs of bike ownership are a mere $308.
You do not even need to purchase a bicycle in many major cities. In the era of bike-share programs, paying a small one-time or recurring fee allows you to ride anywhere and leave the vehicle at a designated docking station near work or home. You do not have to pay for fuel or parking, and another entity is responsible for maintenance and repairs.
More biking also saves money for our collective society. Since people who exercise more tend to be healthier, reduced health care costs can be expected.
For example, a 2019 report from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy found that, on average, people who stay active save $630 annually (in 2019 dollars) in such expenses.
Additionally, the more people that bike in a particular area, the less likely biking accidents become. The 2015 ”Safer Streets, Stronger Economies” report by Smart Growth America found that their 37 projects, aimed at promoting biking and walking, saved $18.1 million in collision and injury costs over a year.
Finally, the environmental benefits of using your legs cannot be overstated. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average car produces 4.6 metric tons of carbon annually. A 2021 report published in Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment notably found that people who biked one or two times per day had life cycle carbon emissions that were 83% lower than those who did not at all.
Additional benefits include reduced noise pollution and less land used for parking lots, which means more space for nature. The planet will thank you for using two wheels instead of four.