Photo: Burn calories, not gas: Ride a bike

A British Medical Association study that found the health risks of inactivity are 20 times greater than the risks from cycling.

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington

A U.K. man recently built a bicycle entirely out of wood, with no plastic or metal parts. Everything, including the wheels, gears, and seat, are wood. Inventor Michael Thompson, who made the “SplinterBike” on a bet with a friend, says it can travel up to 50 kilometres an hour.
What's amazing is that, almost 200 years after the first two-wheeler was made, people are still able to come up with innovative ideas for one of the simplest and most practical and efficient transportation devices ever invented. Even though I'm impressed by Thompson's wooden bike, and by those with bamboo or wood frames, I'll stick with my old metal-frame bike. I'm just happy that cycling is becoming more popular all the time, and that the city where I live, Vancouver, is making life easier for cyclists.
After all, riding a bike is good for your health and the environment. As the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition points out in its promotion of Bike to Work Week (May 30 — June 5 in several Canadian cities), cycling to work is enjoyable, helps you get and stay in shape, and burns off stress. And when you consider gridlock and traffic, it's often as fast as or faster than driving. It's also way more efficient than car travel. According to the WorldWatch Institute, a bicycle needs 35 calories per passenger mile, while a car uses 1,860.
Reducing your need to stop at the gas pump is both good for the environment and for your pocketbook, especially as gas prices continue to rise. Private automobiles create about 12 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, and road transportation in general creates as much as one quarter. Riding a bike doesn't create any emissions. And it's not just gas that costs money. Buying, insuring, and maintaining a car, not to mention paying for parking, costs thousands of dollars a year.
Of course, cycling isn't practical for everyone, and it's not always possible to ride — although I've seen my share of die-hard cyclists even on rare Vancouver snow days. But with proper clothing and gear, many people can ride for most of the year in urban centres. And the money saved from not driving is often enough to pay for public transit or taxis on days when cycling isn't possible.
Our cities will become more livable and our environment cleaner when more people get out of their cars and onto their bikes. But we still have a long way to go in Canada. Only about one per cent of trips are made by bike here (although Vancouver is higher, at about four per cent), whereas in many parts of Europe, the number is more than 30 per cent. In Amsterdam, 38 per cent of trips are made by bike, thanks to pro-cycling policies adopted since the 1970s.
Resistance to change is inevitable, and in Vancouver we've seen some backlash against the expanding network of bike lanes. Many people still believe we should be shelling out loads of money for pavement and parking lots so that individual people can propel themselves to work and shopping in a two-tonne emissions-spewing machine. Others have complained that, because the bike lanes were not immediately crammed with cyclists, they're a waste of money and get in the way of cars and business. But as Amsterdam shows, investing in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure eventually pays off in many ways.
As more people take up cycling, it also becomes safer. Although, those who worry about the safety of cycling might be interested in a British Medical Association study that found the health risks of inactivity are 20 times greater than the risks from cycling.
For employers, the benefits of encouraging cycling are numerous. A Dutch study found that people who cycle to work take fewer sick days, and research has shown they are generally happier and less stressed. Cyclists can also avoid traffic jams and are not as likely to be late for work. And bike lock-ups cost far less than car-parking facilities.
Whether your bike has a state-of-the-art bamboo frame or is a clunky old off-roader, why not try riding it to work, and not just during Bike to Work week? You'll be happy you did.

May 25, 2011

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Jun 19, 2011
8:22 AM

Check on a bike that utilizes the wind and can advertize your message. You can see it on my twitter feed:) cures_riches It really works, with a regular bike only 1/3 of the wind pushes your effort, and with a sign on the side of your bike your utilizing two thirds of the wind. The version I have is also a compartment and rear mud flap. Fix it securely and don’t try it in gale force winds on your first day :) Another note of caution is that some province of Ontario bus drivers will reject allowing it on the front of their bus. Bonne route.

Jun 16, 2011
10:04 AM

My late father rode his bike to work for many years because it wasn’t too far away, but,having a car today is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. I’m all for riding a bike when I want to, but to tell people about the ‘evil’ of cars & basically command people to ride bikes is beyond the pale. Go take a trip on your gigantic gas guzzling bus & don’t come back. You are nothing but a full of hot air phony!

Jun 02, 2011
12:42 PM

A few comments from a 30 year Vancouver bike commuter.

“cycling to work is enjoyable, helps you get and stay in shape, and burns off stress” for someone who’s never done it before. Urban cycling barely raises my heart rate above normal and all the new cyclists on the road stress me out.

“In Amsterdam, 38 per cent of trips are made by bike, thanks to pro-cycling policies adopted since the 1970s.” I believe that’s more to do with geography than planning. Comparing a pre-industrial pedestrian and horse city to a modern car oriented city is misleading.

“As more people take up cycling, it also becomes safer.” Of the 10 or so accidents I’ve had in the past 5 years, 8 were caused by other cyclists. I’m really starting to think bike licensing is a good idea.

As to the bike lanes…I find them slow and dangerous. I prefer to ride with traffic.

May 29, 2011
9:18 PM

Best thing I ever started doing, a fantastic way of getting “me time” in each day. Feel the wind in your hair and ride on!

May 29, 2011
7:43 PM

I have been bicycling to work for decades. Not always possible; some days I need to from Melbourne to Darwin on my bicycle — you cannot do that in a day.

May 29, 2011
8:13 AM

Riding bikes is an excellent idea, and it works in the Netherlands, because there are special roads for bike riders, and there are alot of them. But in Toronto, riding a bike in the same road as cars is more like a suiside mission, especially when so many drivers are not carefull at all -that’s why I will never ride a bike here like I did in Holland.

May 29, 2011
1:04 AM

I’d love to read the BMA study on the relative risks of cycling versus a sedentary lifestyle, but can’t seem to find it — anyone able to direct me?

May 28, 2011
3:48 PM

Dear Mr. Suzuki, I found your website today, and I really like it. I added a link to “top 10 ways …” in my weblog. Anyway, riding a bike is another way for stopping the climate change. I started cycling 2 months ago and I’m happy that I dont have any contribution in air polution anymore !

May 27, 2011
9:57 AM

i just started riding (most of the way to work) last week. since then i haven’t been in traffic once, havne’t had to buy as much gas, feel like i’m getting exercise for free, and my stress level has gone down. I live in a rural area on a mountain so biking to work is something i never thought i’d do but once i realized i could drive to a park and ride and take a trail strait to work from there i thought i’d better try. now i’m doing it. i’m proud of myself and i highly recommed giving it a try before you give up on the idea.

May 25, 2011
10:26 AM

John Pucher of Rutgers has been studying bicycling around the world for well over a decade and has written some fascinating papers. Here is one of his latest overviews

excellent stuff for understanding where we are in North America and the obstacles before us — and what might be done…

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