Pedal Power: How Biking Could Change American Society Get on that bike and get in shape, lower your carbon footprint and save lots of money

Credit: Pippa Buchanan, FlickrCCPeople often promote biking as a great way to get some exercise, see the scenery and even get to work or the store. The benefits run a bit deeper than relaxation though. There are more significant differences between cars and bikes than just the existence of a gas tank, so break out your old bicycle and get to pedaling!

Reduce Your Road Impact

Lowering your use of fossil fuels is good for the environment and your wallet. Cars need gas to run, and bikes don’t. Even if you drive a car with excellent gas mileage and only have a five-minute drive to work, you’ll still save money and emissions with biking. But cars are fundamentally different from bikes in a lot of ways too.

The entire process of making and caring for a car is completely different from that of a bicycle. The difference between having four car tires and two bicycle tires dramatically reduces your need for rubber. Bike roads can be drastically smaller, and they’re less likely to be damaged by accidents. Road repairs can even sometimes be your responsibility if you were at fault. After all, when an 18-wheeler crashes, it usually tears up a big part of the road, which needs to be repaved.

Of course, 18-wheelers and other commuters will still be on the road. It would be difficult to get everyone to switch and utterly impossible for some industries to operate without using vehicles. But by reducing the number of commuter cars, we ensure that accidents overall become less likely. Less wear and tear also means the roads will need to be fixed less often, reducing the use of asphalt and diesel trucks to repair them.

Biking also results in less roadkill. You’re not anywhere near as likely to run an animal over while on a bike, and on the rare occasion that you do encounter a deer, you’ll probably just both fall over. Either way, it’s unlikely to be a fatal accident for any humans or animals. Less roadkill means a less need for roadkill cleanup, fewer dead animals, fewer rotting animals that can spread diseases and less contamination of water supplies and runoff.

Reap the Personal Benefits

The biggest, most immediate benefit you’ll get from biking is a healthier lifestyle. Cardio exercise helps you lose fat, increase cardiovascular health, decrease stress and improve joint mobility. Biking or other intense cardio exercises can even stimulate brain cell growth!

With increased dedication to physical exercise, we may be able to reduce the population’s weight and sedentary lifestyle issues, which means less reliance on medications. Every medicine you take has an environmental impact. The manufacturing of them and the way they’re released back into the environment all have an effect, and one we can lower by promoting simple, accessible exercises like biking.

Consider the Manufacturing Processes

When looking at a car itself, it’s easy to see how much better bikes are for the environment. Just building a car can create as much CO2 as driving it — significantly more than making a bike creates. Some similarities exist, however, between the two modes of transportation.

Both cars and bikes use metal and rubber. Unfortunately, rubber manufacturing is not a clean process. It involves monocultures and unfair pay to farmers, while new fields are often planted with slash-and-burn techniques devastating to wildlife. Metal ores must be dug from the ground and transformed into what we recognize as steel and iron. They’re then shaped and welded to form the vehicle body, painted and oiled and after the sale, maintained. That’s where the similarities end.

Cars need much more than metal, paint, and rubber. They also need plastic, leather or vinyl, glass, oil and now, computer parts. The raw materials have to be transported and turned into parts, which have to be transported and put together into cars, which have to be transported to their end sale point — it’s a lot of transporting!

A bicycle goes through the same process on a much smaller scale. Once it’s in use, the maintenance costs to the environment are negligible. A bike may occasionally need a chain replacement or dose of oil, but the biggest issue will be new tires. Fortunately, you can replace all the tires on a bike without even coming close to the rubber used for four car tires.

Bike, but Be Safe!

Biking is, overall, safer than driving. You’re moving at much slower speeds, and any collision you have going 20 miles per hour is less likely to kill you than one at 60 miles per hour. The only downside is that cars are more protected than bikes.

It’s the responsibility of the biker to take precautions for their protection. If you’re biking, you should at least do the bare minimum and wear necessary safety gear, which includes a helmet and reflective gear for nights and foggy weather. A helmet can reduce the risk of injuries dramatically — by 74-85 percent. Knee pads and appropriate clothing also help you avoid getting hurt. Staying safe is always a top priority.

Biking instead of driving won’t eliminate your carbon footprint. In fact, it probably won’t even entirely remove your need to drive. But don’t fret — encouraging people to take bikes instead of cars whenever possible can make a huge difference. Get enough people involved, and you can help change the world.