There’s a lot of misunderstanding about why people cycle. Often, the assumption seems to be that those that cycle do it for noble reasons – because it’s good for the environment or good for reducing air pollution; other times it seems to be perceived as something that people do because of other, social, benefits – e.g. to fit in with a group of friends or because it’s something you’ve always done as a habit.
Understanding the reasons for people cycling help us to know how we can encourage people to cycle more. If we think that the reasons are environmental, then we can highlight this fact – but I have to be honest, I think that consideration of the environment rarely figures, apart from as a tie-breaker when two modes of transport are very close, when it comes to making decisions on how we travel.
For me, and I suspect for most others that cycle, it’s just the rational choice. Let’s take a look at my transport options as a case study:
Drive (this always used to be my primary mode of transport, even once I moved to London in 2007):
Money: £4,500/year for all transport
Time for my current commute (Roehampton – King’s Cross): 60 minutes each way, 120 minutes a day (assuming no major traffic-trauma or parking-related issues).
Money: £1,472 zone 1-3 travelcard; plus assume £500 for other train travel – £1,972
Time for my current commute: 70 minutes each way, 140 minutes a day
Money: £2,000 (includes all bike expenses plus train travel where bike not practical)
Time for my current commute: 35 minutes each way, 75 minutes each day (I have excluded shower time in the morning as I would shower in the morning in any case – but have included 5 minutes for the extra shower I tend to have at the end of the day).
Money: assume a £60 pair of walking shoes every 3 months = £240
Time for my current commute: 180 minutes each way; 360 minutes a day
Given that I’d be walking 6 hours a day, I think I’ll discount walking! (although I did walk it for one day on walk to work week, it wasn’t very practical for a journey of this length)
So far, it looks like the bike just skims it, doesn’t it? But wait a minute – if I cycle, do I need to go the gym any more? No. We know that the best health outcomes come from 300+ minutes exercise a week – so let’s assume I only really need an hour of exercise a day, five days a week. I don’t need to pay the £40/month gym fees either.
How does it look now then?
Bike (adjusted for no need to go to gym):
Money: £2,000 – £600 gym fees = £1,400
Time for my current commute: 75 minutes – 60 minutes exercise time = 15 minutes
So in a typical year, when I compare against when I used to drive, I’m saving £3,100 a year; and saving nearly 2 hours EVERY DAY. Even compared to public transport I’m still saving enough to pay for a long weekend away each year and 2 hours a day – compared to a car, I’m saving enough for a 3 week holiday!
Cycling is for me, the only rational choice, and that is why I cycle. Even if I were deeply unfit – say I could only cycle at half the speed – I would still be saving time; but in addition, if I were that unfit the cycling would be adding years to my life – an average person gains an hour of life for every hour cycling. Given 2 hours plus exercise a day, I wouldn’t stay unfit very long either – I’d get fitter and faster.
I’d guess that for most people cycling, the same is true – they aren’t trying to save the planet, they just value their time and money!