Recently I enthused on the life impact of getting an e-bike. The enthusiasm remains and I two-wheel to work almost every day. Often my thoughts are of the form “What makes this so great is…” Here are some of those, but there’s a very specific assumption: that your home city has decent bikelane infrastructure. Vancouver’s is not world-class but also not terrible, and I’ll toss in a few pix from my commute for non-bike-commuters who might not have seen what that means.
It’s free · No charge to use the public roads or bikepaths. No charge to park, anywhere (the mind reels). The bike’s not free and I bought panniers and a lock, but compared to basically any car it’s peanuts, maintenance too (especially maintenance, actually). I have an e-bike so there are a few pennies’ worth of charging power every other week.
Public transit here is $24/week for my route, car parking is $10/day and way up, plus gas if you’re still misguidedly driving a fossil car.
It’s fast · This thing ticks along at 25km/h on the level, 20 uphill, 35-40 downhill. If I take my car and the traffic’s not bad I can get there way faster, but the traffic’s never not bad if you want to work reasonably conventional hours. You could argue that the car offers comfy seats, weather protection, and music. But…
No waiting! · Humans are born to travel; being on the road’s one of our natural conditions. (If you’ve ever doubted this, go read Chatwin’s The Songlines.) But I have never in my whole life encountered anyone who wasn’t irritated during those times when they’re trying to get somewhere and have to wait. Urban driving is all about waiting: For the light, for the other cars trying to get on the bridge or make that turn, for the slowpoke who isn’t sure where they’re going, for the pedestrians drifting across the road looking at their phones.
When you’re commuting by bike, you only ever stop for traffic lights and on a well-designed bikepath there aren’t many. It’s all flow and motion, the wind in your face and the scenery hurtling backward. For my money, this is the biggest win. I’ve never claimed the virtue of patience but I don’t think I’m that unusual.
It’s good for you · This is a little more complicated than you might think, because cyclists are several times more likely than motorists to be killed per kilometer traversed. I can testify to this; in 2000 I was hit by a car that lurched into forward motion as I was coasting through a crosswalk 18 inches in front of its bumper, severely broke my shoulder, had surgery and spent a week in hospital. But — did I mention it was complicated? — cyclists cover a lot fewer kilometers than motorists, and the death rates vary strongly with age and fitness, and the data doesn’t necessarily apply to cyclists on a modern well-designed bikepath network.
Another danger is pollution and yeah, urban cycling, during the current fossil-car interregnum, does involve inhaling exhaust.
But then there are the health benefits of getting a half-hour or more of low-impact aerobic exercise every weekday, and they are not subtle, not in the slightest.
Researchers at regular intervals over the years have tried to balance out the pros and cons. Spoiler: The upside wins, big-time. Probably the best survey I ran across researching this was Bicycling: Health Risk or Benefit? by Teschke, Reynolds, Riese, Gouge, and Winters (of UBC and SFU, here in Vancouver!) published back in 2012 but more recent papers I ran across came out about the same, and this one is nicely condensed and presented. Four of the studies they survey, from 2009 through 2012, offer numerical estimates of the ratio of benefit to risk, and those estimates are: 15:1, 9:1, 19:1, and 96:1.
Mentally too · Some of those studies actually call out mental-health benefits such as decreased risk of depression, and that’s interesting. But at another level, I feel intuitively that a half-hour in which I’m living in the moment, not gathering wool, not ingesting media, watching like a hawk for dorky drivers and pokey pedestrians, banking around corners and dodging potholes, pedaling hard to beat a yellow light… well, the benefit doesn’t feel subtle.
When I walk into the lobby at work I feel more alive than the mole people emerging from the car-park elevator.
It’s good for the planet · Well, yeah. Come on and give it a try. If you’re a little old and/or creaky, splash out for an e-bike. Call it an investment because it is, and in things that are important.