Cycle of Life

Photography by: Stephanie Rausser

Good for you
If you’ve heard about the importance of exercise once, you’ve heard it a million times—and the beauty of commuter biking is that you can get at least the recommended amount of physical activity for fitness without ever setting foot in a gym. In fact, bike commuting burns an average of 42 calories per mile or 7 calories per minute, enough to improve your health and slim your hips, even if you take multiple short trips rather than commute 15 miles or more to work. And, after each bike trip your metabolism may stay slightly elevated for up to several hours, notes Barry Franklin, Ph.D., director of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation for William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. Indeed, countries with the highest levels of active transportation— bicycling and walking—generally have the lowest obesity rates, according to Pucher’s research. For instance, only 11 percent of Dutch residents are obese, compared with 34 percent in the United States. But the health benefits aren’t just physical. “People have improved focus at work, better mood and better mental acuity as a result of commuting by bike,” says Andy Duvall, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Denver, who, through a grant from the National Science Foundation, has surveyed 1,200 users of Denver B-cycle—the country’s first large-scale municipal bike-sharing program. Commuting by car, on the other hand, can equal stress, exhaustion, sleep disturbance, even absence from work due to illness, several studies suggest.

Good for the planet
There’s no question that commuting by car is making Mother Earth miserable. In fact, unnecessary vehicle idling in New York City alone causes as much pollution per year as 9 million large trucks driving the 35 miles or so from the Bronx to Staten Island, and wastes as much gas as it would take 40,000 cars to drive from Midtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund. According to other data, however, for every mile you pedal rather than drive in the U.S., you’re saving the environment from the emission of about 1 pound of pollution. “Bike commuting won’t solve global warming, but reducing our dependence on fossil fuels does make a difference,” says Duvall. According to his research, in a nine-month period in 2011, Denver B-cyclists saved the atmosphere from an estimated 634,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. What’s more, by choosing to go to restaurants and stores closer to home, Bcyclers avoided using an estimated 26,000 gallons of gas. “We’ve found that, for example, instead of going to a destination 10 miles away by car, people are going to an equivalent destination 1 1∕2 miles away by bike,” Duvall adds. “So in addition to directly displacing the 1 1∕2 pounds of CO2 emissions on that 1 1∕2-mile trip, you’re indirectly avoiding CO2 emissions from a car trip that might have been several miles longer.”

Good for your budget
With four teenagers going every which way and a 24-mile roundtrip commute to work in LaCrosse, Wis., Laura Stiehl was shelling out $1,000 monthly on gas. “Now that I’m biking, I spend about $400 a month on gas, and with less wear and tear on my car, I can go longer between oil changes and maintenance,” she says. Of course the average person may not save quite that much on fuel, but bike commuters do tend to hang on to a substantial chunk of change when they’re spending less on things like parking fees. From March to December 2011, the users of Denver B-cycle not only saved a combined estimate of $100,000 on gasoline but $612,000 on parking. If you pedal to work, you may score some extra cash, too. The Clean Air Campaign, an advocacy organization in Atlanta, offers local residents $3 for each day they commute by bike (or on foot or via carpool), and participants can earn up to $100 in a 90- day period. That could buy you a sweet new helmet! Employers around the country may also offer people who cycle to work a reimbursement of up to $20 a month, thanks to the Bike Commuter Act of 2008. And just think about how much you’ll save if you commute enough to eliminate the need for a car. The average annual operating cost of a bike is $308, compared with $8,220 for an automobile, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Now that’s savings you can feel good about.