Uncategorized bicycles

Published on June 16th, 2008 | by Gavin Hudson


17 Reasons Why Bicycles are the Most Popular Vehicle in the World

Bicycling it isn’t always easy. Busy streets, honking horns, and inadequate city funding for bike lanes and paths can make bicycling an uphill battle. However, with green in the news, the economy in a slump, and summer on its way, it’s getting easier to find reasons why there are some 1.4 billion bicycles and only about 400 million cars in the world today.

This week, EcoWorldly authors from six continents contributed articles on bicycling in their country. With exerpts from those articles and others in the blogosphere, here are seventeen very good reasons to bicycle no matter where you live. Click the headings as you go to read more.

1. The number one thing on most car owner’s minds these days is the price of oil.

“The popularity of bicycles as gasoline prices hit the roof is on a remarkable rise in many US cities,” observes Kenya correspondant, Sam Aola Ooko.

“During the week of 3 June to 9 June,” writes Sam, “in San Fransisco, the price for a gallon of regular is now US$ 4.73, in Washington, DC it is US$ 4.21 while in Wilmington it is US$ 4.40. But how much does it cost to ride around these days? The answer is zero, as it has always been.”

Associated Press Writer, James Macpherson, agrees. “Bicycle shops across the country are reporting strong sales so far this year, and more people are bringing in bikes that have been idled for years,” he writes.

2. Bicycling can make you healthy and hot… er… hotter.

Bicycling with even light effort (10-12 miles per hour) burns 400-500 calories an hour. To shape her legs for the Miss Universe competition, Miss Korea, Lee Ji-seon, started getting her workouts on a bicycle. Apparently, Miss Universe 2007, Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico, is of a similar mind. She cycled through Mexico City in support of replacing cars with bicycles.

EcoWorldly’s UK correspondant, Pem Charnley, connects bicycling with solving the obesity problem in England: “I think, in all honesty, that the UK has come to the realisation that we’ve collectively reached critical mass around the waistline. Every time the news reports that we’re the most overweight in the European Union, pride and roars of approval sweep the land. It’s all we have left since we gave Hong Kong back.

“Devon is an incredibly picturesque county,” he adds, “and it seems an absolute waste to be constantly watching soccer on the TV, when outside lies the undulating greenery of England.”

3. Old bicycles can be modified and made into useful tools.

From generating human-powered home electricity to pumping water, modified bicycles have the power to do more than get you from point A to point B.

“The Engineering for Developing Communities (EDC) program at the University of Colorado at Boulder developed a prototype of a human powered bicycle for pumping water in communities where electricity is unavailable,” reports United States correspondant, Nayelli Gonzalez. “Their model was able to pump at a maximum of 18 feet below ground, at 2.5 gallons per minute.”

4. Bicycling builds social groups and better community development.

In Reggio Emilia, Italy, the “BiciBus” brings teachers, students, and parents together for bicycle commuting to and from schools.

“The BiciBus is a ‘two-wheeled bus,’” writes Italy correspondant, Eva Pratesi. “It consists of a group of students who go to and come back from school guided by volunteers by bicycle (parents, grandparents, teachers…). The students go to the route with their bicycles; they wait for the volunteers and the group and go on together toward the school.

BiciBus is preceded and supported by workshops and technical analysis in the classrooms to educate to sustainable mobility, traffic safety and bicycle knowledge. It’s also possible to organize school trips by bicycle an evening meetings with experts directed to the families in order to talk about health, sustainable mobility and safety.”

In Australia, a similar community bicycling program offers a similar program for adults as well. Cyclists can join the “Bike Bus,” a regularly scheduled commute with fixed routes and two commuting speeds: social and express.

San Francisco, California, has a third option. Though not as organized as a community bike bus program, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition can pair cyclists with “bike buddies” to share knowledge and tips or commute together to work.

5. Bicycling may encourage the breakdown of economic divides.

In wealthy countries, cycling has been adopted by all echelons of society. In fact, the word “cyclist” tends to conjure the image of a upper-middle class athletic type with an expensive carbon fiber bike, spandex outfit, and bicycle shoes. However, in poorer countries, people who have adopted driving as a social status often equate bicycling with poverty.

“Bicycling in Chiang Mai, Thailand, like in many developing country cities, is regarded with disdain because it supposedly reveals low economic status,” writes Thailand correspondant Masimba Biriwasha. “Many people are reluctant to turn to bicycles because of the social attitudes that demean human powered modes of transportation, including walking.”

EcoWorldly’s Sam Aola Ooko, adds, “In Nairobi, Kenya where I live, not many of those who drive here switch to bicycles, because bikes are regarded as [being useful only to] poorly paid factory who cannot afford the US $1 daily bus fare commuting to and from work.”

“In order for cycling to become an everyday reality in this city,” concludes Masimba, “the society will have to undergo major paradigm shifts at the attitudinal, city planning and policy making levels.” Perhaps that shift can begin one bicyclist at a time.

6. Bicycles are versatile machines with many uses.

Again, Sam Aola Ooko in Kenya: “In Africa, versatility is everything and depending on where you are, a bicycle can be a large farm truck or an ambulance saving lives deep in the African jungle.”

But, as Sam cautions, be careful to select a comfortable seat and have it properly adjusted by a professional bike mechanic.

7. By reducing air pollution, bicycling instead of driving also reduces rates of asthma and lung disease.

There is a strong and increasingly clear connection between car exhaust and life-threatening lung conditions. In South Korea, where I live, the number of deaths from lower respiratory conditions nearly doubled from 1992 to 2002. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that 3 million people a year die from diseases related to air pollution. And this isn’t just in far-off countries. It includes Americans, Chinese, French, South Koreans, etc. In South Korea, asthma in particular is becoming more common. Currently, 3.9% of the population as a whole suffers from asthma. This number grows to around 12% for young children and the elderly.

8. Bicycling saves Australia nearly a quarter billion dollars in health costs each year.

Australia correspondant, Ross Kendall: “Cycling currently saves the government $227.2 million per year in health costs. The report is called Cycling: Getting Australia Moving and was written by academics from several leading Australian universities on behalf of the Federal Department of Health and Ageing.”

Despite the potential savings in dollars, health, and lives, Australia — like most countries — could stand to significantly improve its support of bicyclists. Still, Ross notes that “big cities have shown increases in bicycle traffic as has the country overall.”

Carectomy’s Josh Liberles adds “2007 marks the eighth consecutive year that bicycle sales have trumped the car market in Australia, with 1.47 million bicycles sold. In addition to the rise in sales, there’s also an increase in the amount people are riding. Cycling is currently the nation’s 4th most popular form of exercise and there has been a 17% increase in participation since 2001. Work commutes by bicycle in Melbourne have increased by a startling 42% in the same time, with a 22% increase across Australia.”

9. Bicycles require significantly less space than cars.

Therefore, an urban area developed for bicycles and pedestrians would be able to replace road area with businesses, walkways, and parks. For a perfect illustration, just take a look at this image. Now just imagine the impracticality of replacing every bicycle in China with a car.

Again, EcoWorldly’s Eva Pratesi: “With a population of about 400,000 inhabitants and a traffic density that affects the historical center, Florence is a city where bicycling is not a choice. Every day a continual coming and going of students and workers flows slowly in the city-center riding for kilometers. Cradle of new Humanism under the Medici Dynasty, Florence preserves today the ancient charm that bikers can appreciate moving towards their destinations.”

10. In some places, with a little modification, a single bicycle can be a business.

“Peruvians also are masters at modifying their bicycles in creative ways,” writes Peru correspondant, Levi Novey, “so that they can be used to transport goods and tools for their work and businesses. Fruits, vegetables, construction materials, ice cream, meat, bananas, pets, and countless other items can be transported by bicycle, when a cart has been added. Unlike in the United States though, these aren’t your everyday bicycle carts.”

11. Bicycles are efficient vehicles.

Swiss correspondant, Mark Seall, writes, “A bicycle, I once read somewhere, is the most efficient form of human transport ever developed. Coupled with the fact that bicycles are relatively cheap and trouble free, and suffer few of the traffic problems that dog other forms of transport it’s no wonder that cycling has never been more popular.”

But Mark is quick to add that bicyclists should be respectful of pedestrians. Indeed, it’s important for all cyclists to remember that in most places a bicycles follows the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Check with your local bicycling group or city government to learn more about the rules of bicycling in your area.

12. Bicycling could save the average American at least $250,000.

According to Motor Trend and the American Institute for Economic Research, the average American car-owner can expect to pay between $240,704 and $349,968 during his driving lifetime. These figures will increase with the price of fuel and the rising cost of the vehicles themselves.

A bicycle can serve your transportation needs for commuting, shopping, and getting around town. Urbanites who are well acquainted with the frustration of paying parking tickets and towing fines will also find that bicycles are an excellent solution. Of course, you’ll still need that fuel: the occasional sandwich or cup of coffee will do nicely.

13. A bicycle crash alone isn’t likely to kill you.

In a sobering perspective on health, over 42,000 people die each year (1 million, worldwide) in the United States and some 2.8 million are injured as a result of automotive accidents. Another 70,000 lives are claimed each year in the United States from medical conditions associated with air pollution (3 million, worldwide). Therefore, for personal safety and the health and safety of others, giving up the car keys is extremely important. As anyone who has experienced a car accident will tell you, car crashes can happen to anyone, not just bad or drunk drivers.

14. Bicyclists breathe in less air pollution.

Various studies indicate that bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, making cycling an even more healthy activity. Of course, bicycles emit no air pollution themselves, which ensures cleaner air and better lung health for everybody.

15. Bicycles are zero-emission vehicles.

Bikes get an infinite number of miles to the gallon of gas. Now that’s hard to beat! Bicycling emits no greenhouse, ozone, or any gasses of any sort. Cycling, therefore, is an excellent way for all of us to stand up to Global Warming, ozone thinning, acid rain, and other negative effects of air pollution that come in part from automobiles. If everyone bicycled or rode on public transit instead of driving, the United States could instantly cut about 30% of its air pollution in a single stroke.

16. Bicycling provides a social network.

In contrast to the irritation many car owners feel for other drivers, bicyclists are by and large a supportive community. In many cities, bicycle advocacy groups help to bring bicyclists together. The groups also lobby to add bicycle lanes, improve roads, promote education about bicycling, and support clean air initiatives. These groups generally also offer a wonderful and vibrant sense community for bikers with regular social events and advocacy opportunities. Some examples of bicycle groups such as these are the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, MassBike (Massachusetts), the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Bike New York.

17. By fostering energy independence, bicycling voids incentives for oil wars.

In countries like the United States, fossil fuels maintain a strong grip on the national economy and psyche. Access to oil is a strong incentive for territorial conflicts and even large international wars. It has been widely suggested, for example, that access to oil was one of the key motivators behind the U.S. invasion of the country of Iraq. Bicycling removes the incentive for these violent conflicts, thus helping to cure what has become known in the United States as an “addiction to oil.”

More Posts on Bicycling Around the World:

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About the Author

Gavin blogs from Zurich, Switzerland. His day job is Digital Media Communications Manager for ABB. Previously, he lived and worked in South Korea, blogging, editing and freelance writing for Green Options and PV Magazine. Gavin's favorite environmental work has included: co-founding the grassroots Nature Conservation Club at about age 8; interning for the Jane Goodall Insitute's Roots & Shoots (R&S) program; representing R&S at the World Social Forum VI in Caracas, Venezuela; volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito; being a research assistant for a CAL lab studying climate change in Colorado; bicycling lots.

68 Responses to 17 Reasons Why Bicycles are the Most Popular Vehicle in the World

  1. BobG says:

    I am an avid cyclist for 45+ years. Some of your arguements are a little bit of a stretch.

    How about reason 14? I seem to breathe MORE when I ride than when I drive.
    #15: bicycles are not zero emmision; many processes are used to manufacture a bike. many of those processes emit pollutants.
    #17 is clearly a political statement. Economic progress is clearly based on enrgy access. If every man woman and child in the US rode a bicycle, that would still not supercede our dependence on oil. How would we heat our homes, build our houses, transport our food etc w/o oil. I’m sorry but your argument here is very weak and misleading.

    I could go on.

    I ride my bike when ever I can (to work, for enjoyment, run errands etc). Even in the harsh winters here in Wisconsin. But, we still and will always need much oil. Our economy i sbased on access to energy. Yes, the war in Iraq was somehat based on access to energy. So was World War 2.

    But yet, I still think everyone should be riding for the fitness benefits and economics (bicycle are cheaper) and so on. That however will require a large paradigm shift in how we live day to day.

    Thanks for listening and keep up the discussions.

  2. What a wonderful post, Gavin! Like Ron said more and more people are taking to bicycles here in the city that always drives! I love the trend and really hope it continues to catch on. With resources like this, it just might! 🙂

    Now, about that stray kitty… 😉 I have three furkids – all kitties – and they are just the lights of my life! all rescued! I’m sure your new little one will bring you lots of happiness!

  3. Gavin Hudson says:

    Thanks to all who are participating in this active and enthusiastic discussion. I can’t reply to all the points made, but I’d like to address some questions and comments that have come up more than once:

    QUESTION: Aren’t some of these duplicates?
    ANSWER: Two share admittedly similar titles, but have different information to offer. These are #4, which talks about programs where bicyclists can ride together on their commutes in various countries, and #16, which talks about the advantages of bicycle clubs and social networks.

    COMMENT: Bicycles are not zero emission vehicles.
    RESPONSE: BobG correctly pointed out that manufacturing bicycles is not a zero emissions process. That’s true. Neither is the aluminum mining to get frames for aluminum bikes. Both this manufacturing and mining have negative environmental impacts.

    However, in my view it is not reasonable to consider breath exhalations as a significant source of CO2 pollution due to bicycling. I hope that everyone reading this does indeed breathe during their commute to work, whatever their commuting vehicle.

    COMMENT: Studies have shown walking a mile produces more carbon dioxide than driving a mile.
    RESPONSE: A while back, there was a bogus “study” with this claim. It made a stir and then went away. Why? The assumption was that if people have a diet of 100% intensively farmed beef, then to replace the calories burned by walking they would have to eat more than drivers. Firstly, it is not possible to survive on only beef. Secondly, people in better shape do not eat more than those who are in poor shape or overweight.

    COMMENT: I can’t bicycle because it’s too far / I can’t carry groceries / I can’t pick up kids.

    On distance: Bicycling’s not for everyone. I also ride the bus and the train quite a lot (neither of which are zero emissions unless they’re electric from renewable sources). However, at various times I’ve enjoyed a 3 mile – 23 mile (each way) morning and evening ride to/from work.

    On groceries: Bike bags, or panniers, are great, though they add a bit of weight to the bike. I fit a good shopping handcart in my panniers and another one in a backpack. In general, if hauling weight’s not your thing, I also have found it effective (and pleasant) to shop in small trips rather than cramming a month’s grocery shopping into one hectic trip.

    On kids: I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen bicyclists enjoying a ride with their children in bike seats. There are a number of options here, from the trailer to the attachment that makes your one-person bicycle into an adult/child tandem bike. If you’re shopping for one of these options, a consideration is how easy these are to put on and take off your bike.

    In general, I’ve seen people move a guy’s entire belongings (sofa and all) from one house to another in Portland. Bikes are versatile transit tools.

    QUESTION: How can bicyclists breathe in less pollution?
    ANSWER: The study I quoted (and linked to) in #14 can be found at http://www.bfa.asn.au/bfanew/pdf/HPJA_air_pollution_exposure.pdf in PDF format and was conducted the following people.

    Michael Chertok, Environmental Health Branch, New South Wales Health
    Alexander Voukelatos, Health Promotion Unit, Central Sydney Area Health Service, New South Wales
    Vicky Sheppeard, Environmental Health Branch, New South Wales Health
    Chris Rissel, Health Promotion Unit, Central Sydney Area Health Service, New South Wales

    Thanks again for reading. Looking forward to more discussion.


  4. Linda says:

    Here in Florida, as well, people are taking to the road on bikes. Electric Bikes are actually a fun and ecoLOGICAL solution. No license, no insurance, no gas. Safer than a scooter, ride on the sidewalks! Check out http://www.ElectricBikeShopOnline.com. They’ve got some awesome e-bikes and conversion kits. Great customer service too. Priced right, including assembly and shipping to your door!

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  6. Brian Grover says:

    The bicycle is, by far, a more efficient mode of personal transport than the automobile and has some extremely positive effects on personal health and pollution as well. It is not a pollution-free vehicle, as many want to believe. Bicycles do still use petrochemicals in the form of lubricants, rubber and plastic and paint. Cyclists also need to consume greater quantities of food for fuel, which must be raised and transported, with a commensurate increase in bicycle “exhaust,” namely methane, a greenhouse gas some 4 times as potent as CO2. While cycling may be better it, or rather the humans mounted on the saddles, also have their impact on the planet. The point being that we have reached the carrying capacity of the earth already and need to take steps to reduce polluters as well as sources of pollution.

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  9. vince says:

    Here in Incheon we have some good bicycle trails for recreational use. But for bike commuters we have haphazard application of bike routes and local business people and their customers abusing these pubic facilities by parking their garbage, equipment, tools, SUVs, food stands, etc. on the bike lanes. There is a lot of potential for bicycling to make an impact in reducing pollution and dependence on imported oil. All of Korea’s oil is purchased from overseas sources using US dollars… an issue I would think the government would have more visible interest in.
    Do you have any ideas on how can we help the Korean government realize the importance of creating safe and appropriately planned bicycle routes in infrastructure projects? And for local government to enforce traffic laws protecting those who use them?

  10. Kathryn says:

    Although many issues were brought up regarding the damaging effects of automobiles, one that I’ve never seen is the effect of speed. This might be only my opinion, but having had a carectomy five years ago, I can attest to the physical and mental health benefits of reduced speed in my life. If I want cardiovascular exercise I can still go 18-20 miles per hour over short distances, but anything over that is not healthy for the human nervous system. As I said, just my opinion, and certainly there are exceptions to that idea.

    But speed plays into a culture where excitement, constant change, and being busy are considered desirable. When once you have had the experience of the incredible constant change of life which is happening within and without ( not that there’s any difference 🙂 even if you are standing still, you never want to go back to that other idiocy.

    Take a minute to stop somewhere on your commute. It doesn’t matter where, but it’s nice if it’s near nature. Focus on your sense perceptions – what the air feels like, sounds, smells, etc. You might have an intense rush that is at once stillness and vibrantly active. That’s it. No speed required.

  11. Gavin Hudson says:


    Great thoughts. I agree.

  12. Kirno says:

    Indonesia Jakarta Bike to Work community since 2000 make healthy body and lessen pollution of air also economize expenditure of expense

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