If you were to ask the average middle class North American what they would change in their life, you’d expect to hear things like, “I’d love to get in better shape!” or, “I wish my financial situation could be a bit better”, or even “I want to spend more time outside, enjoying nature.”
But hey, we’re all pretty busy, right? As much as we’d like to improve our lives, who’s got the time? Between a busy work week, spending hours in traffic on your commute, and paying for your house and car, there’s no time for working out, or money left over at the end of the month to put away.
The solution to these problems is obvious once you know it, but may be difficult to make sense of. Simply replacing your car with a bike can make you happier, healthier, and wealthier!
If you haven’t read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, do so ASAP. In it, he explains the concept of a keystone habit. A keystone habit is one that brings with it a multitude of other lifestyle changes. By simply commuting to work (or any other short errands) by bike, you’re building a keystone habit that will lead to a whole new way of thinking about your place in the city.
Let’s start with the obvious benefits first. Riding a bicycle requires you to pump your legs, making you stronger and more fit. That’s step one toward getting in better shape. And unlike a gym membership, which is a recurring monthly cost, you can get a good commuter bike for a single payment of a few hundred dollars. A bike like that will last you for years, and get you in better shape than a forgotten Goodlife membership that’s now lying unused under your bed somewhere. On that note, bike commuting forces you to put some stakes into your workout. You have to get to work, right? So you can’t just weasel your way out of doing it with excuses like “I’m too tired, I’ll just skip today and workout tomorrow instead.” If you want to keep your job, you’ll have to get some exercise in!
Biking is also a net time advantage. Unless you live ridiculously far from work,* travel time by bike will be comparable to driving. If you work in a particularly traffic dense area, you might even get to work faster! Even if it takes longer to bike to work, you’ve repurposed the task of commuting to work into a workout as well. You’ll be getting a good workout five days a week without having to open a large block of time in your day to go to spin class. Simply by biking to work, you’re now a healthier version of you, with free time to spare!
There’s also a less obvious benefit to your mental health. Getting outside and walking or biking on a regular basis helps to relieve stress, improve your memory and other cognitive functions, improves your sleep patterns, and gives you a sense of control over your life. Building outdoor biking time into your commute ensures you get many of these benefits on a daily basis. So not only will you look like you’re in better shape, you’ll feel like it too! All of this from simply choosing to get to work under your own muscle power.
So now that you’re happier and healthier, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little spare cash to throw around? Luckily, biking to work has you covered there as well! It’s not unusual for a middle class North American to spend 20% of their salary on vehicle ownership. Gas, insurance, monthly car payments, and maintenance costs make vehicle ownership a very expensive endeavour. If you can ditch the car entirely in favour of a bike, you’ll be able to recover that lost 20% of your income. Talk about a nice pay raise! But even if you still need to keep the car around, the costs of car ownership decrease greatly when you rarely use it. First, you can negotiate lower insurance costs; second, your gas usage will drop significantly; finally, maintenance costs will decrease with decreased wear and tear on your car. Simply by choosing to ride your bike to work, you will get the immediate benefits of improved health, happiness, and financial security!
But those are just the instant payoffs from biking. You may also shift the way you think about and interact with your community. By limiting errands to comfortable biking distance, you will be supporting smaller, local businesses, and helping to make your neighbourhood a friendlier, more vibrant place to live. You’ll also cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, making biking the eco-friendly choice. Who knows, you just might set an example and convince your neighbours to start biking more too, making your neighbourhood streets safer and quieter! An entire community revolution can begin from making this one small change to your daily routine. After a few weeks, you’ll wonder why you ever drove to work in the first place!
*And if you do, you should find a new job or a new house! Commuting long distances sucks precious hours from your day, and that’s not even mentioning the impacts on your mental well being.