Saturday, July 6, 2013

2013 Auto Miles: 1,025; 2013 Bicycle Miles: 850

by Charles Hugh Smith

We rode almost as many miles on our bikes as we logged in our car in 2013.

I don't usually track my mileage very closely, but I recently discovered that we drove our only vehicle (a late-90s Honda Civic) 1,025 the first six months of 2013 and we rode about 850 miles on our bicycles. We put exactly 27.28 gallons of gasoline in the car in those six months, and we still have a quarter tank left, so it seems we're getting over 35 miles per gallon.

As a data-driven person, I naturally have an odometer/speedometer on my primary bicycle, an old Mongoose mountain bike. In June I rode 115 miles, which is a little less than normal as I was under the weather for three days.

So I reckon I rode about 700 miles in the first six months and my wife probably logged about 150 miles on her Specialized. Most of our bike trips are errands that most people would get in their auto to do, but I also log a fair number of 8-mile pleasure rides just to clear my head (I ride more for pleasure than my wife does.)

I know we spent more on bicycle repairs than on auto repairs ($0), as I replaced worn-out gears, chain, brake pads, etc.

We spend much of the year in Berkeley CA, which is small and bicycle-friendly. Jumping on our bikes is easier than getting in a car on multiple levels: parking is easier (and free), and there's no traffic jams.

(Our time in Hawaii is less bike-friendly due to steep hills and rural distances.)

All miles are about the same in a car; not so on a bike. If you're in a car and you start climbing a hill, you just press the accelerator down. On a bike, you must bear down to climb the hill. One of my standard rides is 3 miles each way, but the last mile is a semi-grueling climb from near sea-level to above 800 feet. You have to be in reasonably good shape to do that mile, and the ride down offers another challenge--not going so fast you lose control. (Just for context: I am 59 years old and very much not interested in falling off my bike....)

But since most people live in relatively flat areas, most bike rides do not require extreme fitness or effort. It's a far more relaxing way to get somewhere than in a car.

It's not really a sacrifice to ride a bike, except in extreme weather. Yes, you have to be alert, as you're on a 30-pound machine and everyone around you is ensconced in a 3,000+ pound machine. On a bike, you can't really afford to space out; things are happening around you all the time--vehicles, pedestrians, other cyclists--and you're constantly responding and tracking potential problems. It's very good practice for focusing on the present. (Always wear your helmet, of course.)

It's a lot more fun going somewhere on a bike (as long as the "bike lane" isn't suicidal--see below), not to mention the simple joys of not having to find a parking space. You can't haul your Costco load home on a bike, but you can haul quite a bit in saddle bags, a bike trailer or just a backpack.

Not everyone can ride year round, but correspondent R.C. reports that the bike club in his Chicago suburb has grown by 40% in the past three years.

Studies have found (duh!) that more people are willing to ride bikes if there are safe routes. A few other nations are way ahead of the U.S. in this regard; here, "bike lanes" are imaginary zones marked by white lines on the pavement; my brother-in-law and I took a long ride a few years ago and found one stretch of the "bike lane" was the shoulder on an interstate freeway. The "bike lane" was littered with delaminated truck tire detritus and other highway junk. Whoever planned that "bike lane" has a wicked sense of humor.

"Bike lanes" often separate lanes of fast-moving traffic from freeway on-ramps (check out the lower University Avenue bike lane in Honolulu for an example). Bike safety in 99.9% of urban America is an unfunny joke: the only truly safe bikeway is one separated from auto traffic by a barrier, or on throughways where cars and trucks are banned.

Correspondent R.C. suggested that perhaps one reason transportation fuel consumption is going down is that more people are riding bicycles ( Our Energy Slaves Are in Recession July 2, 2013). I would like to think so, but I don't personally know a single other adult who rides a bike daily for practical reasons (as opposed to pure fitness) or does errands on a bike rather than a car.

Yes, there are plenty of limiting factors, but one that could be remedied with a modest amount of money and political influence is to make biking safe enough that mothers would be drawn to take their children out, and people who are not bike freaks would not find it frightening to take to the streets on a bike.

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