Why Don't People Bike to Work: Debunking the Excuses

When I ask my non-riding coworkers why they don’t bike to work, I get a myriad of “reasons.” Some are valid, some are bogus. The most common excuse is that it isn’t safe. But slightly behind the issue of safety is the idea that it isn’t fast enough, convenient enough, and they don’t want to “smell.” Yes, one coworker said this to my face, not realizing that these words insulted me. (I smell wonderful at work, by the way.)

I want to take some time to debunk these myths and give you some ammunition against the naysayers. First is safety, then convenience, and finally speed.

It isn’t safe: When I hear people say this, I can’t help but to think of someone choosing to be part of the problem rather than the solution. First off, if you truly believe that cycling is unsafe, most likely you feel this due to the volume of cars on the road. I can’t imagine someone thinking bikes themselves are intrinsically dangerous. If the huge volume of automotive traffic is the reason, why would you want to be apart of something than endangers me and an ever-growing population of other commuters? This type of logical baffles me.

But is riding a bike actually more dangerous? According to the chart above, which was compiled by two professors at Rutgers University and Virginia Tech, cycling in America results in 33.5 injuries per 100 million kilometers and 5.5 deaths per 10 million km ridden. That may not seem high to you, but when compared to the Dutch, it is. In the Netherlands, there are 1.1 cyclist killed per 100 million km and 1.6 injuries per 10 million km. Now why would I tell you this? Because, the Dutch are safer precisely due to the number of cyclists on the road. Because there are so many Dutch cyclists, they demand safer infrastructure such as segregated lanes, traffic signals, and the biggest safety feature of them all: awareness by drivers. Most people drive and cycle in the Netherlands and it is because the very same drivers who also cycle that they are more aware of “the other guy.” You see, “the other guy” is them on any other given day.

When you bike, you are becoming not only a more aware driver, but also spreading the culture of cycling. Safety has numbers. Becoming a cyclist increases those numbers, not to mention it takes a dangerous and polluting car off the crowded road.

But I want to look at another of danger, complacency. We are a very complacent people, we North Americans. We are deeply satisfied with eating cheeseburgers in our cars, sitting in traffic, and paying tons of tax dollars to maintain an unhealthy and unsustainable behavior: driving a car, especially one with an internal combustion engine. Choosing to bike means choosing to be healthier, to say no to the stress that traffic creates, and to the tax dollars necessary to keep our roads in good repair. By cycling, we are becoming a more active, healthier society. This benefit is unmatched by the driver.

So you say cycling is dangerous, I say lazily sitting in your car is dangerous. I say funneling money away from necessary projects toward overused roads is dangerous. I say becoming stressed out and angry at the sheer volume of traffic is dangerous. Cycling is the release of stress, the increase of cardiovascular exercise, and the increase of strength, especially in the lower body. Being a fat lazy person is far more dangerous than being active. The CDC and Surgeon General can confirm this.

Cycling isn’t convenient: I beg to differ. My bike was about $1500, on sale for $1000 at a model-year close out. This bike has saved me about $800 per year, which means in less than two year’s time I have paid for it and it still looks and rides like new. And that amount of savings only includes gas and oil changes; I haven’t factored in parking, tires, maintenance due to wear and tear, and other hidden costs. Because I save so much more money riding, I have to ability to work fewer hours, often saying “No” to private students. (I am an ESL teacher, by the way.) I am not a slave to my car. I even pay a lot less in insurance due to the milage driven being so low. What is the price of a convenience? You tell me.

And then there’s the more tangible conveniences of the day-to-day stuff. I can ride to grab dinner downtown without having to wait for parking, often resulting in a very quick trip. I can avoid spending an hour in the gym because my very commute is my workout. I can get home from work on a Friday evening faster than any car. I often pass scores of cars as they wait in line for their red light. I simply cruise past them and wait with those in the front of the pack, and as they cross the intersection to wait for the next light, I gain more of an advantage over them. Now, of course anyone reading this blog already knows this, but again, this is meant to give you ammunition against the naysayers. Tell your neighbor, cousin, and brother-in-law about how much better you have it. But I’m going to continue anyhow:

I rarely go to the doctor because I’m healthier and stronger than I was before I started. I rarely go to the mechanic for car problems and/or routine maintenance. I rarely go for an oil change. And I never have to cruise around the mall looking for a parking space on a Saturday afternoon. You want more?

Fine: I can cut through college campuses on my way to work without having to wait at all the stop signs. I can avoid dangerous freeways because the surface streets are just as fast for me. And in the city, I can cruise at 20-30 mph, the same speed as you’re allowed to go.

These conveniences far out weigh any inconveniences my cycling lifestyle provides. And I think if you advocate to your friends and family, they will see that the benefits outweigh the hindrances too.

Cycling isn’t Fast Enough: No it isn’t if you’re traveling out of town. I concede that. But going to work and taking part in the everyday parts of life? Yeah cycling is as fast, because I don’t have to waste time as I’ve said before at gyms, doctors, and mechanics, et al. I ride, with the wind through my (thinning) hair, and do so at 20-30 mph through town. You can’t go any faster, driver. How do I know? Because I see you wait at each light and very often I catch you, pass you, and wait for you while I stretch my quads and get ready for the next light.

I go from home to work, which is an 8-mile trip in about 30-35 mins. With traffic, which really sucks in San José and probably your city too, I am about as fast, maybe a little slower. When there’s an accident, forget it. I’ll smoke you. When there’s a holiday and people leave work early, no chance. I’ll dust you. And every Friday when the roads seem oddly more crowded, I beat you every single time. And what do I get for it? Nice calves and funky tan lines. I win, cars lose.