I’ve read a couple of really good cycling books these last couple of weeks. Well, two are cycling specific and one is sport in general. The general one is called Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson and is a practical and useful sports psychology book. It talks a lot about how the brain works and how and why that might cause an athlete to freak out in any number of situations. It covers a lot of different topics, some of which didn’t apply to me, but the ones that did were great.
One of the chapters I liked best was on confidence as an athlete. I have never in my life considered myself athletic but suddenly here I am, an athlete and it kind of freaks out my brain and its identity-formation areas, which of course then affect my confidence. The authors provide good advice that has helped! Another chapter I liked was on how to deal with situations that go wrong and not let it ruin your race/workout. And the best chapter, one every athlete looks for tips on, how to keep going when the going gets tough. This has useful tips in it on tricking your brain to get through those final 30 seconds on that VO2 max interval or those final 3 miles of the race. Good stuff!
But you don’t need to be an athlete to ride a bike. Hello Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life by Anna Brones is great for newer cyclists with no or little experience. Brones covers what you need to know before you begin riding to basic bike maintenance, bike commuting and even touring. And food, lots about food — carry along snacks to fuel your ride and how to carry bigger things like a picnic or provisions for camping or a frosted layer cake. She even has some recipes one of which Bookman and I tried — buckwheat groats porridge. Did you know you can soak the groats overnight like oatmeal and not have to cook them? It makes a really good, filling and easy breakfast.
Why cycle to begin with? Well, Elly Blue lays it all out in Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the World. Not only is it good for you and will make you healthier and happier, save you money on healthcare and help alleviate symptoms of depression and stress, it is also good for your pocketbook and the economy as a whole. Blue lays it all out in great detail and has the statistics and citations to back it up.
Blue debunks the myth that cyclists use roads they don’t pay for and therefore get a free ride while car drivers have to pay for everything. So not true! Drivers only pay a tiny fraction — only 51% — of road construction and maintenance costs with gas taxes and license fees. Most of the money to pay for roads comes from state and local general funds into which everyone, including cyclists, pays with their income and property taxes. You could even argue that cyclists, who don’t use as much road and cause very little wear and tear on the roads they do use, are the ones who subsidized the car drivers.
In fact, if every driving related subsidy was removed, most people would not be able to have a car. Gas would cost between $7 – $15 per gallon. And parking, it is estimated that 99% of all car trips end up in a “free” parking spot. The “free” parking subsidy amounts to $127 billion dollars annually and that was calculated in 2002 so it is likely much more these days.
Drivers also complain that cyclists and bike infrastructure gets in the way of cars and slows them down, causes traffic jams and all sorts of other mayhem. This is also not true. It’s the drivers themselves who are their own worst enemies. And yes, cyclists can slow traffic down but it turns out when they do, it leads to safer driving, fewer accidents and better overall traffic control.
Cities complain that bike infrastructure is so very expensive yet no one complains about how much car infrastructure costs. The average cost of one mile of urban freeway is about $60 million. For perspective, that is about how much the entire bike infrastructure of the city of Portland, considered to be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., was worth as of 2008. So for the cost of one mile of freeway a city could build a top-notch bike infrastructure.
Part of the problem is that cycling in the U.S. in seen as a recreational activity rather than transportation. But time and time again, cities that begin to build even the most basic bike lanes discover, as the saying goes, if you build it they will come. Even businesses who protest that putting in bike lanes and removing street parking will hurt them discover that more often than not, their business increases.
Driving costs so much on so many levels but we have normalized it so we no longer see what those costs are. The federal transportation department estimates the economic impact of a life lost in a road fatality at $7 million. In 2016, more than 40,000 people died in car related accidents. And yet no one bats an eye and we keep building more and bigger roads for more cars. Why are we okay with this? If a child’s toy is involved in a few choking deaths the toy is immediately recalled. But cars are the biggest cause of death in children and our response is stricter laws and regulations on car seats. Even if you don’t die in a car, there is still a huge impact both health and environmental. In 2010 a NASA study pinpointed limiting usage of personal vehicles and freight trucks as the most effective way to combat climate change.
No, bikes are not going to save the world. There is no silver bullet for that. But they can go a long way toward making the world a better place for everybody, not just a select few. So if you are sitting at home and wondering what to do to make your neighborhood, your town, the world a better place, get your bike out of the garage, put some air in the tires, and take it for a spin to the library or the grocery store, to the park or a local cafe, to work or a friend’s house. And don’t forget to wear a helmet!