Tuesday, April 19, 2005

How the bicycle can save the world

Today was a beautiful day in Ottawa - 24 C, which must be a record temperature for April 19th.

I biked to and from school today, which is a total distance of 11 km. In general, I can average about 23 km/h on city streets, and so I spend about 28 minutes on my bike every day to and from school. On country roads where there are no stoplights, I can average about 28 km/h.

This is the time of year when bikes are everywhere. In this city, where the winters are long and cold, people can't wait to drag their bikes out of the garage. It's a glorious site.

There are a few dedicated and hard-core souls, however, that bike in this city all year round. (I am not one of them, if you are wondering. I put the bike away from January to March.) These folks brave all weather extremes and icy conditions, and it is inspiring.

I love the bicycle. I think it is one of the most important inventions in our history. And, although its glory has certainly faded since its late 1800s invention, I think that, in North America, it could become important again.

What are some of our problems, we North Americans who have grown fat off our land?

Climate change - hey, it's no secret that fossil fuel consumption is a huge factor in climate change. I dare you to stand on a street corner before you go to work one morning and count the number of cars that go by with only one person in them. Just do it for a minute or two. I did it one day and I counted 38 out of 41 cars with just one person in them. Imagine if these folks were riding bikes instead?

A looming energy crisis - if you believe that we are in for a rude awakening when the oil runs out, consider this: the bicycle is the most efficient mode of transportation on earth (not counting sailing, but that's a little impractical). For every kilometer driven, a bike needs 22 kilocalories of energy input. Compare that to the whopping 1160 kilocals needed to move a car. A bike is 53(!) times more efficient than a car, and these numbers don't even factor in the amount of energy used to refine and produce gasoline.

North Americans are fat - This is another one of those poorly kept secrets. We all could benefit from more exercise. Those of us who work long days "don't have the time" to fit a gym session into our schedule. So instead, make your daily commute your gym session. Ride a bike for 40 minutes a day, 5 times a week, and you'll get all the exercise you need.

Road rage - Ok, hardly a major problem, but when I worked in Toronto I used to spend 45 minutes every afternoon, stuck in traffic, and wondering what I did to deserve such a horrid life. Then I started to bike, and I was liberated. And what a great way to relieve workplace stress... had a bad day? The anger will ooze out of you during that sweat session on the way home.

What else:

Takes too long? Get up a little earlier, you slug. You'll get more exercise if your commute is longer.

Costs too much for the gear? You could buy a commuting bike and all-season gear for the cost of 2 car payments. $1000 and you're setup for life.

What about those days you need to bring lots of stuff? Take a cab, or take public transit.

Sweaty when you get there? Buy a face cloth and a towel.

Need a suit at work? Bring all your clothes for the week on Monday and bike Tuesday thru Friday. Or, just get extra-large pannier packs for your bike and stuff 'em in.

Don't have time? Read this great article.

I love the bike, as you can tell. I also love the fact that there are now careers like "urban planner," so that any new communities we build will have built-in sustainable development and smart transit .

Just for the record, in case you think I'm a hypocrite, yes, I do drive a car, but now that the weather is nice, my wife and I use it only for groceries. It's a goal of mine to live close enough to work such that I can bike to work 3 days for every 1 day I drive.

PS - looks like my buddy Mark has hopped the blog-wagon. He's a very smart guy, so read what he writes. You'll probably learn something.

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