5 Ways Bikes Are a Healthier Choice than Cars

Summer is almost over. If you’re a student or a meteorologist, it is over. Sorry. I hope you’re still riding your bike though. I hope you continue to do so despite the soon-to-be-changing seasons. If you are an artist, musician, writer or involved in the creative life at all, money is often tight. Keeping that car parked, or getting rid of it altogether, is a great way to free up your finances. The artist’s life is about freedom. Cars may symbolize freedom in American pop culture, but can something so costly really give you freedom? No, but bikes do. Bikes beat cars any day of the week. Here are five reasons why:

1) Physical Health

There are many health benefits attributed to bike riding. Cycling is a great way to get your daily exercise. It’s a cardiovascular workout that’s good for your heart. It also burns calories so it’s good for your waistline too. Regular exercise also helps the body fight disease. As an added bonus, regular exercise, like cycling every day, gives you more energy. This can translate into creative energy as well. Go on a 20 minute bike ride before you paint, draw or write in the morning and see if it doesn’t pay off all day long. It’s just another part of a healthy lifestyle that also includes eating right. Am I right?

2) Mental Health

About a decade or so ago, I had one of those regular, Monday through Friday, nine to five jobs. I had it for eight years. During that time I lived in four different apartments in four different neighborhoods in Chicago. All were a minimum of 10 miles round trip from where I worked. The longest was roughly 16 miles. I tried to ride to work as often as I could. I already knew the ride would save me money: $5 a day on public transportation. Bad weather and the occasional bout of laziness did deter me at least one day a week, and I did not commute by bike during the cold Chicago winter months. Even so, I surely saved close to $500 from April to mid October by not taking the train. If I had driven to work, with parking, gas, and maintenance costs? Forget about it.

I discovered an additional bonus to riding to work that never occurred to me. It made the commute an adventure. It was an adrenaline rush. When I took the bike path along Lake Michigan from Uptown to River North, that was a gorgeous ride and a great way to start the day. It made my job seem like just one stop on a journey instead of a final, perhaps dreaded, destination.

Exercise is also a natural mood elevator. Exercise fights depression. If you battle depression, as many artists do, this provides yet another great benefit in staying positive and focused. And I can’t tell you how many creative ideas I’ve gotten while riding a moderate or long distance. Please be careful to not space out too much when riding and thinking creatively. I have been guilty of that. Always stay alert, especially in traffic.

3) Financial Health

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Thanks, Ben Franklin. That may be true for some, but many artists are creatures of the night. I would propose instead that riding a bike will make you healthy (as noted above), wealthy and wise. Actually, you are wise already. The proof of your wisdom is that you read the Starving Artist Guide

When the subject of cars comes up and I tell people that I don’t own one, there are usually one of two responses, sometimes both:

  1. I wish I didn’t have a car
  2. That must save you a lot of money

Money! That is a huge benefit to ditching a car for a bike. Stay green with more greenbacks in your bank account. Being self-reliant, supporting yourself as an artist, and living debt free are greatly enhanced once you relieve yourself of the driving habit.

Here’s what you’re not paying for when you ride instead of drive:

  • Car insurance
  • Maintenance & repair costs
  • Tolls, parking fines & traffic tickets
  • Costs incurred from fender benders and worse
  • Ever-fluctuating fuel prices, etc.
This is my bike trailer which only cost me $100. It can haul up to 100 pounds of groceries.

You may be thinking, But I need my car to go grocery shopping and to haul stuff around. Do you really though? I bought the trailer pictured above when I lived in Madison, WI a few years ago. I must admit, I have not used it since I moved back to Chicago. My neighborhood is very congested, lots of cars, narrow one-way streets and many, many potholes and cracked sidewalks. I should probably just get over it, and maybe I will soon, but I usually just load up my backpack and shoulder bag when I go grocery shopping. I am much closer to grocery stores in Chicago than I was in Madison so my need for the trailer has also diminished for that reason. I hope to take it on a bike/camping trip next summer, but I digress.

4) Healthy Curiosity

Biking (and walking and running) is a great way to get to know your neighborhood and your city. It allows you the freedom to explore alleys and side streets, parks and trails. You experience things much differently than you do in a car or even on a bus. It gives you the opportunity to get out of your neighborhood too. I  can ride up to my garden in twenty minutes. I have several options for grocery shopping and bike trails are easy to access from the Albany Park neighborhood where I live.

5) Environmental Health

The environmental benefits of driving less are quite obvious. Less noise pollution, air pollution, traffic, car accidents, C02 emissions, reliance on fossil fuels — the list is long. Cars and car culture have had a corrosive and corrupting effect on the planet and society. Any one of these reasons should be enough for people to trade in their four wheels for two.

Much like the decision to go vegetarian or vegan, or to eat locally or organically, challenges you to think about what you eat and where your food comes from, giving up your car forces you to think about the reasons you thought you needed it in the first place. When you start to think about the negative impact cars have on our health, our communities and the environment, you really start to think about the alternatives. If you don’t think you can give up your car completely, just try it for a week. See if you can’t function in the same capacity by relying on public transportation, your bike, or your own two legs. Once you realize that it’s not the end of the world to not drive a car, and understand that it could be the end of the world if we don’t limit our reliance on gas guzzlers, you might find the choice is easy.

Be Safe While Cycling

This is not an article on bicycle safety. I would like to note, however, that biking in the city is especially dangerous. The sad reality is many drivers don’t respect cyclists and some can even be aggressive towards them. Be safe. Obey the law. Nothing burns my biscuits more than seeing a cyclist blow through red lights and stop signs which makes drivers, pedestrians and sane cyclists nervous. Don’t be a jerk.

Also: wear a helmet always, use lights and wear reflective clothing when riding at night. Don’t be invisible!

Recommended Reading

If you are interested in learning more about the negative affects of cars, I recommend Why We Drive: The Past, Present, and Future of Automobiles in America, researched, written and illustrated by bicycle advocate/artist/writer Andy Singer.



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