By Madison Mastrolia
As a machine, the bicycle has existed in various forms for over two hundred years. The initial bicycle lacked pedals, and would be propelled much in the same way the car of the Flintstones is propelled: by pushing against the ground. Rock band Queen certainly sang their praises of the device in their 1978 hit Bicycle Race. The bicycle is a useful means of transportation. Riding a bike to work each day would have a substantial impact on one’s commute and health. Nonetheless, riding a bike to work has its disadvantages and dangers as well. The decision to ride a bicycle to work should be chosen after careful consideration of the advantages, disadvantages, and dangers, some of which are as follows.
There are plenty of benefits to riding a bike to work. Monetarily, riding a bike to work is less expensive than driving a car. As seen in this infographic, the operating costs of a car can exceed $8000 a year, whereas bicycle maintenance costs can be as low as $300. Therefore, the associated costs of riding a car to work are nearly 27x that of riding a bike. While cyclists must perform maintenance on their bikes, they never need to worry about money for gas or running out of it. Another indirect monetary benefit of riding a bike to work is a higher level of fitness and lowered healthcare costs as a result. In terms of overall health, frequent bicycle use can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50%, aid individuals in losing weight, and increase overall endurance. Like most forms of exercise, cycling can reduce stress and improve the moods of individuals through the release of endorphins, the happiness hormone. Individuals who bike to work can find themselves more excited to start the day and more relaxed when returning, sleeping better on account of having exercised on their way to work. For those stressed about their ecological impact, another benefit of riding a bike to work is a reduced carbon footprint. Since bicycles do not use gasoline, they do not release carbon dioxide and other gasses into the atmosphere. Overall, they have a better net effect on the environment than cars.
Bikes are also more maneuverable than cars, and can make commuting easier overall. While motorists must find parking spaces that fit their bulky cars, cyclists only need to find a suitable site to lock their bike to. Depending on their job, they may even be able to store their bikes indoors at their place of work. Bicycles can also pass through traffic easier than cars; cyclists, if careful, can employ both the use of a cycling lane and the sidewalk. This has the potential of reducing the rider’s commute time, and increasing free time.
Riding a bike to work isn’t feasible for everyone, however. There are a number of reasons why taking a car or using public transport to work may be a better fit for some individuals. Individuals with mobility issues or other injuries would not find it easy or healthy to take a bike to work each day. It could put them in a worse physical state than when they started. Even physically able individuals face a risk of overuse injuries from bicycles and may develop chronic lower back pain as a result of biking to work. The associated medical expenses of chronic pain management and treatment can exceed the associated expenses of driving. Depending on the distance of the individual from their job, they may be at greater risk of developing overuse injuries. The distance of the individual from their job may also preclude their use of a bicycle as transportation. The danger posed to cyclists not only includes the act of biking itself, but also other individuals on the road and the roads themselves.
Motorists pose a significant (though unavoidable) risk to cyclists. A collision between a cyclist and motorist is dangerous, but the cyclist is much more likely to suffer traumatic or fatal injuries. Worse, while motorists have a legal obligation to share the road with cyclists, they may disregard or be inattentive to the safety of cyclists. Some even deliberately act aggressive towards cyclists and see them as less than human, as one study found. Motorists are estimated to cause only 15% of cycling accidents, but the cyclists are at a higher risk in these accidents. From a monetary standpoint, a single severe accident can completely negate any financial benefit of riding to work due to medical and legal costs.
The condition of the roads may also affect an individual’s ability to cycle to work. Perhaps the single most limiting factor in cycling to work, aside from physical ability to cycle, is the condition of the roads. If roads are not well-maintained, cyclists are at risk of injury. A pothole that can damage a car can be fatal to a cyclist. A car may be able to handle bumpy, uneven roads; a bike may not be able to. Road condition is extended to weather: cyclists are more exposed to the elements than motorists. This means that bikes less safe to ride in the rain or snow. Some bikes may not work at all. Depending on their local climate, those who ride to work each day could face increased risks of frostbite, heatstroke, sunburn, and other weather-related ailments. If they need to transport items to work with them, such as documents, those may be damaged by the weather as well.
One final disadvantage of riding a bike over a car to work is the lack of storage and ability to transport other passengers. While this might not pose a problem for individuals who do not have children, parents may not be able to bike to work if they have children that they must take to school. This could be solved by making biking to school and work a family activity, but it is not feasible for every family. It is also impossible to carpool when one does not drive a car. Bikes do not have the same storage capacity of cars, as well. An individual that would like to run errands on the way home cannot transport as many items in a bike as in a car. This would not be ideal for a parent that must go grocery shopping, for example.
Overall, biking to work is a personal choice. It should be made after careful evaluation of the benefits, risks, and disadvantages of biking. The feasibility of biking to work is dependent on many different factors, including an individual’s physical ability to bike, their local climate, and road quality. Those that bike to work can enjoy many health benefits, such as decreased levels of stress and a lower risk of heart disease. Though, those that bike to work also face increased risks of severe and fatal injuries from road accidents, as well as chronic pain from exercise. (Please always wear a helmet!) Ultimately, the decision is up to the individual.
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Streetsblog USA, 28 March 2019, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/03/28/study-aggressive-driving-is-linked-to-seeing-cyclists-as-less-than-human/
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