Today is “Bike to Work” day and I celebrated the day as prescribed: biking from home to work. In my case that was a two-hour ride from Marin County, north of San Francisco, to Ode’s offices in downtown San Francisco. When I reached my desk I did an interesting calculation and I discovered that I have spent 0.6% of my entire life on a bike. Let me clarify:
The average person in The Netherlands, where I was born and lived most of my life, bikes two miles per day. I’m sure that my time on a bike in The Netherlands, starting around when I turned five, was at least average. I have lived in the Bay Area for the past eight years and during those years I estimate that I have roughly kept up my Dutch average. The only big gap in my biking time was when I lived in India for four years. During that time I remember biking only once. Terrifying experience, but that’s another story. So here are my numbers:
47 years since I turned 5, less 4 years in India = 43 years. 43 years = 43 x 365 days x 2 miles per day = 31,390 miles. The average speed on a bike is about 11 miles per hour. So I have spent 31,390 / 11 = 2,853 hours on a bike. So far I have lived 52 x 365 x 24 = 455,520 hours. Thus I have spent 2,853/455,520 = 0.6% of my life on a bike.
I’m sure that my “lifetime bike time” is higher than most. To begin with: The Netherlands is leading the charts of the Western world when it comes to using bikes. 30% of all travel in The Netherlands is done by bike. That is 1% in the U.S. Amsterdam is consistently voted the most bike friendly city in the world. That sounds better then it is. Given the street grid that was laid out 800 years ago or so it doesn’t make any sense to use a car; bikes will almost always bring you faster where you want to go. The Dutch don’t bike because of high environmental standards; they bike because it is the most practical and convenient way of transportation.
- Countries with the highest levels of cycling and walking generally have the lowest obesity rates.
- Cyclists on average live two years longer than non-cyclists and take 15% fewer days off work through illness.
- A 15-minute bike ride to and from work five times a week burns off the equivalent of 11 pounds of fat in a year.
- A 1% decrease in the use of automobiles can decrease obesity by 0.4%.
- In California, the fattest counties are also where people drive most.
- Just a reminder: If current trends continue, nearly half of U.S. adults will be obese eight years from now.
Biking also makes a cleaner planet:
- It takes more than a billion gallons of fuel to drive around the extra weight Americans have gained since 1960.
- If 5% of New Yorkers commuting by car or taxi switched to biking to work, they would save 150 million pounds of CO2 per year, equivalent to the amount reduced by planting a forest 1.3 times the size of Manhattan.
- If the number of kids who walk and bike to school returned to 1969 levels, it would save 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of CO2 and 89,000 tons of pollutants annually. That is the equivalent of keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year.
- Only 5% of American children ride a bike on any given day.
I know that many of you will argue that biking is not safe. That’s not a strong argument, it turns out:
- The risk of fatality while biking is just once every 20 million miles. That is: You would need to bike 800 times around the world.
- The health benefits of cycling outweigh the safety risks by a factor of 20 to one. Or: You are much more likely to live longer because of biking than that your life would be shorter.
Finally: We not only need more people on bikes and less cars on the roads, we also need much cleaner cars. Many lives end prematurely because of air pollution. Air pollution contributes to the deaths of 70,000 people in the U.S. each year, more than the total deaths from breast and prostate cancers combined, according to a Harvard study.
I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge on my bike this morning. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was already warm. It felt like a trip through paradise if it were not for the exhaust fumes from all the cars next to me. I can’t wait for the clean hydrogen cars. Happy biking!