Did you know that the average American spends approximately 16% of their income on transportation? Behind housing (33%), this is the second largest expense for Americans. Why is this so high? Unfortunately, I do not have that answer. Why should it be much lower? I do have that answer.
Your car sucks! That’s right. On top of being the most inefficient means of transportation, it also sucks your health, your money, and even your time. That last sentence may have stirred the pot, but before hippidy hooplahing me and x-ing out of this article, hear me out.
Over the next ~1,500 words, I am going to clearly explain why your car sucks—and why, if use it to commute to work, it should be your very last choice.
Let’s dive in.
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The average car weighs ~4,000 lbs. The average American weighs about 175 lbs. We’ll say that a person carries an additional 100 lbs’ worth of things in their car, so the car’s total load is 275 lbs. The efficiency ratio for a car is 4,000 lbs/275 lbs = 14.5. In other words, for every pound of weight the car can carry, the car weighs 14.5 pounds.
On the other hand, the average bicycle weighs about 17 pounds. While it is entirely possible to carry 30-50 pounds in a backpack while riding a bicycle (I do it), we will say that there is no additional load. So. a 17 pound bicycle carrying a 175 pound human gives the bicycle an efficiency ratio of 0.1 (17 lbs/175 lbs).
In other words, for every pound of weight a bicycle can carry, the bicycle weighs just 0.1 lb (17/175).
High-five to the person who invented the bicycle. Punch in the face to the person who created the automobile.
I know what you’re going to say: Cars can go much faster and farther than a bicycle. You are absolutely right. The average bicyclist rides at about 10 mph, and the average automobile travels at 30 mph, which leads me to my next point.
I’m sure this is where I’ll receive the most pushback. I am going to state a point that most of you will disagree with: If your commute is under 10 miles (which it should be!), I am going to argue that riding your bicycle will actually save you time.
As we mentioned above, the average speed of a car is 30 mph, while the average speed of a bicycle is about 10 mph. Assuming a 10-mile commute, a bicycle will take you an hour, while a car will take roughly 20 minutes.
Note that this is the “average speed.” If you live or work in a city, the morning and afternoon rush-hour traffic will significantly increase your commute.
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For example, I live in Denver. If you were to go 10 miles east, you would be in a neighboring city called Aurora. During rush hour, it usually takes about 45 minutes to get 10 miles. On a bicycle, traffic doesn’t slow you down. When considering traffic, the additional time it takes to ride a bicycle is now just 15 minutes one way, or 30 minutes total for the day.
How do you make up that difference?
If you’re riding your bike 10 miles one way (20 miles total), that is a significant workout. You will be able to cancel your gym membership or at least drastically reduce the amount of time you spend there. Maybe you go to lift weights for 30 min, but you certainly do not need any more cardio.
The ability to cancel your gym membership or reduce the time you spend there will save (or at least net even) the extra time it takes to ride a bicycle. This does not even include the time and frustration it takes to find parking.
It’s a bone chilling, winter morning in Denver, CO. The wind is blowing and it is 0°F (-17°C). Here I come pedaling along as I approach a stop light—bundled up with multiple layers, a hat, gloves, and face guard, smiling ear to ear about how great it feels to get the blood flowing each morning.
As I ride, I peer into the windows of cars I pass sitting in traffic. Who is in the vehicle? Zombies! For some reason, at 8:00 a.m., the entire city looks like the walking dead. In their cozy 70°F (20°C) cars, they are clearly tired, stressed, and unhappy.
Funny, huh? You’d think the guy being exposed to all of the elements riding his bicycle would be far unhappier and stressed.
While that is a personal story, the sample size is just one.
Let’s take a look at a study done at the Concorida’s School of Business, which took a survey of 123 employees at a Montreal-based company called Autodesk. The study showed that within 45 minutes, the cyclists showed significantly lower stress levels than the sedentary commuters.
As a former sedentary commuter, I can say that if I were part of this study, I would only further their findings.
It’s quite obvious why cycling would have physical health advantages over driving. I’m not judging (OK, maybe I kind of am), but I see far fewer bicycle commuters who are clearly overweight than I do car drivers.
Let’s take a look at a study performed by the University of Glasglow that surveyed 250,000 commuters for five years.
The analysis was controlled for sex, age, ethnicity, deprivation, pre-existing diseases (i.e. diabetes), depression, body mass index, smoking, and diet. In short, the study shows that active commuters showed a 41% lower risk of dying from all health-related causes.
I don’t think I’m breaking new ground here when I say that the health benefits of biking far exceed the health benefits of driving.
Cars are money suckers. They are a black hole that a portion of your paycheck goes to every month, and as I described above, you get very little value from them. Let’s take a look at the impact.
The average commute is 15 miles each way, or 30 miles per day. Multiply that by the 2018 IRS standard of $0.545, and it costs $16 per day to drive your car. This includes gas, insurance, repairs, depreciation, etc. That’s almost $500 per month, or $6,000 per year! This does NOT include the interest payments made on a financed car. Depending on the car and the type of loan you got, you could be paying close to $10,000 per year driving to work.
Let’s compare this to a bicycle.
Your average bicycle costs about 1% of what a car would cost. Because of this, most people do not take loans out for a bicycle. There’s no gas, no insurance, repairs/maintenance are minimal, no interest, and far less to depreciate. Conservatively, the average cyclist averages $20 per month in bike repairs. This is saying that you’ll need to replace a tube and tire or get it tuned-up once a month.
The car costs more to drive for two days than a bicycle does for an entire month! By transitioning over from a driver to a rider, you could reduce your cost of transportation by 96%! This does not even include the medical savings—such as reduced future hospital bills, doctor visits, and prescription medicine—from living a healthier life.
I’m not going to spend too much time here because it is painfully obvious that riding a bicycle is far better for the environment than driving a car.
Assuming a 10-mile commute, 5 days per week, a mid-sized vehicle would emit 1.3 tons of CO2 per year through fuel use. After accounting for the foam, plastic, steel, and rubber used, the pollution effects multiply. Over the course of a car’s lifetime, it will produce 1.3 billion yards of polluted air and 40 pounds of worn tire particles, break debris, and worn road surfaces.
Riding a bicycle reduces this pollution to zero.
Cars also take a huge toll (pun intended) on the road conditions. An Australian study shows that with less driving and more biking, the Australian government could save ~$20 million per day in highway/road maintenance costs. Given that the U.S. is about 30% larger, we will say that the U.S. could save ~$25 million per day, or $9 billion per year, if more people were to bike.
I’ve heard almost every excuse in the book for not opting for the bicycle. It’s too cold, it’s too hot, it’s snowing, raining, sleeting, or it’s cloudy with a chance of falafel (I’m half Jewish).
Let’s take a look at a few of the countries who have the most bicycle commuters per capita. Atop the list include the warm and tropical countries known as the Netherlands, UK, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. Just kidding about being warm and tropical. These countries are much colder with much harsher weather conditions than many parts of the United States, yet they commute via bicycle. If they can do it, so can we.
Unsurprisingly, many of these bicycle-centric countries are also among the happiest countries. Coincidence? I think not!
If you want a happier, healthier, and wealthier life, it’s a no-brainer. Ditch the car and get a bike! The road to financial independence is filled with bikers, not drivers. You’ll thank me later. See you on the road!
What do you think—would you ditch your car for a bike?
Weigh in below!