by Kate Powlison, Marketing + Communications Manager
It’s easy to talk about the benefits of bicycling. There are so many. At PeopleForBikes, it’s what we do all day. Whether we’re walking into a congressman’s office and touting the economic and job creation benefits of the bike industry, or standing up at a city council meeting and explaining how bike lanes reduce road congestion, selling the benefits of bicycling is something we do a lot of. We have hundreds of statistics and studies to fuel us, with more rolling in every day.
But when I’m trying to persuade a friend, neighbor, or family member to give bicycling a try, I sometimes struggle to make the case. The benefits that we as advocates lean on the most?environmental, economic, health, road congestion?can be so long-term and big-picture that it’s tough for non-riders to envision how hopping on a bike can immediately improve their life.
Sometimes the best benefits of bicycling are not tangibile, readily quantifiable, or easy to pinpoint. Here are my favorite underrated benefits of bicycling:
1) The way it makes you feel
Studies show that bicycling reduces everything from heart disease to diabetes. Everyone knows it’s good for your health. But what’s more important to me is how bicycling makes me feel. When I’m on my bike, even if it’s blowing wind or pouring rain or I’m hiking my mountain bike down the stupidest section of stupid rocky trail, I feel GOOD. When I’m on my bike, I feel better than I do when I’m not on it. I’m alive, I’m breathing, and I’m happy. Even if I’m cursing the trail.
2) Little unscripted interactions
I’m one of those people who sits down on an airplane and puts on headphones instead of initiating conversation with my seatmates. Sure, if I’m sitting next to a nice old lady who tells me I look just like her granddaughter, I’ll exchange some words, but freely chatting with strangers isn’t my strongsuit.
However, when I’m on my bike, that all changes. If you are waiting at a stoplight and another rider pulls up next to you, even the coldest introvert will have trouble ignoring the human being beside them. A simple Good morning! is impossible to resist.
When the rest of the world is shielded by glass and metal, being in the open air, on the street, opens you up to some of the most wonderful unscripted interactions and conversations with fellow riders. Those casual connections with our community prevent the isolation that can make it hard to be happy.
3) Conversation that flows
On a similar note, being on a bike is a gateway to rich, long, and flowing conversations with friends. I’ve gone for four-hour road rides where my riding partner and I don’t stop talking the entire time and the conversation never gets dull or seems forced. I can’t imagine that ever happening at a bar, in a restaurant, or at a house party. Something about being on two wheels makes for the best conversations, whether it’s with a new friend or a life partner.
4) Not having to scrape your windshield
Image: Flickr user Endlisnis
As much as a freezing winter bike commute sucks at first, it’s better than spending 15 minutes scraping thick ice off your car.
5) Discovering new spots
Image: Flickr user Graduated Learning
My bike commute through downtown Boulder slows me down to a pace where I get to look around instead of just forward. When a new restaurant or shop opens, I notice it even before the hippest hipsters do. If you want to be up on the latest and greatest establishments in town, go by bike.
6) Instant friends
Bike culture can be a wonderful thing when you are new to town. Communities naturally form around riding and racing. Whenever I’ve moved to a new city, bicycling has enabled me to meet people and form the relationships that help me settle into a place. Thanks to bicycling, I’m always finding promising new friendships too.
Image: Flickr user Gabriel Amadeus
Unlike other endurance sports like running and swimming, bicycling is congruent with a very important activity to me: snacking. Where else but on a long ride can you bust into a homemade chocolate chip cookie (warm from being in your pocket) or a bag of salty potato chips with so much pleasure and so little guilt? Being able to comfortably carry and digest snacks is a huge benefit of bicycling. Also, if you haven’t already noticed, food tastes a lot better after (or during) a hard ride.
These are just some of my favorite benefits of bicycling. What are yours?