Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Don't People Ride Bicycles?

I heard on the news this morning that Toyota has the goal of getting out of the gas powered automobile business in favor of electric vehicles. This is hardly earth shattering, since the date they have set is 2050. But they have a desire to reduce emissions of their vehicles. That is an admirable goal, but when it comes to reducing emissions, bicycles are the gold standard. To put it in terms of miles per gallon of gas, a bicycle has a mileage rate of about 1150 MPG. And if we were to put it in terms of money, people who get rid of their cars and travel primarily by bicycle save about $10,000 per year. So, why don’t more people ride bicycles?


As a person who loves to ride a bicycle, but has only ridden to work one time on a bicycle, I can say that one reason is the time required. It takes about thirty minutes for me to drive the fifteen miles to work. It would require about three times as much time for me to travel by bicycle. To reach work at my normal time, I would have to leave home an hour earlier. But on the other hand, it is less than two miles from my house to church and it is conceivable that I could reach church more quickly on my bicycle than by automobile.


Safety is a significant concern for bicyclists. Even though bicyclists have all the same rights and responsibilities of other vehicles on the roadways, a crash involving one of those big metal cages and a bicycle may result in a few scratches to the metal cage, but it may kill the bicyclist. Bicyclists who obey the traffic laws are much less likely to be injured than those who ride against traffic or fail to observe stop signs, but people who don’t feel safe on a bicycle will not ride a bicycle. This is why bicycling increases as cities add protected lanes and trails.

Lack of Physical Fitness

Some people say they are too old to ride a bicycle, but when you consider that there are people who are over 100 years old and still racing on bicycles, it isn’t age that is the problem. The real problem is that people are not physically able to ride a bicycle. In many cases, people don’t want to be physically able to ride a bicycle. Of course, if they would start riding, they would regain the physical ability to ride.

Lack of Skill

“It’s as easy as riding a bicycle.” And, “you never forget how to ride a bicycle.” I’m not sure anyone has put that to the test. There is some skill involved in riding a bicycle and depending on what kind of riding you are doing, there could a lot of skill involved. In some cities, public schools are teaching second graders to ride. Why second grade? In part because they are young enough that they won’t feel embarrassed about not already knowing how to ride. I suspect that some adults aren’t willing to try riding because they don’t want to admit their lack of skill.

Inability to Get From A to B

Tools like Google Maps, which will provide directions for bicyclists are a big help, but going somewhere on a bicycle isn’t as easy as going by car…or is it? From where I live in south Fort Worth, if I wanted to visit one of the local attractions, such as the stockyards, I could hop in a car, head that general direction of the freeway and I would find a sign directing me which exit to take to reach the stockyards. Even for minor attractions, I can pretty much follow the major roads and get to where I’m going. Things are different on a bicycle. For one thing, I want to avoid the major roads, so all those signs pointing me to the major roads do me no good. Minor roads aren’t connected. You can follow one that seems like it is going in the right direction, but then it will deadend at a railroad track, a freeway, or a river. In Fort Worth, we have trails that run along much of the river, so that is an advantage for bicycles. Once I get to that trail, I can reach the stockyards without messing with traffic. It would seem like a rural area, were it not for the skyscrapers that are visible above the trees. But you have to know which path to take. There are a few signs, but there are also paths that are unmarked.


Why you drive a car, you lock the doors and take the key with you, knowing that it will take some effort for someone to steal your vehicle. With a bicycle, security requires more effort. You have to find an immovable object. Sometimes, you’ll find a bike rack and more cities are requiring businesses to provide bike racks, but you also have to have special equipment to lock the bike to it. Of course you have to carry this equipment with you and the lighter it is the easier it is to cut with bolt cutters or wire cutters. But on the bright side, you can usually park your bicycle a few feet from where you are going.


This may fit with some of the others, but distance from point A to point B can be a major deterrent. Cities with less space between businesses and residences see higher number of cyclists. In cities where land is cheap and parking lots are plentiful, people are less likely to opt for riding a bicycle.

I don’t know if these are the only reasons people don’t ride bicycles, but cities that have removed some removed some of these barriers have seen an increase in the number of people riding bicycles. Bicycles will never be the dominant form of transportation, but life is much more enjoyable in places where people want to ride bicycles.