You can buy happiness; its a bike!

Why does riding a bike make us feel so good? Is it exercise-related endorphins? Is it being outdoors? Is it the freedom of freewheeling? Maybe all of the above.

Riding a bike is something almost everyone has done at least at some point in their life. There was that trepidation and fear followed by exhilaration on the day your mom and dad took your training wheels off. And then there was that shiny new bike under the Christmas tree. And those warm summer days hopping on your bike and cruising the neighborhood with friends. As you got older, maybe you rode to school, maybe to your first job. After that, you found yourself encased in the shell of your automobile. Maybe that bike rusted or ended up being discarded after a move.

It is well understood that the use of automobiles as the primary mode of transportation is at the expense of our environment: carbon emissions, air pollutants, and wear and tear on the roads, among other impacts. But it is also expensive for individuals. Forbes Magazine found that the average annual operating cost of a car is $8,220, compared to a $308 annual operating cost of owning a bike, 26 times cheaper!

Driving is also stressful. Researchers at Hewlett-Packard found that a driver’s heart rate in rush hour traffic was up to 145 beats per minute, more than twice the average heart rate of a healthy young adult. Bike commuters on the other hand say they experience no or little stress. And of course exercise helps you stay both healthy and happy. Think about how you feel when sitting in traffic, not fun right? A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that riding a bike lessened feelings of fatigue by 65% and boosted energy levels by 20%. Stanford researchers found that cycling for 20-30 minutes daily helped people with insomnia fall asleep twice as fast, and increased their time sleeping by nearly an hour. The benefit may be at least partially due to the sunlight we soak up when we bike.

You can also ride a bike at any age and don’t have to be in top condition to do so. Electric bikes are very popular now and studies show that electric pedal assist bikes improve fitness levels by providing access to cycling by a broader range of people. People who are lifelong runners often switch to cycling as they get older since it is easier on the joints.

I myself went from bike to car. As a kid living in San Francisco, my brother and I rode our bikes everywhere – they were our freedom and joy. I went to UC Davis for college and biking is THE mode of transportation on that sprawling campus. Then work, family and a long commute to the Bay Area trapped me in my car. Until about 10 years ago, when I went looking for a low impact fitness solution. I bought a bike and started riding again, and I fell in love with it all over again. I have been able the outdoors in a way that I never could have from behind the wheel.

I have since ridden my bike across several U.S. states and completed bike tours in Spain, Italy, and France. The European attitude towards cycling is much different than that in the U.S., where bikes and cars seem constantly at odds, which is a discouragement for many who might like to ride a bike to school, work or just for fun. In Europe, cycling for sport and transportation are much more natural and accepted, and there is much more investment in bike infrastructure.

Follow my column in the coming months while I talk about why this difference exists and what we can do to change it. In the meantime, give biking a try! You won’t be sorry.

Want to get into cycling or find out about cycling events? Contact me at bridgettedeshields@sbcglobal.net.

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