Benefits of Cycling

Health Savings
Natural Environment
Social Equity
Urban Environment

Dining & Entertainment

Fun with Family and Friends
Mental Health
Personal Fitness
Physical Health

Benefits to Society


The Australian Government estimates that the ‘avoidable costs’ of traffic congestion is due to rise from $5.4 billion in 2005 to $20.4 billion in 2020. [1]  In an attempt to “cure” traffic congestion, Governments around the world pour billions of dollars into massive road-building efforts which ultimately just increase the number of cars on the road and do little to shorten travel times.

In the 2012-13 NSW Budget the Government allocated $5 billion in funding to deliver new roads and maintain existing roads, however, in Sydney we have seen that average traffic speeds have not improved despite many years of heavy investment.  In contrast to the billions spent on roads, bicycle infrastructure improvements receive only $xx million dollars a year in funding.  It is clear that alternative solutions such as improving heavy rail and bicycle infrastructure are needed to encourage people to get out of their car, especially in peak travel times.

Although bicycles have a lower top speed than motor vehicles, the capacity for bicycle lanes to move people is far higher than motor vehicle lanes.  This is due to the small size and close proximity of bicycles and the fact that every bicycle is 100% utilised unlike cars which often only contain 1 person although they are designed to carry at least 5.  Bicycles also require about 1/10th of the storage space at either end of a journey which frees land for more worthwhile purposes than vehicle storage.

A bicycle user is able to cover around 4 times the distance of a pedestrian in the same time which completely transforms how mobility can be achieved in a big city.  Instead of a train station having a catchment radius of 0.5-1 km, suddenly the catchment radius becomes 2-4 km which is a 16-times increase in the number of people who can comfortably access the station without a car.

The ability for 16 times more people to access a train station without a car also creates a huge opportunity to make train stations into busy centres that team with business activity instead of simply providing a wasteland of car parks and access roads.  The money saved by not building enormous, free commuter car parking could be spent on providing pedestrian and bicycle access as well as building important facilities such as retail space near stations.

[1] Estimating urban traffic and congestion cost trends for Australian Cities, Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services 2007.
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Health Savings

Over the last 30 years, Australia has experienced the beginnings of an obesity epidemic that has resulted in not only a huge expansion of the waists of Australians but also a blowout in the health care budget required to care for those afflicted by obesity-related illness.

In Australia the rate of overweight and obese adults have doubled over the past two decades, with Australia now being ranked as one of the fattest developed nations in the world.  If we are to reverse this trend, it is clear that there needs to be a change in both the diet and daily exercise of Australians.

Bicycles have the potential to play a significant role in providing the daily exercise required to improve the health and fitness of all Australians.  Unlike most recreational activities, cycling is more than simply an enjoyable pastime that can build fitness.  Bicycle use can become a part of everyday life and can offer a practical alternative to mainstream modes of transport.

The way to unlock the full Benefits of Cycling is to create a better environment for all bicycle use.  In particular, facilities that allow bicycles to be used for general transport such as commuting and other utility trips are essential.  These facilities allow people to make exercise a part of their daily schedule rather than attempting to stick to a gym regime that soon loses priority in our busy lives.

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Natural Environment

When you look at all the Benefits of Cycling, it is hard to find an area where the benefits are as significant and obvious as the benefits to the Natural Environment.  Bicycles are the ultimate in clean-energy vehicles, with zero emissions and only a small amount of material required for their construction.

Climate change and peak oil are two of the biggest issues we face as a civilisation.  Scientists around the world have been ringing alarm bells about these issues for years and Governments are finally starting to take notice.  Billions of dollars are being invested in “green cars” and carbon-reduction schemes, yet bicycle promotion and infrastructure remains underfunded in many countries.

While motor-vehicles that use oil-based fuels are responsible for much of the transport-related pollution and resource usage, even “green cars” have a serious environmental impact.  Most of the energy used to power electric vehicles is still derived from coal-based electricity sources which contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions.  Also, the amount of resources required to build any car is around 100 times the amount required to build a bicycle.

The only true “green vehicle” is a bicycle and the only way to truly mitigate our environmental impact is to provide significant investment in bicycle infrastructure and promotion to get people back on their bicycles.

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Whether we walk, cycle or drive a car, we often overlook the dangers we face on our roads.  The importance of road safety is never more obvious than when looking at the high number of people who are killed or injured on our roads every year.  In 2010, there were 405 people killed and 24,623 people injured [1] on roads in New South Wales which was a safe year by historical standards.  Across the globe in 2004, around 1,270,000 road deaths occurred. [2]

In Australia, there is a perception that cycling is a dangerous activity, yet only 2.7% of the people killed on our roads were riding a bicycle.  There is still significant room for improvement and so it is important to note that there is a well-established way to achieve an improvement in road safety for bicycle users and pedestrians.  It is called the “safety-in-numbers effect”.

Peter Jacobson has studied this subject extensively and notes that, “policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.”[3]

In Australia, we have very low rates of bicycle use compared to world leaders such as Denmark and the Netherlands.  This means that we can easily increase the number of bicycle users and therefore increase the safety of our roads for everyone through the provision of improved infrastructure and the implementation of behaviour-change programs.

The safety of riding a bicycle is only half the story though.  The other side of the story is the effect that bicycles have on the safety of others.  This can be seen by looking at the damage caused by bicycle users to others.  For example:

  • None of the 69 pedestrians killed in 2010 on NSW roads was hit by a bicycle.
  • None of the 335 vehicle occupants killed in 2010 on NSW roads was hit by a bicycle.

Of the 11 bicycle users killed on our roads, many of them would not have died if not for the involvement of a motor vehicle.

The key road safety benefit that is offered by the bicycle, is not for the benefit of the bicycle user.  It is for the benefit of society.

[1] Road Traffic Crashes in NSW, Transport for NSW 2010.
[2] Global Status Report on Road Safety, World Health Organisation 2009.
[2] Injury Prevention 2003; 9:205–209.

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Social Equity

Bicycles have traditionally been thought of as the transport of choice for students and people who can’t afford a car.  However, bicycles are fast becoming “the new golf” for the wealthy.  Instead of playing a round of golf at an exclusive country club, many executives are choosing to do a few laps of Centennial Park or are commuting to work on their expensive road bikes.

The universality of appeal that bicycles have across all income levels shows that they offer something for everyone.  Even though not everyone can afford an expensive car, almost anyone can afford a nice bicycle which will fulfill all their transport needs.

The social equity that bicycles create is never more obvious than for children whose world expands when they receive their first bicycle.  Suddenly, they are no longer dependent on their parents to transport them by motor vehicle.  Instead, they are able to explore their entire neighbourhood and visit friends and destinations they could never manage on foot.

In a world where children are more and more likely to sit in front of a computer or TV for hours each day, the ability to travel by bicycle not only improves the health of children, but also helps the child to develop independence and self esteem.

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Urban Environment

While it is easy to quantify some of the benefits of bicycle use such as the dollars saved at the petrol pump or the kgs lost from your weight, it is harder to quantify how designing cities for bicycles and pedestrians results in an improvement to the urban environment.

The most important thing to note about urban environments that encourage walking and cycling is the scale of the space.  Freeways and major roads are “vehicle-sized” spaces that are built on a scale to suit access by motor-vehicles.  They don’t always expressly prohibit people from using them on foot or on a bicycle, but they certainly don’t provide an inviting environment.  The distances people are required to travel to access the various ramps and exits as well as the noise, smell and physical danger faced by people in these environments makes them unfriendly for pedestrians and bicycle users.

In contrast, urban environments that encourage walking and cycling are “people-sized” spaces that are built to a scale that is accessible to people.  The distance between destinations is shorter due not only to the reduction in space required by the numerous traffic lanes and car parks of car-centric environments, but also by the fact that it is possible walk or cycle directly to a destination without negotiating the enormous barriers to mobility that are presented by major roads.

The reduction in scale that comes with a space that is designed for walking and cycling immediately puts a world of possibilities within the reach of people on a bicycle.  The local shops, schools and places of business are all within a 15 minute bicycle ride.

In addition to the improved mobility available in people-sized environments, the reduction in motor-vehicle traffic yields a huge array of benefits.  The reduction in noise, smell and danger means that streets once-again become attractive to people.  Restaurants set up outdoor dining, people stop and chat with each other in chance meetings and we all interact as humans rather than as machines.

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Benefits to Business

Dining & Entertainment

Bicycles are the perfect mode of transport for a night out on the town.  When you are on a bike, you never have a problem finding a parking spot and since your bike is locked up right at the front door, it is easy to hop back on and head to your next night spot at a moment’s notice.

“At least 8 bikes can be parked in the space of 1 car”

If you have too much to drink, you can always walk your bike home, leave your bike locked up at the pub or take your bike with you on the train (try doing that with a car).  In terms of public policy, encouraging people to ride a bike and leave the car at home improves safety for everyone.  Even if someone is silly enough to ride their bicycle while intoxicated (which is illegal), they are not as dangerous to the community as a drunk motorist.

Providing bicycle paths and bicycle parking in and around busy nightspots attracts bicycle users and makes good use of limited space.  This shift of transport choices provides the potential to increase the number of people who can easily access businesses by 8 times.

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Shopping by bicycle is amazingly simple.  Just add a basket or panniers (bags designed to clip onto a bike rack) to your favourite bike and you are ready to go.  When you load up your bicycle with your weekly shop, you’ll be amazed at just how much you can carry with little extra effort.

Shopping by bicycle is also a pleasant experience compared to shopping by car.  Bicycles are seldom affected by congestion or traffic around shopping centres and in car parks.  Also, the trip to and from the shops will be a pleasant and casual journey instead of a frustrating, grid-locked hassle.  Leaving the car at home allows you to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the journey, say hello to a friend along the way or duck into a favourite shop on the way home without having to look for another parking spot.

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Tourism is one of Australia’s strongest sectors, employing over 500,000 people and contributing over B$34 to gross domestic product [1].  Whether tourists arrive from overseas or travel locally within NSW, the dollars injected into the economy are vital to the health of businesses and the community in both city and regional areas.

“A bicycle tourist spends an average of $258 per day”

Dr Sue Beeton, La Trobe University.

“The Tour Down Under is one of South Australia’s biggest events, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators, including many people from interstate and overseas.”

Jane Lomax-Smith, Tourism Minister, South Australia.

Bicycle-related tourism can include spectators travelling to big events such as the Tour Down Under, participants travelling to rides they have entered and touring cyclists who use a bicycle as their means of transport.  All these forms of bicycle tourism provide dollars, employment and vitality to communities.

Many opportunities exist to improve the environment for bicycle tourists, particularly for those tourists who require safe bicycle facilities in regional areas.  This can be achieved by improving the safety of rural roads and investing in dedicated tourist routes such as rail trails or the NSW Coastal Cycleway.

[1] Key Facts, Australian Tourism Sector, Tourism Research Australia.

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Benefits to You

Fun with Friends & Family

It is easy to get caught up with all the “reasons” to ride a bicycle such as:

  • looking after the natural environment.
  • saving money.
  • improving your health.
  • the ease of getting to work by bike.

But when we strip back all the “rational” reasons to ride, we are left with the most obvious reason of all…

Bike riding is fun!

The fun of riding a bicycle is obvious whenever you see a child on a bike and explains why so many of us took to riding before we ever thought about saving the planet, our health or a few bucks.

The popularity of bicycle riding for recreation is maintained through adulthood, with cycling being the 3rd most popular recreational activity for males and the 5th most popular recreational activity for females. [1]

[1] Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2009–10.

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Mental Health

Exercise is an excellent way to deal with a range of psychological problems, from common conditions such as stress and hypertension to more serious conditions such as depression and anxiety.  People who engage in regular exercise experience reduced stress, improved sleeping patterns, improved concentration and a better outlook on life.

A literature review of research in the area of exercise and mental health reveals that, “there is now ample evidence that a definite relationship exists between exercise and improved mental health. This is particularly evident in the case of a reduction of anxiety and depression. For these topics, there is now considerable evidence derived from over hundreds of studies with thousands of subjects to support the claim that exercise is related to a relief in symptoms of depression and anxiety. [1]

Exercise decreases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and increases feel-good hormones such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.  When these chemicals are released through exercise, the body experiences feelings of euphoria and a general state of wellbeing.  These chemicals can even mask pain and improve mental health.

Cycling offers an excellent way to receive regular exercise, particularly if performed as a daily training routine or when the bicycle is used for daily transport needs.

[1] D. M. Landers, The Influence of Exercise on Mental Health, SERIES 2, NUMBER 12, OF THE PCPFS RESEARCH DIGEST.

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Personal Finances

Riding a bicycle for transport is a great way of saving money on transport costs.  A basic bicycle will only set you back a few hundred dollars and can carry you thousands of kms each year without costing you a single cent in fuel (besides the cost of your muesli in the morning).  In contrast, the cost of running a car is between about $5000 / year for the very cheapest option to over $60,000 /year for the most luxurious of vehicles [1].  These costs are only likely to increase in the future as petrol costs rise.

Taking a conservative estimate for vehicle costs (say $10,400), consider how long it takes to earn the money required to pay this cost each year.  For a person on an $80,000 taxable income which becomes $62,450 after tax, 2 months of the working year ($10,400) is dedicated to paying the cost of their motor vehicle.  I’m sure that most of us can think of a better way to spend $10,000 such as paying off the mortgage or going on a nice holiday.

If your household has 2 or more cars, you should find it easy to sell one and replace it with your bicycle.  With a little bit of planning, you may even be able to live car-free.  Make sure you live close to public transport and check out where your nearest GoGet cars are located.

[1] Least expensive light car to run under $25,000: $90/week or $4,680/year.
Least expensive large car to run over $100,000: $1,250/week or $65,000/year.
NRMA, 2011.

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Physical Health

Bicycles are a fantastic way to keep fit and healthy no matter what age you are or what level of fitness you have.  Riding a bicycle provides good cardio-vascular fitness while having little impact on the joints, so it is suitable for people who find running too high-impact.  In fact, riding a bicycle is even easier on the joints than walking!  By choosing the right bicycle and the right style of riding, you can either push your body to the limit or simply push your body to the next coffee shop.

“The health risks of inactivity are 20 times greater than the health risks posed by a potential cycling accident”, British Medical Association, 1992.

Riding your bicycle for transport is a great way to escape the traffic on the roads and the crush of commuters on public transport.  You can experience the joy of gliding along quiet streets and bicycle paths on your way to a fitter, happier you.  Then at the end of the day, rather than heading off to the gym, you can relax in the knowledge that you have done your exercise for the day and had fun while doing it!

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