By Ambassador Jake Hood

For many of us cars are a necessity, For others, it’s a lifestyle/hobby, and for some a job. A way to get from A to B and back to A. They have become part of our daily routine, from commuting to work, picking up the weekly shop, school runs and drop-offs, The list goes on. Our lives have been designed around cars in the 21st century. They shape our cities and towns, making it easy to get about. They are a great piece of engineering that enables the human race to move forward in becoming a better, more advanced civilization.

But what if I told you a fact that might change your mind about the car.

Well, a recent study in Nz showed that 95% of journeys taken in a car are less than 5km. (3.1 miles) 5km!! That’s nuts.

Now, I’m guessing that a lot of this is commuting. People traveling from their homes to work and back. Maybe it’s people doing the weekly shop. But 5km…. That’s not a far distance. It’s really not that far.

For the last at least 20 years I’ve pretty much used a bike to get about. Nearly every day I swing a leg over a bike. I find it the fastest, most efficient way to get about. It’s the tool I use to commute. Currently, I don’t own a car but the times I did own a car I would use it very little when traveling to work or about town. I found it stressful. By the time I got settled in the car, drove to work, found a park, then walked the last bit would only be slightly faster than if I had ridden. But the added stress of driving through town, being in traffic, and just finding a park. On a bike though. Jump on. Ride through town. Take the scenic route if you have time. No need to worry about parking and you get exercise at the same time.

But that’s my perspective. The chap that loves bicycles and the culture that goes with it. It’s easy for me to say, “yeah I’ll just ride there.” I’m conditioned to it. I enjoy it. It’s not a chore to me.

If you ride your bike at 15kph (which is a pretty modest speed) you’ll make your 5km commute in about 20 minutes. Now, if you jump in a car. You have to start it up. Drive to work. Find a spot and then walk to the last leg to work, your are probably looking at like a 10 min commute, maybe, depending on traffic. Lights. Parking. So there may be a 10-minute difference, possibly 5 mins. That’s not much. And I know who will be more fulfilled and awake at work. Most likely the person who cycled.

If we could get more people to ride bikes for that sort of distance of travel it would have such an amazing impact on our cities, towns, and overall the planet in general. For one. There would be a lot more parking spaces for people that have to cover a greater distance than 5km or need their car as a necessity for work. Heck it might even mean that we could get rid of those ugly car parking multi-storey buildings, or keep them and get rid of some of the on-road parking spots. Making way for cycle lanes, wider walkways and potentially more green space. Public transport would become more efficient due to less congestion and people would be more likely to take public transport. Again reducing cars on the road. The noise levels would go down. Fewer motors running means less noise. (I for one can’t wait till EVs replace the vast majority of the combustion engine car. It will be so nice having quiet urban areas). I would imagine that the population of these places would become healthier due to more exercise and less population in the air, thus removing strain off the Healthcare system. It would be a snowballing effect

Another big advantage of riding a bike for these short distances is cost. Bikes (in general) are far cheaper than cars and a lot easier to look after. I would imagine that the yearly maintenance cost of a bike (not a mountain bike) will be vastly cheaper than your car. Then there is fuel. Think of the saving. Think of all that extra money in your account due to not having to stop at the pump. Make it rain money. Factor in parking costs and you will save yourself a lot of money.

E bikes are a great leveler in this situation. They removed the extra effort that it takes to get going. Pedaling into a headwind isn’t nearly as bad as on an e-bike. You can put in much effort as you want. Work up a sweat or just let the motor do the work while you breeze your way to your destination. You no longer need to work hard to keep a speed of 25/32 kph. The hills that you dread to climb now become fun. Loading the bike up with cargo or kids on the back? No worries. It will have you covered. Pretty much everyone I know who owns an ebike will tell you that it’s one of the best purchases they have made. It’s changed how they get around, How they view the cities for towns they live in. How much better their life is with it.

In a world where we are looking to move away from fossil fuels and try to massively reduce our C02 output, to me the humble bicycle seems an easy way to lower our impact while ultimately improving a lot of people’s lives. The more and more I think it about it the more benefits I can see and I can’t really see many downsides to it. I’m not saying we should get rid of cars. Cars are amazing and what’s happening in the electric/hydrogen field currently is going to revolutionize the car into a far better vehicle for transport. Car is a necessary mode of transport in this modern society but I think we should really be reducing our use of them for short trips.  

So, what are the things stopping people from getting on a bike for these small trips?  

First off, bikes are expensive (sort of) but the barrier for entry is probably the lowest it’s ever been. You don’t have to spend a whole lot to get a quality bike that will serve your needs. Entry-level bikes are better than they have ever been. You get so much for your money. Well thought out bikes built to last. Bikes like the Dew, for example, were built for urban environments. Solid good looking frame with mounts over the fork and frame giving you the ability to add racks and baskets onto it. The high volume slick 650b wheels keep the drag down to a minimum and takes the sting out of the road.  A good quality hardtail is also it great option. Giving you the ability to hit mountain bike trails on the way home if you feel zesty. 

Yes, E-bikes are a lot more expensive than your normal bike but I would safely bet that you will get a return on investment over time due to not having to pay for fuel, car maintenance, and parking. It would quickly pay itself off and you’ll have a flipping sick ebike you can use for more than just short trips. It will well and truly enhance your life.

Stigma might be another reason for stopping you from jumping on a bike. Yes, history might not have painted the “Cyclist” the best light over time. Spandex-wearing, nonroad tax paying. Dangerous, can’t afford a car, loser. The list goes on. But I think that’s changing slowly. You’re never going to be able to change the minds of some people in this world. But I think the rest could come around if more and more people get on board. Let’s make cycling cool. We can all do things to help this. Firstly, become a better cyclist. Don’t go jumping red lights, Or making dodgy maneuvers…. Stick to the rules, Signal. If you’re on the pavement pull over and give way to the pedestrian. Give them a smile and wave. Maybe consider a bell to let people know you’re there. Just small things. You might change the mind of a noncyclist into wanting to get on a bike.  

Safety is probably a big reason that puts people off. Cycling on the road isn’t the most pelsent. I’m not going to try to say it is. I really do get it. It can be scary. You, the 50-100kg bit of muscle, fat, bones and organs on top of the bicycle vs a 2/3 ton hunk of combustion propelled metal. It’s easy to see who’s going to come off better.

Cycleways/bike lanes vastly improve the enjoyment of getting about by bike. But here is the thing. You can probably hound your councilor/government all you want but they will probably be reluctant in getting rid of car lanes to replace with a bike lane unless they see an uptake in cyclists. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario and I don’t really know how you solve it. I mean I do. It’s easy. Build the cycleways and they will come…. But I’m more cycling biased than your local councilor/council. But imagine this. With more people cycling and more cycleways, there would be fewer cars on the road. Fewer cars heading into the city centers. This would mean more parking for people who do really need to drive in. More space on the streets and let’s not forget how much quieter it would be. Imagine how nice it would be to be in a city where the average rumbling noise of cars is far reduced. It would be so bliss. Such a better place to be.

Weather seems to be a defining excuse for a lot of people. I mean yeah. Riding in the rain sucks. I do it often, I know. But you’re probably heading somewhere inside next right? Could take a change of clothes? Or maybe get some waterproof pants and jacket? Great solutions. What about just being a bit more flexible with your time? Now I currently live in Wellington, NZ. A city synonymous with wind and bad weather often referred to as the windy capital. It seems to rain here a lot. More than the stats say. There are 169 sunny days in Wellington on average.  Pretty depressing. So often you end up riding around in the rain. But the thing is. Rain often comes in spells and it will pass. If you can just be a little flexible with your time you can massively reduce the chances of riding in the rain. Just finished work and it’s raining outside? Head to a cafe or pub or something. Treat yourself to a coffee, tea, beer or so on with the money you saved on fuel. It will probably blow over in 30 mins. Relax, and take time to decompress.

The weather is out of your control so let it pass. Or just chuck the waterproofs on and brave the rain. It’s only water at the end of the day. Not made of sugar, are we? (bare in mind, I’m from Scotland. Not scared of a bit of rain) 

Another big reason is that people are inherently lazy and love their comforts. You’re never going to be able to change that. But if the infrastructure and culture is there it’s been shown that the population will use their cars less. Look at cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam for example. Cities that are often listed as some of the best cities to live in. They heavily invested in their cycle network and due to this 32% of trips taken are by bicycle vs 29% by cars. If you look at the commuting stats it’s even more impressive, 49% of commutes are by bicycle. In Amsterdam, 32% of all trips are by bicycle and 22% by car. Super impressive. Building cycleways and routes will give more access to the biggest potential new group of cyclists. The people that are interested but nervous about cycling on the roads—this would give them a far safer route to cycle through the cities. Grow their confidence. Kids would be able to travel to schools safer, using cycle lanes and keeping them off roads and pavements. Obviously, there would be a cost to putting in these cycleways but it’s been shown that it costs a fraction of what it costs for other road infrastructure and shows bigger financial gains in the long term.  There is real proven data on the economic growth that cycle ways provide and again the strain on the healthcare system is reduced due to a healthier, fitter population.

So how do we get more people riding these short trips vs driving? Well, I think a good way is to try to build a habit. Set a 30-day challenge. “I’m going to try to ride to work for the next 30 days” or “I’m going to try to do my shopping without the car.” (I mean do we still need to go to the shops if we can do it online and get it delivered?”) Try to just give yourself a goal to work towards. I would suggest that summer is a far better time to start than winter. Heck, you might even enjoy your rides home from work in the summer so much that you end up taking a long way home. Maybe just question yourself. “Do I really need to use the car for this,” before you head off on your next trip. I guarantee you that you can replace heaps of your small journey with a bicycle over the car. I can also guarantee you will feel better doing so. Mentally and physically. 

To me, the bicycle is one of the best pieces of engineering that humans have come up with. A super efficient way of getting about by human power. It’s beautifully simple and complicated at the same time. To me, it just seems like an easy win in the way of moving forward in the future of making the planet a better more sustainable place. Reducing our carbon footprint will also make people healthier. Sometimes you have to look back to go forward. This 205-year-old mode of transport could be a big step forward for the human population if we embrace it more.

It seems like the time we should be pushing for more cycleways and routes. Better cycle infrastructure around our towns and cities. Especially now while there are more people riding bikes than there have been in the previous 20 years. I don’t know how much longer the bike boom is going to last but why don’t we capitalize on the wave and pressure our governments and councils into putting an effort into providing better infrastructure

But hey. This is just my perspective as an avid cyclist. I’d love to hear the argument from the other side. I’m definitely biased towards the bike side. I just think it’s the best, most versatile way to get about. I hope someone reads this and it changes their perspective about it and I hope in the future we do see a big investment from governments/councils around the world into better cycle infrastructure. Like it said earlier it just seems like an easy win for the human population in our move forward to a cleaner better world.