Sustainability Math: How Cycling Makes 1+1=3

Let’s be clear, this is not some Orwellian fantasy or math fail: being sustainable can give you more than what you paid for. You might scoff at this: how can hugging trees or lowering my carbon-emissions help me pay my bills or help enrich my community? It’s not like wearing Birkenstocks will help to save the world! But while Birkenstocks may not save the world, the people wearing them may be on to something.

COMM BH BlogImage BicyclingMath 2014 03Take for instance, the cyclists you see biking to work every morning. Don’t you ever wonder what could compel them, short of a desire to plunge into the depths of hell, to hop on a bike and ride instead of taking a car like normal people? Or have you ruminated on why they look so stunning and impressive in spandex and a day-glo reflective jacket? (I confess that I am unabashedly a cyclist, so I may be biased about spandex’s ability to stun and impress) Many start biking with the goal of reducing their carbon emissions but find that there are a number of additional benefits to biking to work or school.

Some benefits are obvious: if you aren’t using your car, you save on gas. Taken on its own (with current gas prices as high as they are), this is incentive enough to go out and get your own pair of tight spandex shorts. But you also save on maintenance issues like tire wear and oil changes. This also means your car lasts longer before bigger payments like replacing a transmission or engine come up. Suddenly, you find that you’re getting more than you paid for. 1+1=3.

Biking has a list of well-documented health benefits as long the fine print of a shady car loan. Cycling is low impact, so it’s good for your joints. It builds muscle and stamina while improving heart health and lowering your risk for heart disease (according to the British Medical Association, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%). It lowers stress, helps stave off illnesses, and might even help improve performance in the bedroom. Heck, even accounting for the risks of riding, a Dutch paper found that biking actually increases your lifespan (and the Dutch know their bikes: nearly a third of all trips taken in the country, short and long distance, are done by bike). 1+1=3.

In the famous words of the late Billy Mays, BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Biking may also help the cohesiveness of your local community. Instead of being isolated in a metal cage commuting for hours each day, you’re outside and likely to interact with people. I’ve struck up countless conversations with complete strangers because of a freak rainstorm or while I’m locking up my bike. While it may be more difficult to scientifically or mathematically prove, it’s certainly logical that people spending more time outside in their community would help to strengthen it. 1+1=3.

It turns out that being green and lowering your carbon emissions can actually save you money and enrich your community. This highlights a moral at the end of my story which I want to make clear: the cyclist biking to work is just as concerned about paying bills and enriching his community as the person in the car passing them. We’re all trying to strengthen our community, lower our cost of living, and increase our health. The end goal, wherever you land on the political spectrum, is the same. Knowing that, you might want to take a moment before deriding someone who starts talking about carbon emissions or personal freedom. You never know, you might just get more than you expected.