Kindly get off your high horse and onto a bike

Illustration of people with bikes in front of Sather Gate
Armaan Mumtaz/Staff

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Bikers often get a bad rap: They take up too much space on the road, they slow down cars and buses, and they seem dangerous. But biking is much more than just a mode of transportation or a competitive sport. Biking is a way to improve and take care of our planet. Biking is a part of the conversation to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve personal physical health. 

As we approach 2020, the United States’ habit of burning fossil fuels is at its peak. Automobile transportation is a major contributor to the burning of toxic chemicals. Bicycles encourage individuals to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and other environmental damage. Instead of taking AC Transit buses, individuals should consider biking to and from work. This simple change would allow individuals to bike about three miles each way, and if students integrated biking into their daily routines, they would save about 1,500 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the Queensland Government’s Department of Transport and Main Roads’ website. Statistics such as this prove that individual choices have the potential to impact climate change.

 There are also incredible health benefits related to cycling. Scholars and health professionals believe the health benefits from cycling are “worth pursuing,” as stated in a study published at the University of Zurich. Biking is a great way to keep individuals in shape by integrating moderate physical activity into people’s daily lives. The United States has high rates of inactivity and obesity, which affects nearly 100 million Americans each year. Biking must become more common in order to reduce these alarming statistics.

 A study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency states that drivers who shift to cycling have more to gain than lose. The benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of traffic accidents.

 In a comprehensive study conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow, over 200,000 individuals who traveled to work in London were tracked over a five-year period. The study concluded that there are substantial health benefits to cycling. Commuters who cycled to work had a 41 percent lower risk of dying from all causes than people who drove, walked or took public transportation. Bikers also had lower risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease. Although the mode of transportation and distance traveled was reported by participants and not researchers, the study still highlights the undeniable health benefits of cycling regularly. In addition to the environmental and physical benefits of cycling, there are also personal and widespread economic benefits. Individuals can save money by choosing to bike instead of driving, as this will allow them to save on car maintenance and gas. 

There are also studies proving that the bike industry is an important sector of the American economy, as the industry puts over one million Americans to work and generates almost $18 billion in tax revenues, according to Advocacy Advance, an organization that focuses on implementing safe bicycle infrastructure projects. The bike industry plays a role in creating bike-friendly infrastructure and saving on health insurance costs. Bicycle tourism can also have an impact on local and state economies. For example, Advocacy Advance’s website states that Portland, Oregon sees about $90 million in bicycle-related activity each year through holding races and competitions as well as through bicycle rentals, retail and repairs. These economic gains benefit the entire city and increase the quality of life for its residents.

Nearly 10 percent of employed Berkeley residents commute by bike, which is almost four times the Alameda County average and about five times the average of the entire Bay Area. According to the city of Berkeley website, Berkeley ranks as the safest city for biking in California, with a population of over 60,000.

Luckily, UC Berkeley has a student-run bike cooperative, BicyCAL, that is located on Lower Sproul Plaza and offers students and community members a space where they can learn how to operate and maintain their bicycles. BicyCAL also offers a DeCal course on bike repair and maintenance. 

There are several opportunities to learn about biking and join the community. After my freshman year, I started biking with a helmet, of course, and my quality of life improved drastically. The most affordable option for me was to buy a secondhand bike, and I learned to look up online tutorials or visit the bike cooperative to learn about maintenance. I am grateful to have had the funds to purchase a bike as well as the ability to ride one. Biking is a universal activity that you can do anywhere in the world. Biking is definitely not accessible for everyone, but if it is accessible to you, then I kindly ask you to step off your high horse and onto a bike.

Alissa Yankelevits graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy and a minor in gender and women’s studies.