Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cycling to Work

After banging on about the lack of understanding of bicyclists by car drivers, you'd have to wonder why I choose to ride a bike at all, let alone 20km to and from work every day. Anything really worth doing usually has more than one good reason to do it, and cycling has several, at least for me.

1. It's really, really cheap

Cycling has to be just about the cheapest form of transport ever. If you're commuting regularly you'll want quite good tyres and these turn out to be the major ongoing cost. I figure about $80 (call it $100) each for a good commuter tyre, which goes to the rear wheel, the nearly worn out one going to the front where it wears much more slowly. I'll need to do this about every 10,000km or so, so of the order of $1 per 100km or about $2 per week.

Now, my bike is electric, so I also need to figure out costs for battery replacement and fuel (electricity). My current battery from Ping battery has done about 400 cycles and still works like brand new (after some major dramas with the battery management system, but that's a post for another day), so I expect it should be good for at least the rated 2000 cycles. Perhaps 3000 because I don't fully discharge each time and don't charge it as high as it will go. At about $500 per battery including shipping from Shanghai, that works out at around a bit less than $1 per 100km, maybe $1.50 if the cycle life doesn't work out. Electricity is about 30c per kWh and I average about 0.011kWh per km (1.1kWh / 100km), so about 30c per 100km.

So my total weekly operating costs are probably less than $5 – about the price of your average soy latte. Compare that to at least $35 per week if I take train and bus, and $20 – $30 per week on petrol alone (depending on price) if I take the car.

2. I never have trouble finding parking

No matter where I'm going, there's a street sign, a tree, sometimes even a bicycle rack(!) that I can lock up to, virtually at the front door. At work my bicycle spends the day with me in my office. If I take public transport I can factor in at least an extra 5 to 10 minutes of walking, more like an extra 15 minutes on top of a driving commute assuming I can find a parking spot not too far from work (either that, or fork over more than $1000 per year for a permit to park on campus, but even that doesn't guarantee finding a place).

No matter how busy the shopping centre is, I can lock up right outside to pick up some groceries on my way home. I don't waste 20 minutes getting into and out of the multi-storey car park.

3. I know exactly how long it will take me to get there.

Traffic conditions do not affect my trip time. In fact, the slower the traffic is, the more pleasant my trip, because it's quieter. When I was driving to work regularly, it would take me usually an hour (not including walking time from where I eventually find a parking spot). Forty minutes on a good day and two hours or more on a bad day. It's actually quite stressful if you need to be somewhere at particular time to deliver a lecture or pick up the kids. I'm sure that the stress that causes takes a toll, long term.

When I'm riding my bicycle, it takes an hour and 5 minutes each way, plus or minus 5 minutes. Maybe plus 15 minutes if I get a flat tyre (hence the need for good tyres) or if the weather is really awful.

4. Strapped into a metal box on a freeway-turned-parking lot, or...

Zooming down the virtually deserted Muddy Creek cycleway, sun and fresh air on my face, past the old Chinese guys fishing at the bridge, the moored boats, she-oaks and the blue wrens flitting in and out of the grass.

5. Less environmental impact

Less of just about everything – greenhouse emissions lower by about a factor of about 30 compared to driving a car, less other consumables, less materials used in manufacturing etc. For some people these things matter more than for others. For me, let's just say it's compatible with my religion. Whether this factor is important for anyone else is a matter for them.

6. I like riding bicycles

It feels great. I've always enjoyed it, there's not much to rationalise about that.

7. Health benefits

Sure I don't push much (riding an e-bike, after all, is just like a normal bike where everywhere is downhill), but I do spend my commute turning the pedals for camouflage, pushing a bit up hills, balancing etc. It's got to be healthier than sitting in a car for the same amount of time. I'm convinced my regular cycling has kept my cycling balance free from any noticeable effects from MS, although my walking balance is a little bit crap and I'm a long way from being able to ride a skateboard.

8. Being different

Showing people that there are alternatives, and it's ok to be different.

Sure there are downsides to cycle commuting too. It can be unpleasant when it rains, downright dangerous in high winds, I can't take passengers or carry heavy loads. I keep a car for when I really need those things, which is why it sits in the driveway while I'm enjoying my commute to work.

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