Why National Bike Month Matters
We’ve been asking around, lately, and lots of people outside the bike industry–even people who ride regularly–aren’t aware that here in the US, May is National Bike Month…or even that there IS a Bike Month, period. But there certainly is–and, in preparation for our first-ever National Bike Month events, we’ve rounded up all the reasons that, believe it or not, it’s a really important time for all of us.
Origins and Purpose Today
A little blurb making its rounds on the internet contends National Bike Month was established in 1956 by the Cycle Trade Association of America purely as a means to promote sales. We can’t find any evidence that this is the case, nor that any Cycle Trade Association of America ever existed. (We’d love to hear, in the comments below, from anyone with more specific information!) We do know, however, that the League of American Bicyclists now sponsors National Bike Month (and Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day), and the initiative isn’t just–or even predominantly–about sales; it’s about transforming the US from a car-dominated culture to one where bikes are a mainstream form of transportation.
But why do bicycles matter enough to warrant a whole month of advocacy and attention? How does National Bike Month measure up to Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Bikes benefit us on both societal and individual levels, and America’s adopting them as a mainstream method of transportation would change lives both here and abroad.
Bikes and the Planet
According to the EPA, greenhouse gases from transportation (cars, trucks, boats, planes, etc.) account for a third of all US greenhouse gas emissions, and of these, “The largest sources of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions include passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans….[which] account for over half of the emissions from the sector.” This means that reducing the number of passenger vehicles on the road will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the EPA says, “Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased by about 16% since 1990.” As our population grows, our cities sprawl, and cars become more affordable, our emissions increase. Bicycles are a feasible mode of transportation and they could slow global warming and better the air quality of our cities.
Bikes and Opportunity
Bikes have played a major role in the western women’s liberation movement and continue to offer opportunities to disadvantaged people the world over.
Here in the US, according to the last census, “bikes are disproportionately important tools for the lowest-income workers” because bicycles are the cheapest form of transport. Consider it: even if you bought the cheapest used car you could find for $500, you’d still have to gas it up regularly and pay for repairs. But you could buy a used bike for less than $100, no gas required. Air for your tires is free at most bike shops, and bike maintenance costs far less than car repairs.
In certain places in Africa, people have to walk many miles to get to school, which of course discourages attendance, especially in women and girls, who must also find time to do housework. Bicycles makes it possible for those individuals to get an education and, in turn, to enrich their villages.
Bikes and the Economy
The Political Economy Research Institute found that a million-dollar investment in bicycle infrastructure results in 11 jobs, as opposed to only 10 for pedestrian projects, and 7.8 for “road-only” projects. In addition, CityLab reports that, “While cyclists tend to spend less per shopping trip than drivers, they also tend to make more trips, pumping more total money into the local economy over time.” According to a specific study done in NYC’s East Village, bicyclists spend more at local businesses than do pedestrians, drivers, or those who take public transit.
Bikes and our Health
The Silicon Valley Cycling Coalition notes that people who ride bikes live an average of two years longer than those who don’t, and the British Medical Association found that biking just 20 miles a week (which is a lot easier than it sounds, if you consider that’s just one 3-mile roundtrip commute per day or two roundtrip 10-mile commutes each week) reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%. And if you take into consideration that Beijing’s 2015 car ban reduced the city’s Air Pollution Index score from the usual 160 (harmful to the health of Beijing’s residents) to just 17 (far lower than the US’s current 125 average), more bike ridership means better air quality and healthier citizens.