Quite possibly, a million good reasons to ride a bicycle exist, and you will likely share many of them in this article's comments. But to keep this article from getting too long, here are the current ten best reasons to bike.
Being fit means having a healthy, strong heart and being able to exert muscles for an extended period. It means having some strength in muscles but, depending on what exercise you do, it doesn't necessarily mean strength in all of them. To have a healthy, strong heart, you have to get it working and then let it rest. Working at half your heart's capability is good, but exercising it at 70 to 80 per cent of your is when you start making a real difference.
Cycling is one of the best kinds of exercise for keeping fit. It always raises your heart rate, and you can vary how much your heart works simply by how fast you go or the kind of cycling you do. After you've been riding for a while, you find you can do certain things more easily — maybe ride over a hill or chase after someone on a road bike. You're less out of breath and don't feel so exhausted after such activities. This change comes about because your heart becomes stronger, delivering more oxygen-filled blood with each beat (or pump), and your muscles have grown, too, and can now do more work.
Gaining this extra strength and experiencing less suffering with exertion is all a part of fitness. When you become fit, you can produce sudden bursts of energy — perhaps running for a bus or fleeing from a rhinoceros — without any bad effects. So, the more you ride your bike, the fitter you get and the less likely you are to be caught by mad rhinos.
Being fit gives you feelings of both mental and physical confidence: it makes you feel good. When you get fit, you can feel proud of the efforts you've made and the level of fitness you've achieved, you feel more in control and your body is able to relax more when you're resting. You keep feeling better all the time — and all you have to do to get this feeling is ride your bicycle.
Everyone needs to have fun, but having fun isn't just about idle merriment. The more fun you have when you do something, the better you're likely to do it. If you don't have fun, you become alienated. If you don't have fun at work, you won't do your job as well. Fun is one of the most important aspects of your life. It turns ordinary activities into things you can enjoy. Fun is pleasure with excitement.
And one thing anyone who rides a bike will tell you is that cycling is fun. Cyclists start riding a bike and enjoy it — it amuses somehow and continues to do so always. So enjoy the pleasure of cycling.
Cycling is not like driving. Riding a bicycle is a happy pursuit. It puts you in a good frame of mind, open to ideas and ready to meet people. When you ride on your own, perhaps humming a happy tune, and you find yourself rolling along next to some other contented pedaller going your way, if you don't speak first, that other cyclist is bound to speak to you.
Like hikers meeting on a country path, the natural human response is to greet another person and pass the time of day. Most cyclists do it, and saying 'Hello' is not just a cute, rustic thing — you know you've got something in common with this other person so you're already off to a good start.
If you don't happen to make friends when out riding, joining a cycling group will certainly expand your social sphere. Once again, you've all got a shared passion, but with a specialised cycling group, this passion becomes more than just riding bikes. If you join a group that does some particular kind of riding, you start off with even more in common. It may be riding along country trails, riding fast on roads or hurtling through narrow gaps between trees, but you all love it — and what better way to bond?
See the world
Travel around the planet at high speed and you tick off an awful lot of places — but ride a bicycle and you see and experience far more. When you practise a bit and build up your fitness, you can cover long distances on a bicycle. All you need to see the world is the right bike, a map and time.
Bicycles can go practically anywhere. They aren't terribly good in deep water, but bikes can take on just about any kind of land. And as you ride along, you see all the little details that make up a real world. You see how people live and work. You see what plants are growing, and your quiet progress may enable you to slowly creep up on timid animals and shy birds.
Travel to the great cities of the world and you see bicycles everywhere. And as you pedal past them all, you'll know that when you went out to see the world, you really did — because you saw it on a bicycle.
The price of fuel is going up and up. During the recent global financial crisis, oil prices reached record highs. And the government is slowly but surely increasing duty on fuel to encourage the use of more efficient vehicles (and to raise lots of tax). Unpredictable — and not so unpredictable — events can have a terrible effect on your personal finances if you rely too much on fuel.
Saving money now by using your bicycle instead of your car whenever you can is a great idea. If you start to replace several car trips a week with bike rides, it won't be long before your fuel bills are down £20 or more. And if you've got a reasonable distance to get to work, you'll see even greater savings when you start your bicycle commuting.
And you save elsewhere, too:
If your household has two cars and you get rid of one of them — because you're using bikes more — you save all the registration and insurance on the second car.
If you don't own a car and are used to relying on public transport instead, you can still save substantial amounts of money (and cut down on frustration caused by cancellations and delays) by swapping your ticket for a bicycle.
If you spend half an hour to an hour on your bike getting to work every day, you don't need to be a regular at the gym anymore. You get plenty of exercise and become very fit just riding your bicycle and you can ditch the gym membership.
Unless you're very disciplined (unlike most people), when you go to the supermarket to buy 2 specific things, you probably come out with 20. But if you ride your bike to the supermarket and all you take is a small backpack or pannier, the amount you can carry is very limited and your overspend will be less.
So when you go to the bike shop to buy your new two-wheeled transport, think about the money you're going to save straightaway. Very quickly, your savings will add up to the price of a good bike, so that's what you should get — treat yourself to whichever one you like.
Become an environmental crusader
Car travel accounts for nearly 60 per cent of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the UK produced by transport, a figure that could easily be reduced. A whopping 70 per cent of all the journeys people make are under five miles (eight kilometres), and well over half these journeys are made by car. Almost all of them could be replaced by a bike ride that would take 20 minutes or less.
Cars produce more carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur oxides and hydrocarbons than any other source in our cities. A recent study suggests that air pollution from traffic causes 5,000 premature deaths each year in the UK, with many more cases of unnecessary and unpleasant diseases. That makes traffic pollution more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents. People in built-up areas bear the brunt of this.
Air pollution also has a huge effect on plant life everywhere. Pollution damages the cell structure of leaves, restricts photosynthesis (where plants use the power of light to help them 'breathe') and harms crops.
The immediate production of toxic gases is only the start. The pollution and use of non-renewable resources in the production of motor vehicles is colossal when compared with what it takes to make a bicycle: The stuff it takes to produce one car can turn out 70 to 100 bikes.
No one knows when cheap oil is going to run out. It could be in your lifetime. If not, oil is even more likely to run out in the lifetime of your children. When it does, there's going to be big trouble, but you're far better off if you start preparing now for not having easy access to petrol. Learn to travel under your own steam to help our society change for the better and lessen the harm being done by the massive and wasteful use of non-renewable fuels.
Keep a car off the roads
One Less Car. If ever you see a sticker with this slogan on a bike, don't assume the rider is a bicycle fanatic with a loathing for motor vehicles. Of course, one or two people like that might exist, but One Less Car is a very positive expression of concern for our social, economic and physical environment.
The earlier 'Save money' section covers the financial benefits to you personally of having one less car. But more than just individual wallets and purses benefit from such a decision. The cost of road infrastructure has escalated enormously over the last decades. Governments regularly deliver road cost estimates that come in at billions of pounds. To keep motor vehicles moving that little bit faster, decisions are being made on your behalf to direct massive amounts of the public budget into the hands of developers and road builders.
The best way to get the message over to the powers that be that having ever bigger roads and junctions isn't a natural and improving progression is to show everyone that you think riding a bike is better. One Less Car.
Car parks often fill up. Drivers queue at entrances until someone leaves, and parking can be a terribly slow process — another instance when anyone riding a bike has done all present a good turn, shortening the waiting time for everybody simply by being One Less Car.
Get places more quickly
On a clear road, a car can usually go at higher speeds than a bicycle, but it only takes a junction or two and light traffic congestion for bikes to start getting ahead. Cars may go faster, but they often don't get there quicker. Cyclists can make their way to the front at red lights, and when motor traffic seizes up, bikes keep going.
The team from the BBC's Top Gear hosted a race across London a few years ago with a car driver, someone on a bus, a cyclist and even someone on a boat. The cyclist won hands down. In Australia, a newspaper did a similar test in Sydney with people also on different modes of transport. The woman on the train did quite well, but the cyclist again won easily.
When motor traffic becomes concentrated, it slows right down. And then when motorists reach their destinations, they face the big problem of parking. Bikes just keep on going, and finding somewhere to leave them when you reach your destination is rarely a problem. The idea of the car as the perfect individual transportation is flawed because of what always happens when lots of them are present. In fact, there's nothing like the freedom — or the speed — of the freedom machine.
Park with ease
People who drive to work or the shops often complain about the difficulty of finding somewhere to leave their cars all day. One of the wonderful things about travelling by bicycle is the very direct way you arrive — if you're going somewhere, that's where you go. You don't have to divert at the last minute and burrow your way into one of the ugliest of human environments — a car park. And you very rarely have to pay for your spot.
Many planners make a point of making bike parking facilities clearly visible from the building entrance, but if no one has taken the trouble to provide suitable racks, you can always find a bench, lamppost or fence to tether your bike to.
Madonna does it with her bodyguard. Surprisingly, Johnny Depp does it in quite an old-fashioned way. Angelina Jolie does it with pouting lips. Bob Dylan still does it, even though he's getting quite old. These guys are pretty cool anyway, but they're even cooler when they get on their bicycles and pedal. They've all been hooked by the allure of cycle-chic.
When you ride your bicycle, it doesn't matter whether you're going faster or slower than anyone else. It doesn't even matter what you're wearing. Riding a bike just has something that sets you apart, above and beyond. It gives you a style that's hard to define, and it inspires admiration and respect. It's the 'awesome' factor, and it lies in your lap when you slip into the saddle.