Early last year, a Ph.D. candidate at Portland State University in Oregon made headlines when he presented findings to the national Transportation Research Board showing that riding a bike makes us happy. According to his survey of more than 800 commuters, bikers rated higher on a well-being index than people using any other form of transportation, including walking. To the country’s growing legions of everyday cyclists, the news was hardly a surprise.
A new kind of cycling lifestyle is on the rise. In cities large and small, bike lanes are being built, bike-share programs are taking off, and people who’d never considered pedaling around town are saddling up to save money on gas and get a little exercise. The positive results—less automobile traffic, cleaner air, better public health, surging commerce along biking routes—are grabbing the attention of public officials: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has called bike lanes "an integral part of my economic development strategy."
That’s all good news. But a simple pleasure has gotten lost in the data: hopping on a bike is still the best way to turn everyday outings into unpredictable adventures. Need a few things from the grocery store? Grab a backpack and go. Meeting people at a bar? Don’t forget your U-lock. Got a date? If she agrees to ride to dinner, how bad could it be? When we take to the streets on two wheels under our own power, we transform from commuters and errand runners into explorers. We take wrong turns and discover new places. We notice friends along the way—and pull over to talk to them. We don’t answer our phones. Freed from the confines of cars and the schedules of trains and buses, we are inspired to roll in bold directions. To be late. To have fun. To not worry about parking tickets.
More Reasons to Saddle Up
- It's safe: There are now nearly 150 miles of protected bike lanes in the U.S.—with physical barriers between cyclists and traffic—and many more in the works.
- It's convenient: More than 30 U.S. cities offer bike-share programs, making some 17,000 of them available for shorter rides.
- It's communal: Cargo bikes like Yuba's El Mundo allow you to take the family with you wherever you go.
- It's easy: With an electric-assist bike, you can get where you're going without breaking a sweat. The Specialized Turbo, the Tesla Roadster of e-bikes, has a 250-watt motor capable of up to 28 mph on the flats.