Why do you bike to work?


Ecology Action in Santa Cruz posted an online survey for bike commuters. They ask “Why do you choose to bicycle to work?”

All of the answers they list are advantages of biking to work, but they left off the most common reason most people who bike do it. Can you tell me the real reason you ride a bike?

Survey Question: Why do you bike to work

Those things in the survey aren’t reasons to bike — they’re just nice bonuses. If I felt like I had to bike to work to save the planet and my wallet, I’d probably hate it. The Santa Cruz County Bike To Work website repeats those “reasons” to bike to work, which is fine, but ignores the most important reason: We bike because we like it. Biking is fun. It feels good.

No wonder we fail so miserably at cycling promotion. Do car advertisements speak blandly to the raw number crunching, analytical bottom line? Or do they appeal to your desire for visceral, go fast, fantastic feeling of freedom and sexual prowess?

Have fun and don’t be so serious about it, I say. I’ll see you on the road.


  1. I agree 100%. Bike commuting is a lot more fun that being trapped in a car…and that is the best way to sell others on the idea. The only way to convince someone to change an ingrained habit is to show them that the new way of doing things will make their life better. The “preachy” approach doesn't work, but I still hear a lot of it from well intentioned bicycle transportation advocates.

  2. This revelation came to me via the excellent ICEBIKE discussion list. A few years ago a woman joined the group and provided a lot of good feedback, but she made it clear that she started biking to work because it's the “right thing to do.” She lasted about a year and gave up — she hated biking, hated the inconvenience, hated riding in traffic. I was surprised — how can anybody hate cycling?

    The thought never occurred to me before that some people just don't like riding a bike, and all the other stuff — environment, fitness, economy — won't do a thing to change their minds.

  3. Amen. Why I ride a bike? “Why not?”

    Because it's amazing. Because I can't even remember what it was like to have driving as an option. Because I am stronger and healthier as a consequence of my environment. I wake up every day and I choose to ride a bike. I could take transit. Depending on where I'm going, I could walk. I could take a cab. But I choose this, because it keeps me happy. It's what I like to do. When I broke my collar bone (cycling accident, obviously), all I wanted was to get back up on two wheels. Everyone I told this to fell into two camps: those who rode a bike completely understood, and those who don't thought I was crazy. I guess I would have selected “other” too. 🙂

  4. I'd like to add that I know a couple of people at Eco Action Santa Cruz and they do an outstanding job. Lord knows I'm guilty of harsh moralizing when it comes to this stuff as well

  5. I love my rides to work. The river and mountain views, the playful birds, dodging geese who defend their territory, and the mock competition of riding with other commuters all contribute to a wonderful start to my day.

  6. All that plus more time with family, more time outdoors, deeper connection to your environment, and I can eat lots of cookies

    I can use all 5 senses on a bike, maybe 2 in the car, so I'm much more engaged with my environment

    If you ride the same roads to work as you would choose for pleasure it seems more time efficient to ride the commute

    I also experience the driving differently if am on a road I also ride on. It's kind of like running whitewater, once you've learned how to read water and map a route through rapids you see streams and rivers in a completely different way.

  7. Freedom! Freedom from schedules, freedom from expressway traffic, freedom to use both the streets AND the trails, freedom from confinement, freedom from crowds of passengers, freedom of expression through the endless selection of bike-related stuff, freedom to set my own pace, freedom to enjoy the weather when the weather cooperates, freedom from taxes, freedom from fares, freedom from fees, freedom!

    Oddly, I never actually tell people this in person, because somehow in person it seems like an incredibly, selfishly lame reason to do anything, and I get bashful about it.

  8. When the City of Copenhagen asks its cycling citizens why they ride, the majority reply that it's quick and easy. Not because it's 'fun'. It's the fastest way to get around town. Period. 56% of them.

  9. But we're in the US. Fun and freedom are probably better hooks here, or else, as Fritz pointed out, car commercials would sell us on the practicality and simplicity of driving.

  10. I also liked “11. What holds you back from bike commuting more often?” They haven't invented more days in the week yet!

  11. Thanks Richard. It is mind-boggling they left “fun” off the survey.

    I've always had a bike. I used to have a car too. It was such a drag to keep it in running order, registered, insured…just thinking about it makes me tired! So I decided to simplify and lighten up my life and get rid of the darn thing. One of the best decisions I ever made!

  12. Convenience works for me. No parking, no tolls, no queuing for gas, no sweat 🙂

    I think cycling in the USA probably does take some more effort than in Copenhagen, for better or for worse — we have to think about routing, and of course getting the right Bike Superhero look to fit into our subculture is important as well here 🙂 (I write with a little bit of sarcasm)

  13. Hain't we been tryin' to say that for years? Get away from “(ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET Cycling to work is healthy, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET economical and sustainable ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET and be sure not to run red lights 'cause cars get mad”

    … and get to “Make your commute FUN!!”

  14. I wish we could figure out ways to tune people into the fun aspect with early experiences, which are often less fun because of the inexperience. I try to remind people made nervous by traffic what it was like to learn to drive at first (most people nervous in traffic on the bike were nervous learning to drive too, I think).

  15. I posted this comment already over at Copenhagenize, but I y'all'll want to see it, to. So:

    Here in the US, even in places where biking would clearly be the fastest and most convenient way to get from A to B, people still don't do it. Why? Because the marketing of cars against bikes is so successful. In the mainstream of US culture, biking is for poor people and signifies that you are vulnerable. Driving is for rich people and signifies that you are not only protected and powerful, but you might get laid, too. People are motivated by status, perhaps more than they're motivated by actual convenience.

    So, while we definitely need to make the physical layout of our cities more Copenhagenish, we also need to market biking and walking as the high-status thing to do.

    This Hungarian TV spot is brilliant, precisely because it shows people getting status approval for biking:


    What we need in the US is a new model of cool/smart/sexy/desirable.

    Those Americans (me included) who find bike culture appealing right now are the same Americans who find a Northern European urban lifestyle cool/smart/sexy/desirable. They're a minority, though — probably smaller than those who are motivated by environmental virtue (another group I belong to). What we need is a lifestyle model that is indigenously American (most Americans will reflexively reject anything that's imported from Europe), but incorporates many of the underlying lifestyle elements we see in places like Denmark and Japan.

    Here in the South, for instance, I think an “Old Charleston” marketing approach would appeal to quite a lot of people — blonde sorority girls on updated beach cruisers, tailgate parties with kegs and dogs (arriving by bike trailer), couples who look like George W. and Laura Bush (or even better, W. and Cindy McCain) pulling up on bikes to big ol' Victorian houses in dense, Spanish-moss-draped neighborhoods right out of Southern Living. Right now, the high-status people in my community want SUVs. They're the ones you need to reach; others will aspire to follow them.

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  18. Yes! Bliss is the #1 reason I ride. Probably #2. Habit being #1. So strong point. On the other hand, I do agree that I get exercise and save money. But the reason I tell people is happiness which totally throws them off. The thing is that you get ALL the benefits for free. I think it’s so strange that more people don’t cycle. Acquired taste, I guess.

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