Cars and bikes – or at least those who propel them – seem to be forever at war. Motorists are always giving about cyclists, who they believe have a death wish and a poor understanding of the rules of the road, while cyclists are eternally convinced that wilfully ignorant motorists drive with barely a thought for the safety of their fellow road-users.
The tension can cause significant personality shifts in both camps: otherwise decent people can turn into frothing monsters in a heartbeat. Pricewatch can say this with a degree of certainty because we have been that frothing monster on more than one occasion – sometimes with mortifying results.
Not long ago, we were cycling down Dublin’s O’Connell Street on a bright and sunny morning. All was well with the world. Then a taxi driver – they can be the worst of motorists – honked their horn as they came up behind us.
Rather than looking to see what was the cause of the taxi driver’s concern, Pricewatch immediately went into uber-defensive mode and started gesticulating wildly, and in a not entirely pleasant fashion, at the cabbie who had had the temerity to beep at us.
Then he pulled up alongside us and explained that he had been alerting us to the fact that our wallet was dangerously close to falling out of our back pocket, finishing with the words “you f**king muppet”.
He was right. It was muppet-like behaviour on our part but despite that incident – and many others when we have let ourselves down – we remain firmly in the cycling camp, and, in honour of National Bike Week, we thought we’d look at all the ways the bike is miles better than the car.
It is a message that needs to be heard because, according to new research carried out ahead of National Bike Week, while 53 per cent of adults in Ireland own a bike, just one in 10 cycle three or more times a week, and 40 per cent of adults never cycle.
1. Bikes promote gender equality
Unlike cars – which were widely perceived as being a male-dominated domain, with all ads selling them targeted directly at men for at least the first 100 years – the bike has always been more egalitarian.
In fact, it played a big role in the struggle for gender equality. Towards the end of the 19th century, women took to their bikes in big numbers. Out of necessity they had to modify the clothes they wore, so out went ridiculous big-hooped dresses and in came bloomers – much to the chagrin of menfolk, incidentally. But the bike did more than that.
It also gave women a huge degree of independence and allowed them to travel greater distances faster without relying on men. In the words of US reformer and activist Susan B Anthony, "woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle."
2. They can circumnavigate the globe
Speaking of trailblazing women on bikes, few blazed a trail more memorably than the unfortunately named (at least in this part of the world) Anne Londonderry.
To be fair to Ms Londonderry, it wasn't her real name and she only adopted it because she felt the American public were unlikely to warm to a Latvian Jew called Annie Cohen Kopchovsky. But we digress. In 1894 she proved that woman were as determined and physically able as men when she successfully took on a challenge (one set by a man called Colonel Albert Pope, incidentally), to cycle around the world in 15 months.
She left Boston with just one change of clothes and cycled through cities, jungles, deserts and the most appalling conditions before making it home just in time to win the bet. Makes you wonder why no film has ever been made of her adventures.
3. You get the benefit of the tax
Car drivers pay a shedload of tax each year both on their cars and the fuel. But for cyclists the tax goes the other way. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition made a pig’s ear of the country back in the day, but at least it left us with the cycle-to-work tax incentive scheme.
It covers bicycles and accessories up to a maximum of €1,000. Your employer buys the stuff and you pay for it, tax-free, over 12 months. It effectively knocks about 40 per cent off the price.
4. They’re healthy
Cyclists are healthier than drivers. That is a fact. A report published in the Lancet last year showed cyclists to be slimmer and likely to live longer than their car-driving counterparts. Looking at biological data from more than 150,000 people and studying the health of half a million others aged between 40 and 69, scientists definitively concluded that getting on your bike is better for you.
People who commute on bicycles have a significantly lower body fat percentage and body mass index in middle age compared with people who rely on cars. Men who cycle weigh an average of 5kg less than those who drive, while the average woman cyclist weights 4.4kg less than a woman driver.
5. They burn calories not gasoline
A slow cycle at just 15km/h burns around 400 calories in 60 minutes. Pick up the pace and cycle at 22km/h and you will shed 700 calories. Cycling dramatically increases your aerobic fitness, reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes, lowers your blood pressure and your cholesterol, while boosting your energy levels.
And because it is a low-impact exercise you can do it until you are 110. If you don’t believe us, or the Lancet, ask the Danes. Danish research has shown that its cycling citizens live seven years longer than its non-cycling people.
6. You don’t get bicycle gridlock
There are no traffic jams when you’re on your bike. And you can always get to your destination relaxed and happy and on time. When you cycle, the commuting time is consistent and reliable, so you get more precious time in bed of a morning. Oh, and you don’t have to find or pay for a parking space.
7. They don’t always get stolen
Theft is an issue – obviously – but if you secure your bike properly and don’t always park it in the same spot you should be grand. And we reckon the State could do a whole lot more to provide secure parking for us.
8. Your chances of getting wet are just 4%
You are not likely to get soaked on the bike. According to Met Éireann, if you cycle to and from work every day you will only get rained on four days out of 100.
The odds of getting wet are probably increased if you live in Galway – a city that could teach people on the east coast a thing or two about proper rain – but wet gear has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
9. They are almost 100% emissions-free
A car that commutes just 8km to and from work every day generates a tonne of noxious gases over the course of its life, not including all the pollution generated by its production and all the plastic and rubber required to keep it going. Bicycles are virtually carbon-neutral.
10. They save you lots of money
The bottom line is often the bottom line and when it comes to money saving there is nothing better. If your commute is just 8km each way and you usually drive, then you will travel 3,760km to and from work over the course of a year.
If your car has a fuel consumption rate of 9.5 litres per 100km then you will use about 370 litres of fuel on your commute each year. According to pumps.ie, the average price of a litre of fuel last week was just under €1.37, which means the cost of a commute in a car comes in at €489. Add €300 to cover tyres, servicing and repairs and the total cost is just under €800.
A bike good enough for the daily commute will cost anywhere between €250 and €500. Add the cost of the lights (€25), helmet (€35), raingear (€100), and lock (€50), and you will spend about €600, which falls to €300 if tax breaks are factored in.
Spread over five years, the annual cost is €60 – or €740 less a year than driving.