As many blog readers will recall, in May we ran a special series in honor of National Bike Month: 31 Days, 31 Reasons. A diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast shared their inspiration for riding — and the more than 3,000 Facebook shares proved that I wasn’t the only one captivated by the personal stories.
So we’re bringing back Why I Ride… with a slight twist.
Building on the success and energy of the Women Cycling Forum at the National Bike Summit, the League and APBP are co-hosting a National Women’s Bicycling Summit on September 13 in Long Beach, CA (immediately following the conclusion of the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference). To get you geared up about the event — and share the stories of some of the women who will be speakers, presenters and behind-the-scenes organizers — we’re kicking off a weekly Women Who Ride series.
First up, a member of the Summit steering committee: Green business consultant, April Economides.
Like many kids, I learned to ride a bike at age six, with a parent or grandparent holding onto the back of my seat until that magical moment when they let go and I kept on riding. It’s one of my clearest memories from childhood, and I think it’s because of the exhilarating feeling of freedom and independence it gave me.
Fast-forward 30 years, and not much has changed. I love to ride and find it freeing. So much so that I don’t own a car and ride practically everywhere – and in Southern California, Land of the Automobile.
So does my daughter, who is now six herself and learning to ride solo. Most of our riding, though, is on our “bike limo,” which is the fancy I name I call our tandem (also called a co-pilot or tag-along). It’s our car, if you will, getting us to and from play dates, the grocery store, and more.
We happily ride for miles, and she never seems to tire of it. Actually, she’s tired of cars. She recently complained that “cars are more complicated” and “cars aren’t fun like bikes.” Indeed, her usual happy self can get rather bored or whiny in a car.
Aside from bringing us great joy, bicycling helps us ward off laziness. When I owned a car years ago, I’d often choose it for most of my short trips – to places I could have easily biked. This inactivity had costs in addition to the fuel I was paying for. It made me less in shape and less happy. In the worst cases, this sedentary lifestyle that has become a U.S. epidemic leads to obesity, diabetes, and depression. In contrast, bicycling is stress busting and reinforces our zest for life by bringing us fresh air, fun, and exercise. It’s a simple solution to staying healthy all-around.
Speaking of simplicity, I also ride to maintain a “simple” (or “European”) lifestyle. I intentionally choose to live where I can bike and walk most places, including taking my daughter to school, running errands, commuting to work meetings, and going out with friends. This lifestyle affords me more social interaction, the discovery of nearby small businesses, and seeing and hearing the environment around me, like birds singing. Bicycling is a foundation for happiness.
It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper to own and maintain a bike than a car. National averages put the purchase and maintenance costs at $300 per year for a bike versus $7,000 per year for a car (and $10,000 for a SUV!). Not owning a car feels freeing, and when I do really want one – like to get somewhere hours away without good transit access – I rent one or carpool. It’s fun to drive every now and then, but traffic and parking can be stressful. I always feel relieved when I return the car and hop back on my bike. That bike parking is free, faster, and in front of my various destinations is an especially nice perk.
I find bicycling such an ideal form of transport that I’ve built my business, Green Octopus Consulting, around it. Two years ago I moved back to Long Beach, California, to help “green” my hometown. To me, greening SoCal means reducing cars first and foremost, so I knew my main contribution would focus on transportation. I created the nation’s first Bike Friendly Business District (BFBD) program for the City of Long Beach in partnership with four business districts, and I’m now helping San Diego start the nation’s second in seven districts. I’m asked to speak around the continent to other cities about the Business Case for Bicycling to kick-start their BFBD efforts.
While I typically only speak publicly about the economic benefits of bicycling, environmental health is the primary motivation behind my work and personal life, and the economic incentives are a means to this end. Americans can help prevent our military invasions and occupations; help shift military spending to education and clean energy; help reduce asthma and cancer rates; and help end poor urban planning practices (all of which are also extremely wasteful economically in comparison to their healthy counterparts), by consuming less oil through driving less. Given that 40 percent of U.S. trips are less than two miles and 68 percent of these are driven, imagine the reduction in oil consumption even if we just do this for short trips. A great side benefit to all of this is that there’s a strong bike local/shop local connection – as bicyclists tend to shop closer to home – which translates to increased sales for small businesses and of local goods.
I ride because the bicycle is a simple, joyful, and affordable tool for everyday living that has far-reaching benefits locally, nationally, and globally. And as my favorite bicyclist, Albert Einstein, said, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.