About two years ago I got rid of my car (a gas-hungry ’92 Mazda Navajo) in the hopes of buying a used motorcycle. I figured that as long as I lived in Southern California, I’d at least sometimes need a motor vehicle, but if I had to own one it might as well be fuel-efficient. (And it didn’t hurt that motorcycles are fun to drive.)
So I ended up with a ’93 Kawasaki Vulcan 750. It gets between 45 and 50 mpg, depending on how I drive it, and it’s powerful enough to feel comfortable on the highway. 50 mpg is pretty good for a car but middling for a motorcycle; it would do better with fuel injection, a 6th gear for highway cruising, and fewer valves per cylinder. Still, I can’t help but notice that my nearly 20-year old bike gets the advertised highway mpg of a Prius!
I drove the motorcycle a lot in the first year. But then almost exactly a year after acquiring the bike, I moved to a different part of San Diego, and since then the bicycle has become my transportation of choice.
Riding a bicycle has made a huge difference in my quality of life, in lots of unexpected ways. It’s fun to ride, of course, as much as it was when I was 10 years old and liked to tool around the neighborhood just for the hell of it. And it’s wonderful to be outside while getting around San Diego instead of being stuck in a car (a “cage,” as the motorcyclists say). But I’d never have expected the effect bicycling has on, say, my grocery buying and consumption: since I’m not burning gasoline to travel, I don’t mind making frequent trips to the store to get only a few things. As a result, I more readily buy perishable fresh foods like bread and produce, since I can just go get them when I need them. And since I’m not buying a week’s worth of groceries at a time, I’m ending up with less waste.
I recently decided to do a bit of rough calculation to see some of the quantitative benefits of using my bicycle over my motorcycle. (Very rough, since there are many variables that affect the strenuousness of cycling.) If we assume, conservatively, that my motorcycle gets 50 mpg, and that between home, coffee shops, cafes, etc I travel about 25 miles in a week, then we get the following results. Bicycling in my daily life, as opposed to motorcycling:
- burns 1500 to 1700 Calories per week
- saves me $2 a week (at current gas prices)
- avoids releasing 10 lbs of CO2
This is all just a side effect of me going the places I’d be going anyway, and for the most part I don’t get there any slower than I would by motorcycle (in fact, when meeting car-bound friends I often beat them to the destination). And on top of all this, there are the psychological benefits of chronic exercise, of never being stuck in traffic, and of not having to spend time finding parking. Bicycling also saves me whatever fraction of cash I’d be spending on motorcycle maintenance and repair.
Bicycling would be just about perfect, in fact, except for the fact that San Diego, like many US cities, is built for the car. I live in a relatively bike-friendly part of the city, but even so there are very few bike lanes, and just a handful of the dubiously helpful “sharrows.”
And the truth is, though I used to scoff when people asked “But isn’t it dangerous,” I had my first bike accident last week, when riding next to a line of parked cars—a guy opened his door in front of me and I went over my handlebars, over his door, and right into the pavement. It was a close call, and though I’ll probably be just fine I’m pretty banged up and unable to ride for a while. So ride safe, kids!