Summary: There are many potential barriers to getting the benefits of cycling for transport, so you need to take a logical, focused approach to resolving them. Mapping your common trips and assessing where you live, your key destinations, trip distances and your access to safe, convenient cycling routes is the most practical starting point. This post explains how to do so and also the relationship with significant lifestyle preferences and decisions.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Alper Çuğun
> The distance of your common trips does matter or you need good connections with public transport
> Common trips and the factors that make them easy to do by bike
> Choose where to live with cycling and your commute in mind
1. There are many potential barriers but assess the most difficult ones first - trip distance and access to safe, convenient routes
- Potential barriers include: not owning a suitable or easy-to-maintain bicycle, a lack of cycling confidence and skills, hills, lack of time, weather, sweat, getting your hair messed up, not being able to carry enough, bike parking, family/friends not cycling, having to carry passengers and not finding it comfortable or enjoyable. But there are tractable solutions to all of these.
- However, the distance of your common trips and your access to safe, convenient routes are much more difficult to resolve. The best option is to move to a bike-friendly area or change where you work/study so that the trip distances are feasible and the routes are safe enough.
2. Map your common trips using Google Maps with the Bicycling layer on and then assess the practicalities of doing them on a bike
- Most urban cycling trips throughout the world are less than 5km and very few (<5%) are more than 10km. While you may build up to longer distances when you have more experience, really enjoy spending time cycling and have greater speed/fitness, initially you should be targeting trips of less than 6km. You shouldn't set your initial sights on emulating the few super-commuters (see: Super Commuters sharing their stories)
- Mapping your trips allows you to assess the distances, access to safe routes (according to Google's bicycling layer) and convenience. You can also compare your common trips and how cycling-friendly the area and routes near your home are to other people (particularly in your city) who already cycle daily and are reaping the rewards of urban cycling.
- If you use a GPS-enabled smartphone with location services turned on and are signed in with a Google account you can also view your movements captured by your smartphone using Google's Location History site (you need to be signed into your Google account). This is a useful way to check the most frequent destinations it is feasible for you to cycle to. Below are my recorded movements for March 2014:
3. Lessons from those who already maximise the benefits of cycling for transport - especially the car-free
- As an example, some of my trips, grouped by frequency, are mapped below with key destinations also marked.
Melbourne Bike Trips - Adrian
- I live 4km from the city centre in the local government area (Yarra) that has invested the most in cycling-friendly infrastructure (compared to anywhere in Australia). I have an abundance of bike-friendly routes in all directions from my home.
- My work commute (by far the most common trip and which has the most benefits) is only 4km. This is a big factor in my riding to work every single work day of the year, regardless of the weather. It only takes 10 to 12min.
- While I ride occasional transport trips as far as 23km (one way), around 80% of my trips are less than 6km. For most urban cyclists it is likely to be over 90%. The sweet spot distance for cycling convenience and utility is 2 to 6km (one way).
- My girlfriend and I have made a conscious lifestyle choice to rent in a desirable, inner city location which is close to our jobs and the places we like to go out, and that we can be car-free in and rely on walking, cycling and public transport. We can easily afford to buy a house in suburbs further from the inner city but value quality of life and aren't too concerned with social norms involving property ownership or status.
- I walk for the majority of trips less than 2km or within the city centre - where cycling involves a lot of stops and isn't as enjoyable. The nearest grocery shop, cafes, restauraunts, bars, bottle shop, post office and library are all less than 1km away, so I walk to all of those. My girlfriend and I are happy to walk up to 4km for a trip and often walk when it is more convenient than cycling (carrying a lot, bad weather, around destinations). Being able to walk to key destinations and enjoying walking are major enablers of going car-free.
- Cycling fits in well with my belief in voluntary simplicity. I dislike shopping and consumerism. I'd rather ride a creek trail and go have lunch somewhere new. Hence, you won't find common trips involving shopping malls or carting back heavy goods from DIY stores. The heaviest thing I cart anywhere is a carton of beer in my bike trailer.
- We don't have kids (yet), so naturally that eliminates some more challenging trips and carrying passengers. I'm confident we can remain car-free though if we do, but only because of the significant benefits we've gotten accustomed to and the experience gained in dealing with practical challenges.
- Nevertheless, there are also "sweet spot" life stages to take advantage of cycling for transport and being car-free and you should ensure you don't miss out on these (e.g. when younger, studying, house-sharing, renting, without kids). If you don't get started when cycling is most advantageous and practical it is unlikely you will get started when there are more obstacles to overcome.
- When going on trips out of town (40 to 300km) and public transport isn't possible or convenient, we naturally hire a car or go in a friend's car and pay for fuel costs. Cars still have a place, but typically only for occasional, out-of-town weekend trips.
- I find it so easy, enjoyable and preferable to be car-free in inner-city Melbourne that I do wonder what kinds of intra-city trips people feel they actually need cars for? Please let me know via the comments.
Are your travel distances and times too great for the bike?
Google Account: Your Location History
The Age: In plain sight - map shows Google knows where you've been