What Cycling Taught Me About Driving

Posted in environment by Nathan Creitz on July 31, 2008
I’m in danger of losing some readers on this post. Some of you read my blog because I am into sustainability and the environment. Others read it because I am a follower of Christ and I often find ways to bring those two topics together. However, this post is about my love for biking, the environment and how that affects my driving. It certainly has environmental overtones, but it’s specifically about something I love and I realize some of you may not share my love for using a form of transportation that doesn’t consume Saudi oil, but I digress.
A Little Nostalgia
When I got my first bike my family was living in a large home on a sprawling hill. We had a huge driveway and a massive front yard that sloped down to the street and to trees on either side. Growing up in rural Alabama, those trees on either side of the house had kudzu growing all over them. Kudzu is like a vine or a bush that attaches to trees and basically makes a wall of green.
Well, my dad had a good tactic when it came to teaching me how to ride a bike…no training wheels, no holding on the back of the seat, and no helmet as I recall. Trust me, you might think that’s not a good idea, but I learned quickly how to ride a bike because he simply let me do it. The very first time I rode my new red Huffy bike I started on the driveway, realized I was losing control, headed for the sloping lawn, crossed back over the driveway, straight into the kudzu. My dad came running down the hill. I clambered out of the kudzu and exclaimed, “I’m doing that again!”
These days, I spend a lot of time riding my bike in traffic or on the sidewalk. There are a few parallels to driving that brings me to my point: If we drove our cars like we ride our bikes it would be better for the environment. No, I don’t mean wrecking our cars in a stand of trees and kudzu either. Let me explain.
Every person who has ever ridden a bike has had that moment where they had to brake needlessly for a pedestrian who wasn’t looking or for a car that is moving into your lane. It’s interesting that car drivers are trained to watch out for pedestrians, pedestrians are trained to watch for cars, but nobody knows what to do with bikes. We have to watch out for everybody. It’s frustrating when you are expending so much energy to work your way up a hill, you make eye contact with a pedestrian who is at a crosswalk (willing them to wait just one more second so you can maintain your momentum), and they blatantly walk out in front of you. You slow to a complete stop to let them pass and then you have to get moving all the way from scratch. 

You’ve got to learn to bike before you learn to drive.
Instead, as a cyclist, I try my best to anticipate stops that might be ahead so that I can coast into them rather than pedal hard, brake hard, pedal hard again, and brake hard again. Maintaining a consistent speed is easier than starting and stopping. Pedaling is work but in a car all it takes is pushing a little bit harder on the gas pedal. That requires very little work right? Wrong. You may not be doing the work but your engine is. Gas is the energy being expended. Rather than perspiration, your car is expelling exhaust. It may feel like nothing to press a little harder on the gas to get back up to 85 mph because some jerk is going the speed limit (how dare he) but it’s actually a waste of energy.
The major difference between the use of energy by a bike and the use of energy by a car is that the wasted energy in a car is harmful and pollutative (I like to make up words) but the wasted energy on a bike can actually be healthy. Saudi oil is burned in the car. Calories are burned on the bike. Money, gas, oil, maintenance costs, insurance, car washes, parking permits, and complex machinery are all necessary to get you to your destination in a car. Simple machinery, low upkeep, very little money, physical fitness, and a healthy diet are all that are necessary to get you to your destination on a bike. I love when I have the option to ride my bike rather than my car, but I realize we need our cars, our buses, and our airplanes. But when we drive our car, we need to do better about remembering what it was like when we learned how to ride a bike for the first time and start driving our cars like we ride our bikes. That is, with an awareness of whether or not we are expending energy wastefully or necessarily and making the necessary adjustments to maximize our gas consumption when we must go by car.
What do you think? Do your driving habits contribute to the problem of pollution? Do you use a bike?
Please take the 1 World 2 Wheels challenge.
Related Posts:
A Theology of Traffic

2 Responses

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  1. katie said, on July 31, 2008 at 12.38 pm

    That was a good post. It is good to be continually reminded of how are driving affects the environment. I always like to bring things back to God. It is important to remember that we need to drive 1. in a way glorifying to God, which means being constantly aware of our surroundings and being prepared to stop when necesary, being patient and kind and not being an angry driver, following the traffic laws because that authority is given from God. 2 Biking could be an option for us because we are called to glorify God by taking care of our bodies and biking could take a part in that 3. God has called us to be stewards of the earth – and good ones.

  2. John said, on August 4, 2008 at 1.05 am

    Nathan, thanks for the link to this blog it is great and as you know Gary, you and I have had some good theological conversations. I definitely agree on the lessons that can be learned from biking. As a fellow bicyclist I know that I find myself having to be cognitive of everything around me. It gives me more respect and understanding for what other factors go on in my life. I will admit that I am not nearly as respectful when behind the wheel. A flaw i must work on. But I also find that despite all of that one thing I encounter often is: as a bicyclist an annoyance with the drivers, and as a driver an annoyance with the bikers.

    Thanks for this blog i look forward to following it.


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