Gas prices across Canada are not going down anytime soon. Just this past April, prices went up in all of our provinces as the federal carbon tax kicked in. According to Global News, in late April, the price of gas in British Columbia almost reached $2 a litre, with some unsuspecting vehicle owners waking up to empty tanks (2019). Whether you support the oil & gas industry or not is a topic for another day. What I would like to point out, though, is that we all need a means of transportation in this vast land we call home. AU students do have an advantage: we don’t need to get to a physical campus to complete our post-secondary education. You might, however, have to hop in the car to get to work and back, or to go for your weekly grocery run. Personally, when it’s minus 30° Celsius out there, you couldn’t pay me enough to walk to the grocery store.
We can do something, however, to save both the planet and our pockets, now that summer has arrived in full swing. For those able to do so, there is little excuse for not venturing outside and getting some fresh air. One means of getting our vitamin D and getting to work could be cycling. Yes, the good, ole’ fashioned “hop on your bike and push the pedal to the metal” kind of cycling. You can even pretend you’re one of the protagonists on Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. I’m not saying you should attempt this if you have a 2-hour commute each way. I do applaud the die-hards who do get to work on their bikes year-round, even with ten feet of snow; we had a few people do this in my previous organization. For the rest of us who use the Canadian weather as our excuse, now that it’s nice out and we’re all venturing outside like sun-starved zombies, for the few months we are afforded the luxury of above zero temperatures, I urge everyone to check out the local garage sales and pick up a nice set of wheels, helmet, and knee pads. How is this frugal living, you might ask? The initial cost of a nice bike (used or brand new) and decent cycling gear can be pricey. Compared, however, to the costs you incur by choosing to drive, or any of the other alternatives, a bike can save you money in ways you may not have even thought of. Plus, I’m not even factoring in how much fun it is, feeling like a ten-year-old all over again!
According to Gee & Takeuchib, sitting in rush hour traffic day, day after day, increases stress levels (2004). Traffic stress decreases our well-being, including lower physical health levels and higher depression. Concerns over traffic, among other vehicle-related issues, were significant, long-term, stressors faced especially by those of us living in highly congested areas. The truth is, I don’t need Gee & Takeuchib to tell me this; I have thought about pulling over and just walking home hundreds of times while stuck in traffic on my commute from the office. Every time, just as this thought crosses my mind, I see the guy on the bike whiz right past us all, with a grin on his face and surely thinking to himself “Adios, suckers!”
Contrary to being stuck in traffic, frequent exercise from cycling improves cardiovascular endurance, reduces stress, improves mental well-being, promotes weight loss, and builds muscle. All this, in turn, improves our overall health (Arthurs-Brennan, 2019).
So, how does this save us money? Healthcare costs, associated with heart disease, obesity, and other common musculoskeletal issues, pop up as we age and the less active we are. All these things can end up costing thousands of dollars each year, even for us in Canada with our universal healthcare system or those with private healthcare plans. Consider how cycling can strengthen muscles and joints, improve heart health, lower cholesterol, prevent diseases and lower body fat percentage. It’s easy to see how consistent cycling can lower your annual healthcare bills for massages, physiotherapists, joint & arthritis pain-relief balms and ointments, and all the things we try to use to take away the aches and pains.
The cost of vehicle ownership is not just buying the car itself, contrary to my husband’s stubborn opinion. According to the Government of Canada “Vehicle Lease or Buy Calculator”, a $30,000 vehicle, purchased from a dealership, on a 4-year payment plan, even at 0% interest, means a payment of $718.75 every month (“Vehicle Lease or Buy Calculator – Spending Smarter Calculators – Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada”, n.d.). Add registration fees, insurance premiums, gas, and maintenance to the pot, and stir. You will then produce the true cost of vehicle ownership for each month of the year. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, the vehicles of choice tend to be SUVs or pick-up trucks, due to road and weather conditions; so I can approximate with confidence that truck ownership will be double any of the above calculations. My point is, even if you spend $500 up front for a nice bike and decent gear, annual costs to commute to work, as a cyclist, will average $40-$50 per month, the first year. After that, it’s free sailing–or riding. This adds up to some significant savings if you ask me.
A membership at your local gym tends to cost upwards of $20 per month, or $240 a year. The kicker is, most people don’t even go to the gym after the first two-three weeks, myself included. While you might have to spend a bit up front if you don’t already have a bike, helmet, and riding gear, once you buy the required equipment, there really isn’t anything else left to buy. A good bike should last you for years if it is well maintained and taken care of. This translates to extra savings for you, and a cheaper way to get in shape than that unused gym membership.
Once you start cycling, chances are you’ll take your bike out for a spin more often than not–it takes 21 days to build a habit. This means that when you venture out, to go to the movie theater, the shopping mall, or downtown, you won’t spend countless hours trying to find and pay for parking. Just thinking of all the times I’ve driven around the same block, in circles, until I managed to find parking raises my stress levels, which takes me back to point number one I mentioned, healthcare costs.
If your argument is that you can’t go to the mall on a bike and with five kids in tow, I can agree to that. However, my counterargument will be that you can go to the office on a bike when you’re not with the kids. The good news is some employers now provide free bicycle parking for any employees that work in core business districts. These bike-parking accommodations can take the form of free indoor bike cages, in underground parkades, or outdoor city racks; it all depends on where you work. I urge you check out if bike-parking perks are part of your work package, and if they aren’t, bring it up with management or HR. It’s an excellent way for the company to promote environmental responsibility and show that they care about their employees’ health and wallets.
Finally, riding a bike to work instead of driving increases overall productivity by getting your brain going and reducing your stress levels before the day begins. Lierop & El‐Geneidy at McGill University completed a study that showed that drivers have the lowest odds of feeling energized at work, and the highest odds of arriving to work late (2017). Cyclists, on the other hand, have the highest odds of being energized and punctual. While it is possible that individuals who already have an active lifestyle are self-selecting to commute by bicycle, previous research has also found that physical activity increases alertness and personal well-being (Biddle & Mutrie, 2008).
While all this fancy research might not seem like it translates to any type of monetary value, comparing your productivity with that of you’re the guy in the next cubicle makes for a pretty good argument when it’s time to ask for that raise during your annual review. You’re welcome.