In just the past few hundred of our 150,000 years on Earth, we have
invented everything from steam engines, cars and airplanes to
sophisticated weapons and supercomputers.
But one invention, the bicycle, is so efficient, beneficial and simple that it may be the best thing we’ve ever made. And June, Bike Month, is the time to celebrate it. The “modern” version of the bicycle with pedals and cranks was invented by French carriage-maker Ernest Michaux in 1861.
The best part of the bike is that you, the rider, are the engine. The fuel is what you eat and drink. It’s a mode of transportation that uses less energy even than walking.
During Bike Month, it’s worth thinking that with oil prices climbing and environmental damage from car emissions increasing, bikes are becoming a more attractive form of urban transportation. Cleaner air, reduced congestion, safer streets, and lower noise levels are just a few benefits. As more people get out of their cars, they will also become fitter, leading to lower health-care spending.
But we still have a ways to go. Canadians and Americans use bikes for fewer than one in 100 trips — although in Vancouver, where I live, it’s a bit higher, at about 2.3 per cent. Compare that to the 20 to 35 per cent of trips taken by bike in the European Union and 50 per cent in China. (Unfortunately, the trend is reversing in China as the country embraces car culture.)
Shifting from car dependence will take action at the individual level, but governments must also do more to make it easier for people to ride bikes.
Making our streets safer for cyclists by giving them space to ride is an essential first step. The investment required is far less than that required for infrastructure for cars.
Tax breaks for cyclists also help. Last year in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty removed the provincial sales tax on bike helmets and bikes costing less than $1,000. Bikes are also exempt from PST in B.C., and the province’s $100 carbon-tax rebate could be put toward buying a bike or tuning up your old bike.
Employers can also help by offering secure bike parking and showers for those who work up a sweat on the way to work.
So get on your bike in June, and maybe you’ll like it enough to make it your preferred method of transportation year-round.
Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Dr. David T. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver where he lives with his wife and two daughters.