10 reasons people keep telling me bikes can't replace cars

Translated by Rose Salter

Here are 10 reasons politicians and people I know give for not stretching their legs on a bike and using a car instead. Misconceptions that culture and (dare I say it) car salespeople have put in their minds.

1. Cycling is bad for the climate

Lasst uns das erst einmal aus dem Weg schaffen. Für das Klima ist das Fahrrad die beste Art der Fortbewegung. Werfen wir einen Blick auf die Emissionen pro Kilometer für einige Verkehrsmittel des Kurzstreckenverkehrs:

For cycling I found values ranging from a low of 0g to a high of 21g of CO2 per kilometre. Bikeradar comes up with this higher figure because of the food needed to fuel the movement. But this is still lower than any other mode of transport- including walking, which is less efficient!

Of course, people need exercise, so someone who gets around using a car or public transport would probably just burn those calories at another time anyway.

2. Cycling is for the Dutch

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for most of my life. Yes, that flat country where people are almost born on a bike. Now that I’m living in Germany, people are often surprised when I tell them that I ride my bike all year round. “Even in winter?” they ask. “Yes,” I answer. “Well, you are Dutch!” they say.

In the Netherlands it rains about twice as often and twice as much as it does in Berlin. What’s considered a strong breeze in the Netherlands is a storm worthy of a weather alarm in Germany. And Berlin is basically flat too. When it comes to the natural environment, Berlin is better suited to riding bikes than Amsterdam.

Of course, the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is just fantastic compared to other countries. But it only exists because of protests (YouTube) against car accidents in the 1970s. More recently, Paris has shown that when there are good conditions for it, people get on their bikes.

Large overhead bicycle roundabout
Hovenring bicycle roundabout

3. You need a car to get to work

Chances are that you live fewer than 20km from your place of work. This is a journey you can make within an hour by bike. My route to work is 14km. That’s a nice distance. Long enough to relax after work and short enough not to be boring.

In Europe, it’s unlikely that no part of the commute can be taken on public transport. With a combination of a (folding) bike and public transport, you can use the free time for learning, reading and playing. You can’t do that while you’re driving!

4. Cycling is too slow

Every now and then I am overtaken by a brightly coloured sports car. Cars like this stand out and are a good way of seeing how quickly car traffic is flowing. It’s common for me to come across them several times while cycling around town. Of course, traffic and intersections slow everyone down, but on a bike you can easily overtake the motorised traffic while it sits waiting for the light to turn green.

These are my records for the 14km commute from our suburb to the office:

  • Public transport + footpath: 51 minutes.
  • Rental car: 50 minutes
  • Public Transport + bike (1800m) + footpath (450m): 45 minutes
  • Electric scooter rental: 35 minutes
  • Bicycle: 34 minutes

To be fair, it does normally take me 40–45 minutes by bike. But that’s still consistently faster than driving or using public transport. I’m not even a particularly fast cyclist.

5. You need a car when you have children

Not necessarily. We have two children. They take their running bike or for longer distances they can ride in a child seat.

Little child on bicycle backseat

6. But you need a car if you don’t live in the city centre

We live in a suburb on the outskirts of Berlin. After only 10 minutes of cycling I can be in the countryside, where I ride regularly. I wouldn’t give up my bike for a car if you paid me. Everything we need can be reached either by bike alone or by cycling combined with public transport.

A bicycle path through a forest

7. You need a car for shopping

I have a sturdy bike with a cargo area so that I can take two foldable boxes with me. They can hold more than our weekly shopping. During the week I can swap the back box with a child seat for trips to the bakery and other purposes.

Bicycle with two removable storage crates
These two crates suffice can carry all our family’s weekly grocery shopping.

8. All that bicycle equipment is too expensive

You might have noticed that I have two bikes and I also recommend buying special bike clothes. And it’s true, all those things cost money!

Every time I have to buy something for my bike, I think about how much money I’ve already saved because I don’t have to pay for a car. With just the insurance money I save alone, I could buy a very good new bike every year. So when I buy cycling clothes (which isn’t that often) I choose high quality, sustainable clothes that fit well, without worrying too much about the cost. And if you really want to keep your costs low, it’s possible to find a huge range of second hand bikes, parts and clothing online.

Light bike in a forest

9. Cycling is for socialists

Cycling is extremely cheap for society when compared to other modes of transport. Even the most unusual Dutch “bicycle highways” cost only a fraction (€0,3M-€0,8M/km) of the highways for cars (€10M-€50M/km). Despite the love they get from neoliberalists, cars are the largest state-sponsored form of transport at local and regional levels.

10. Cycling is unsafe

Once, at the end of a birthday party, my great-uncle was asked not to drive home because he’d had a few drinks. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got a tough car,” was his response.

For decades, there has been an arms race between drivers as they buy heavier and more powerful cars. Unfortunately, it’s not the drivers who are most at risk, but those other road users who dare to venture out without the car’s three tonne safety armour. Cycling in itself is safe, it’s other drivers who make it more risky.

You think you’re a good driver and that it’s unlikely you’d get involved in an accident? The majority of drivers believe they’re better most other drivers. Because most people overestimate their abilities; we can’t all be among the best.

Another reason why the life of cyclists is being shortened is because of diseases caused by urban air pollution. This is also mainly caused by cars. I avoid streets with lots of cars on my way to work. I make a few detours so I can benefit from smooth, quiet bike paths. This also helps me avoid the worst air pollution, which is concentrated on busy roads.

Fortunately, the air quality is getting better and better all over Germany. And the chances of being involved in an accident are still so slim that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks.

Do you really need a car?

I save money by cycling, have more fun and it keeps me healthier than other modes of transport would. And I don’t even have to worry about parking, fines, taxes and insurance. Can you name any other mode of transport with so many personal benefits that is also the best choice for society and the environment?