Bicycle - The Freedom Machine
(Photo insert: Warren McLaren /inov8)
This post is part of series written by TreeHugger contributors about trading in your car for a bike for trips that are two miles or less in distance. The series is sponsored by the Clif 2-Mile Challenge.
Do you remember receiving your first bicycle as a child? A seminal moment for many of us. It punctuates that time in our lives when we were enveloped by a sense of unbridled freedom. We were no longer dependent on our parents to shuttle us around the place. We weren't constrained by bus or train timetables. We could cover long distances faster and more easily than walking. Exciting new vistas and opportunities suddenly opened up before us. We knew instinctively that a bicycle was our ticket to freedom.
What happened then when we attained the dizzy heights of becoming a grown-up? Did we discard this innate wisdom, duped by the shiny, siren-like allure of the car? Did we exchange our freedom machine for a millstone around our neck? How smart are we? The Freedom Machine
I rode to primary school, secondary school, (and later university) on a single speed, back pedal braking bike. I rode to my lawn mowing job, to trysts with my teenage sweetheart, to the corner shop, to the surf beach, the sand dunes, the pool, to tennis lessons, to collect tadpoles, to billy cart races. I rode everywhere, to do most everything that was important to a child and adolescent. As I imagine, did many of our readers.
Is it not odd then, that as adults we relinquish the genuine transport freedoms provided by the bicycle?
Because, for all its seductive promises, the car's perceived benefits are mostly smoke and mirrors. A car does not provide the freedom we imagine it to do. Instead it diminishes our time, health and earnings.
Perception vs Reality
A 2005 poll found that 220 million American adults average an hour and a half a day in their cars. That's six percent of their lives. And 75% of them noted that driving often gives them "a sense of independence." But at what cost does this "sense" come? 
A Roland Berger report suggests US drivers spend 541 hours a year in their cars, double that of their European counterparts. 
Financially it can take over three full months of work, each year, to just pay for the cars' annual costs. As Bicycle Universe explain it, it is not so much that Americans drive to work, it's more that they work to drive. 
In the USA car ownership & operating expenses accounted for 17% of average annual household expenditures in 2004, coming in well ahead of even food, and being only beaten out of top spot by the home mortgage or rent. 
All this expense for a vehicle that can only average a downtown speed of about 13 miles per hour (21 kmph). A speed readily achieved by regular bicycle riders. 
And speaking of regular cycling, an oft quoted 2000 report by World Health Organisation suggests that a 30 minute bike ride a day can halve the risk of obesity and diabetes. 
A study of 7,000 Australians showed that those who drive a car to work are 13% more likely to be overweight or obese. 
Yet another study found that compared with those who do not cycle, cyclists who cover at least 40 kilometres (25 miles) each week can halve their risk of heart disease. 
American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that every additional 30 minutes a person spends in a car translates into a 3 percent greater chance of being obese. 
And the litany continues. Medical research has shown a direct link between more time spent driving an automobile and a higher incidence of left-sided skin cancers. 
So those truths we knew as kids, about the real bona fide freedoms provided by bicycles, are still applicable in adulthood. It is just that we choose to deny them. We prefer, it seems, the perception to the reality. And pay for it with our wallet, our precious time and our well being.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We can listen to our inner child and rediscover the magic that comes from riding a bicycle -- the true freedom machine.
Want some extra incentive? Sign up for Clif Bar's Two Mile Challenge
More Two Mile Challenge
• In Defense of Sidewalk Bike Riding
• Romancing The Ride. Cycling is Good for the Heart.
• Eating, Biking, and Being Merry (Even Without A Bike)
• The Ups (and Downs) of Cycle Commuting
• How a Free Car Made Me Love My Bike
• Take the Clif 2 Mile Challenge, and Get There by Bike!