Bicycle commuting has a wide range of fantastic benefits at many levels, including for individuals, communities and even workplaces.
There are several key areas to focus on if you are looking to encourage bicycle commuting, whether you are a manager, director, worker or just someone in the community. These areas are the following:
- Information and Awareness
Some of the points above might not come as a surprise while others might seem a little bit odd and leap off the page. To help you with this, I’ll cover each point below to show you how you can encourage bike commuting in your workplace, area or community.
Before I go on, you might be wondering how/why I am able to tell you about this. Well, beyond being a keen bike commuter myself and blogging about it, I actually completed my Master’s degree thesis on active commuting among parents, specifically looking at what affects people’s travel decisions in my area when they live close to the school. This detailed study and insight allowed me to dig really deep into people’s reasons for their travel decisions, and I am taking a lot of the information gleaned from that process to inform my writing here.
So, with that said, let’s get into the key points of this article and see how you can encourage bicycle commuting, starting today!
How do you encourage people to cycle to work?
There are a multitude of ways to do this, but the key point is that you use a method that is both sustainable and effective. By sustainable, I mean something that will not use up all your time and financial resources on as this is a surefire way to only have minimal impact. By effective, I mean something that you are able to test to get some kind of results to know that what you are doing has some impact and also to be able to show others, be it for inspiration or for simply justifying more funding for your campaign.
Having these key points figured out before you begin will mean a much better chance of you succeeding as most people simply skip these steps and get to what they think as being ‘the most important’, and take action that is either not properly thought through or just something that will be a short run thing. Being realistic in what you have available and how you can get some kind of measure or feedback on what you’ve done will be immensely helpful to you later on.
Now, on to the key points to consider, using the main disadvantages of cycling to work and how you can use these to your advantage!
What are the disadvantages of cycling to work?
Considering all the main disadvantages of bike commuting helps in that you can counter any criticisms of them. Despite there being some key disadvantages of bicycle commuting, none are so big that they can’t be overcome. It’s also acknowledged that by removing the barriers to a change makes it that much easier and more appealing for people to make the desired change. It is with this in mind that we can approach the next sections of this guide.
The main disadvantages to think about are the following:
- Costs and Spending
- Dangers and Safety
- Bike Theft
- Hassle (needs a change of clothes, freshen up, weather)
- Physical Fitness
- Lack of Cycling Culture or it’s ‘frowed upon’
From here, let’s look at the points outlined above in some more detail.
Costs and Spending
The first key consideration is to focus on financial costs. I put this at the top of the list as many people will think about this first as it is a pragmatic concern that we all have when considering changing our behavior and taking up a new activitiy, a bike commuting might be for many.
They might try to say that they don’t have the money for it, or that they don’t want to spend on a bike or other items. However, chances are that most people who work and who are considering bike commuting will already have a bike that they can easily commute on, no spending needed. This therefore can be highlighted to them that they have an existing mode of transport that they are not currently using. Personally, I had something of a paradigm shift when I started viewing my bike as a mode of transport rather than an item of leisure. This suddenly made it appear far more practical in my mind and something that I could easily tap into.
To help highlight the costs around bike commuting, you can look to provide your target audience with clear information that helps them to make a comparison of the costs involved. For instance, if someone is driving to work by car, paying for a parking permit or pass and gasoline, chances are that they know approximately how much they spend per week or month on their travel arrangements. By asking this question, you can make would-be bike commuters reflect on their current travel plans and actually ask whether they think that it is money well spent.
Something like the following should help to make the point:
“At present, I spend $ ___________ on parking per week and $___________ on gasoline per week.”
To perform simple calculations for weeks, months and years, simply multiply the number accordingly. You could create a calculator for this on something like Google Sheets that is easily and freely shared with people by email, allowing them to simply plug in their numbers and get an instant calculation.
To help add impact to the point, they can then estimate how many times in a year that they think they could commute by bicycle, enter this number into the given spreadsheet and it will calculate just how much they could be saving right there and then.
The nice thing about using these kinds of numbers is that it gives a real and immediate cost-benefit analysis to bike commuting and is something that can appeal to those who are making their choice based on this primarily.
We need to be realistic here and remember that financial or monetary cost won’t be the most important to all people you are trying to reach, but it will certainly play a part for some and even those on the fence.
To further look at costs involved for anyone looking to start bike commuting, provide a checklist of recommended items with approximate price ranges, as appears in this article about the same topic of exactly how much bike commuting costs.
If you can explain clearly and succinctly what people need and how much it is likely to cost, then remind them that this cost does not need to be all at once and can be spread out over the seasons. With this in mind, the best time to start bike commuting is likely in the spring since the weather starts to get warmer and people can make a habit of it in the best weather months of the year.
Savings through Partnerships
There may also be the possibility of partnering with local, or even regional/national, bike stores to offer discounts to employees at your workplace. This can be done informally in the first instance by simply calling, emailing or asking the bike store owners whether they would be interested in forming such a partnership and what kind of benefits or discounts they could offer.
However, before doing this, find out whether one already exists since this might be something that your work already offers but is not well known!
Many people might say the “bike commuting takes too long” but the chances are that they are over-estimating the time needed for bike commuting and under-estimating their current commuter journey.
When thinking about their current commute, you can start by asking them exactly how long it takes to get from door-to-door, and how much time they spend stuck in traffic, filling up gas, etc. The chances are many don’t know this exactly, so it might be hard for them to make a true comparison until they go away and really think about it or even log it for a few days.
The next thing you can ask is them is how long would it take for them to cycle commute from their home to work and see what they say. If they say that they have no idea, then direct them to the Google Maps cycling directions feature. This will give them an estimated journey time and clear directions, allowing them to make a clear comparison – and they might be surprised by what they see.
Despite the potential for a shorter journey time by bike than some people might think, there will still be those who say, rightly, that their journey is too long to ride to work.
This is where your counterpoints (perhaps in the form of a poster or email) can come into play. For instance, anyone who has a long commute could split the journey and combine it with driving or public transportation part of the way to be able to cycle to work.
These kinds of combination options are extremely flexible and can be tailored to almost any routes. This ‘multi-mode’ commute can be done in any way that suits and might actually save time or money for the person doing it. I say this because they might have the option of using free, secure parking a few miles from work and riding the rest of the way. They could also use JustPark (like Air Bnb but for parking) to find cheap parking at someone’s house.
If they are concerned about what public transit options will allow bicycles, then again the League of American Bicyclists has many useful resources available on their website, while most local transportation operators also display this information on their webpages, too.
Many will say that they don’t want to bike commute because they will get wet, hot, sweaty etc., yet there’s a very simple and easy way around this. Recommend that they start out on good weather days. This only requires checking the weather forecast the night before and is not a major thing for most people. If they really start to get a tase for bicycle commuting then they can choose to cycle on bad weather days from there. This clearly depends on the individual but riding to work once a month is better than never!
Change of Clothes or Freshening Up
If anyone points out that they will need a change of clothes or to freshen up, direct them to this dedicated post how to bike to work without a shower. Some of the key points in said post are things like choosing the right clothes for cycling, trying a route that is less hilly or even leaving some clothes at work to change into.
This again is a mindset thing that can be done if people are willing to make the change, which can happen if all their concerns are answered and ways to remove barriers are suggested.
Dangers and Safety
Some people might feel that bike commuting is more dangerous than traveling by car, and that they are safer simply sticking to their usual car commute.
However, physical inactivity is a major cause of death in many Western countries, so doing anything to improve levels of physical activity can only be a positive. People might then point to stated increases in deaths involving cyclists as a reason for concern yet this needs to be put into context since the numbers of people bike commuting has risen steadily over time, meaning that although more fatalities and accidents might be occurring, the rate at which they do is unlikely to be increasing per person and that many of these increases are concentrated in particular areas, like parts of Florida or California. That said, try to find statistics for your local area to really focus on the local context as much as possible.
In terms of safety, bike commuting is very much a question of ‘safety in numbers’. This is because, for example, according to the National Association of City Transport Officials (NACTO), “cycling is getting safer as more people ride”. This means that by getting people to ride to work in groups with friends, or even as a trend across an organization, you can help to make cycling to work safer for everyone, but it needs to start somewhere (and so why not you or your colleagues!).
Many would-be commuters will be concerned about bike theft, but this is not as big a problem as many think.
One of the first ways around this is to make people aware of how to lock their bike properly. A good rule of thumb here is to spend about 10-20% of the value of the bike on a good quality lock that will deter thieves and use it properly.
You can also look to ensure that bike parking facilities are in places with lots of foot traffic and visibility. If they are not, then look at asking your management about the costs of relocating them as this could be a simple task when combined with other renovation work on-site. However, if there are bike parking facilities nearby, this might also be something that people can be directed to, especially if they meet the right criteria as outlined above.
Folding bikes are also a great option, as are other smart bikes with anti-theft devices. All of which can go a long way to reducing people’s fears around having their bike stolen.
People who don’t regularly ride a bike to work might see it as a hassle, but this can be countered on a number of levels.
The first point to raise is that bike commuting does not require finding a parking space in the same way as a car, which is a problem at many workplaces. Riders can simply roll up and lock their bikes, often closer to the office than they would be able to park their car.
Another point in favor of bike commuting from this perspective is that riders can simply choose when to do it so that social commitments and other activities beyond the working day don’t clash. On days when they are extremely busy, then they can carry on and commute as per normal. On other days when things are less hectic, simply ride into work and skip the majority of the traffic.
Essentially, bike commuting is only a hassle if people are not used to it or have not made proper plans, so thinking about it from this perspective can really help to re-frame it in a more positive light here.
If colleagues are concerned about their level of physical fitness for riding to work, this can be overcome in several different ways.
The first is to start riding in their free time, likely with a friend or even one of the cycling groups you have found locally. This can be a confidence booster and help even the most reluctant cyclists to feel a little more confident. From there, they can then build up to trying the journey from their home to work on a weekend or in their free time to get an idea for how long it would take. This kind of planning can further add to the motivation for bike commuting.
Another point to think about is that nobody is obliged to bike commute, they can simply do it when it suits them so they will not have to do it if they feel tired or exhausted on that day. Riding to work, however infrequently, can be a rewarding and positive experience for just about any worker.
If riders have a long journey, they can follow the tips elsewhere in this post on splitting their journey or simply building up to riding the whole distance.
The last suggestion here is that those who are looking to get a new bike for this purpose could get an electric bike to help them on their journey as these will assist them and help them to go further than with a standard bicycle.
You can also remind them that being physically fitter is likely to result in feeling better at work and home, also contributes to overall wellbeing. Not a bad little bonus for a simple activity like riding a bike to work!
Lack of Cycling Culture
If one of the barriers to people bicycle commuting in your workplace is the lack of a cycling culture, then it’s probably time to address this social norm and see what you can do to change things.
One of the best ways to start is to try to involve middle management in bike commuting. This is because they are key ‘gatekeepers’ and can influence colleagues both above them, in senior management, and below them, as subordinates that make up the majority of most workplaces.
Their power is not to be underestimated since seeing these people engage in an activity like bike commuting creates a permissive culture where cycling and other forms of activity are acceptable. For more reading on this, see this framework to help you design any bike commuting interventions you are planning.
If there are middle managers who are regular bike commuters, this modeling of behavior becomes an open and visible example to others and can help to change people’s perceptions of said activity.
However, if there are currently no middle managers that you know of who are bike commuters, then look to approach some and ask whether they would consider doing it, just as an informal part of a conversation. Their answers are likely to be the kind of ones other people will give you, be they excuses or otherwise, so listen carefully
Provide Information and Awareness
Simple resources like posters, organizing meetings, signposting staff to local cycle groups/clubs, etc. can go a long way to helping people become more aware of what is going on in their area in terms of cycling and bike commuting.
Data and statistics can also help you here. By showing the impact that commuting by car has on air quality and people’s health, or even someone’s finances, you could help to persuade them to make a change to bike commuting at least once or twice per week.
Use Existing Resources
Fortunately, you don’t need to invent anything from scratch here – there is already a wealth of existing resources that you can use to help you on your mission to encourage bike commuting.
Let’s have a look at what is already out there in the sections that follow.
Events can be a good and simple way to raise awareness of bike commuting and also provide a nudge to get people to even think about it (doing it comes further down the line!). By simply advertising and promoting these events, be it by email or posters (usually free to print out from websites) you can help to increase the profile of them in your place of work.
National Bike-to-Work Day is the most well-known example of this, and it happens on the third Friday each May in the USA. It is also organized by the Bicycle League of America, a voluntary organization with the promotion of cycling as one of its core objectives.
Bike Friendly America Recognition for Your Workplace
The League of American Bicyclists provides a Bicycle Friendly America recognition for many different types of organizations and could be an external incentive in which you can frame some clear goals for promoting bike commuting in your work.
They offer a toolkit to help people achieve this, stating that it is “designed to give advocates, elected officials, business leaders, students, and university administrators a comprehensive look at the BFA programs.”
Their website also offers statistics and data on bike commuting if you are hoping to provide some numbers to support your arguments.
They also provide specific information for business organizations if relevant to you.
To go one step further and support the League, you can purchase one of their Quick Guides (available also in Spanish) for your workplace.
Some people may be completely unaware of the network of cycleways and routes they could take on a bike to work. As such, some of the simple things you can do to help them is to gather materials on this, likely in the form of maps and place them in relevant information areas in your place of work.
However, if these kinds of maps do not exist for your area, you could make some simple ones using screenshots from Google Maps, highlighting key routes and place print-outs in the kitchen or communal area at your office or place of work.
Cycling Communities and Groups
There might also be cycling communities and groups in your area that you are not yet aware of. These groups can help to provide a network for cycle commuters and can also be a useful point of contact.
For instance, let’s say there’s an existing cycling group (for leisure) in your area. You could join to meet them and find out if anyone cycles near you on your way to work or would be interested in riding with you. By doing this yourself, you then test the possibilities and will start to see what kind of things are already possible.
Another option from this same cycling group could be to try to create a sub-group for bicycle commuting specifically, with groups of riders following a similar route at a given time. This might something that is quite hard to set up but could be worthwhile investigating.
You can use this fantastic worksheet to identify barriers to change from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Having these clearly mapped out will go a long way to helping you become more aware of the challenges that people in your workplace or community might be facing.
If you cannot complete it on your own, ask some of your friends or colleagues informally to see what they say, then note down some of their responses to keep a record of it (but in a general and anonymous way of course!).
What are the main benefits of cycling to work? Cycling to work can help people to improve their physical fitness, improve the air quality and reduce air pollution in the surrounding area, and can even reduce your exposure to air pollutants when compared to driving to work.
What is active commuting? Active commuting is any form of commuting involving at least part of the journey without motorized transport. For example, walking, cycling, scootering or jogging to work all count as active commuting..
Even when combined with public transit or some driving, active commuting is still a healthy alternative to driving all the way.