Biking to Work Good for Health, Wallet

Ditch the car and grab a bike for the work commute

By Adriana Scott Jul 24, 2013
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The America​n Heart Association reports that more than 154 million U.S. adults are overweight or obese. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 39 percent of U.S. employees say they work in white-collar professions, which can mean spending a lot of time sitting at a desk.

The nation’s exercise habits may need fine-tuning, but it’s hard to squeeze in the time, what with the morning and evening commutes, chores and child care.

So why not swap that time sitting in morning traffic with a healthier alternative?

“For people with a relatively short commute, bicycling is a great way to get to work,” said Kristin Smith, communications director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “You arrive refreshed and ready to start the day, get your exercise during your commute and engage more with your city or town.”

April Economides, principal of Long Beach-based Green Octopus Consulting in California, is a single mother with a long list of daily tasks. Her job requires her to split her time between the U.S. and Canada. She is busy. Yet her company cultivates bike-friendly business environments.

“I totally get the whole don’t-have-enough-time-to-exercise-or-take-a-moment-for-myself thing … [but] if you can bike to work, it’s a great time to think,” she said.

Commuting via your own steam has its financial benefits. For one thing, Economides no longer needs a gym membership. And those who pedal to work can save on transportation costs. According to AAA’s annual study, in 2013 the average cost of transportation for a sedan driver is $9,122. . By comparison, most people lay out between $500 and $600 on a bike (although secondhand city bikes begin at about $100), Economides said. Bike accessories run about $150, and maintenance costs are between $30 and $100.

Moreover, under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which Congress has extended through December 2013, employees who bike to work can receive up to $20 a month in tax-free employer subsidies. Employers can learn more about this program at the National Center for Transit Research.

Cycling workers’ happiness doesn’t always stem from financial gain, though. “We’ve seen a lot of positive interaction that has resulted from employees gathering as a group of cyclists,” said Alison Dewey, program manager at the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Businesses and University program.

Similar to a company picnic, meeting for happy hour or a trip to a sports event, biking in groups can create camaraderie among colleagues. When at least some employee interactions don’t revolve around work tasks, productivity tends to increase, Dewey observed.

Cycling to work benefits not only the company culture but the economy of the surrounding area, Economides said. Shops and restaurants that are too far of a walk from the office may actually be a convenient distance by bicycle. “When someone is on a bike, rather than whizzing by in a car, they tend to notice businesses and can easily hop off their bike and park in front of their destination for free,” she said. “They’re discovering restaurants in their neighborhood that they usually wouldn’t [see on] their lunch break.”

There may be local laws that ensure employer accommodation of cyclists, Smith said. The Employee Bicycles Access Bill of 2012 requires commercial buildings to offer parking places for bikes or to allow them in the office for employees who bike to work. Similar legislation was passed in New York in 2009.

“Provide a secure place for employees to leave their bikes while at work,” Smith said. “Not having a secure spot is one of the major deterrents to people biking to work. If you have the space, provide showers or lockers for employees to change, [especially] if they’re commuting long distances.”

Adriana Scott is an intern for SHRM Online.

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