10 Reasons why bicycles can't replace cars

I live in Germany. The land of automakers. The land of auto lobbyists and auto marketeers. They’re doing well convincing people that they need a car. But really, do you?

Here are 10 reasons politicians and people I know personally provide for not using their legs to pedal and using a car instead. Misconception they have because culture and, well, car salesmen, engrained it in their thinking.

1. Cycling is bad for the climate

Let’s get this out of the way first. For the climate, cycling is the best way to get around. Let’s have a look at emissions per kilometer for some modes of short distance transport:

For cycling I find values ranging from 0 to 21 g CO2/km. Bikeradar uses that high number, taking into account the food needed to generate the motion. That it’s still lower than all the other modes of transport—including walking, which is less efficient!

Moreover, a healthy person needs exercise, so someone getting around in a car or transit must burn those calories at another time anyway.

2. Cycling is for the Dutch

For most of my life I’ve lived in the Netherlands. Yes, that flat country, where people are born cycling. Living in Germany, people often react surprised when I tell them I use my bike to get around throughout the year. “Even in winter”, they ask. “Yes”, I answer. “Oh but you’re Dutch!”, they then say.

In the Netherlands it rains about twice often and twice as much as in Berlin. What is considered a strong breeze in the Netherlands, is a weather alert-worthy storm in Germany. And Berlin is basically flat too. When it comes to the natural environment, Berlin is better suited for cycling than Amsterdam.

Of course, the cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands is just fantastic compared to that of other countries. But it’s only there because of the protests against the child murders (car accidents) in the 1970s. More recently, Paris showed again that if good conditions are created, people get on their bikes.

Large overhead bicycle roundabout
Hovenring bicycle roundabout

3. You need a car to go to work

Chances are that (sidenote: In online discussions, it’s common for Americans to bring up they can’t bike to work because it’s too far away. I understand this is an urban planning problem; living in a suburb more or less requires you have a car. But you get to choose where you live in the land of the free, right? ) live less than 20 km from your place of work. On a bike, you should be able to reach that within an hour. My commute is 14 km. It’s nice. Long enough to unwind after work and short enough to not be boring.

In Europe, it’s unlikely that no part of your commute is covered by public transport. With a combination of a (folding) bike and transit, you get to combine time off to exercise, read and play games. Try that while driving!

4. Cycling is slow

Every now and then I get overtaken by a brightly colored ‘sports’ car. Such cars stand out nicely and make good indicators of how fast car traffic flows. It’s common for me to meet them several more times on a ride through the city. Because other traffic and crossings slow everyone down. But on a bike, you can nicely overtake all motorized traffic waiting for the light to become green.

For my 14 km commute from our suburb to the office, these are my records:

  • Transit + walking: 51 minutes
  • Rental car: 50 minutes
  • Transit + bike (1800 m) + walk (450 m): 45 minutes
  • Electric rental scooter: 35 minutes
  • Bike: 34 minutes

To be fair, typically cycling takes me 40–45 minutes. But that’s still faster than driving a car or using transit. I’m not a particularly fast cyclist: VCD found similar numbers for urban trips.

5. You need a car when you have kids

We have two children. They take their (balance) bike or go on the kiddie seat for longer distances.

Little child on bicycle backseat

6. You need a car if you don’t live in a city center

We live in a suburb near the edge of Berlin. After about 10 minutes of cycling, I’m in the countryside, where I regularly go for a ride. Even if you’d pay me, I wouldn’t give up my bike for a car. Everything we need is reachable either by bike only or in a combination with transit.

A bicycle path through a forest

7. You need a car for groceries

I have a solid bike with front panniers, so I can take two collapsible crates with me. They can hold more than our weekly groceries. During the week I exchange the rear crate for the kiddie seat for trips to the bakery and other shopping.

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

8. That biking gear must be expensive

As mentioned above, I have two bicycles and I also recommend buying dedicated cycling clothes. That stuff costs money!

Every time I need to buy something cycling-related, I think of how much money I save not having to pay for a car. I could buy a very decent new bike every year for the insurance money I save alone. So when I buy cycling clothes (rarely), I actually splurge a bit and go for high quality, sustainable items that fit well, without caring too much about costs. If you really want to go for the lowest costs, there’s a huge offering of second hand bikes, parts and clothes online.

9. Cycling is for socialists

Compared to other modes of transport, cycling is extremely cheap for society. Even the fanciest Dutch cycling superhighways cost only a fraction (€ 0,3M–€ 0,8M/km) of highways for cars (€ 10M—€ 50M/km). Despite the love they get from neoliberalists, cars are the biggest state sponsored mode of local and regional transport.

10. Cycling is unsafe

At the end of a birthday party, my great uncle was asked not to drive home, as he’d had a few drinks. “Don’t worry about me, I have a heavy car”, was his response.

The arms race between drivers buying ever heavier cars has been going on for decades now. Sadly, it’s not the drivers who are most at risk, but those who venture out without donning a 3 tonne armor first. So although cycling isn’t inherently unsafe, (sidenote: 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. ) make it so.

A more important reason why cyclists’ lives are shortened is disease caused by air pollution in cities. Which, too, is mainly caused by cars. For my commute, I avoid streets with lots of cars. I make a few detours, so I can benefit from smooth, quiet cycling lanes. With that, I also avoid the worst pollution, which is concentrated in busy streets.

Luckily, in all of Germany, air quality is improving. And the chances of getting involved in an accident are still small enough that the exercise benefits of cycling negate the risks!

Do you need a car?

With cycling I save money, have more fun and live healthier than with other modes of transport. And I don’t have to worry about parking, fines, taxes, insurance and running over children. I challenge you finding something else with so many personal benefits that’s also the best choice for society and the climate!