Why You Should Consider Commuting by Bike in Austin

While Texas is by and large a car-centric state, Austin consistently makes it onto the lists of top bike-friendly cities in the US - in fact, Austinites bike to work four times more than the national average. 

In 2020, it placed 17th on a list of the best cycling cities in the country due to its great weather, miles of protected bike lanes, and commitment to improving cyclists’ safety.

If you live in Austin and don’t already commute to work by bike, here are our top five reasons why you should start.

Austin is Officially Bike-Friendly

Austin is rated Gold from the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Communities, making it the most cycling-friendly city in Texas. According to the League, these are the ten markers of a bike-friendly community:

  • Arterial & major streets with bike lanes.
  • Total bicycle network mileage vs. total road network mileage
  • Public education outreach
  • Share of transportation budget spent on cycling
  • Bike Month and Bike to Work events
  • Active bicycle advocacy group
  • Active bicycle advisory committee
  • Bicycle–friendly laws & ordinances
  • Bike Plan is current and is being implemented
  • Bike program staff vs. population

Austin currently has over 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 50 miles of urban bike trails. You can plan your route, get tips for being a bike-friendly driver, and see the rules of the roads in the city’s cycling map here.

2. More Cycling Means More Infrastructure 

Increased investment in cycling infrastructure is a result of a symbiotic relationship between citizens and government: Some cities have taken the “if you build it, they will bike” approach while in other cities, cyclists have formed coalitions to call on their government to invest further in infrastructure.

It isn’t surprising that the top US cycling cities like Portland, New York, Boulder, and Chicago invest heavily in biking infrastructure and safety. The more cyclists that are on the roads, the more infrastructure gets built, which then leads to even more cyclists, and even more infrastructure.

Regardless of whether or not you’re involved in community initiatives or cycling advocacy groups, one of the most effective ways you can signal to your city that you support increased infrastructure spending is simply by hopping on your bike every chance you get, whether you’re commuting, exercising, or participating in races or events.

Luckily, Austin is already well on its way to becoming one of the best cycling cities in the US.

In November 2020, Austin citizens voted in favor of Prop B, a $460 million fund dedicated to sidewalks, bikeways, urban trails, and safety - so cycling is only going to become more widespread and accessible in future. 

Currently in Austin, it’s not uncommon to come across substantial cracks in the road that can cause cycling accidents. It’s good etiquette for cyclists to warn others by shouting, “Crack,” but with this kind of investment into road infrastructure, it may become a forgotten phrase - something that will surely delight Austin cyclists.

3. Commuting by Bike Makes You Happier

Oliver Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Studies at the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University, researched which means of commuting made people happiest. To measure how satisfied people were with their commutes, he used factors such as ease of commute, boredom vs. enthusiasm, pleasure, and stress, among others.

The results weren’t surprising. Here’s how each form of commuting ranked, from happiest to least happy:

  1. Bicycle
  2. Walking
  3. Express bus
  4. Light rail
  5. Carpool
  6. Local bus
  7. Driving alone

Countless studies have shown that people who cycle to work are happier than those who drive or catch public transport. For one thing, cycling releases endorphins (a natural mood enhancer) so your hormones are literally making you happier while you ride. Along with that, hours spent in traffic jams are proven to make motorists more frustrated, more irritable and less motivated.

Riding your bike also keeps your stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) in check, which can help you bounce back from anxiety-inducing situations more quickly.

Along with the scientifically proven benefits of riding your bike to commute, there are some others that are harder to measure - like being able to interact more with your community, keeping your mind engaged by experiencing new routes, and the triumphant feeling of making it on time to your destination.

4. You’re Saving the Environment

Austin often makes it onto the list of the most eco-friendly cities in the US due to its green spaces, enthusiasm for solar power, engaged citizens and, of course, its biking infrastructure. 

In 2017, Austin even beat Portland for the number one spot on Architectural Digest’s 10 Greenest Cities in America list. Here’s what they had to say about Austin:

“While five out of ten of the greenest cities are located in the Northeast, the number-one spot went to the hipster haven of Austin, Texas, and its surrounding area of Round Rock. 
With a population of 2,000,860, Austin scored the top slot by a landslide thanks to its 5.113 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings per every 1000 residents. Its title can also be attributed to the .097 miles of bike lanes per every 10,000 residents, demonstrating that commuters are ditching their cars in favor of pedaling their way to work and thereby shrinking their carbon footprint. 
There's also .16 farmer's markets for every 10,000 residents, .94 electric car plug-ins for every 10,000 people, and .145 percent of the city area is parkland.”

In the years since 2017, climate change has only become more of a hot topic, and research has shown that commuting by bike instead of driving on just one day a week makes a significant impact on your personal carbon emissions.

5. You Can Take it Easy with an eBike

If your commute is too long to ride, you’re unfit, or have a disability, an ebike might be your perfect match! 

That is, if you can get your hands on one - between 2019 and 2020, there was a 145% increase in ebike sales in the US, and bike stores struggled to keep up with the surge in demand.

eBikes have become the go-to bike for commuters who want a functional bike that can get them where they need to go without breaking a sweat - literally. A study by RedBull shows that those who commute by ebike sweat 300% less than those who ride a regular bicycle, making it an easy choice for commuters who don’t want to change out of sweaty cycling clothes once they reach the office.

Unlike electric cars, ebikes don’t need specialized charging stations, which means you can travel with peace of mind knowing that you can charge your ebike at the office, coffee shop, or at home without any additional gadgets.

In Austin, you can even get a rebate of up to $300 for buying an ebike through Austin Energy, the utility providing the city’s electricity.

Tips for Commuting by Bike in Austin

  • Join a cycling club like Violet Crown, one of the oldest and largest in Austin. They welcome cyclists of all ages and abilities, and have organised rides every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, along with special events. Remember to call ahead to make sure the rides aren’t cancelled due to bad weather or lockdown restrictions.
  • Travel light. A change of clothes, laptop bag, and other luggage will make your ride more physically demanding, unless you’re riding an ebike.
  • Bike to Work day falls in May each year. Ride to work during this annual event to score freebies like coffee or tacos from participating establishments.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with Austin’s cycling laws for your own safety, and the safety of those around you.
  • At first, leave for your commute earlier than usual to get a sense of how long your ride will take you.
  • Make sure your bicycle is covered for theft away from home, accidental damage and more from only $8 per month with Sundays Insurance.