On average, Americans commute about 32 miles (51 kilometers) a day roundtrip, and most of that commuting is done in cars [source: ABC]. Some people (like the ones belting out Journey at the wheel) find those car hours relaxing, a temporary refuge from the outside world. Others describe their commute in less favorable terms, citing frustration, nervousness and even rage [source: ABC].
Personal automotive experiences aside, since cars have serious drawbacks for the planet, for society and for the individual, alternative modes of transportation are gaining increasing amounts of attention. While many focus on alternative power like ethanol or hydrogen, some of the ecologically minded are pushing a whole other power source: the human body. It's a profoundly clean way of generating energy.
Europe is way ahead of the curve, with biking accounting for up to 30 percent of personal travel in some areas; in the United States, it's more like 1 percent [source: PlanetArk]. But in the last five or 10 years, bicycle transport has been catching on. In Philadelphia, cycling activity more than doubled between 2005 and 2008 [source: BCGP]. A 2006 survey in Portland, Ore., revealed that 5.4 percent of people ride to work [source: PlanetArk]. Chicago plans to increase its 100 miles (160 kilometers) of bike lanes to 500 miles (804 kilometers) by 2017 [source: CityMayors]. And in 2005, the federal government set aside an unprecedented $1 billion for improving bike infrastructure [source: EDF].
Of course, riding a bike is not always a feasible transportation alternative. If you work 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home, or your city has no bike lanes, or you're a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman, a bike is probably not an ideal option. But more often than not, biking to work (or on errands or to a friend's house) is a realistic option.
And not just realistic -- it's a potential life and world changer. While cycling instead of driving can have startling effects on pollution levels, it has other benefits, too. In this article, we'll take a look at five of the most notable planetary advantages to riding a bike, both for the planet and the people who inhabit it.
First up, perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of a healthy, well-adjusted planet: beauty, and the appreciation thereof.