New Science: Bicycle Commuting May Be Addictive

Bicycle commuters have a high affective appraisal of their commute mode, and rate the habit strength of their commute significantly higher than drivers or bus riders.

This research, compiled by psychologists Gregory Owen Thomas and Ian Walker in the UK and reported by CityLab’s Eric Jaffe, adds a nice punch of science to what many cyclists already know – going by bike is more fun, and therefore more likely to be habit-forming.


When Thomas and Walker analyzed work trip satisfaction, bus riders rated their satisfaction the lowest, cyclists and walkers rated their satisfaction the highest, and drivers generally rated their satisfaction as neutral. While this research speaks for only one group of commuters, and may vary depending on infrastructure, weather, and other factors, there is strong evidence that a more active commute is a more satisfying commute.

How does satisfaction correlate with habit? I’m not a scientist, but I do know that if something is enjoyable, there’s a much greater likelihood that I’ll do it more often (i.e. eating delicious, juicy, mouthwatering hamburgers). And, if I know that something is both enjoyable and good for me, I am even more likely to engage in that behavior more often (i.e. riding my bike).


Another factor in the satisfaction/stickiness correlation that Jaffe mentions is the fact that cyclists typically make a conscious decision to commute by bike, whereas drivers typically default to the status quo of driving. When you make a deliberate, thoughtful choice, it’s likely that you feel more positive and more connected to this choice.

So, as Jaffe pulls this research together and reports that commuting by bike is both more satisfying and more sticky as a mode of transportation, I cannot say that I am all that surprised.

The important question, then, is what do we do with this information? Clearly, active commuters are still in the minority. But, if we could get those drivers and bus riders to give commuting by bike or walking a shot, it is not unreasonable to believe that many of them would actually like it, and may form the same strong habits as other active commuters.

At Commute By Bike, we’ve written zillions* of articles in an attempt to get more folks on bikes. We’ve given you The Slackers Guide to Bike Commuting, and we’ve advocated for better infrastructure and education for safe cycling. With this shiny new research in hand, our message remains the same: give commuting by bike a try. After all, research now supports our theory that riding a bike is more fun than sitting in traffic, and may actually be addictive.

*Zillions may be a slight exaggeration, but we have written many articles about bicycle commuting.

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