GM bites off too much in anti-bike ad

Kalie Swails

The ad that the article is based off of can be seen here:

Riding a bicycle is about the squarest thing you could do. At least, that’s what anti-bike advertisements want you to think.

They’re always the same: some dork wearing a suit and an ill-fitting helmet is riding down a congested highway—usually in the pouring rain—looking  generally terrified and uncomfortab

le while he struggles to hold onto his lunch, a briefcase and presentation materials. Beautiful people in expensive cars speed past him, soaking him in exhaust or rainwater sprayed from their shiny new tires.

Cue the voiceover for State Farm Car Insurance, Audi cars or Autozone Auto Parts.

General Motors recently pulled an anti-bike ad it was running that targeted college students following loud opposition from the cycling community. The ad portrays a guy on a bicycle being passed by an attractive woman in a car. The woman is looking at the man with a snide, demeaning smile while the cyclist, obviously humiliated, hides his face with his hand. The headline reads “Reality Sucks.”

The ad, which encourages consumers to “Stop pedaling… start driving,” ran in a number of college newspapers and as a poster on college campuses, offering a discount on several GM models to college students, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While the advertisement’s intent may have only been to cheekily persuade college students to purchase GM vehicles, the negative feedback it received was so boisterous that GM pulled the ad from rotation.

The reality of riding a bicycle sucks? What about the reality of driving a car?

It certainly sucks for the environment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the average American drives between 12,000-15,000 miles per year. In the five years I have owned my car, I’ve put 65,000 miles on it, averaging 13,000 miles a year.

I own a small 1997 Toyota Corolla that I bought used in 2006. It has a 13 gallon tank and gets around 23 miles to the gallon. While it is a fairly efficient vehicle, driving 13,000 miles a year still emits 4.24 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas which the EPA says contributes the greatest to global warming.

If my Corolla emits 4.24 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, then in four years of college my car would emit 16.96 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s a greater carbon dioxide emission in four years than many individuals in Africa will emit in a lifetime.

Let us not forget that the GM ad was targeting college students, the number of which the U.S Census Bureau projects at 19.1 million. If all of those students drove cars and their cars all emitted the 5.44 metric tons of carbon dioxide that the average American car emits, then in only one year the college-attending population of the United States would emit 103.9 billion metric tons of car

bon dioxide into the atmosphere.

That’s just shy of the total carbon dioxide emissions for the entire country of Japan, according to a 2009 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The reality of driving a car not only sucks for the atmosphere, it sucks for your wallet, too.

The combined cost of fuel, insurance and activity depreciation (representing economic cost as well as maintenance and repairs) costs me $3,862.31 a year. After four years of college, this would total $15,449.24.

The financial cost of a car gets even more outrageous if you’re still making payments on it, live in a state where your car is included in property tax or just have a nicer, newer car than I do.

The reality of driving a car also sucks for your health.

Even if you only spend 20 minutes a day driving, that amounts to almost 122 hours a year sitting in your vehicle. Then add those hours to the time you spend sitting in class, sitting on the couch or sitting at an office desk. Americans spend and awful lot of time sitting down, which experts say leads to greater risk of obesity and heart attacks.

Breaking up the time we spend sitting with bouts of exercise throughout the day is a great way to keep our bodies healthy, especially when done outdoors where we can enjoy nature and soak up vitamin D from the sun. Depending on weight, you can burn 150-300 calories in just 20 minutes of biking at 15 miles per hour (which is no Lance Armstrong pace).

Since I began using my bike as my primary means of transportation this summer, I’ve noticed a difference in my cardiovascular shape and on the scale. By being more active and moderating my diet, burning body fat rather than fossil fuel has not only been fairly easy, it’s been enjoyable.

So what’s the reality of riding a bike?

You might get a little sweaty and you’ve got to hope you don’t send yourself flying over your handlebars on accident. Sometimes it does rain; sometimes you are a little overloaded with stuff.

But by biking, you’ve got so much more to feel good about than you do driving your car, like no carbon dioxide emissions, zero fuel cost and improved health. Not mention the indescribably liberating joy of soaring down a hill and feeling like a kid again.

So if GM wants to tell cyclists how lame we are for caring about the environment, saving money and being healthier, they can have at it. We’re the ones pedaling all the way to the good karma bank.

The auto industry would love for us to be fat, up to our eyes in debt and dependent on cars to get anywhere. Your body, wallet and planet disagree.