There’s cycling like an average Joe. There’s cycling like a carefree daredevil. And then there’s cycling like Norwegian Eskil Rønningsbakken, who late last month rode his bicycle backward down a rain-slicked 850-meter-high mountain road in Trollstigen, Norway.
In a three-minute video of the treacherous descent, Rønningsbakken can be seen veering past an oncoming car and effortlessly making several hairpin turns, at least two of which immediately injected a swarm of butterflies into the stomach of this acrophobe.
“I think there is only one thing missing now—to do it all over again,” says a smiling Rønningsbakken after reaching the bottom of the mountain.
In the same vein that stunts such as this should only be attempted by trained professionals (Rønningsbakken’s past feats have included walking across a tightrope attached to two hot air balloons while they were in mid flight), amateur bike riders like you and me should be making the extra effort to embrace as much two-wheeled transportation as possible. The financial, ecological, and health benefits of not doing so—of hopping in a car instead of on a bike—are becoming too hard to ignore.
Bicycling can be a shot of adrenaline for the economy, both on a micro and a macro level. Take Portland, Ore., where cycling increased by almost 40 percent between 2002 and 2008, bringing $90 million to the city’s economy while providing locals with almost 1,200 jobs. Another study, published in March 2012, concluded that if one-third of Americans biked just one mile daily, we’d “contribute $46 million to the economy each day.” That’s nearly $17 billion annually. And on a personal finance level, the average annual cost of operating a car in the U.S. is $8,220, whereas it costs around $308 a year to maintain a bike.
Let's not forget the environmental and health advantages of bicycling. According to a November 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, if 30 million urban and suburban Midwesterners replaced half their short car trips with cycling, they "could save approximately four trillion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 1,100 lives, and $7 billion in mortality and health care costs for the region every year."
Of course, it's doubtful Rønningsbakken had any of these complicated cycling stats in mind when speeding at more than 50 mph down the mountain. Likely the only thought he had at all was a simple one—“don’t look down.”