Study: Of All Transportation Modes, Cycling Evokes the Most Positive Mood

People are in a better mood while biking than driving or riding the bus, according to a new study. Photo: Richard Masoner on Flickr
People are in a better mood while biking than driving or riding the bus, according to a new study. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Bike travel is the mode most likely to put a smile on your face.

That’s the finding from a new academic study published in the Springer journal “Transportation.” Researchers from Clemson and the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 13,000 randomly selected people about their mood during random activities throughout the day.

Contrary to previous research, they found that mood was not significantly affected simply because people were traveling from place to place; those in transport were about as happy as average during the day.

When it came to different modes of transportation, the impacts were slight and not statistically significant. Still, researchers found that cycling elicited the most positive emotions. They also said this might reflect that people who are generally more fit and enthusiastic are attracted to biking in the first place.

The next happiest group of travelers was passengers in cars, followed by car drivers. Meanwhile, the most frustrated class were those who moved around on transit. The researchers said part of that negative feeling might come from the fact that transit riders are more likely to be commuting to work, which is a less enjoyable task across all modes.

The authors of the study say this last finding might suggest a need to invest more in transit riders’ “emotional experience,” as opposed to frequency and travel speed. But negative feelings experienced by transit riders might well stem from the kind of headaches caused by underinvestment. And positive feelings that come with driving, to some extent, might result from the enormous expenditures that go into making that activity as convenient as possible.

  • Darren

    I would think knowing trip purpose would be important. My suspicion is that cyclists are more likely to be riding for leisure (i.e., the destination is not the reason they’re taking the trip), as opposed to drivers, who I would think are more likely to be driving for some non-leisure purpose.

  • Similar to Darren’s point, they really should have standardized this by trip purpose. For those traveling to work, are bicyclists, drivers, car passengers, pedestrians, or transit users happiest? For trips to school? Trips to the grocery store or other retail shopping? Comparing a bicyclist on their way to the park to a driver on the way to the grocery store to a transit user on the way to work leaves a lot of room for confounding factors.

  • AlexHirsch

    This headline is extremely misleading: the study failed to show any difference in happiness or elevated mood between transportation modes. Rather, it suggests that *maybe* bicycling makes you happier than other modes, but such a conclusion could not be derived from the results of this study. That’s the only conclusion that can be gained from results that are not statistically significant. Without statistical significance, slight differences in results are, by definition, insignificant.

  • mikeramsey

    Non-cyclists have difficulty conceptualizing bicycles as transportation. Let me make it clear to you; I ride to and from work each day. Commuting by bicycle makes me much “happier” than commuting by car. Car drivers should let go of the idea that cyclists are just riding for “leisure”. This contributes to the bias against cyclists as legitimate road users.

  • Dayton is a great bike town! Check out our Bike to Work Day celebration!

  • @Darren – The point is that it’s more positive whether used for commuting or leisure.

  • ladyfleur

    They don’t want to let go of that idea because they don’t want bikes to be seen as legitimate transportation. Why? Because they don’t want to give up any road space for bike lanes, they don’t want to wait to pass in a shared lane, they don’t want to have to be more careful and they don’t want to share the money it will take for separated bike lanes or trails.

  • Jesse

    That’s a good point. I just want to add though that there’s nothing illegitimate about using a public right of way for a leisure activity either. It’s shared space and everyone has a right to use it.

  • Niel McDowell

    Endorphins! Getting your body moving is bound to make you feel at least a little better. Biking to work has made me much more alert and energized in the mornings.

    Even mild-mannered people seem to get a bit more aggressive and foul-tempered when behind the wheel – I think there’s a considerable negative effect of driving.