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Miles per gallon vs. miles per latte: The case for biking

From TODAY producer Stephanie BeckerThis morning TODAY got the first look at the results of a new survey by the folks at AAA. I know them as the people who tow my car, change my flats and snake those scary jumper cables to the proper terminals. Their annual survey of the cost of driving a car averages it out to about 54 cents a mile. By the way, the first year of the survey was 1950 and the aver

From TODAY producer Stephanie Becker

This morning TODAY got the first look at the results of a new survey by the folks at AAA. I know them as the people who tow my car, change my flats and snake those scary jumper cables to the proper terminals. Their annual survey of the cost of driving a car averages it out to about 54 cents a mile. By the way, the first year of the survey was 1950 and the average cost per mile was nine cents.

You can crunch the numbers yourself by checking out the report. It's easy. While I might not know how to change my wipers, I did the math all on my own. It was one of the few times in life I've been significantly below average, not 1950 low, but low. That's why I'm making the case for biking.

Although it certainly doesn't mean that my transportation option doesn't come with its own unexpected costs. Ask Matt Lauer or Lance Armstrong.

I do own a car -- a 2003 Lunar Mist (which is a fancy way to say gray) Toyota Camry. And I'm not avoiding any of the critical factors AAA uses to calculate their findings. I do all the proper maintenance. I'm registered and I've got my scaredy-cat insurance. Although I must confess, the last time I had my car washed Brad Pitt was still a few years from Brangelina status.

I drive my car, just not much. It's not that I'm a "Little Old Lady from Pasadena." I like to think I’m that "Bicycling Babe from Burbank." Yeah, even though I live in the mecca of car culture, Los Angeles, I can't seem to shake almost a lifetime of car independence. I grew up on the subways and buses of Queens. I hoofed it to classes in college, walked to work in Manhattan. So when I transferred to L.A., I moved close enough to bike to my job. Did I mention I had to take my driver's test three times? Apparently, you automatically fail if you rear-end a tree.

My main mode of transportation is my ruby-red carbon-fiber bicycle (unimaginatively nicknamed Ruby). It was a gift from my dad for a recent birthday. The red made me nostalgic for my first red Schwinn with pink streamers. But Ruby's sleek frame and 20 gears made it much more practical to haul my older, creakier body. Ruby hasn't totally erased my vehicular needs. You certainly can't load up her up with 400 rolls of toilet paper from Costco and five-pound boxes of Grape-Nuts.

There are additional costs incurred for cycling. I've invested in several helmets, headlights, tail lights, tires and tubes (the flat rate on bicycles must be 2,000 percent higher than cars, and you can't get AAA to fix them). I've also purchased an assortment of those embarrassingly flamboyant spandex shirts. There's even more of a fashion debt to pay. I mourn the loss of several favorite pants to chain grease and cog snags.

Despite what you may think about saving on fuel costs, pedal power has its own brand of unleaded: power bars and Gigantor-size coffees, Gatorade and goo. Don't skimp on the protein powder for the uphill ride home. Your SUV’s fill-up per ounce pales in comparison to topping off my tank with an extra-foamy double-shot skinny mocha. I figure I get 15 MPL (miles per latte).

Now, as Matt Lauer can attest, there is the painful cost of cycling mishaps: trips in the ambulance, to the hospital, follow-up visits to the doctor, missed work. Perhaps my most mortifying was when I hit a parked car. Yup. I was inexplicably diverted and bounced off the back of a black (or would it be Lunar Shadow?) Camry at my cruising speed of about 12 MPH. How did that parked car appear out of nowhere?

My arm smacked my handlebar. At the time I thought it was broken. It started blowing up like a balloon. A man who'd seen me do it ran over as I lay on the ground. "Why'd you do that?" he asked. "I don't know, please call 911." I felt nauseous as he answered the operator’s questions. "She says she feels sick. She thinks she broke her arm. Yes, she's conscious." Then he paused. "She looks to be in her late 20s."

I had just turned 40. Suddenly I never felt better. I don't care what the physical cost, I thought, I would never drive again.