By on September 13, 2011

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants to get people out of their cars and start riding bikes and walking to work. Unlike LaHood, I’ve actually done 18 mile commutes on a bike, five days a week, seven months out of the year, and when I worked only 3.5 miles from home on nice days I’d sometimes walk.

Once, while doing intervals on my way to work and with my heart close to terminal rate and breathing pretty hard, contrarian that I am I wondered just how much CO2 a person puts out on a bicycle and how it compares to a car with an ICE. It turns out that it’s a non-trivial amount and it’s possible that with enough passengers a car-pool or bus filled with commuters has a smaller carbon footprint than the same amount of people riding bicycles to work.

Some said that I need to be a more focused and a more disciplined writer, that I must be more ruthless when excising or editing extra, redundant, superfluous, unnecessary, and/or gratuitous words. So I’m not here to talk about CO2, though I am here to talk about bicycles. Another of those funny thoughts occurred to me while out on the *Litespeed this morning : Are bicycles really more efficient than cars?

Bicycles are one of humans’ greatest inventions. The frame geometry of the modern “safety” bicycle (perhaps when compared to the old penny farthing high wheelers – bicycling still injures more children than any other recreational activity) hasn’t changed in 130 years. Though there have been innovations in the design of sprockets and chains, the basic drive layout, with a large front chainring driving a chain connected to a smaller sprocket on the rear hub, also hasn’t changed in over a century. Tests show that a bicycle can be up to 98.1% efficient in terms of converting energy at the pedals into forward motion.

The notion that bicycles are the most efficient form of human transportation has become a watchword among environmentalists and alternative transportation supporters. Cycling is said to be more energy efficient even than walking.

It’s true that on a kcal or btu per mile basis, a bike wins hands down over a car. A typical car with one passenger uses 50-80 times more energy to travel the same distance as an average person on a bicycle.

Energy, though, isn’t the only measure of efficiency.

What about cost?

A twenty mile round trip in a car that gets 30 MPG costs $2.00 when gasoline is $3.00/gal. According to Bicycling magazine, a 180 lb man going 12 mph burns 37.50 kcal/mile. That rises to 55.16 kcal at 19 mph. Everyone has their own comfortable speed, but let’s take 15 mph as a decent commuting speed. At that speed, a 180 pound man uses 42.13 kcal per mile. For a 20 mile commute, that’s 842.6 kcals. So how much does it cost to buy about 850 calories to fuel your body?

For the purposes of this comparison, I’ve decided to use what I call the BMI. No, not Body Mass Index, but rather the Big Mac Index. If there’s anything close to standard fare in the world, it’s a McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich. I see 540 kcals quoted as the caloric content of one standard American Big Mac (in Australia, they’re smaller). There are regional variations in price but in general, in the United States a Big Mac costs between $3.29 and $4.10. Big Macs aren’t kosher and I don’t know which part of the spectrum is most common so I’ll just take an average, $3.69.

Eight hundred forty-two point six kilocalories works out to 1.56 Big Macs. At three dollars and sixty-nine cents per, that bike rides going to cost you $5.75.

So in terms of fuel cost, it can be almost three times as expensive to ride a bike as it is to drive a car. There are cheaper bicycle fuels than Big Macs. Before Red Bull, cyclists refueled in the middle of rides with Coke. A twenty ounce Coke is 240 kcals. Those are ninety-nine cents at the corner 7-11. Fueling up with Coca Cola will still cost you three and a half bucks, 75% more than gasoline for the same commute. I suppose you could just eat refined sugar, at the world spot sugar price in September, that would only cost you about six and a half cents, but not many people are going to eat a 1/4 lb. of sugar in one seating.

So bicycles can be much less efficient in terms of fuel cost than cars. Bikes are great. Provided that nobody runs you down, they’re great fun to ride terrific exercise and can be, in some cases, a practical alternative to driving, but in terms of fuel cost, they may not save you any money.

*My bike is made of titanium and magnesium, is your car?

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127 Comments on “Is a Bicycle Really More Efficient Than a Car?...”


  • avatar
    i_godzuki

    I too find cycling not to be that cheap partly because I also prefer exotic materials, especially Ti… Indeed, since cycling to work began, I’ve spend a fortune on locks, wheels, tires etc. not to mention my customized steed.

    That said, the incremental cost of a slightly larger breakfast and lunch is nowhere near the cost of a Big Mac. I just have more toast and extra for lunch.

    Also, you gotta think of the benefits to your fitness. Being fat is pretty deadly too and potentially expensive.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Regarding the statement “The frame geometry of the modern “safety” bicycle. . .hasn’t changed in 130 years.”

    Anyone familiar with the events involving Francois Faure, Maurice Richard, the UCI and the hour record in 1933 knows the diamond frame bicycle is nothing more than a triumph of politics over engineering, supported by several large manufacturers and their desire for a monoculture market.

    • 0 avatar
      Madroc

      You don’t have to back that far. I’m old enough to remember Graeme Obree crushing the hour on a bike he cobbled together himself and being stripped of his record because that’s not how St. Eddy did it.

      • 0 avatar

        I had no idea there were this many cyclists on TTAC. I’ve been cycling for over 20 years and spent 15 years in the bike industry (trying desperately to pay for track days at Laguna Seca).

        Closest that I knew was that Baruth spent some time pedaling at a fairly serious level in his youth.

    • 0 avatar

      Bah. It is true that the best recumbent designs (even unfaired) are more aero than upright bikes, but generations of city bikes, completely unfettered by UCI rules, are virtually all based on upright riding positions.

      The current rules for road racing bikes are restrictive in many weird ways, but the result is that racing takes place on bicycles that would work pretty well for a ride across town. The awesome end-point of recumbents is represented by faired HPV record-machines like the Varna Diablo series. They are precision instruments of speed and aerodynamics, but could barely be ridden around a large parking lot, much less a normal commute. The Diablos literally can’t start or stop without assistance: they are dependent on having a crew to push the bike from a stop, and to catch the machine when it comes to a stop.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        They may be upright, but many of those city bikes are also non-compliant to the UCI’s narrow specification.

        Having seen experienced riders on SWB recumbents perform maneuvers at speed which would tax a Rigi’s ability to keep up, I find the “recumbents are only built for speed” defense to be as silly as the original UCI ruling, passed to prevent a cyclist who never won a stage race from topping the record books. Had the UCI left well enough alone and allowed competitors and manufacturers to determine what worked best overall, the cycling competition arena would be a far more interesting field than it is today. The fear of difference continues to manifest itself with specious “safety” arguments quickly trotted out to justify the exclusion of a large and growing field of cyclists whose only crime is a refusal to ride with a thinly padded rail jammed between their cheeks.

  • avatar
    fabriced28

    It should be said that the basal metabolic rate of your subject is around 70 kcal/hour (while sleeping). Any other activity, such as driving, adds to this. My view of your story is that the Big Mac being eaten anyway, at least its calories are burnt when bicycling!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure someone has said it, but this totally ignores capital and maintenance costs. In the ’80s I bicycled about 3650 miles per year, so 36,500 total. Probably about two thirds of this was commuting in the DC area. Between two bicycles that I had in that era, the first bought in ’74, the second in ’86, my capital cost was around $100/yr in today’s dollars. Maintenance costs: ~90/yr in today’s $ (tires, sprockets). I did my own work; that might have added $75 if I’d had to have it done. So, without adding in the cost of the work I did, $1900 total for $36500, or five cents per mile. The total cost for everything for my ’77 corolla which I bought in ’85 for $450 and sold for $200 was about 10 grand; I drove it 70,000 miles. So, that bargain basement car (for which I also did tuneups) cost me about 14 cents/mile.

      If you factor in my improved health from all that exercise, and the reduced amount of health care costs, it’s possible that the cycling cost nothing.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’m sure someone has said it, but this totally ignores capital and maintenance costs

        I believe that he is trying to calculate the equivalent of MPG on a bicycle. In this case, that would be energy units expended per distance traveled (calories per mile), which is a bit like the liters/ 100 km calculation.

        It depends upon how one defines “efficiency.” An engineer would define it as the ability to turn energy into work. By that measure, internal combustion pretty well sucks, because most of its energy is lost in the form of heat and is never converted into power.

        The problem is that MPG is, in many respects, not really a measure of “efficiency,” even though we tend to throw that word around a lot when referring to MPG.

        Every internal combustion vehicle is very poor in terms of mechanical efficiency. The engineering answer is very clear.

        But if you define efficiency by some other metric, then it becomes more debatable and the values can end up all over the place. For example, a Smart car is obviously vastly more “efficient” than a semi-truck when compared directly based upon fuel burned per distance traveled. But a semi-truck can also do far more work. So if we’re defining “work” as hauling around one or two people, then the Smart is more efficient by a significant factor. On the other hand, if you measure work by the need to move 10,000 pounds of produce, then a single semi is many times more efficient than is the fleet of Smart cars that would be required to haul those goods.

        In other words, the answers vary depending upon the exact question being asked. “Efficiency” is a rather vague term, so the first thing to do is to agree on a definition. And I doubt that we can even do that.

      • 0 avatar
        Matthew Sullivan

        Pch101 said:
        In other words, the answers vary depending upon the exact question being asked. “Efficiency” is a rather vague term, so the first thing to do is to agree on a definition. And I doubt that we can even do that.

    • 0 avatar
      Matthew Sullivan

      [I can’t edit my prior comment, which was incomplete. Continuing it here.]

      I was attempting to respond to this statement: “Efficiency” is a rather vague term, so the first thing to do is to agree on a definition. And I doubt that we can even do that.”

      “Efficiency” actually has a very specific definition in science: it is a unit-less ratio of input to output. Most people in day-to-day conversation incorrectly use the word “efficiency” when they mean “efficacy”. MPG is an example of efficacy.

      Mr Schreiber was clearly analyzing the fuel cost efficacy of riding a bike vs driving a car.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Efficiency” actually has a very specific definition in science

        As I noted, the mechanical definition of efficiency is quite clear. But in lay terms, it is not.

        Webster’s defines “efficient” as “productive of desired effects; especially : productive without waste”. That definition has two components: (a) productivity and (b) a lack of waste. To use that requires us to define both “productivity” and “waste.”

        That makes “efficiency” a relative measure. As noted as one example, a city car is far more “efficient” for some uses, while a semi can be far more efficient for other uses. (Try hauling a few tons’ worth of vegetables in a compact car, and see how far you get.)

        If the goal was to measure human MPG in this way, then I would have used the marginal assessment used by some others in the thread. (It’s not as if humans consume zero calories at idle.) And I probably wouldn’t have used Big Macs for my cost proxy, although that is kind of a fun tongue-in-cheek way of doing it that those among us who read The Economist might appreciate.

        But all jokes aside, the logical conclusion to reach is that they aren’t really comparable. The main costs that are usually attributable to bicycle commuting are time and safety risk, but those can vary quite a bit and might not be as high as they first appear, since just about everyone should be finding some way to fit exercise into their schedules, regardless of how they commute.

  • avatar
    Madroc

    You’re definitely overpricing calories. You’re probably also overstating the marginal caloric burn (over RMR) — most “calorie burn” figures do. That old-school Litespeed at the top of the page is pretty sweet. Whatever that thing is at the bottom of the page is an insult to road bikes everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Not to mention underpricing gas. Still, I am always a fan of TCO and true pricing. I think (in the absence of any data) that most people would look at the price of the bike vs. the car, and at best throw in gas and insurance to arrive at the cost.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Surely efficiency ratings at an environmental scale usually include the costs of production as well as maintenance. Add to that the benefits to health (lower risk for things like diabetes, heart problems, and so on with lower health care costs to boot), and I suspect one might be able to make a pretty good case for the bicycle.

  • avatar
    Michal

    I use a bicycle specifically to waste energy (otherwise known as exercise) so that energy does not end up making me fat. Do I care how much the food costs to deliver the energy? Not really. I wouldn’t eat something as expensive (yes, expensive) as a Big Mac anyway. On a kilojoules per dollar basis it’s a poor performer. Coca Cola is likewise a pricey way to get energy.

    If food to power a bicycle is more expensive than the fuel to power your car then you have one of two problems: your food is ridiculously expensive or your fuel is far too cheap.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    For the past 15 years, I’ve commuted by bicycle 5 days a week, unless there is a steady down pour of rain. It’s my only real exercise.

    Another, big plus is being able to park in my office versus using the distant car garage, that charges.

    A final observation, if Ray La Hood is going to get preachy with respect to bicycling, then he needs to lead by example. Words are cheap.

  • avatar
    Watdabni

    Even if your calculations ( about the costs of a Big Mac against fuel) are correct, it does not show whether a bike is more or less efficient than a car. That calculation only took into account the immediate, visible costs. However there are many other hidden costs which must be taken into account before an accurate calculation can be made, principally the costs of the car and the bike together with maintenance and insurance of both. Also our motorist also has to eat or he would not have the energy to drive! Environmentally it is also necessary to take into account the energy used and emissions released in manufacturing each vehicle. My suspicion is that, once all those costs are compared, a bike is likely to be shown as being vastly more efficient than any car.

  • avatar
    Mathias

    The cost of energy consumed through biking is really not a good metric… look around your fellow Americans, and you’ll realize they could burn a lot of ‘fuel’ before extra BigMacs are needed.
    “Take THAT, Cleveland!” (H.J.Simpson)

    “Cycling is said to be more energy efficient even than walking.”

    It is not “said to be” it “is” more efficient than walking, not by percents, but several times so. Of course it is — once someone has built a more or less flat road. On asphalt, at low speeds, it’s ridiculously efficient, since you just have to keep going. Walking is not very efficient at all — running is somewhat better — but it’s a great way to get across rough terrain.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to convince us of.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “I’m not sure what you’re trying to convince us of.”

      He’s probably aware of most of these things, but likely want to spark a little discussion.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Don’t forget the author’s parenthetical comment that cycling causes kids’ injuries. In a vacuum that sounds bad, but when compared to the fact that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the US for people up to the age of 34, it looks very different.

      The main problem I have with articles like this is that they point out one small factor (in this case, the cost of Big Macs) and imply a much larger trend (the efficiency of bicycles). If efficiency is measured in $$$, then at the very least, the largest contributors should be evaluated. Bikes cost less to buy, cost less to maintain, and cost less to fix/repair. As already noted, bikes require less infrastructure cost & maintenance. They cause less property/casualty damage, and so insurance is not required. Also, the fuel for bicycles can be 100% domestically produced, which saves foreign policy costs. Also previously noted is the marginal costs associated with bicycles are not correctly counted–most Americans would need to consume zero additional calories to use a bicycle; therefore, the actual fuel costs would be zero.

      In the mid ’90s, I remember seeing a Trek that came with a free–yes, FREE–VW Jetta. (The bike did cost $14k, though.)

      • 0 avatar
        Damon Romano

        “…most Americans would need to consume zero additional calories to use a bicycle; therefore, the actual fuel costs would be zero.”

        Put another way, you’re saying that the human engine idles constantly, leading to huge wastes in “fuel”. I agree. I propose that we only allow people to eat in service of bicycle-riding. Only then can we approximate the ICE engine that uses fuel (for the most part) only when it’s actually doing work.

        We could reduce the surplus population, end corn subsidies, and

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        No, I think he’s saying that many human engines consume more fuel than they use. The people doing the consuming could simply counter, of course, by claiming that the excess fuel is not being wasted, but is being ‘stored’ as reserve.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Your statement that most Americans would need to consume zero extra calories is not true. The added energy requirement to have 30 pounds of extra heft is much lower than bicycling 7 miles

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        charly, there are two holes in your statement:
        1. the “added energy requirement to have 30 pounds of extra heft” is actually a power term, while the energy requirement of biking 7 mi is an energy/work term. To equate them, you must instead consider the length of time that 30 lbs must be carried. For a person biking 7 mi twice a day, you are certainly right, but is that still true if he bikes only twice a week?
        2. Your statement doesn’t factor in the fact that the human engine is not constant in its output. It will idle at a higher power rate when given more fuel, and at a lower rate when given less. Similarly, the engine will adapt to the applied load requirements. If activity levels are not dramatically altered (such as riding a bike occasionally), and they make no changes to their diet, they may experience no effect on their weight. This fact is played out by the difficulty people have losing weight.

  • avatar
    cvarrick

    The reasoning fails to account for many of the societal and extrinsic costs of car culture.

    What is the cost to build and maintain the public road system?

    What is the cost of the ~40,000 lives lost in automobile accidents annually?

    What is the cost of the health problems related to ingestion of ICE exhaust?

    I could go on but you get the idea…

    Poor societies ride bikes, rich societies drive cars, draw your own conclusions about which is more efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      Advo

      Rich societies are, obviously. They can even more efficient, by quite a bit, if proper pricing of road use was instituted.

      It doesn’t mean car ownership is necessarily going to go down. Nobody has to drive to get around in Singapore or Hong Kong, yet the demand for cars there is so high the government wants to severely limit the numbers there.

      If it happened in North America, you’d probably get less car usage. It would be hard to implement that sort of system gradually to lessen the economic impact/shock of suddenly having to change a way of living based on spread-out living and car commuting. Who knows how exactly things would work out, though. Maybe people will value more highly going out for drives as their leisure entertainment and the roads out-of-town will be full of city-dwellers out for a weekend drive.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, his reasoning for this article fails at an even more localized point. You simple cannot JUST include fuel costs when measuring per mile costs of a car. You need to include ongoing insurance and maintenance costs as well.

  • avatar
    Michal

    The article’s author has started a discussion and no doubt knows he used some tortured logic and statistics to make a car look more efficient (cheaper) than a bicycle at transporting one human. This is a car web site so I can understand the bias.

    Some people will go to great lengths to support an obviously incorrect opinion by looking at it from one angle. I once got into a debate over whether fast food was cheaper than making it yourself. My point was that despite bulk discounts for ingredients at restaurants, it was cheaper to get a hamburger’s ingredients yourself and make it. My opponent stated ‘but I can’t buy one pickle, I need to buy a whole jar for $2. Likewise with meat, I can’t buy 100g I need to buy a kilo. By the time I’m done just gathering the ingredients I’ve spent $20 to make a $5 burger’. Of course that was missing the point that those ingredients could make 10 burgers. ‘But I don’t want 10 burgers, I want 1’ comes the reply. And so on. Any position can be defended by selectively looking at its parts and coming to a conclusion.

    • 0 avatar

      The odometer on my cyclocomputer rolled over this summer. That means I’ve ridden at least 10,000 miles since I last reset it. I probably have about 30K miles on my Litespeed. I hardly have a pro-car bias.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I probably have about 12,500 miles on my bicycle, by which I mean I have 12,500 miles on my front wheel, fork, handlebars, crank arms, front chain rings, and rear derailleur. EVERYTHING else has been replaced at least once, some components as many as 8 times. Efficiency only has one real measure, and the cost per mile of my car is a tiny frantion of the cost per mile of my bicycle. It will remain that way until some totalitarian raises the cost of driving cars and lowers all of our standards of living. This will kill the people just hanging on, much as our ethanol requirements and subsidies are starving the poor in other countries. Central planning is inherently evil.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The bicycle is extremely efficient. It’s the human engine on it that needs improvement.

    Ronnie, you might look at the marginal energy consumption, rather than the total energy consumption. People burn calories sitting still. I seem to recall it’s in the neighborhood of 20-30% of the total energy consumed for your 15mph rider. For me, a 12mph person, it’s likely closer to 50%.

    If you want an arrangement that uses cheap input energy extremely efficiently, get an electric bike, preferably with regenerative braking (this is available nowadays).

    On the other hand, the energy input for the human engine is 100% renewable.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      +1. I like the analysis, but you have to use comparable conditions for cycling vs. driving. Start by just comparing the marginal cost of the extra food required for cycling instead driving vs. the extra fuel to drive a car for the same trip.

      I would argue car ownership is an essential part of being an adult in the US so cycling doesn’t reduce fixed costs of registration and insurance. College students and urban hipsters can live a car free life, but once you start the adult life of career and family, you need a car so you can work the overtime to move up in the world. If you want a family and kids, you need to live in the edge suburbs where houses are new and kids from new home owners swamp out the population of apartment kids. Discovering that my old suburban neighborhood with a short commute might as well be in the hood when you look at the elementary school student demographics. Over 40% lack English proficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      Damon Romano

      The “human engine” is renewable? I guess so, but then I have to procreate, and that is guaranteed to play merry hell with the cost-to-manufacture and lifetime fuel metrics. Do you have any idea how many (petroleum-sourced) disposable diapers I’d have to use before my replacement engine is able to produce its own bicycle power? Five years?

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        “The “human engine” is renewable?”

        Not quite. I think what he actually said was “the energy input for the human engine” is renewable.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I think what he actually said was “the energy input for the human engine” is renewable

        I don’t see how anyone could eat a Big Mac and believe such a thing.

        And what’s the half-life of a Twinkie? It’s gotta be at least a century or so.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        I think what he actually said was “the energy input for the human engine” is renewable.

        Soylent Green is PEOPLE!

        Twinkies, on the other hand, are probably more petrochemical than gasoline is these days.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        what’s the half-life of a Twinkie?
        7 years

        Twinkies, on the other hand, are probably more petrochemical than gasoline is these days.
        One of their ingredients is essentially food-grade plaster of paris.

    • 0 avatar
      Wulv

      Exactly, you have to add the energy consumed by the human driving the car as well. If as you say it is 30% of the rider, then you are still looking at Half a Big Mac at least added by the driver.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    A Big Mac? No no no, Dollar Menu!

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Just to make more of a discussion, I would like to mention that up until the last two years most of my old used cars cost less then a new bike….

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    Interesting article for me as I get ready to ride my bike to work! It’s about 10 miles each way for me, I ate an extra piece of toast for breakfast, not sure what that cost but it would be much less than a Big Mac.

    For me, the big advantage of biking is not so much cost, but using otherwise wasted time for exercise. I also like riding my bike, and there’s always plenty of free parking for bicycles.

  • avatar
    Advo

    I wish I was 180 pounds! After a couple of years back at college again, studying very hard and eating a lot of junk food, I finally decided to start cycling this summer to lose weight.

    It’s going to be about time management for me as well. I need the exercise, and I don’t have the time or inclination to go to the college gym and then commute when riding a bike will cut the time I take to do both by half.

    I will absolutely not take main roads with heavy car traffic. I’ve lost someone I was close to by being hit by a car while crossing the street, so I know first-hand how dangerous cycling can be.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    We buy our automobile fuel at a drive-through, so it is a fair comparison to use drive-through food for bicycle fuel.

    The comparison probably gets more favorable if we use the ubiquitous Starbuck’s espresso drink and scone breakfast.

    I wonder how a 130-mile drive through the Alps would match up in fuel costs between a Ferrari 458 and a Tour De France athlete’s 7500 calorie intake.

    Zykotec: Just as a used car is smart way to spend your money, a used bike can be had for pennies on the dollar and give you many years of commuting. A lot of serious bicycle commuters avoid the higher end gear in favor of durability.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry Ronnie, this article is off—way off.

    You see, the bicycle has no insurance costs, and has comparatively very minor maintenance costs. Which means that your cost calculations should be somewhat correct for the bicycle, but not at all correct for the car. Because the car has ongoing required costs attributed to it, you cannot separate costs such as insurance or maintenance from the cost of fuel. Yes, one can be directly related to distance, but the other costs are always present for any amount of use as well.

    Taking the AAAs numbers on total operational cost of a vehicle per mile, at 52.2cents/mile, that 20 mile commute costs $10.44, not $2.00. So, your conclusion is off, as it costs quite a bit more to drive the car.

    You can argue that it just comes down to the cost of fuel, but it doesn’t. Fuel is but one cost in the game of owning and operating a car, whereas it is often the ONLY cost when using a bicycle.

    Nice try though.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Yeah, this. When I was poor I saved an assload of money by bicycling everywhere and not owning a car. Insurance, registration, repairs, parking (parking!). This is even after factoring in stuff like the price of a cold-weather outfit suitable for biking in the winter.

      Of course, I ate a hell of a lot cheaper than a Big Mac for every meal, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Realistic rundown of the cost of bicycle commuting:

      You can buy a good, refurbished road bicycle (something that’s steel framed, 10-21 speed, dating back to the 70’s or 80’s) for about $125.00. That’s what I’m selling them for on Richmond’s Craiglist.

      Add another $75.00 for fenders, rack(s), and panniers. Which gives to a $200.00 bike that’ll cover you for the next 5-10 years assuming it doesn’t get wrecked or stolen.

      Maintenance costs: You’ll probably go thru one set of tyres per year (YMMV, of course) which will probably average out to about $40.00. Assuming you have a couple of flats per season and prefer to swap out your tubes rather than patch, there’s another $10.00. Cables, spokes, etc. give out very seldom (barring accident) and are negligible expenses on a year by year basis.

      Fuel: This gets difficult, because whether you bicycle, walk or drive a car to work, you’re going to have to eat breakfast and lunch. As I personally don’t bother to eat any of that expensive energy stuff sold in cycling shops. If there’s an increase in my grocery expenses due to my daily cycling (admittedly, I only cycle one day a week to work, as its a 44 mile round trip), I haven’t noticed.

      So, in conclusion, starting from scratch you’re looking at $200 and up for a bicycle, $50.00 a year for maintenance needs (plus shop labor if you’re not doing your own work – seriously, if you can maintenance your own car, you can certainly do your own bicycle), and negligible extra for food.

      $250.00 for the first year, $50.00 a year thereafter in running costs. Add an additional $250.00 to that first year cost if you MUST have a new bicycle to start.

      C’mon Ronnie, you show me the car that can match that, and I’ll be in line to buy it this afternoon.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Since most of us already comsume more fuel than we burn,the marginal cost of any needed additional fuel is very low. In fact, in America at least, millions of Americans pay money to ride bikes at a gym that don’t even move. If you remove that cost, it becomes even cheaper.

    That said, I live 3.5 miles from work and would never ride my bike? Why? 1. no sidewalks or bike lanes and significant truck traffic. I’d probably be killed. 2. I need to carry a laptop back and forth. 3. I may be called to my HQ office 16 miles north at any time. 4. Outside Boston, it is often cold, wet, snowy or too hot, especially in wool suit pants and a dress shirt.

    If there was a safe route, I’d try it on nice days.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Slance, that’s my issue…I only have a five mile commute to work, and would dearly love to ride a bike most days…except for that major, five lanes of traffic monster that makes up the last 1.5 miles of my drive. Since there is no bike lane, I’m not sure I’m up for the suicide ride every day. We don’t have the infrastructure set up to be conducive to anything but automobile traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        From experience, bicycling on major urban roads is actually safer than empty rural ones.

        For one, the cars are going slower, the drivers are more aware of the congestion around them and, frankly, more used to seeing cyclists. On empty rural or suburban streets they’re not paying attention. At all.

        When I lived in Toronto I got cut off by drivers making right turns and opening doors, or pedestrians jaywalking. It hurt, but it wasn’t life-threatening. I’ve been run into the ditch outside Bobcaygeon by the wake of a pickup truck doing 120km/h and that scared the hell of out of me, as well as chased by farm dogs when I was a youngster. I’m very glad I don’t live in the sticks any longer. Suburban areas are probably the worst of both worlds: a lot of traffic, but none of it paying any attention to the road. I’m nervous walking around the industrial area where our major office is.

      • 0 avatar
        Neb

        Speed differential is the critical thing when bikes and cars mix. If it’s small (like downtown TO) then it works just fine. If it’s big, like on a rural road, watch out. This applies to pedestrians as well.

  • avatar
    THEEVILDRSIN

    this article only covers one aspect of efficiency – fuel efficiency.
    What about cost efficiency vs car over one year, 5 years, lifetime of ownership?
    Initial (sunk) cost, maintenance, insurance, etc.
    Just talking about fuel efficiency is deceptive. It’s like saying a $50K car that gets 50mpg is more efficient than a $5K used car that gets 30 mpg.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    If you really wanted to “dis” bicycles, you should have talked safety.

    Bicycles are far more dangerous than cars, and this is true whether you measure safety by deaths per passenger/rider journey, deaths per passenger/rider mile, or deaths per passenger/rider hour.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_safety

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Not sure that Ronnie, who confesses to being a biker, is trying to ‘dis’ bicycles. As a fellow rider, I enjoy the discussion. As to safety, there’s a parallel with the above mentions of basal metabolism: being sedentary has a health risk too. Call me crazy, but I’d rather die in the saddle than clutching a remote. It’d be interesting to see what the numbers suggest one should do.

    • 0 avatar

      Cycling is the most dangerous sporting activity in the US. More people are injured riding bikes than with any other sporting activity. Most of those people are children, but plenty of adults get hurt on bikes.

      The most dangerous thing a cyclist (pedal or motor) can do is go through an intersection on a green light? How is that, you say. Because drivers making a right turn don’t see the cyclist and either hit them or turn into their path.

      I’ve had three bike-car collisions and two of them involved a driver passing me and then turning into my path.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Well at least they’re a lot safer than motorcycles. If you think safety is so important and you believe those statistics I guess you’ll be taking the bus from now on!

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      If bikes really are more dangerous, then why are no insurance policies required?

      I’ve known multiple people who’ve died because of cars, yet I don’t know any that have died or been permanently injured because of a bicycle (except when struck by a car). Sure, that is anecdotal, and it is skewed due to the how much people drive compared to biking.

      The info in that wiki article does not paint a full picture–from it we could conclude that walking is dangerous and deadly. But I am left wondering how one dies from walking–heart attack maybe, attacked by a bear, fall off a bridge, hit by a car, etc. Clearly, there is something lacking in that data.

      • 0 avatar
        OldandSlow

        Your definitely more likely to be injured on a bicycle than a car during a commute.

        I have experienced two crashes during the past 15 years. Both were happened during inclement weather. Both were my fault – even the one which a car made a left turn in front of me. In each case, I was riding too fast for the road conditions.

        Needless to say, I’m now a bit gun shy on rainy days.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If bikes really are more dangerous, then why are no insurance policies required?

        Because (a) cyclists don’t require licenses and (b) insurance requirements are dictated by the social costs of third-party liability. It’s highly unlikely that a cyclist can total out a car in a 2+ vehicle accident or cause significant property damage in a single-vehicle accident. The cost exposure to those who are third parties to the cyclist is fairly low.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        (a) cyclists don’t require licenses
        No, that’s not it. And besides, they don’t need licenses because of (b)

        (b) insurance requirements are dictated by the social costs of third-party liability
        ‘Social costs’ are determined in large part not by property damage, but by human life. Medical costs & loss of life (and the extended costs associated with that, e.g., loss of business productivity, loss of support for family) far exceed the cost of a new car or even the cost of repairing a building. When cars hit things, a lot of damage occurs, including loss of life; when bikes hit things, much less happens.

        Fault is not the driving factor of danger–it doesn’t matter who’s at fault when a bike & car collide–the cyclist loses. But what about the same scenario, but replace the car with another bike? There’s much less danger. Same thing with a pedestrian being hit by a car v. a bike. Such an analysis yields the car has greater overall risk (not just to its user), thus more danger, and thus a requirement for insurance. Eliminate the intersection of the car & bike (or car and pedestrian), and what happens to those statistics?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        ‘Social costs’ are determined in large part not by property damage, but by human life

        You asked about insurance. Insurance policies place monetary values on both people and property.

        The point remains is that cyclists can’t inflict much damage onto third parties, and it is those costs that lead states to impose insurance mandates on car drivers. A driver isn’t required by the government to get insurance to repair his own damages, but to remedy the losses that he inflicts upon others. Since the cyclist’s main cost exposure is self-inflicted, their mistakes don’t create much of an insurance problem for the government to worry about.

  • avatar

    How much is a used bike,

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Depends on your market (of course). I the Richmond, VA area (rather cycling neutral) a good, clean basic road bike that can be used for daily commuting will run you between $100-150.00. This will get you a 70’s (bike boom) ten-speed, or an ’80’s mountain bike that you can replace the knobbies with street tyres.

      If you’re talking Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle or any other such bicycle friendly (verging on mandatory) locations, double the above price.

      If you’re living in a college area where the fixed gear (fixie) craze has taken hold, forget about finding a used bike at a reasonable price. Those idiots have already paid way more than that for what’s available. Just go to a local bike shop and look at a 21/24-speed hybrid in the $300-500.00 range.

  • avatar
    rzanini

    By coincidence, I was reading about cycling efficiency elsewhere just as this article came up. Interesting discussion. I’ll contribute a bit of someone else’s opinion I just read and found relevant enough to share:

    “Cycling is a means of transport, a form of recreation and a sport. It’s the most efficient form of transport on the planet.

    Some people have, through creative accounting, tried to show that cycling is as “polluting” as a small, economical family car, but this is essentially sophistry as it includes all the CO2 emitted by the cyclist but ignores the fact that most people need to breathe anyway, that the growing and consumption of food is more or less carbon neutral (give or take the cost of transport, which also applies to oil of course), and that the distance travelled per unit effort expended is greater than for any other mode of transport.”

    (from: http://www.chapmancentral.co.uk/wiki/Cycling )

    Also interesting:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency_in_transportation (bike estimate: 732MPG!)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_performance (with extra nerdy calculations for the discerning gearhead)

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Timely article as I suit up for my ride to work!

    I think you’re overestimating the calorie cost. Realistically it’s just going to be a bump in portion size- When cycling I get 4 or 5 days out of a box of wheaties vs. my normal 7 or 8. My yogurt intake is the same.

    And you’re radically underpricing cars. For one, almost nobody is going to be getting optimal mileage during their commute if they live in an urban area. That 30mpg car is probably getting more like 20 from all that traffic. And of course what percentage of the price of car ownership is gas? Insurance, maintenance, and of course the biggie, depreciation.

    That said I don’t ride to work for economic reasons. Or high minded environmental reasons. I just like it.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t this a Volkswagen ad about 20 years ago?

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      I recall such an ad for a Diesel Rabbit. It seemed that the Rabbit could go from Boston to Cape Cod fueled by diesel far cheaper than a runner could get there fueled by Big Macs.

  • avatar

    FWIW, it’s possible that my math is off. This was just a back of the envelope calculation. If you have more accurate info on respiration, I’ll be happy to consider that my sums are off.

  • avatar

    If you live in a bicycle-friendly city, such as mine, the dangers inherent in riding a bike are greatly reduced.
    Having said so, the cardiovascular health benefits of cycling are well-proven, and they keep you out of hospital. Anyone in the medical trade will tell you that hospitals are insanely wasteful places.
    I might also make the semi-jocular comment that cycling causes infertility, so cycle-commuting also helps out with the population crisis.

    Let me chime in here and say that I ride Mon-Fri so that I can drive something interesting and semi-inefficient on the weekends without too much of a guilty conscience. I could be one of the hundreds of single-passenger commuters in a Hybrid, but this is better: single car family.

    • 0 avatar
      snakeboat

      Indeed, I commute year-round 30 miles a day here in Denver. That being said, there’s an old M3 in the garage to get me into the hills to ride on the weekend. Priorities.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    When looking at TCO, don’t ignore the cost of roads for cyclists. Cyclists could make do with narrower roads that aren’t as tough and bridges that aren’t as strong but commuting on mud trails is not going to be a lot of fun.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    So you add 5.75 for BMI
    Subtract 2 for fuel
    Subtract 3 for car’s wear and tear at 15 cents a mile
    Subtract 2 for daily gym membership fee
    Subtract 4 for that drink you are going to skip after work
    Add 2 for good jacket/pants daily cost
    Add 2 for extra laundry/dry cleaning
    Add 1 for daily bike’s wear and tear

    Fussy math.

    Bike tech – Milano’s bike share has bikes with driveshafts and 3 speed in-hub gears.
    Trek Soho has belt drive and in-hub gears.

    Biking is harder, but it is not harder than staring at fellow passengers on the bus/train for an hour, smelling them, sharing their bacteria and viruses.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Biking is harder, but it is not harder than staring at fellow passengers on the bus/train for an hour, smelling them, sharing their bacteria and viruses.

      I got sick a lot less when I started biking in the winter instead of taking the subway. I suspect this is why.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    I’ll just add that I wish my commute was 10-15 miles closer, and that my town had a climate where it was less than 100 or greater than 30 degrees for more than 1/2 a year.

    I’m surprised that there isn’t more anti-cycling animus on this thread, which is refreshing. That said bicycler’s choice of garb is 100% responsible for the bike-hate. Nobody wants to see man-ass when they’re trying to get home from a long day of work.

    All LaHood needs to do to encourage alternative transport is outlaw spandex.

    Edit: whoah, greater than/less than signs getting eaten. HTTP can be downright evil sometimes.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      That said bicycler’s choice of garb is 100% responsible for the bike-hate.

      No, it’s the fact that cyclists routinely run stop signs and generally ride irresponsibly while simultaneously feigning moral superiority. They’re absolutely tedious.

      As if they aren’t bad enough on their own, some of them go even further by banding together to do their Critical Mass annoyance rides. They ride on all sides of the street, cork intersections and generally make a nuisance of themselves, all while making an enormous racket.

      It almost makes me want to hug an SUV driver. Well, almost.

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        I refuse to rise to any of the above bait.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        No, it’s the fact that cyclists routinely run stop signs and generally ride irresponsibly while simultaneously feigning moral superiority. They’re absolutely tedious

        As a cyclist…. I have to agree. There are a lot of very tedious, very self-righteous advocacy organizations that don’t do themselves any favours. I quit ARC in Toronto because I couldn’t stomach it.

        I’ve met some spectacularly awful cyclists as well, mostly couriers, but a few recreational people as well. I’ve met some bad drivers, but as a percentage they’re nowhere near.

        It’s very simple: ride in file, signal, act predictably and be evident. Don’t ride on the sidewalk and the road alternately, don’t cut off cars, don’t assume right of way when the rules say you don’t have it, and don’t resort to violence. And, for goodness, sake, don’t get angry and talk about how cars are bad and cyclists are hurt when someone suggests mandatory helmets, stop at stopsigns and/or not mow down pedestrians. It doesn’t endear anyone to your cause, and offends the middle-of-the-road people whose support you need.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        I will rise to the bait-

        Disclaimer: I don’t bicycle in my free time, nor do I commute (although I think it would be nice to be able to do both.)

        * When a cyclist runs a stop sign, I’ve got no more problem than when I see a motorist take a rolling stop. Unless you’re cutting me off in either situation, don’t care. Life: too short.

        * I could care less about lifestyle choices/smugness. Besides, for every 1 bicyclist maneuvering to make overtaking impossible, I encounter eleventy billion 3+ ton soccer-mom transports floating in the passing lane. Do I feel superior to the average SUV driver? No, just the ones who can’t stay in the right lane or park their vehicle worth a damn.

        * I am one of the 99.99% of motorists who has never encountered a Critical Mass protest. Sounds annoying, but I’ve been stuck in NASCAR traffic, and don’t hold it against the D-3/Toyota.

        The only beef I have with cyclists is when, after a long business day, I’m on a commuter road and there is a pack of them, 2-deep, obstructing my path to the nearest cold beverage, AND I am subjected to being stuck behind man-ass. Not cool.

        Again, spandex: not cool.

      • 0 avatar
        bakrantz

        Man I have seen poor behavior from cars, bikes, motorcycles mainly, and pedestrians. But since cars are the majority of things I see they do some crazy things at stop signs red lights and passing lanes imho.

        I ride to avoid cars and I always expect a car to run a red light. It is like clockwork and every one that drives knows that cars run red lights daily like perfectly predictable clockwork.

      • 0 avatar
        spinjack

        As an avid cyclist, I also get annoyed by irresponsible cyclists. Riding two (or more) abreast on a busy road. Running stop signs and then giving dirty looks when drivers with the right of way pull out in front of them. Etc.

        However, irresponsible motorists drive me crazy as well. I assume all motorists are both blind and very stupid.

        But, don’t let the idiocy of a very cyclists ruin things for the rest of us. People are people, whether they are on a bike or in a car.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        It is worth pointing out that in TX at least, cyclists riding two-abreast is specifically PERMITTED by the law.
        TX Transportation Code Sec. 551.103 (c)

        I cannot say whether other states have a similar law.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Commuters do not wear spandex. Commuters wear whatever is comfortable on both the commute, and on the job.

      Those folks you see wearing spandex are out for recreational riding, serious workouts, or just trying to fit an image.

      For the record, I wear both. Depending on whether I’m riding to get somewhere, or riding just for the fun of laying down 30 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        bomberpete

        Can we get a little perspective here? There are plenty of annoying cyclists who ride two or more abreast, blow red lights or ride against traffic.

        On the other hand, every day I encounter taxis, limos, SUVs and senior buses whose maneuvers could kill pedestrians, passengers and me. How are cyclists more dangerous than that?

        As for the spandex stereotype, it’s complete BS if we’re talking about commuting. My round-trip is 10 miles and I’m often in regular business-wear offices. Now that fall is coming, I plan to ride to work looking quite dashing in my Albert Nipon double=breasted and Bostonian shoes.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        For biking I wear spandex/coolmax because I sweat so much cotton gets soaked pretty quickly. It doesn’t look good, is overpriced, and I hate the feel of it – but it’s functional.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Some commuters do wear cycling clothes (not sure what it’s made of) and change when they get to the office. One of my colleagues does this.

    • 0 avatar

      Why the hate on Spandex? I always wear bike shorts (sometimes under sweats in cooler weather). You wear bike shorts to keep from chafing your private parts.

  • avatar
    crackers

    If we are going to consider the relative efficiency of cars and bicycles strictly in monetary terms, how much is your time worth? Since many of us are very busy people, we tend to put a high value on our discretionary time, and the extra time spent cycling is very expensive. Of course, if your discretionary choice is to cycle, the cost is much more reasonable.

    • 0 avatar

      This is true on longer trips, of course, but most car trips in the United States are under 2 miles in duration IIRC. A bicycle is no slower than a car in those conditions. In fact, bicycles are as fast as cars on any trip of less than 5 kms (3 miles), plus no time is lost in looking for parking spaces or sitting traffic jams. In downtown Washington, DC, I could actually outwalk cars due to all the traffic lights. Of course, you have to add in the time a cyclist needs to dry off after getting caught in a rainstorm into the equation!

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      It depends how far you live and park from work. I live a mile and half from work. Traffic moves at 30 mph, tops during my commute – even slower during the afternoon. 15 mph is tops going home on Fridays, because of the gridlock.

      The closest parking garage to my office is three blocks away. Traffic around the garage is usually at grid-lock speed. Then there is the search for a space, which is usually on the 3rd or 4th level. After taking the elevator down to street level, there is a three block volksmarch to the office.

      In my case, a bicycle takes me directly to my office in about 5 minutes less time. Plus, I save the annual $450 parking fee that my employer charges to use the garage – which only about a $1.50 a day.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Crackers – excellent point. Technological progress is often driven by convenience so that we can do other things, just as the bicycle is far more convenient that walking.

        OldandSlow, when I was in college, it was faster to commute the ~4 mi by bike than bus or car, not because of traffic, but because of access. Driving required going far out of the way as well as walking a considerable distance from the parking spot to my destination.

    • 0 avatar
      bakrantz

      If you go to the Gym, then you know the answer to your question. You time is not worth squat if you try to get exercise.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      That’s fine, except many of the same people who put such a high value on their time will then go out and pay for a membership to their gym (when they could easily have gotten their exercise and saved some money by bicycling or walking and such).

      • 0 avatar
        Advo

        It may be more a matter of safety or perceived safety that concerns them.

        Bad weather, like in winter, can motivate them to stay indoors.

        You can also do things other than just exercise on a stationary bike or stair master. Entertain yourself at the same time by watching videos or reading TTAC on portable internet devices.

  • avatar

    I really enjoyed this commentary, and the thoughtful remarks by posters which are so opposite to the knee-jerk anti-cycling comments seen so often on-line. I live in a large German city and rely on excellent public transit mostly, although I rent cars from time to time. I ride a bicycle on the weekends and during holidays. When I am back in Canada, the public transit is hopeless so I drive but I still ride when I can as well. So cars and bicycles each have their advantages in my life.

    However, I think that Ronnie Schreiber has made a few mistakes in his calculations. First of all, the CO2 exhaled by cyclists is recycled from the ambient air so it is carbon-neutral, unlike the emissions from engines that burn fossil fuels which are new releases of CO2. So to suggest that a loaded car-pool car might have less of a CO2 output that a cyclist is simply incorrect.

    Secondly, a person on a bicycle is considered the most efficient transportation unit in existence, surpassing even streamlined-salmon in terms of output per calorie burned. Of course, the more a cyclist rides, the more efficient that person becomes at expending energy.

    I agree with the posters who feel that the Big Mac as a calorie-source is a poor example given its extremely high cost compared to 500 Kcals of oatmeal or four bananas. The quality of the McDonald’s fuel is poor as well, with a high concentration of difficult-to-access fat. Tour de France riders aren’t eating this kind of thing and fresh produce, simple pasta and fruits and cheaper than highly-processed foods loaded with bad stuff.

    Another examination of efficiency was done here:
    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/advocacy/bike_co2.htm

    Although the article was written when oil was $14/bbl (Wow!), it still stands up. The author basically says that a bicycle is 50 times as efficient as an economy car in terms of energy usage.

    Many posters have also commented about the environmental impact of cycling and safety issues but Mr. Schreiber’s focus was on efficiency and I think the case has been made for bicycles. Plus they are fun to ride and fun to work on as well!

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I wonder if the majority of bicyclists would support added taxes on bikes, helmets, spandex, and other bicycle accessories to pay for the bike trails they’re always wanting?

    • 0 avatar
      bakrantz

      I wonder if people driving on roads and bridges would be willing to pay an extra 100% increase in the gasoline tax to pay for the roads and bridges they consume. You gotta walk the walk to talk the talk imho when you make these statements.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      About as well as a tea party member will support any new taxes. Actually, less well. If commuter cyclists have any political disadvantage, it’s because they’re so used to piggy backing on the facilities built for automobiles, that they’ll automatically reject the thought that they should pay for ANYTHING.

      And there’s one of the basics of why a lot of car drivers hate cyclists. They’re getting it for free.

      • 0 avatar

        Of course, there is the myth that car drivers actually pay for roads. Registration fees, gasoline taxes etc. come nowhere near doing this so roads are paid for out of general revenues, meaning that anyone paying tax (sales taxes, income taxes, capital taxes, property taxes) is already paying for the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I absolutely would support a targeted tax for bike lanes & trails so long as it was used for that purpose. The fact is that lanes and trails cost very little, so the tax would also be very little. (Truth is that many trails are built and maintained by cyclists on their spare time and with their own supplies and money. I have no doubt that those who are into riding would not hesitate to pay a couple bucks if it meant they could actually use the bike they just purchased.)

      Also, if drivers who hate cyclists realized that it would get ‘rid’ of them (meaning that drivers would not have to ever see or deal with a cyclist again), they might not be upset by it, either.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        And, unfortunately, you’ve got troublemakers like me who believe that we already have sufficient bike paths. They’re called streets. And unless a bikepath gave me a clear cut distance advantage, I’d still probably use the street.

        And no, traffic doesn’t bother me. Since the late 60’s I’ve long developed my own riding habits that keeps the number of dangerous occurrences to a reasonable minimum.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I would enjoy pouring added monies into a fund to improve and increase bicycle access throughout the city, but not at the minimums most trails and paths are built to. Make certain the lanes can support 3-abreast riding, to facilitate passing while traffic is moving in both directions, and use cruiser bike longhorn handlebars as the width factor and not the cramped rams-horn handlebars; the steering bar on my ‘bent ensures I need at least four feet of clearance to safely navigate.

  • avatar
    bakrantz

    The truth about food. Most people waste about 50% of their food. Also most of the calories we burn occur whether we drive, walk, ride a bike or gaze the stars.

    So I did a sample calc. Your average bike goes at about 100 W of power to go a normal safe speed. I estimate from the Joule content of gasoline and the average MPG of city driving of 20 MPG (which is typical for stop and go traffic) that a bicycle uses 200-fold less energy than driving a car.

    Other fixed costs for parking, insurance, fees and repairs as well as capital costs and depreciation compare similarly for cars relative to bikes — well into the 100-fold more expensive range.

    Finally, exercise should be part of your life, paying for it at a gym versus riding your bike is well kind of crazy. Drive to gym for 10 miles and then bike on a fixed device for 1 hour. Then go home. Well I can do all that with my 6 mile each way (12 mile total) commute on a bicycle.

    BTW. I use a bike manufactured in 1994. How many cars from 1994 are still in service? I also figure my bike has only depreciated about 50% of its value. What is the average depreciation of a car?

    No comparison in resources, money or energy consumption.

    A great analysis was already done: http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~ulrich/documents/ulrich-cycling-enviro-jul06.pdf
    In that report, people that exercise and drive cars use on average 14 GJ/yr more energy than those riding bikes for exercise.

  • avatar
    heaventree

    The costs does not accurately calculate the true expense of the car trip — it’s not just the cost of the gas

    1.) As usual, when computing the cost of gasoline the retail price is used instead of the actual unsubsidized price (ie, the hidden costs of military support needed to secure supplies, environmental costs of oil production itself, environmental waste costs, including used oil disposal, gas station brown sites, cost of police force to monitor car speed, hospital and emergency services costs for high accident/serious injury and death ratio per trip, cost of traffic lights, ticketing bureaucracy, traffic lights, traffic light power, etc., etc., etc.). [Not including noise and space pollution.]

    2.) Cost of the vehicle. Ie. it takes resources (and produces pollution) to make a car and keep it running (with air filters, etc.) and then eventually it is junked, producing more pollution and needing to be replaced. The car and bike both have a cost per mile, with the car’s cost being much more significant.

    3.) You have to DEDUCT costs against using a bike in the terms of the reduced health care costs that come with being more physically fit.

  • avatar
    fisheater

    The only thing this article proves is that gasoline contains more potential energy than a Big Mac. A gallon of gasoline is roughly equivalent to 31,000 calories and is heavenly subsidized to make it cheap. A Big Mac is also heavily subsidized but is now where near the energy density of gasoline. At 540 calories per Big Mac, a gallon of a gas is equivalent to 54.4 Big Macs.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    The bike commuting experience is wholly dependent on external supporting factors like plentiful bike lanes and paths, locker rooms and bike storage at workplaces, and an awareness and acceptance of bike commuters by the community.

    I recently moved from one of the most bike-friendly cities (Boulder, CO) to one of the least bike-friendly cities (Phoenix, AZ) and this became evident the first time I attempted to commute to work in Phoenix. The lack of bike lanes, high percentage of erratic drivers, and non-existence of other cyclists made for a Mad Max worthy experience that I don’t care to repeat.

    If you live in a bike-friendly city enjoy and take advantage of it! Even if you aren’t winning the fuel efficiency battle the exercise, refreshment, and focus gained from a low stress bike commute is hard to beat.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Long term health care costs of respiratory illness for cyclists in major urban areas. Cyclists tend to breathe more heavily and deeply with exertion, drawing pollution deeper into the lungs.

    • 0 avatar
      HBxRider

      Can you provide your source of information? The world health organization released a report, and their findings were that on average, regular cycling increases life expectancy by 20 years. Inactivity and Obesity is second only to tobacco smoke when it comes to causing premature death. What this means is, biking is more likely to extend your life than shorten it.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    For a similar investigation, from the perspective of a very smart engineer, see Karl Ulrich’s paper, here:

    http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~ulrich/publications.html

    Among some points he raises: if you trade your car in for a bike you will become healthier, and therefore live longer… and consumer more of the planet’s resources!

    Paradoxes, paradoxes… it’s like the research finding that smokers are good for a nation, because they on the one hand generate massive tax revenue and then on the other die quickly (e.g. from lung cancer), so do not consumer a lot of health care….

    • 0 avatar
      bakrantz

      Glenn you distorted Karl’s work as far as I can tell. Karl makes 3 extreme cases. (case 1) a bicycle commuter. (case 2) a couch potato that never exercises but drives. (case 3) a person that drives cars and also exercises at a gym burning the Cals that a biker burns.

      The Bicycle commuter saves more energy than the and the couch potato but the bicycle guy lives longer indeed. However, he does not consume more resources, which you claim. According to Karl, the bicycle guy is within error or the noise and saves 1.5 megajoule per year.

      The Bicycle commuter compared to the driver that exercises uses far less resources. In the range of 15 megajoule per year.

      The paradox is that the savings are less than expected compared to a couch potato. Most people actually care about their health get real exercise. So I think the issue is a closed case using pretty sound reasoning.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    You are right, that is what I get for typing soundbites! But I do think the longevity increase is still of interest; to directly quote the author: “I think The interplay between longevity and environmental impact is a central feature of the conflicting societal objectives of improving human health and increasing environmental sustainability”

  • avatar
    HBxRider

    If you want to factor in overall cost like fuel, then you also have to factor in the much higher cost of auto maintenance vs bike maintenance. Registration, insurance, oil changes, and tuneups, that all costs much more than bike tires, chains, and tubes. Also as far as calories goes, most people are running a calorie surplus. Only people on crash diets and impoverished citizens are running a calorie deficit. The calories burned for regular casual bike riding would have been stored as fat. Only avid cyclists who cycle over 40 miles per day are consuming extra food to fuel those rides. No doubt that pro cyclists using top of the line gear are spending serious money. But for the average bike going for the average distance, I have no doubt it’s cheaper than driving my car. Especially with gas at $4.55 in my city right now.

  • avatar
    alexanderkirilov

    The author of this article got so many things so wrong as already pointed by some of the comments.

    The price of a bike is around 200/300 euros and it has almost no maintenance.
    This price of a car and the carbon footprint of the making of the car itself are ENORMOUSLY bigger than that of a bike. We are talking about 20 000 for the car and then hundreds and hundreds each year for garage maintenance, oil change, tires and so on and so on

    Besides did you forget how much taxes you pay for your car ? And what about parking ?

    The comparison of fuel to food price is totally ridiculous, because you can survive without fuel in your car, but whatever you do, you have to eat today. And almost all of our food is super rich in calories, so when you do not exercise you get fat and lazy.
    A bike keeps you fit and it does so only on the excess fats we eat in our food.

    Which reminds me – one of the most expensive parts of our society is health care and when you do not exercise you get sick and you pay thousands for hospitals and doctors and so on..

    So yeah you can pretty much look at bike as a totally free transport – because it actually is !

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