April 10, 2013

Cars vs Bicycles

I read once that a bicycle is the most efficient form of transportation in the known universe. I am sure it is not far from the truth. I have always thought that bicycles were magic machines.

Riding a bicycle can be up to 5 times more efficient than walking, and can produce the equivalent of about 950 miles per gallon. Number crunchers carefully calculate such things with wonderful equations such as:

P = gmVg(K1+s) + K2VaVg


E = 1/2mv2 + 1/4mv2 = 3/4mv2

Oooo, it's science. Here is some more:

One hundred calories can power a cyclist for three miles,
but would only power a car 280 feet (85 meters)

I have always been impressed with sensible cycling peoples in India, China, and many European countries. As a kid I saw photographs of large Indian and Chinese cities teeming with bicycles, while private vehicles were as rare as persistent killing smog events.

In recent years China has been making the shift from being a 'bicycle kingdom' to one dominated by cars. How sad it is to see former cycling nations make the shift from a sustainable source of transportation to one completely unsustainable.

Member of Environment's Angels bicycle gang
I started out on unsustainable transportation quite early. I bought my first car before I was old enough to drive it legally. The day I got my driver's licence I ceased to walk or cycle if I could drive instead.

That was a big mistake because I came to miss the freedom, enjoyment, and simplicity of walking and biking. But I was destined to return to my beloved cycling eventually.

Part of the problem has been that the auto industry has us sucked right in to the whole car mystique. We feel like we can't live without them, that we are somehow incomplete without hauling our two tons of glass, metal, and rubber around with us everywhere we go.

However, increasingly aware recent generations are not as enthusiastic about car ownership, and the sales of cars is projected to fall in some markets in the future.

Bicycle cargo carrier from Denmark hauls up to 100kg of freight 

I am also increasingly unenthusiastic about driving. While we still own a vehicle, we only drive it about 3000 km a year, well below the average of 20,000 km.

I find driving less enjoyable than I used to, and instead of being a 'freedom machine' it is beginning to feel more like an anchor.
For shorter trips (below about 20 kms return), I usually ride my bicycle. It keeps me fit, saves money, and is more sustainable. And it is fun.

Based on the principles of energy efficiency and sustainability, there is no contest. 

No car can deliver 950 miles per gallon. Nor will you burn much fat while driving.

The bicycle wins.


  1. Fernando4/11/2013

    Here in Brazil we can see a clear shift from car to bicycle and I'm really glad to be part of it and to be known by some friends and relatives to be active on that change.

    1. Fernando, thanks for reporting from Brazil. Shifting from cars to bikes is a necessary and hopeful change. Good for you for leading the way in your own life.

  2. The Danish cargo bike is know as a "Long John". As a teenager I worked for a grocery and made deliveries on a bike like that. You really could carry an astonishing load on it but it was hard work going up hill. The bike itself is very heavy.

    1. Awesome. You must have been in good shape. I have never seen anything like this in Canada.

  3. Anonymous4/11/2013

    This post really made my day. Like you, driving my car is becoming more of a chore and a constant worry. I always seem to be anticipating the next odd noise, a check engine light coming on, a rattle . . .sigh. All of these problems cost a lot of money to repair, money that is always in short supply. For the past three years, I have been increasingly relying on my 1972 Raleigh Tourist 3-speed to get me around. Bicycling, in addition to being environmentally sound, just makes me feel good! I have lost weight and am far more fit than I used to be. Unfortunately, I live in an area where transportation bicyclists are exceedingly rare, and I have to put up with a lot of nasty, hateful comments when I am riding. However, this attitude will not stop me from an activity that I enjoy and that I absolutely feel is the wave of the future. My goal is to eventually move to an area where I can do my daily commuting and activities on foot and by bicycle and reducing my consumer habits is a big step in that direction. And I LOVE the picture of the Environmental Angels!!

    1. Many drivers do not want to share the road - riding defensively is the way to go.

      I just got back from a bike ride and I feel invigorated. Riding is one of my favourite things to do.

      I especially enjoy riding past gas stations.

  4. This post is great. More people should get out and ride their bikes!!

    1. It may be difficult getting into the habit of cycling initially, but after a short while it can be addictive. Cars are great for some things, but basically they suck.


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