August 12, 2019

Biking For Food... And Energy Efficiency

Bike ready for a 15km round trip to the grocery store. Van? Not so much.

Gas engine cars where never a very good idea. I can see them pulling a dinosaur act soon, dieing in our driveways and being fossilized over the coming eons. 

Why? Because they are notoriously energy inefficient and nature does not reward inefficiency. 

An internal combustion gas engine offers a pathetic 20 - 30% efficiency. The remaining 70 to 80% of the gas in the tank is wasted as exhaust heat, mechanical sound energy, and friction loss, rather than moving the car from point A to point B.

An electric car does better, operating at between 50 and 85% efficiency, but that still does not make it anywhere as efficient as a bicycle.

A bike is the most efficient method of travel in the known Universe. It can be up to 5 times more efficient than walking, and is impressively more efficient than a car.

100 calories of energy will power a bicycle 5 km, while those same calories will only take a car 85 meters. A car is a more efficient mechanism for wasting energy than it is as a method of transportation.

Getting ready for the trip home with my groceries.

A 2015 survey of 44 countries found that only 1/3 of total respondents reported owning a car. That's about the same fraction of Americans over the age of 3 that rode a bike at least once over the last year. 

As part of my experiment in joining that 65% segment of car-free respondents, I have been doing bike-supported grocery shopping trips since our van broke down.

The distance to the store is 7.5 km. Along the way the route descends from 500 ft to sea level. 

On my first trip, I used my travel backpack that has about a 55 L capacity. I carried home 7 kg of food, which got us nicely stocked up.

The entire trip took me 1.5 hours, and it was much more enjoyable than driving. I was freed from the metal cage of the car.

On a bike you are out there, in there, immersed in the scene and part of it all. I saw things I have never seen before while driving, even though I have blasted up and down this road a few times over the past 5 years. 

As I pumped uphill I revelled in the essence of trees and flowers and grass and soil and a million other things organic. I listened to several species of birds singing their songs. 

People greeted me as I pedalled by.

Home is up in the hills in the background. I was the only bike in the lot on this day.

After shopping it felt good to go outside to a waiting bike instead of our van. 

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy driving cars and vans, trucks and tractors. I have also driven limousines, the most insane, idiotic and inefficient vehicles on the planet. 

Yes, for a short while I did personal research on the rich of Edmonton, Alberta while working as a chauffeur. Brushing shoulders with the upper crust was interesting and strange.

I have always enjoyed motor vehicles. Thing is, I love bicycles, too. And when I ride, it is amazing. Just not as fast. Which is good.

On my first grocery ride I was so excited about my hill climb back home with all my food that I rode off like a kid returning home after a visit to the candy store. 

So excited that I forgot my bike helmet outside where my bike was locked up. It's gone.

Other than that, biking for food has been a success. So far it is a viable method that is efficient, effective, and a whole lot of fun.

I am going to have to buy a new helmet. Safety first.


  1. And just think how fit you will be if you ride your bike. I love the photo of the hills, it's my kind of place.

    1. Fitness is a nice bonus of traveling by bike. And the hills make it a worthy workout.

  2. Anonymous8/13/2019

    Sorry to hear about your helmet! Yes I walk my food shopping home, avoids the grim fight for a parking space & I like being out in the world not trapped in a metal cage too.
    We can also get supermarket shopping home delivered here (I'm very close to the city) and I think getting one delivery van to drop off everyone's shopping would be better for the environment than everyone taking their cars?? But haven't done the math! Unfortunately think you live too rural for that option anyway...

    1. Contrary to all the car advertisements, it is possible to feel more free without a vehicle than with one. Walking or biking makes me feel more free than anything.

      Delivery does seem like it would be more efficient than a bunch of cars going out. You are right, it is currently not an option for us here.

  3. Anonymous8/13/2019

    I love riding my bike to the grocery store - it feels so good! And I always hope others see me on two (self-propelled) wheels and want to do the same. It's in the 90s here in the mornings right now, so I'll get back to my biking ways once things cool off a little. Happy pedaling! -Erin

    1. Thank you, Erin, same to you. Bike culture is inclusive because more people can afford bikes than cars. There is no better promotion for cycling than a grinning cyclist having fun, getting fit, and taking care of business in a simple, low impact manner. Who wouldn't want that?

  4. My Amish neighbors still use Horse and Buggy. I used to dream about living off grid and having a horse and wagon. But even the Amish pay someone to drive them to the stores. Guess that kind of ride sharing would be less damaging also.

    Just recently our Aldi Store started offering delivery. I'm sure I will try it at some point. For now I stock a pantry and eat from there. I only have to go to the store every few weeks and in the Winter, not even that much.

    1. Love those Amish. They might have to rely on the horse and buggy more in the future. They could launch a buggy-sharing venture.

      Linda and I also dreamed of off-grid living in some remote location with nothing but Nature surrounding us. This is the closest we have gotten yet.

      We like your pantry use, and plan on doing the same. It is amazing how long one can go when fully stocked. Right now our garden is keeping us in the fresh veg.


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