EcoTip: Bicycles: testing the mettle of the pedal
Yikes! Bikes and trikes. What's with Treehugger's fascination? Probably because the single largest contributor to atmospheric pollution is surprise, surprise: motor vehicles. And according to various estimates 250,000 people die on the road every year, with 10,000,000 more injured. And yet the world has maybe 4 times as many bicycles as cars, (some estimates as high as 2 billion!) with 1 billion persons being classified as utiltarian cyclists. That should speak volumes for itself. Humankind has yet to invent a means of transport that is more earth and people friendly or emission-free as a pushbike. Munch a half decent breakfast and lunch and you can cover maybe 140 km (87 miles) a day. No electricity, oil, gas, hydrogen or batteries required. And you could easily have 4-6 bicycles being ridden in the space taken up by a single car. (Sometime ago there was an estimate that well over 40% of Los Angeles' land area was given over to the automobile.) But there is also the embodied energy to consider too. This is the total of resources to make a thing, even before it is used. Say 15 lbs (7 kg) of steel for a bike, compared to 1,800 lbs (816 kg) for a car. A paltry 0.8%. Then there is the waste. In Europe alone about 250 million car tyres are discarded annually having consumed 370 million gallons (1,400M ltr) in their production.
In developing countries bicycles transport vast amounts of people and produce at minimal cost to personal incomes and to the environment. They also provide a super efficient power source. The ecological footprint (imagine all land, required to provide the resources to produce a product/service, squished into the one place and measured) of bike commuter has been estimated at 122 sq/m. The footprint of car doing the same commute is a whopping 1,442 sq/m. A tenfold difference. Other stats we unearthed suggested that a bike that replaces an automobile for all travel is equal to the planting of 170 trees. That because a standard family car generates 24 times more CO2 pollution than a bike.
No wonder the WorldWatch Institute once published a document entitled The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet. But lets finish up this little homage to the humble 'treadly' (as Australians fondly call them) with words from that radical philosopher, Ivan Illich: "[A person...] on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. Equipped with this tool, [a person...] outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well."