Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Green is Cycling?

I did a Google search on “how green is my commute” and came up with this article on Bicycle Fixation. It is an interesting read and something to think about.

We often here people talk about how green they are. Perhaps they chose a high efficiency vehicle (or a hybrid). Maybe they hypermile. Maybe they compost and recycle and reuse as much as possible. All these are good things, and can help the environment. But is riding a bike green? In and of it self, the author says no. I go both ways on this, but mostly disagree with the author’s assertion.

Hear me out.

In as much as riding a bike replaces a car trip, I don’t think anyone would disagree that it is green. Use the bike for your exercise? Again I’d say it is. What’s your alternative? Drive to the gym for an hour staring at the television while you work out on the stair master? Drive to the pool to swim? Granted, again the bike is reducing car trips, so it meets the “green standard” applied by the author.

Let’s look at something the author addresses that’s close to my heart: bike touring.

I like bike touring. OK, I’ve not done a real tour since high school, but I’d like to get back to it and enjoy some tours in the future. Most of us like to take a tour someplace we’ve not seen, or is just so incredibly wonderful we want to go back at a slower pace. I had the opportunity to pedal through the Loire Valley in France, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia, northern Germany and the Netherlands one summer. Of course, we had to fly from Seattle to Europe and then take trains to the starting points for the various legs of the journey. We know that flying uses huge amounts of fossil fuels, and trains use significant amounts as well. But let’s look at the time spent cycling. Each leg covered several hundred miles, by bicycle. These are sections that would likely have been traveled by car or bus otherwise. So, in that sense each leg we rode, we omitted a car trip.

If my wife and I decide to tour the Oregon coast by bicycle, we could do so one of two ways. We could lengthen the trip significantly by starting and ending from our home (which is the only way the author of the article considers the trip to be green), or we could find transport to our selected starting point, then ride our tour, and get transport back. Maybe not 100% green, but every choice we make that will reduce car trips (and along many routes we may choose to ride, there are lots of cars) is a green choice. It doesn’t matter if the “green portion” is bracketed by less green options. We have to make the choices that make sense to us.

What do you think? Please leave us your comments.


1 comment:

Average Jane said...

I haven't owned a car for more than a decade and use my bicycle for almost all transportation. I don't think it's "green" at all, but for different reasons. Sure, a bike is better than a car, but the bike is a total negative to the environment. Consider the following:

My bike is made of expensive metal probably mined in South Africa or South America, then the metal got shipped (via dirty diesel) to China where it was poured and assembled using the dirtiest electricity in the world. Then
it used more dirty diesel to come to the United States. And that's before I ever ride it! Then I ride it on asphalt, probably the worst destruction of the environment that we contain within this country (instead of outsourcing like we do with most of our environmental destruction). So there you are, biking is bad, not green. But still, all of the above applies to cars and buses too, but more.