Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” – Charles M. Schultz
My mother regularly exercises her gears. The six years before she became a mother, she biked to work. After a brief break to care for my sibilings and I, my mother returned to her wheels and has not stopped since. In summary, my mother has biked nearly everyday to work for 21 years in total!! In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate my matriarch and all that wander the world on two wheels.
The Context – Transit Stats:
Since 2010, automobile population has grown beyond 1 billion vehicles in the world [Ward]. It is projected that the number of vehicles will grow to 2 billion by 2035 [Report]. The United States constitutes about 250 million of those vehicles (And it is worth noting, I am not convinced these statistics include those vehicles sitting in junkyards). There are 300 million people in the USA?! After removing unlicensed citizens, there are more cars than legally-eligible adults in the US. This dependence on motor transportation (particularly personal use) is heavily demanding on the environment when considering production energy, maintence fluids, fuel, tire debris, and the list goes on.
In 2014, Express News in the U.K. reported 62% of the populace commute by car or van, 16% use public transport, and only 2.9% by bike to the office. In Australia, 50% of children are driven to school up drastically from 12% in 1972. Additionally, only 5.1% of Aussies commute by bike despite 55% of households owning at least one functional bike [Australian Cyclist Party].
In many countries, using an automobile to go to market, school, and work is simply unavaliable. People, particularly with low income, rely heavily on the use of bikes to travel distances beyond reasonable walking distance. Despite being from 1998-2001, I found the following table extremely profound:
So the take away? 4% of all trips in the US are made by foot or bike. The Union Cycliste Internationale reports more than half of urban commutes are less than 10km (6miles). On flat ground, traveling 12miles/hour this commute could take an average-adult under 30 minutes.
All food consumption being equal, biking is without a doubt lower in fuel volume. (To demonstrate, I am assuming an average cost at US$2.85 per gallon of fuel for the last 20 years, a car witch 30 miles/gallon, and my mother biking a distance of 14 miles, 5 days a week for 45 weeks over 21 years):
My mother has traveled roughly (and likely more than) 66,150 miles by bike in her life (106,485 km). A car would consume 2,205 gallons of gasoline (8347 liters) at a cost of nearly $7000 dollars. That is so incredible… GO MOM!! WHootWhoot!!
For a different take on fuel, check out this thought provoking post by Daniel Thorpe about the climate impact of our fuel (the food we eat) while biking and driving. To demonstrate this idea, below are statistics presented by Michael Berners-Lee for the carbon footprint of one biked mile at 50 calories per minute:
The carbon footprint of cycling a mile:
65g CO2e: powered by bananas
90g CO2e: powered by cereals with milk
200g CO2e: powered by bacon
260g CO2e: powered by cheeseburgers
2800g CO2e: powered by air-freighted asparagus
Bicycles come with maintainence, but the brake-pad, chain lubricant, cable adjustment, and flat patches are a fraction of the cost and emission of automobile maintainence: battery, timing belt, oil changing, tire rotation, and alignment work. Not to mention, the shear havoc anti-freeze can create in our water table and in our soil… here is an article discussing the affects of antifreeze on plant growth.
According to the University of Michigan Carbon Fact Sheet, personal vehicles contributed 1.1 billion metric tons CO2e or 16% of emissions for the US in 2014. This is not accounting for production, only those emissions realized via fuel consumption.
Do you hate sitting in stand still traffic?? Well your car does too. An idling car in traffic can produce 3 times more CO2 than the same car cruising at a constant speed [Michael Berner].
Around half of the US population is estimated to live within 5 miles of work. If half the US population (150 million) biked once a week to work, the Environmental Defense Fund estimates traffic would produce about 5 million tons less emissions each year [NatGeo]. The take-away? If we live close to work, we should pledge to bike and walk on the best months of weather. And (when accessible) use public transit for the days of bad the weather. These life transitions would remove literally millions of cars from the road.
Cradle – Grave
Simply written, bikes are a fraction of the size of cars requiring far less energy in production, fuel, and maintainence over their lifetime.
Fed by the automobile industry and consumers, scarp yard crushers process 750 million lbs (340.2 million kgs.) of car scrap each month!! WOW… think about the energy wasted every time a car is scraped for a new one. While vehicles are the most recycled product globally (95%), the automoblies are often removed from the streets long before the expiration of the cars life:
Making a new car creates as much carbon pollution as driving it, so it’s often better to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model. – Environment GreenLiving Blog the Guardian
While the quote applies to cars, the same is true for bikes. If more money (US$500-700) is initially spent on the bike the life of the bike will be much longer. A good bike with a good frame can last decades and thousands of miles. With simple component changes, bikes can maintain smooth gearshift and brake.
In addition, bikes hold value for far longer than cars do. Used bikes sell for a fraction of store sales prices and after initial depreciation good quality bikes can hold a stable value. This means a bike bought second-hand and maintained will often sell for the same price years and miles later. Buying second-hand, I have afforded much nicer bikes than I could have bought for retail price. Each bike I have owned has been used, bringing me incredible joy. My trek has taken me thousands of miles, here are photos from a two day century I completed from Palo Alto to Pigeon Point two years ago with one of my favorite people:
With a $500 price tag, continued maintainence has kept my bike fit for the road. She waits patiently for my return to the US!
So your bike is tired and ready for retirement? Bike frames and components have enumerous applications in DIY projects at home. Upcycle old and worn frames to make cool tables, fences, and chairs. And when component upgrade, maintenance, sale, and upcycle are all off the table then recycle of the bike is possible. As long as your bike is not a carbon frame, recycle of bikes is both easy and effective. Steel and aluminum frames can be recycled in entirety. Locate your local salvage yards to find the best recycle facility near you.
The global market for bicycles has grown steadily in the last few decades with rapid acceleration in recent years. The market is anticipated to expand by 37.5% over the period 2016-2024 [Persistence Market Research]. One study discusses the incredible economic and environmental furture possible if 14% of urban transport was using bike/ebike. The potential suggests a global decrease of transportation cost around $24 trillion US dollars by 2050 and cut CO2 emissions by nearly 11 percent [UCI].
Savings of around $25 trillion could be achieved through obviating the need for new major highways, parking facilities and the maintenance of existing infrastructure to accommodate forecast growth in road traffic. –A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario
- Promotes regular cardio-exercise improving individual health and wellbeing.
- Decreases energy consumption to decrease environmental impact.
- Saves ChaChing 💰 (fuel, production, and potentially healthcare costs).
- May cause elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, sweat, and bike grease stains…
But hey, if the office culture tolerates a little sweat on the brow — or grease on the calf — take it a sign of good health – Allison Aubrey NPR Morning Edition
So what are you waiting for? Walk and Bike to Work! May 11th was the National Bike to Work Day in the USA. Starting in 2007, 38% of DC residents that bike to work began their cycling-commute following the national bike to work day. Need a challenge try the US National Bike Challenge.
Mom thank you so much for being such a positive impact in my life. Because of you, I ate home cooked meals nearly every night, I cleaned up trash in the public lands behind our home, I recycled our milk jugs, newspapers, and cans, and through you I truly witnessed the power of bike commute as you left the house everyday with helmet in hand. You are an inspiration and I do not thank you enough for the life practices I have as a direct result of your parenting. Thank you Mom, I love you ❤️
So to you lovely and my mother, thank you for biking. Your efforts are good for the environment and they do not go unnoticed! I noticed!!! Have a beautiful and thoughtful Sunday!