Cycling vs. driving: in this environmentally conscious age, we all try to do our part to lessen our impact on the world around us. For some, this may be cutting out meat from their diet, a dedication to recycling, or cycling to work but when compared with driving, which one comes out on top?
On the surface, it seems like a simple question – cycling vs. driving? But working out which method of transport comes with the lowest environmental impact isn’t as straightforward as you may think when you consider the bigger picture. Let’s look at the estimates.
When we look at how much energy a car uses per mile compared to a bicycle, the results aren’t particularly shocking given cars are much heavier than bikes.
If you’re travelling by bicycle, you can expect to use around 0.11 MJ/km. On average, a car uses around 3.3 MJ/km, however, this vastly depends on the model of car you’re driving.
For example, if you’re in the UK driving the Suzuki Ignis which does a very efficient 65.6mpg, you may use around half the amount of energy as the average. However, this still doesn’t come close to matching the low energy method of cycling. A car uses around 30 times the energy that cycling does.
Cars use diesel or petrol to run. Bikes don’t use these things but they still need fuel, and this comes from our diets. We know that some diets are more environmentally friendly than others, and this could impact the energy efficiency of cycling versus driving.
If you’re on a vegan diet, biking to work would have less than a third of the impact of one of the world’s most energy-efficient vehicles, the Prius. It would have just a seventh of the impact of driving your average car. But add meat into the mix and you will see your carbon footprint rise sharply. If we look at Paleo diet plans and use these to estimate the environmental cost of biking to work, we get a figure of around 135 gCO2/km.
This measurement translates the environmental impact of a meat-powered bicycle in terms of how much CO2 would need to be released to produce the same impact. The Prius comes out at 150 gCO2/km. Biking still comes out on top, but not by much.
You can only fit one person on a bike, two if you’re willing to carry the extra weight, though this might be more difficult through busy city centres. Cars, on the other hand, can fit four or five people for the most part. Now we know how much a meat-powered bicycle and a very energy-efficient car would cost the environment, it’s easy to work out that two meat-eaters would be friendlier to the environment if they carpooled to work together in a Prius than if they cycled.
Is transport the problem?
It’s surprising to find out that cycling can be more harmful to the environment than carpooling sometimes. This depends on the car you drive and your diet. However, this blog post hasn’t even touched on many other issues that could determine the environmental impact of cycling vs. driving.
For example, if you’re a meat-eater, you would have to consider the land used to grow your food, and how agriculture impacts native species, water usage, ecosystems, and so on, in comparison to the land used to produce diesel.
We also haven’t discussed the environmental costs of producing a bicycle compared to a car. But what we have discovered is that producing a low carbon footprint isn’t as simple as deciding between cycling vs. driving to work.
Every other choice we make in our lives will determine our environmental impact. For this issue, it seems like making good environmental decisions starts with what we eat. But the key here is the willingness to change. In most circumstances, cycling may well be the best choice to help create a better world, not to mention the plethora of additional health benefits that come with it.
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