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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 12-01-10, 08:15 PM   #1
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Is bicycling really good for the environment?

Here are some random thoughts:
While bicycles don't burn anything, most of the parts are shipped by petroleum burners.
Many important bicycle parts are made from petroleum: tires, cable housing, brake hoods, light housing, chain lube, grease.
And extracting and smelting (or whatever it's called) metals is energy intensive and does some damage to both miners and the places where mines are.
And finally, bicycles are at their most efficient on paved roads. Off road, a horse might be about as efficient. On some terrain, a bicycle is no use at all.
Obviously the damage is much less than that caused by even a small motorized vehicle. But there does seem to be some.
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Old 12-01-10, 08:24 PM   #2
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Obviously the damage is much less than that caused by even a small motorized vehicle. But there does seem to be some.
Duh!
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I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.

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Old 12-01-10, 08:30 PM   #3
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But there does seem to be some.
Posting on BF also does some environmental damage. Walking causes toxic chemicals used in shoe manufacture to enter the environment. Humans eating beans is a major source of methane.

I still need to eat, post and get to work.
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Old 12-01-10, 08:46 PM   #4
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Outside of killing yourself, nothing you do is good for the environment.
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Old 12-01-10, 08:52 PM   #5
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Obviously the damage is much less than that caused by even a small motorized vehicle. But there does seem to be some.
Welcome to thermodynamics. Any work done or other increase in energy is necessarily accompanied by a larger in energy elsewhere. Any deliberate increase in order is accompanied by a greater decrease in order somewhere else. You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't leave the game.
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Old 12-01-10, 09:22 PM   #6
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My, what a happy thread...

It's true that bicycling does cause some damage to the environment, especially in the production and distribution phases. It's also true that bicycles couldn't even exist were it not for the vast, mostly petroleum-based industrial culture that we've made for ourselves. Heck, even the roads we ride on are usually made from oil. Qualitatively, there's not much difference between a Hummer and a bicycle. But there is a huge difference in degree. My entire bicycle uses way less than 1/4 the metal and plastic needed for a single car door. The wear and tear on roads produced by bikes is negligible. Once they're sold, new bikes don't produce much of a carbon footprint at all. Except for walking, bicycling is easily the cheapest, most flexible, most environmentally friendly form of transport out there. If I lived on a planet that was overpopulated, running out of fuel and other natural resources, and facing a changing climate due to emissions/deforestation, I would recommend bicycles for the majority of its inhabitants.
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Old 12-02-10, 09:30 AM   #7
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"Outside of killing yourself, nothing you do is good for the environment."
"My, what a happy thread...

It's true that bicycling does cause some damage to the environment, especially in the production and distribution phases. It's also true that bicycles couldn't even exist were it not for the vast, mostly petroleum-based industrial culture that we've made for ourselves. Heck, even the roads we ride on are usually made from oil. Qualitatively, there's not much difference between a Hummer and a bicycle. But there is a huge difference in degree. My entire bicycle uses way less than 1/4 the metal and plastic needed for a single car door. The wear and tear on roads produced by bikes is negligible. Once they're sold, new bikes don't produce much of a carbon footprint at all. Except for walking, bicycling is easily the cheapest, most flexible, most environmentally friendly form of transport out there. If I lived on a planet that was overpopulated, running out of fuel and other natural resources, and facing a changing climate due to emissions/deforestation, I would recommend bicycles for the majority of its inhabitants."
All considered cycling seems the less of many evils. Most people driving cars I wouldn't trust to ride my bikes.

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Old 12-02-10, 10:08 AM   #8
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I'm going to connect this thread into this discussion. Bicycles are made by the millions all over the world. How many of them are abandoned or sent to landfills simply because, get this, a tire went flat? How does that impact the environment? Or does that simply not count because they are not your picture-perfect bicycle sold by your local bike shop?
I agree that bikes are a good deal cleaner than cars, IF they are used for many many years. A 'disposable' bike from x-mart is no better than a Hummer for the environment.
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Old 12-02-10, 10:11 AM   #9
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Living in a fossil fuel based society it is virtually impossible to not consume petroleum on some level. Killing yourself might seem like the best option under these circumstances but don't do it in a way that leaves a corpse for them to bury or cremate or you'll only use more fossil fuels in the process. Obviously, the better alternative is to minimize your use while working to convert society from a petroleum based one to a more sustainable one.
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Old 12-02-10, 10:43 AM   #10
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A 'disposable' bike from x-mart is no better than a Hummer for the environment.
I doubt that's true. All the same arguments about indirect transport and materials can be made for the Hummer as for the bike, only much more so, as it is a larger object. And of course, if it is being used, there's the extra fuel consumption, parts replacements (such as tires and oil changes), and road wear and tear. A 'disposable' bicycle is definitely worse than one that's used for a long time, but I don't think it's even in the same ballpark as a Hummer (or any large motor vehicle).
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Old 12-02-10, 10:47 AM   #11
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Bicycles are made by the millions all over the world. How many of them are abandoned or sent to landfills simply because, get this, a tire went flat? How does that impact the environment? Or does that simply not count because they are not your picture-perfect bicycle sold by your local bike shop?
I've seen bikes abandoned and sent to landfills, but never just because a tire went flat. The bikes I've seen discarded are the ones which have been worn out, sometimes because of a lot of heavy use and sometimes because of abuse.
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Old 12-02-10, 10:51 AM   #12
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"The energy and resources needed to build one medium-sized car could produce 100 bicycles."

http://bicycleuniverse.info/transpo/almanac.html
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Old 12-02-10, 10:52 AM   #13
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Except for walking, bicycling is easily the cheapest, most flexible, most environmentally friendly form of transport out there.
In industrialized societies, walking is more environmentally demanding than cycling (per mile) due to the higher food cost per mile.

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Old 12-02-10, 10:54 AM   #14
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As for the OP, yeah, everything we do uses up energy and resources. It's not very productive to try to come up with a lifestyle that's zero impact, because that's impossible. A better way of determining the environmental benefit of something is to compare it to alternatives. For example, one can ride a bike instead of driving, and that is probably a big improvement from an environmental standpoint. If riding the bike is replacing walking trips, though, in that context it's either a little worse or a wash (assuming you would already have purchased a bike for other purposes, and are not solely using where you would have walked instead). If you are riding the bike instead of going to the gym, you would have to weigh the environmental costs of the bike, both the manufacture and the use costs) with those of the gym (whatever proportion of its energy maintenance costs, plus some portion of all the environmental costs associated with the making of the building and the equipment inside). Clearly it would be a complicated calculation, but it is probably safe to assume that the bicycle is a good choice, environmentally speaking, for most people.
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Old 12-02-10, 12:42 PM   #15
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Instead of good for the environment I would phrase it as lower impact on the environment than other methods of transportation. Walking is of course lower impact but who is able to really only stay within walking distance of their abode? Walking long distances requires enough energy input (food) to be less efficient than cycling.

You can still minimize the negligible impacts that biking does have on the environment - by purchasing a locally manufactured bicycle and keeping it well maintained to last as long as possible. If you are concerned about all the metal parts you can minimize these by using a bamboo frame. Then on the bamboo frame for metal parts you can use recycled parts as much as possible that have been taken off of bikes with an unusable frame. Don't use sealed cartridge parts that need complete replacement and disposal, rather ones where you can service the bottom bracket by repacking the ball bearings etc.
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Old 12-02-10, 03:15 PM   #16
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Outside of killing yourself, nothing you do is good for the environment.
Even then you need to avoid being cremated or buried. Killing yourself in the wilds and being carrion for the condors, vultures, buzzards, bobcats, pumas, wolves or coyotes is probably the Cadillac way to go from an ecological perspective.

The best thing is that you don't have to lock your bike when you do that.
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Old 12-02-10, 03:43 PM   #17
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Except for walking, bicycling is easily the cheapest, most flexible, most environmentally friendly form of transport out there.
I'd rate cycling as being more environmentally friendly than walking.

When I think of my trip to town it's a little over 2 miles. If I drive that means those miles of exhaust fumes and then however much exhaust emissions it takes to get around the one-way system. Then of course more miles of fumes to get home. If I take the bus that means a walk to the bus stop and the fuel required to haul that huge thing around the roads (and it's slower than driving). If I walk it takes me about half an hour, whereas if I cycle I can be there in 10 minutes. Subjectively speaking I'm no more tired after the 10-minute cycle than the 30 minute walk, and the bike allows me to coast down hills in a way that walking never can. So where walking downhill uses calories, albeit at a slower rate than walking uphill, freewheeling downhill uses no more calories than it takes to maintain balance.

As soon as longer distances are considered I think the advantage of cycling increases, not least because it becomes feasible to cover longer distances. A reasonably fit cyclist can probably cover 15 miles in an hour, but you'd have to be much fitter to cover that distance on foot in less than twice that time.
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Old 12-02-10, 04:24 PM   #18
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Buying locally produced, high quality bicycles that will last for decades eliminates a lot of these problems. The thing is that most people don't want to pay the full cost of their products. If we all actually paid for all the environmental damage that we create for every product we buy everything would be significantly more expensive.
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Old 12-02-10, 04:46 PM   #19
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Buying locally produced, high quality bicycles that will last for decades eliminates a lot of these problems. The thing is that most people don't want to pay the full cost of their products. If we all actually paid for all the environmental damage that we create for every product we buy everything would be significantly more expensive.
A side-effect of this (that is, actually paying full-cost for stuff) might be buying less, trying not to buy junky stuff (so you don't have to buy again), and taking care of the things you own so they last longer.
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Old 12-02-10, 05:02 PM   #20
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Ever seen an automotive salvage yard? Ever seen a bicycle salvage yard? Which is more environmentally friendly?

I bet there is more energy and materials consumed in making a single wheel for a car than in most bicycles. When I read about a multi acre bicycle salvage yard catching on fire, or polluting ground water I might start worrying about it.

To me a bicycle really is pretty easy on the environment compared to just about everything else out there.

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Old 12-02-10, 06:01 PM   #21
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Buying locally produced, high quality bicycles that will last for decades eliminates a lot of these problems.
I would be shocked if you could find a 100% locally-produced bicycle. Not assembled locally. Not the frame was built locally. Everything from 100% local sources.

If you could, I'd wager it would be dramatically more limited than anything available otherwise, if not actually of lower quality. One of the big advantages of mass production and long-distance distribution is that specialization and economies of scale can be leveraged to make lots of high-quality hardware available all over. Not to mention alleviating problems of raw materials not being available in areas. You're not going to get a 100% local steel bike if there isn't an iron mine and steel plant nearby.
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Old 12-02-10, 06:06 PM   #22
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Ride used bikes....
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Old 12-02-10, 06:07 PM   #23
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I think the premise of the thread: is something "good" for the environment" is confusing. The real question is whether different modes of transportation are sustainable. Biking is probably indefinitely sustainable. We could probably make and maintain bikes for everyone on earth more or less forever, using metal and rubber reclaiming and recycling techniques, and perhaps builidng more frames out of bamboo and other renewable material, and using vegetable oil lubricants and so on, without seeing a perceptible progressive decline in the environment or exhausting our supply of raw material. We cannot currently do that with motor vehicles - they are already causing environmental deterioration and oil depletion, and it is unlikly we will ever develop the technology to manufacture and use cars sustainably.

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Old 12-02-10, 06:08 PM   #24
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I think a bicycle is much less stress on the environment than a horse. A horse needs to be fed daily whether you ride it or not. Horses live just over twenty years and sometimes nearly to thirty. They eat a lot of food. If you own many acres of land that aren't covered with snow in the winter then your feed costs wouldn't be as much as buying hay year round. Still horses need supplemental feed to give them extra minerals and vitamins. That is expensive stuff.

I'm sure horse hooves with steel shoes do more damage to roads than bicycle tires.

The question of balance between humans and their impact on the planet must be started somewhere. We can't start off at the point where humans didn't exist. If we did then humanity would never be able to be part of the balance. The big question is where do we draw the line saying from this point we must compare all human activity with the health of the environment and create a balance?

Bicycles would certainly be a better tool to help create such a balance than personal automobiles.
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Old 12-02-10, 06:21 PM   #25
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OP, are you with Greenpeace or PETA? Those organizations, though they don't broadcast it, believe wholeheartedly that mankind is a blight on the earth, and the disease that will kill it. The life of a dolphin is worth much more (exponentially) than a human life to these extremists.

It's an imperfect world, filled with imperfect people -- there will be some degradation. Deal with it.
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