Why Bikes Are a Sustainable Wonder

Two-wheeling ranks as the most energy-efficient form of travel, especially for short trips--and makes you healthier. Let's give it more respect.

The bicycle is the world's most widely used transport vehicle.
Worldwide, bicycles outnumber automobiles almost two to one, and their production outpaces cars three to one. Rush-hour traffic in China is dominated by human-powered vehicles (though that's beginning to change). Even in the wealthy cities of Europe and Japan, large shares of the populace get around by bike. Despite its popularity elsewhere, the bicycle gets little use or respect, except as a plaything, in the UK.

The bicycle--the most energy-efficient form of travel ever devised--deserves better. Pound for pound, a person on a bicycle expends less energy than any creature or machine covering the same distance. (A human walking spends about three times as much energy per pound; even a salmon swimming spends about twice as much.)An amazing invention, the automobile has given twentieth-century humans unprecedented mobility. Yet cars have proliferated to the detriment of all other means of getting around and at great expense to human and natural communities. But today, cars so dominate transportation systems and communities in the UK that their own usefulness is on the wane: they are crowding themselves to a standstill.

Making cycling and alternative transportation a priority, Activists, engineers, and planners are working hard to promote alternatives to our problematic, car-dominated system. Buses, trains, and carpools produce less pollution and traffic than solo driving, but lack the privacy and door-to-door convenience of cars. Vehicles powered by alternative fuels or electricity, and proposed "hypercars" able to cross the continent on a tank of gas, could minimize cars' greenhouse gas emissions. But such cars do nothing about the problems of traffic, sprawl, or deadly accidents.
Though a variety of choices is key to reforming our car-centered transportation system, the only vehicle that addresses all the environmental liabilities of cars is the bicycle.

While advertising sells cars and trucks as tools for the open road, they most often help us inhabit a small daily realm--"Errandsville"--defined by home, store, job, and school.

Many of these trips are easily bikable--or walkable--even on roads designed without bicycles or pedestrians in mind. A bicyclist can easily cover a mile in four minutes, a pedestrian in 15. Short car trips are, naturally, the easiest to replace with a bike (or even walking) trip. Mile for mile, they are also the most polluting. Promoting active lifestyles, increased use of bicycles as transportation could also help reduce the huge toll of sedentary lifestyles on Britans.

Bike-friendly policies, from traffic calming to car-free downtown zones, have boosted cycling rates in five European nations to 10 percent or more of urban trips.

In the next week we shall hopefully inspire you, to get a bike (out of the garage) and make the plunge. It is enjoyable, cheap and healthy, so why not give it a go?