I love cycling. Year after year I have put more miles on my bike for transportation than on my ICE vehicle. However, cycling is not a solution to our petroleum problem. Actually, for most individuals, it is exactly the wrong direction based on the required energy conversion – particularly when factoring in emission levels.
I worked in a Human Performance Research Center for 2 years in college. I hold a college minor in Human Performance and have competed in about 500 Tri’s, Bi’s, Marathons, Ultra-Marathons, 10K’s, etc. Several times in my athletic career (which included several years of training for Olympic competitions) I stopped training as I could not afford the cost or felt too guilty consuming 12,000-15,000 calories/day (6′-4″/265lbs). That volume of food could feed 2 families of 4 in most countries.
The amount of energy necessary to power a bicycle is based on the efficiency of your metabolism and a list of other lessor variables. Even if we calculate energy conversion based on the highly efficient levels of a world class athlete (which is a memory for me at this point), the amount of petroleum required to produce and secure the additional food needed to human power a bicycle the same distance is greater than simply powering an ICE vehicle. Seriously, a modern diesel powered vehicle that weighs 3,400lbs with start/stop technology, only uses about 2.3 fluid oz – less than 1/2 of 1 cup of fuel to move 1 mile. To plant, grow, harvest, process and transport enough food to power a human body to move a bike the same distance of 1 mile is likely to require x3-x10 this amount of fuel. Modern agriculture is the conversion of petroleum to food.
Vegans will probably chime in at this point to share data for just how much less petroleum their diet requires and they are correct – far less. Though I will state that I have yet to meet a strict vegetarian who has achieved a world class level of athletic performance.
You can certainly argue that a respectable percentage of the U.S. population consumes more calories than they require, but as any Athletic Trainer will share from their experience, higher levels of exercise will tend to motivate a higher volume food in-take for virtually all of their clients.
There is a very small percentage of the population that grows their own food without utilizing petroleum supported fertilizers and petroleum powered planting, harvesting, processing and transporting machinery. However, I do not see this group growing to become even 1% of the U.S. population over the coming decades.
Also, the emissions of the large scale petroleum powered agricultural machinery that is required to grow this additional food far out weighs the reduced emissions from someone riding their bike several miles per day. There is only one atmosphere around our planet. While there is some argument for moving concentrated emissions from the metro areas into the rural areas, emissions are emissions.
Frankly, the concept of cycling to replace petroleum powered vehicles is as naive as suggesting that EV’s are Green. To solve our problems we must respect the laws of physics and the relevant research data and make decisions accordingly: Article: EV Tech Postmortem
As numerous studies have shown, there is only one solution to replace petroleum for our transportation needs. It is scalable, environmentally friendly, economically viable and totally sustainable. This solution does require a phased migration to build the necessary infrastructure, but as we embrace this new model, even the guilt of cycling will fade.
Join the Migration: Article: U.S. Migration