by Nia Thomas
When I was told that cycling was the most efficient form of transport in the world I thought, really? Having just hauled myself by bike more than 9500 miles, over high mountain passes and rough terrain, it was a little disappointing to find out that actually, I'd done it the easiest way!
That's right, calorificly, cycling is the best way to get anywhere. It only takes around 34 calories to bike a mile, whereas a car will use anywhere from 500 calories (for the most efficient) up to 2000 calories per mile! Even walking pails in comparison, using double the energy (around 70 calories per mile).
The facts and figures on this subject quite honestly astounded me – one litre of petrol contains a whopping 8180 calories (31,000 calories per US gallon) - and so with some simple maths and a bit of spare time I've made the difference easier to compare. Below is a list of fuels (calories, petrol and food) and the amount of each you would need to power a bike, a UK car, and a US car for the 9,583 miles that we covered from Bolivia to Texas:
Litres of petrol
US gallons of petrol
Fish and chips
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
* Bike efficiency worked out at 34 cal per mile
**UK car efficiency worked out at 38 mgp – US gallons
*** US car efficiency worked out at 25 mgp – US gallons
Crazy, isn't it? If I could drink petrol then I could have cycled all that way on just 40 litres/10.5 US gallons of the stuff; and if cars could be fueled by pizza it would take between 9007 and 13,690 of them to drive that far! All these numbers work out to show that cycling is between 24 and 36 times more efficient than driving a car...even with 5 passengers the cars are still lagging considerably behind (5-7 times more energy required per person).
The difference is not only how much energy but also where the energy comes from. Cars, motorbikes, and most other motorised vehicles get their energy from non-renewable fossil fuels, AKA petrol; whereas bikes get their energy from you, well, more specifically the completely renewable food that you've eaten. This is why driving in a car feels way more energy efficient than biking, because it's not you putting the energy in. In fact not only is biking a lot more energy efficient, it uses renewable resources and means that you can have that extra slice of cake!
The benefits of cycling are multi-fold; more miles for your calories, lower emissions (just the CO2 that you breathe out), powered by 100% renewable energy (and depending on your diet 100% sustainable too), it will get your blood pumping and keep you in shape! How could you turn down a transport option where the fuel is delicious food that you get to eat? Not to mention the social side of cycling. Being out on your bike puts you closer to the people around you and waving or stopping to say 'hi' is effortless. Friendships can blossom over a shared bike route – read one of our previous blogs on how cycling promotes connected communities here.
Save the world some energy and get out on your bike - not just for exercise, but as a means of transport. Ditch the calorie hungry car and use pedal power instead. Even over a mile it'll make a big difference!
Cycling efficiency was estimated at 34 cal per mile from figures at http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2007/9/24/running-vs-cycling-burning-calories.html (we biked slowly but we also were carrying extra weight).
Efficiency graph was from http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html
Average miles per gallon in the UK was 38 per US gallon (46 per imperial gallon) from the Department of Transportation in 2008 via http://www.treehugger.com/cars/number-of-the-day-38-mpg.html
Average miles per gallon in the US was found in a article by The Washington Post in 2013 and listed as 23.6 – I gave you a bit extra for luck http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/13/cars-in-the-u-s-are-more-fuel-efficient-than-ever-heres-how-it-happened/
The number of calories in a gallon of petrol (31,000) was found here http://auto.howstuffworks.com/question527.htm