Is It Greener To Ride A Bicycle Or Drive An Electric Car? – Video

1 year ago by Mark Kane 36

bike and BMW i3

bike and BMW i3

Global Cycling Network recently discussed which commuter device is greener – a bike or an electric car.

As one could expect from a channel focused on bikes (and from common sense), the bike will win in such a comparison, although cars will offer more seats, luggage space, heating, etc. – and you can enter the office feeling a bit fresher.

While we are not here to undermine the results, there is one very important point on using bikes in jammed mega cities – the air quality.

When you are cycling, you need much more air, and in the cities air is sometimes really bad. So, no matter how green the bike itself is, the cyclist could harm his/her own health by breathing in all that NOx day after day and year after year that has been emitted by the plug-ins predecessors.

For cyclists, electric cars aren’t competition to being green, and vice-versa.  Actually, electric cars are allies with bikes in looking to a more environmentally friendly future.

Road Bike Vs. Electric Car: What Is The Greenest Way To Get To Work? | GCN’s Eco-Commuter Challenge

Is it greener to drive an electric car to work or, is it greener to ride your bike? We put it to the test in our latest commuter challenge.

Bikes are thought by most to be one of the – if not the – greenest ways to get around. But, as electric cars become more commonplace, could they overtake cycling based on green credentials?

We thought we should look into this, so we set up another commuting challenge. Starting 20km away from our offices, we challenged Dan – driving a BMW i3 – and Simon – riding his trusty Canyon Aeroad – to commute in the greenest way possible.

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36 responses to "Is It Greener To Ride A Bicycle Or Drive An Electric Car? – Video"

  1. Martin says:

    Indeed! Even as an EV enthusiast and well aware of the fact that also car&battery manufacturing, as well as generating electricity causes emissions, I think such a comparison is nonsense and the bike wins by far.

    The additional CO2 from breathing heavier on the bike also translates to personal health.

    For longer distances though, an EV charged with clean energy such as hydropower and manufactured at a plant/company that actually cares about environmental aspects is in fact an exciting glimpse into the future, no wait, into what’s already possible NOW!

  2. Bike Commuter says:

    Electric cars green? Seriously? What about the batteries? Charging? Compared to bicycles. This must be a joke right?

    1. Aaron says:

      Obviously. Like the article said, common sense says the bike is greener.

      1. John says:

        I read a very in depth article once that looked at that. It came down to what the cyclist ate. It was that close. Food production is (in many ways) more energy intensive than vehicle and fuel production.
        If I can find the article I’ll post the link. It was a good read.

        1. danpatgal says:

          I saw that article from Grin Technologies in Vancouver, BC. It wasn’t a comparison if EVs and cycling, rather ebikes and regular bikes:

          http://www.ebikes.ca/documents/Ebike_Energy.pdf

          In this case, the ebike was better since, according to the paper, a typical North American diet is extremely fossil fuel intensive. Almost any bicycle, electric or human powered, is going to be better for the environment than a huge car.

          1. Jeff says:

            Lol. I was going to post the same link.

            Here’s another link to a study, but this one was out of Europe, and it showed e-bikes only 5% more carbon intensive than a regular bike.

            Regardless if one is a tad better than the other, e-bikes are a great option. Fun, environmentally-friendly, and more convenient than a regular bike (with faster speeds, less effort, and much less sweat in hot weather).

    2. Djoni says:

      It still good to put that in the face of all true EV fan boy here.
      Gosh, I cycle and I have an EV!
      What does that make me?
      Wait, there’s a part missing right there, the elephant in the room.
      The road infrastructure, bridge, parking space and curb you need to let everyone enjoy their automobile is a massive, insurmountable carbon burden to overcome.
      Put also in perspective all the jamming and time waste in heavy traffic in your car just sitting idling that almost never occur on a bike and there is no match.
      OK add the health benefit of staying fit and firm and all the saving on all disease associated with lack of exercise and we are magnitude away of comparing anything.
      Yeah, I love my bike and use my EV because everything is made for car moving around.
      I have to say that in Québec, the electric energy being 98% renewable hydro, it’s a lot closer to ideal transportation.

    3. Yup says:

      A skateboard is even greener than a bike because there is less material and lower manufacturing costs. Walking is even greener than taking a skateboard. Just staying at home all the time is probably even greener than walking.

      None of this helps me get to work, 10 miles away, in all four seasons, with two kids to drop off at daycare along the way. And before somebody says “but, you could live closer to work!”, no, I couldn’t, because then my wife would live 10 miles away from her work. Is the next suggestion going to be that all married couples work at the same company together? Or possibly that I should get a cargo bike and tough it out, riding with two kids through snow on the side of highways to get to work? Nope!

      Bicycles are fun and can be used for transportation for a few people. Good for them, but they can’t be compared to cars.

      1. Djoni says:

        Nope!
        A bike is far more efficient.
        You don’t have to support all your weight or keep moving your leg in downhill or coasting.
        Next one would be skateboard or rollerblade, but you still have to support all your weight all the time.
        If you calculate watt per kilometer and if you mixed in speed and time, cycling is the utmost efficient transport, period.
        Just try it, you’ll past pedestrian and skater easily without a sweat, even automobile in heavy traffic.

        1. Yup says:

          Try bicycling with two kids in an inch of slush on the side of a busy road, let me know how “efficient” that is for you. Since you’re an avid cyclist, you’ll probably enjoy all the back peddling.

          1. Djoni says:

            I was referring to your post about skateboarding being more efficient.
            Unless your skateboard with your two kids on your back, your comment is irrelevant.
            So my comment still stand, cycling IS the most efficient way of transportation.
            Whether it’s always practical is another issue. But I would say that is far more practical that you say.
            If you insist comparing the worse condition against ideal one, why not go all the way and figure out all those angry people sitting still day after day in their two tons car when just one of them unfortunately stall or broke block the road for everybody for hours.
            By the way I see cyclist pulling stroller with kids in.
            I’m not an evangelist of cycling, since I do use a car, an EV at least, but saying that cycling is not practical just a few time of the year, does not make it impractical everyday of life.

        2. Priusmaniac says:

          I am in the same situation as Yup, with one more kid, so I tend to agree with him. Cycling is nice for those that can when they can but not all the time, not in all circumstances.

          Cyclist can sometimes also be difficult to understand. For instance, I know a person that come to work cycling from time to time, but on the other days he doesn’t use an electric car, an hybrid or a plug-in hybrid, no, he uses a plain old fashion diesel. Not a cheap one but a four wheel drive expensive one, so it is not a question of budget. So he kind of consciously sends black diesel sooth in the lungs of the other people including fellow cyclist and still comes proudly cycling now and then to work. That is a bit a puzzle to me especially when he suggest I should cycle too while he keeps on bashing Tesla and neighbors that buy them. I guess he does it for the fitness side of things but it certainly isn’t globally green.

        3. mememe says:

          To complete your argument on downhill, you need to bring uphill in to the equation. For sure bike is no the most efficient going uphill comparing to skateboard or roller-blade .

  3. Martin says:

    P.S. 100.000km to offset battery production of an EV comparing to an “eco diesel” as mentioned in the clip is also far off from reality and from what studies (such as the one by UCS USA) have shown already. The correct number should be much lower somewhere in the 20-50.000ies or 2-3 years.

    Oh, and did I mention that those eco diesels just prove themselves as anything but eco friendly recently? Of course only if you drive them outside the norm specified (that is: basically every situation in daily driving). Ha!

    1. Surya says:

      Also, when looking at the ‘eco’ diesel, they did forget to take into account the carbon footprint of getting, transporting, refining and transporting that fuel. That more or less doubles the carbon emitted of that ‘eco’ diesel.

  4. Heisenberght says:

    It’s obvious that bikes are by far greener…

    However most people prefer cars for their daily commute, due to the shielding from “bad” weather… Some don’t like the daily workout or prefer to do it in a stinky gym.

    Electric bikes took many people back to their bikes and this is a nice trend.

    Look at the Netherlands or to Copenhagen. That’s the future. Combined with twizy – like evs. Cycling is free healthcare. The best cure for 80% of those 1st world diseases…

  5. kubel says:

    There’s plenty of evidence that food for humans, particularly meat and dairy, contribute much more to global warming than even dirty transportation fuels. It’s been suggested that even going to a vegan diet can do more for the environment than going from a gas guzzler to an EV. So it’s not quite as ridiculous of a question.

    1. Nate says:

      I’ve saw an article on that once that came to that conclusion, but it seemed very flawed due to only considering the worst sources/practices for the non vegan diet.

    2. Spider-Dan says:

      The problem is that the delta between [how much food you eat if you ride a bike] and [how much food you eat if you’re driving a car] is not big enough to make any real difference.

  6. SparkEV says:

    Having commuted long distance on a bike in the past (~20 miles each way for over a year), I can tell you bike commuting is not sustainable if there’s another option. While it’s great for health when done in fairly clean air city, it gets tiresome having to first go home to do almost anything else after work. Even getting groceries is a huge hassle, and sometimes have to make multiple trips.

    With SparkEV limited to 90MPH, that won’t happen again. Gee, I wonder why I had to bike for a year. 😉

  7. Warren says:

    There is nothing green or sustainable about automobiles. The idea of millions of people driving around in one and a half to two ton motor carriages is a 19th century fantasy that has become a horrifying 21st century nightmare. The idea of transitioning to electric cars on our way to some more reasonable form of transportation is just the latest in a long line of deadly delusions.

  8. Brian says:

    “you can enter the office feeling a bit fresher”

    I disagree. When I start my day with some exercise, I am much more energetic and focused in my work.

    1. Bitwise says:

      Indeed, I fully agree!

      For long bicycle commutes, you just shower at work for maximum freshness!

      And the most important thing is in how cities are planned: Compact cities are pedestrian, public transport and bicycle friendly, sprawling dittos are not.

      Personally, I bike to work every day. I/we also have a car, but use it only for long-distance travelling. Driving the car within the city is only slow, expensive and boring, so I basically never do that.

      1. Lindsay Patten says:

        Ironically, having a car that you don’t or rarely use means that the carbon generated in the manufacturing of the car is somewhat wasted.

        They didn’t mention the option in the UK to purchase your electricity from Ecotricity and hence be wind powered.

        They also neglected the power used to shower when you get to work.

        No, I’m not arguing that an EV is greener than a bike, just nitpicking.

        I would be interesting to see how an electric bike charged with windpower would compare to a regular bike for carbon emissions.

        1. Ron Morrell says:

          I also bicycle commute, and own cars. By bicycle commuting 3-5,000 miles yearly, I am able to prevent exposing the cars to the most driving conditions (short distance stop and go) and keep each car for several years longer for use on long-distance trips on the highway. This is quite analogous to having the Leaf for in-city use by my non-bicyclist wife & son(45,000 miles in 3 years with PV solar panel charging), while also having a Prius for trips between cities or out of state. A tool box contains a variety of tools, not only a pair of pliers.

  9. goodbyegascar says:

    Try an electric bike.

    It has to be the most efficient form of transportation, all things considered. And they’re lots of fun to ride, too.

  10. offib says:

    Huh! Just my luck that when I cycled for 4 years for health reasons, my health was ruined by a fair amount. From someone who didn’t have the condition, to taking the brown inhaler every morning and evening.

    This is in Dublin now, there’s almost always wind going. I wouldn’t want to try to cycle in the UK, or France or Belgium.

    It’s quite obvious that the bike is greener, and lets be honest. Those who pose the question are just looking to get a rise out of the “fashioned greenie lefty Prius driver”. They’re not the crowd who gives any priority to pollution and GHGs.

    Health should be a serious factor. While more bikes (1000s) can improve emissions, 1000s of electric cars instead of diesels in rush hour can improve their and our respiratory health! There’s only so many who can swap the car for the bike. A number dwarfed by new car buyers.

  11. Warren says:

    A carbon cap is the only way to reduce CO2 emissions. Any scheme to promote good behavior just gets played by sharks.

    Alternative Fuel Vehicle Adoption Increases Fleet Gasoline Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions under United States Corporate Average Fuel Economy Policy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2016/02/20160215-cmu.html#more

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.5b02842

    http://rlv.zcache.com/my_truck_uses_the_gas_your_hybrid_saves_thanks_car_bumper_sticker-r0be7ee88582a4d338c6fb443cc12dfee_v9uwb_1024.jpg?rlvnet=1

  12. wavelet says:

    This is a joke, right? For the purposes of short-ish (<10mi) commutes and/or errands for one person, there's no question.

    First, let's talk e-bikes rather than pedal-only bikes — not everyone's physically fit, some people have serious hills, many people can't show pu sweaty ot work and don't have shower/changing facilities.
    E-bikes, assuming a little pedaling, need a tenth of the electricity per mile (~30Wh/mile, not 300). The difference embodied material and energy in a 3500lb car vs. a 55lbs e-bike is also significant (the embodied energy ot produce a Tesla 85kWh pack is enough for 1 million miles of riding…)

    Even if a person can use an e-bike only half the year due to weather conditions, it's still cheaper to buy one, and keep the household commuter car but not use it except in inclement weather.

    As for luggage/kids hailing, there are cargo bikes, including electric ones, that haul 100s of lbs of groceries and/or tow kids.

    The only reasonable objection against e-bikes for short commutes is (1) A person who can't ride a bike at all due to balance issues (2) No bike paths or sidewalks.

  13. BraveLilToaster says:

    “the cyclist could harm his/her own health by breathing in all that NOx ”

    No they don’t. You’re breathing those same emissions when you drive for starters, and sitting on your sedentary ass is far worse for your health than working out in smoggy air.

    Offib’s anecdote aside, there’s been plenty of research to back this up. Most of it has been about how cyclists are vulnerable to getting run over by cars, and some people wondered if the risks outweighed the benefits.

    It turns out that weight-related heart disease is at least 100x more likely to kill you than being on the receiving end of a car-bike collision. It’s just that one of these ways to die isn’t sudden and violent, so it doesn’t grab headlines the same way.

  14. JRMW says:

    I read/watch GCN daily.

    They do a lot of this type of “study”

    It’s meant to be funny but also enlightening.

    Obviously bicycles are better in almost every way from an environmental standpoint, so long as they can be used.

    But it’s still good to ask the question and think about it.

    I personally commute by bike from March thru December. And by AWD vehicle the other 3 months.

    But luckily I live in one of the most bike friendly cities on Earth. My commute is 12 or 16 miles one way depending on whether I want a bike lane on a street (12 miles) or dedicated bike path without car traffic (16 miles)

    I almost always choose the longer bike only route.
    It takes me 45 to 50 min by bike and 35 to 40 min by car in traffic.

    I think my 0-60 times are around …. Uh… infinity.

    But man oh man are bike shorts hot!

    Ride a bike and be sexy!

  15. Bill Howland says:

    Biking is greener since it is good for overall wellbeing. Unfortunately it is severly limited to one or two days a month during our cold months.

    But you don’t have to dress up as a billboard.

  16. Just_chris says:

    It’s interesting that they don’t compare an e-scooter with a push bike I think the energy use would be similar then you’d have ask is food a greener fuel than the grid?

  17. abasile says:

    Environment aside, given decent road conditions, biking can be more fun and invigorating than driving. But getting rid of exhaust emissions by switching all vehicles to EVs sure will be nice!