Our favorite bicycle Engineer Zach Krapfl examines the environmental footprint of modern transportation methods, particularly electric bikes, and presents both shocking and exciting findings. The most promising includes people who have changed their mode of transportation to electric bikes.
E-Bike commuters are living “healthier, happier, and more eco-friendly lives.”
See Zach’s TEDx Talk as well as a summary of his findings below.
HUMAN TRANSPORTATION METHODS
Today there are different modes of transportation to get from point A to point B. Each mode requires fuel consumption. Let’s see how they stack up.
- Train – 800 mpg
- Bicycle* – 270 mpg
- Airplane – 90 mpg
- Motorcycle – 65 mpg
- Walking* – 55 mpg
- Prius – 50 mpg
- Honda Civic – 40 mpg
- Truck – 20 mpg
*Both the bicycle and walking transportation methods require food to produce energy. Delivering food products requires fuel to transport the food from point A (production site) to point B (the consumer). Zach’s research methodology accounted for food transportation consumption in addition to the transportation method. He examined local food transportation efficiency versus national food transportation efficiency. Both methods produce a lower and higher rate of fuel consumption respectively. This is why there is still fuel consumption for cycling and walking transportation methods.
TRANSPORTATION: PERCEPTION vs. REALITY
We want to use the most appealing transportation method. Consider Zach’s example. This was an advertisement for the Pontiac Bonneville in the 1960’s. Doesn’t that look fun?
This image above is how we want to commute. This has been the appeal of vehicles for decades; the car top is off, the wind is in the passengers’ hair, there are no other cars on the open road, and the sky is beautifully clear. However, perception is not the reality.
This image below is NOT how we want to commute. The truth is that we as a people spend a large portion of our lives stuck in traffic. This is the reality.
“How many people have moved in their lifetime because of bad traffic?”
That number is going to change and increase over time. Cities are becoming more congested, infrastructure is not keeping up with growth, and crowding is expanding beyond metropolitan areas.
There is a reason why we are moving away from the congestion. There is a reason why we are unhappy commuters. Consider these statistics:
- 80% of us commute daily in traffic
- We drive 3 trillion miles in the USA
- 253 million cars are on our roads
- 55% of car trips are 10 miles or less
There are emerging opportunities for us to become happy commuters and end the moving cycle away from congested areas both urban and metropolitan.
What is the transportation alternative?
There are alternatives that exist today such as what is found in Copenhagen and France. For example, Denmark has infrastructure to support alternative transportation or bicycle commuting. 35-40% of Danes commute by bike be it rain, snow, or shine. “But that is Denmark,” you may say.
We have cities in the USA that also have infrastructure to support bicycle commuting such as in Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Surprisingly these cities have comparatively few bicycle commuters. So why are we not commuting by bike?
In American culture, bicycles have mainly been viewed as a means of recreation versus transportation. As a people, we have yet to change our paradigm that bicycles are the transportation alternative. That is changing.
The data for human efficiency concludes with the emphasis that human transportation is most efficient when combining a bicycle with other alternative energy opportunities.
PEDESTRIAN TRANSPORTATION EFFICIENCY
Pedestrian transportation, which includes walking and cycling, are fairly efficient transportation methods, but they require food to produce the energy we need to make this happen. The food that we eat has to be delivered.
Our “human efficiency” increases or decreases with the efficiency of the transportation method used to deliver food. Consider the following additions to improve pedestrian efficiency, specifically cycling.
Let’s look at store-bought food efficiency for a moment and then move onto local-bought food efficiency.
STORE-BOUGHT FOOD EFFICIENCY
Many of us forget to consider the consumption required for food transportation. When we go to the store to purchase groceries, we are buying the convenience of having foods shipped in from all over the world. We have a cornucopia of plenty at our finger tips, but these items require significant fuel consumption in order to ship them to the grocery store. Let’s look at the figures with different variables included.
BICYCLE + ELECTRIC + STORE-BOUGHT FOOD
So what happens when you add an electric motor to a bicycle? You create a hybrid vehicle or a hybrid electric human. The human is 25% efficient and the motor is 80% efficient. The results are exciting. The cyclist’s efficiency goes from 270 mpg with store bought food to 570 mpg.
CARGO BICYCLE + ELECTRIC + STORE-BOUGHT FOOD
Even better is the electric cargo bike with kids on the back. Their combined human efficiency as a cargo biking family on a single electric bicycle jumps to 480 mpg.
This bike below is a Madsen Cargo Bike with a LEED 250 Series (250 Watt) Front Wheel Electric Bike Conversion Kit. The E-Bike Kit cost is $529 and Madsen’s Cargo Bike cost is $1,875 for a combined total of $2,404.
LOCAL-BOUGHT FOOD EFFICIENCY
First, let’s look at the alternative to store-bought food efficiency. Meet Farmer Scott. Scott Horner delivers his farm-grown food on an electric bike. Scott rides a Felt NINEe electric bike. The cost of the Felt NINEe is $4,499.
What do we see in this image? We see local grown fresh food, an awesome electric bike, and beautiful, clean mountain air. We see energy efficiency.
“Everything about this picture makes us happy.”
So what happens to your “human efficiency” when you eat Scott’s food?
BICYCLE + LOCAL-BOUGHT FOOD
We see a jump in human efficiency. The pedestrian’s efficiency goes from 55 mpg to 70 mpg and the cyclist’s from 270 mpg to 340 mpg. Let’s continue changing variables by adding electric to further evaluate “human efficiency.”
BICYCLE + ELECTRIC + LOCAL-BOUGHT FOOD
This is the hybrid electric/human bicycle + local food efficiency. This human efficiency evaluation achieves a significant increase to 710 mpg.
CARGO BICYCLE + ELECTRIC + LOCAL-BOUGHT FOOD
The results keep getting better. The electric cargo bicycle with kids combined with buying locally grown food achieves 600 mpg.
This bike below was purchased of Craigslist for $89. An Xtracycle Free Radical with accessories was added to make it a cargo bicycle for an additional $600. A LEED 250 Series (250 Watt) Electric Bike Conversion Kit was added for $529 for a combined total of $1,218.
BICYCLE + ELECTRIC + LOCAL FOOD EFFICIENCY + SOLAR
Let’s add solar electricity to the home. But first, let’s recap quickly. As a cyclist you get 270 mpg. This efficiency increases with each “efficient” variable we add. So, when you add an electric motor, local-bought food, and then add solar energy to charge the battery at home, you go from 270 mpg to a whopping 1,340 mpg! That’s a 496% increase of efficiency!
“Who knew that by adding these small things you could increase efficiency so well.”
ELECTRIC BIKE vs. ELECTRIC CAR
Compare these two human transportation methods, the electric bike and the electric car. A Nissan Leaf achieves 114 mpg. Our previous paradigm thought that was fantastic. Electric cars are praised as the energy alternative. Before looking at the previous numbers, we thought electric cars were the future for electric energy alternatives. 114 mpg for an electric car compared to 1,340 mpg for an electric bike. An electric bike is 1,175% more efficient!
“The truth is the electric car is lousy!” You are going to be miserable in this car! You are just going to be stuck in traffic just like the guy in the lane next to you. Take this to the liposuction clinic, and then you are going to suck 3,000 pounds out of this car. And what do you get? You get an electric bicycle that is going to make you a lot happier.”
PEOPLE CHOOSE THE ELECTRIC BIKE ALTERNATIVE
When people’s paradigms shift and they begin to understand the best alternative, they choose the electric bike for transportation. This is slowing beginning to happen in the USA. You may not see it in your community, but it has begun. You can go anywhere in Portland or Seattle and see families riding electric cargo bikes. We are starting to see it in Colorado as well. Change is on the horizon.
I rode my electric cargo bike everywhere when I lived in Monterrey, California. I rode it back and forth from work every day and my kids rode on the back with me on the weekends. We were not alone. We saw other families commuting by cargo bikes, but we were the only electric cargo bike that we saw.
Why are people making these changes?
- Reduce Energy Consumption
- Greater Level of Happiness
- Money Savings
- Technology Advancement
- More Free Time
- Stress Relief
- Health Benefits
Zach Krapfl has researched the data and his findings are exciting. Electric bikes are the alternative and we are seeing a shift in paradigms. But this will take time. So let’s speed it up!