Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bike to Save Cars

Here are some things I like:
This is an MG Midget in a rather nice shade of green. I like cars but this is one of my favorites because there are no strings. It's the minimum amount of car one can have without becoming a motorcycle and that makes it fun to drive. I also like it's simple straight lines. Overall it's very cool and I'd like to have one someday.

This is a Toyota Tacoma. I like trucks. For one because I have a tendency to tow things like boats. I also have a tendency to move large and/or dirty things around. All I want is the little two-wheel-drive four cylinder model. They're comfortable, handy, dependable, and they last longer than your average car. They also have the best resale value of any vehicle ever. This is the vehicle I would like to drive once I have the cash to buy a new vehicle.

This is an oil rig. It's something I'd rather not support. I don't think we'll ever be completely off of oil, or at least not for some time. In addition, in Canada cars are a necessity. They're just not going to go away. Things are far apart. It's cold several months of the year. Our public transit systems tend to suck.
This is a Fuji S12-S. As it sits the total investment in it is about $300. As far as bikes go I think it's a very good one. In fact, I refer to this sort of bike as a "life bike." The reason being that it is made of good, tough, non-exotic components that will last for quite some time without any fuss. All non-frame bits are aluminum.  The frame is straight-gage chromoly so not fancy but strong and quality material. It has eighteen speeds rather than ten or twelve for your hill-climbing comfort. It has nice toe-clips. It has handlebars that sit higher for longer rides. It has a Brooks saddle that is ridiculously comfortable. It has nice tires (not shown). Overall it is the kind of bike that one could sit comfortably on all day long. Now, I've not had this bike for very long but on my old Raleigh Superbe I could average about 20kph without working very hard. Once I've gotten used to this bike I should be able to do better. Most cyclists in decent shape can outdo that fairly easily but let's stick at 20kph for the sake of argument. That means that you have a twenty kilometer radius you could travel if you have an hour to spare. That's 10km for a half hour. Where do you go in your average day? How far is the supermarket or the nearest shopping area? How far is work? How far away do your friends live?

I live in a city called Belleville. It's about 45 000 people. The longest you could ride inside the city limits is ten kilometers. That means that wherever I have to go in town on my bike won't take longer than a half hour. In addition, you can take all the shortcuts on a bike which can't be done in a car. I could go to the next city in an hour and the next closest in 1:20. Well...right now I couldn't but I just started this longer distance stuff. An average long ride for me is 30km. But that's in a rural little city. What about Toronto? Well, a for instance is Yorkdale Mall to Union Station. That's about 15km. So theoretically about 1hr because of traffic. Of course in Toronto you can throw your bike on public transit or take it right aboard the subway if you're going too far. As someone who's done that drive in a car, though, I can tell you that the car doesn't take much less time than the bike. In fact, as someone who lived in downtown Toronto for a few years I can say that biking is the fastest way to get around the downtown core and it's free versus $6 for public transit or $6/hour for parking. In addition to that, you can lock your bike up anywhere while in a car you could be forever looking for a spot.

Of course, there's also the problem of winter. I wouldn't ride my Fuji or my cool old Superbe in the slush. The salt will ruin two bikes that I really do like. However I have ridden in the winter before and it's actually not that bad. I can't speak for the rest of Canada but here in Southern Ontario the winter isn't so bad. To begin with, along Lake Ontario we tend to not get snow till December. You can usually pick biking back up in April. So that's four months maximum you can't ride. You would think it's cold in November and April, and indeed it is. You'll need some proper gear. However, I've found down to about zero a heavy sweater and a pair of long-johns is more than enough. I went for a ride along the water the other day in that outfit and ended up taking off my hat and gloves because I was too hot once I got my blood flowing. Of course it was a sunny calm day. You have to remember that you're getting a workout so you're body heats right up. There are also plenty of people who have figured out how to ride down to -30C. But what about snow and ice? Well...it's not as big of an issue as you'd think. We only get a few big snow storms per year and you're probably not taking your car out in them either. After that the roads tend to be kept fairly clear. It usually takes one sunny day after a storm for the pavement to return to view. This is especially the case in the dead of winter when it's below -5 most of the time, everything is dry and clean. But despite this, a lot of people build winter bikes specifically for the cold. You can get studded tires and make some compromises with an old yard-sale sacrificial bike and make a really good winter bike. That's perhaps on the project list for me. What I'm getting at is that even winter biking doesn't have to be unheard of in Canada. Worst case scenario you can get a Surley Pugsley and handle worse conditions on your bike than your car can.

What I'm getting at is that biking is actually a lot more reasonable than we tend to think and can make a really big difference. I started keeping track of how many kilometers I was riding in just puttering around town for fun and it was pretty astonishing. I say "hey, I rode twenty kilometers just now" and most people say "holy wow, that's a long distance." What they don't realize is that's just puttering around town and no further than they would ride on a sunday afternoon putter along the bayshore. The difference is they don't keep track of it and thus can't compare it to distances. For them the bike is a toy and not for getting from point a to point b. In addition they're fair-weather devices which, with the proper gear, they're not. Bikes are simply a great way to get around and it's staggering how much good we can do by riding our bikes.

Let's say we used bikes for all of our trips under 10km for the months with no snow on the ground. That's pretty reasonable. Never more than forty minutes in the saddle at a time. Never having to deal with muck and snow. The average commute in Canada is 7.6km at five days per week. Let's assume shopping areas are 5km away at three trips per week. Let's assume three social activities per week at the same distance as your commute. That's a possible 5255.5km. The average kilometers driven by Canadians in 2006 was 17 000km. That means you can reduce your car use by 31% by simply taking your shorter trips by bike. In addition, those short in-town trips are the trips that are the least fuel efficient and hardest on your car. In addition to stop and go traffic which uses a lot of gas your car doesn't warm up properly which uses more stress and strains components designed to operate at a certain temperature. The constant acceleration and braking also strains your drivetrain, brakes, and tires causing them not to last as long as highway use. Lastly, over time short trips cause a lot of gunk problems in your engine and emissions systems. As an example, my father and my aunt both owned 1990 Corollas. Ours had the snot driven out of it and was getting close to 300 000km after fifteen or so years. My Aunt's was rarely driven outside of town, was dealer serviced regularly, and had less than half the miles on it. It also had significantly less power and when it came to oil change time the oil would be black where the highway-driven car's oil would come out looking like it did going in. Just in terms of gas mileage, Toyota reports city/highway fuel consumption of that little Tacoma I posted above of 9.9/7.5 L/100Km. Good for a truck, not so good overall. However, this means that if it was driven solely on the highway one could go 1066.7km on it's 80L tank where solely in town one could only go 808.1km, a difference of 258.5km or 24.3%. This means you're not just cutting out 31% of your driving, but the 31% of your least fuel efficient driving and highest wear driving. According to my non-mathy-person math that means you're saving more like 38.5% of the fuel you would normally use. Keep in mind, this is just your utilitarian driving that you are replacing. Imagine if you replaced your sunday drive/touristy type driving with the equivalent time on a bike, which I think is actually more pleasant. I suspect you could replace 40% of your yearly driving time by biking. You can save a lot by biking.

The one fact I have not discussed is the possible lost-time from biking versus driving. Some of you may be saying "yes, this is all well and good but I have no time for this business. I suspect it's actually not that much time you're loosing. The other night a friend of mine and I turned on my gps tracker and drove around Belleville to see what our average moving time was. We logged an average speed of 35kph. That was including fast roads and slow roads in a city with 50 and 60kph speed limits but it was also at night with absolutely no traffic, so it is a high average. At our calculated 151.6km per week spent driving under 10km that means that per week you will spend 10.1 hours on your bike or 4.3 hours driving. Admittedly, this is a significant difference in time. My suspicion, but I cannot prove it currently, is that this time is in actual fact less. This is first due to the fact that the same trip on a bike is usually shorter than in a car due to being able to take more direct routes and short cuts. Secondly, the more biking you do the higher your average speed will be. One thing I will draw your attention to, however, is the amount of time spent at the gym (or ideally so) every week. If I remember correctly, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People suggests that you spend three hours per week exercising. I don't know about you, but I hate the gym. To me it's the equivalent of a hamster wheel. If you're like me you've just found your gym substitute, which means that you're only loosing a maximum of 2.8 hours per week, and my suspicion is it is and will become even less than that. So you will loose time by biking on your trips under 10km from April to November, but with some planning and time it may not actually be that much.

So, it's possible to make some significant savings in fuel and cash by using your bicycle for short trips. While the full 38% savings might be a little idealistic, 30% or 25% is not. Even in Canada with our legendary winters. But what does this have to do with the Midget and Tacoma I showed you earlier in the post? Well, I think everyone should accept my challenge to ride your bike at least for your trips under 10km during the non-snowy months. However, for those of us who are into older cars as a hobby or for those of us who drive bigger cars for different reasons I think this should be a commitment. I think it's an awfully tough thing to condemn those who use more gas and produce more emissions. For some people that's just part of who they are and how they need to live. On the other hand, if that's how we're going to be we need to sacrifice in another way and biking is extremely pleasant and in some instances superior to driving. So I challenge all of you to ride your bike for short trips during good weather. However, I particularly challenge those of us with gas guzzling hobbies/lifestyles to take a step to balance these lifestyles off. It's really not a big sacrifice, in fact I think it could be a positive accompaniment to your lifestyle. So let's get out there and get a foot on the pedal.


P.S. On a related note, here's a Top Gear clip where James May and Jay Leno make a similar statement.

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