Why Bicycles are Faster than Cars

Via No Tech Magazine

“The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.”

“Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well. The bicycle lifted man’s auto-mobility into a new order, beyond which progress is theoretically not possible.”

“Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems.” ~ Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich, 1978.
See also Mendo 2 Mile Challenge


Our almost unavoidable dependence on the extensive use of cars and trucks as personal transportation may be the primary achilles’ heel to life up here on the North Coast. It might only take 0.15 calories to move one gram (that ain’t much – typo here?) a kilometer on a flat road with a bike, but flat roads are in short supply in this mountainous area, and pedaling ten, fifteen or twenty miles through the hills is at the outer edge of physical possibility for most people. Especially if you’re trying to carry anything.

Getting out of the cars might be the most radical change we have to make.

Wow, Ivan was always right on. With the price of gas today, the time in personal effort to go a mile in an auto has shot way up. If you can’t bicycle, walk and you are way ahead. Oh, but you don’t have time because you must work and you haven’t exercised in so long because you’re stuck at a desk and keyboard?