If every American living within five miles of work commuted by bike just one day a week, it would be like taking a million cars off the road entirely.

Photograph by Empipe/Shutterstock

Environmental Impact


Bikes do have negative environmental impacts, particularly those associated with their production and disposal. Making frames and other components burns energy, typically non-renewable fossil fuels, and produces both greenhouse gas emissions and toxins. While some bike components can be recycled, others end up in landfills.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

But overall, and especially during day-to-day use, bikes are a very green way of getting around. Cyclists don’t burn non-renewable fossil fuels, and they don’t produce air pollution or other harmful emissions.

The U.S. Census estimates that about half of all Americans live within five miles of their workplace. Those who decided to bike those 5 miles every day rather than driving an average car could reduce total household emissions by six percent.

Motor vehicles produce more than 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, more than 80 percent of carbon monoxide, and about half of the nation’s nitrogen oxide emissions each year. Engine “warm-up” means short trips are by far the worst polluters—and those are the journeys most easily made by bike.

Bikers tend to be in good physical shape and are less likely to be obese than motorists. This means they typically use less energy on everything from transportation to food production.

Biking, and Growing Old, Bad for the Earth?

At least one study has suggested that, in the long run, biking has a negative impact on Earth’s environment. Why? Avid cyclists tend to be healthier, so they may live longer than others, thus consuming more energy over the course of their longer lifetimes than if they had not taken up the activity and died earlier.

Never fear, cyclists. The argument’s author, Karl Ulrich, of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is said to be a cyclist himself and surely doesn’t wish anyone an early demise. His premise is merely a way of pointing out the environmental impacts of older, larger populations.

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