The Carbon Footprint of Bike Commuting

The following article is getting a lot of coverage on various news sources, and we thought you may be interested in reading about it. What, exactly, IS the carbon footprint of choosing a bicycle over a car for transportation purposes?

Slate’s Brian Palmer wrote in an article this week that he’s thinking of switching his commute “from four wheels to two” but he’s concerned about the environmental impact of bicycling: specifically, “about all the energy it takes to manufacture and ship a new bicycle.” He wants to know how many miles he would “bike the drive” before he’s gone “carbon neutral.”

The article, from Slate via Streetsblog Capitol Hill, links to an interesting research paper published by MIT last year comparing greenhouse gas emissions from the production of bicycles and a variety of motor vehicles. Here’s a chart from that research paper:

MIT chart

While many of us choose a bike over a car because it just makes sense, or it is more fun, or we’re trying to get some exercise, it is often fascinating to learn some of the other benefits/perils of our choice. This article (and research paper) helps illuminate something a lot of us probably never even thought about. Take a look and see what you think.

Also, I should point out that one of the commenters on the Streetsblog post suggested that for people concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions from new bicycle production, there are plenty of used bikes out there just waiting for a good home. A choice like that is just about “footprint free”!

About the author

Bicycle commuter since 1989, bicycle enthusiast for 30+ years. I am a Bookmobile/Books By Mail librarian at a large library system and the proud father of two wonderful boys.