Switching to Zero Emissions

Switching to Zero Emissions

Cycling used to be the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation available, but with recent technological developments, this no longer is the case.
Even though the emissions of riding bikes are small, they are not insignificant. As we cyclists convert carbohydrates into energy to power our legs, we emit CO2. The faster we ride, the higher the emissions. One could think of a cyclist’s nostrils as an exhaust pipe. The mouth forms an auxiliary exhaust, which opens automatically when the emissions exceed the capacity of the primary exhaust.
New technology has brought us a better option. There now are cars with zero emissions (above).
At Bicycle Quarterly, we still promote riding for leisure and health, but for transportation, you should consider using a less-polluting vehicle. Although in some circles it was considered virtuous to ride your bike to the start of a ride or event, now you should strap your bike onto the roof of a “zero emissions” vehicle to reduce the environmental impact of your pastime.
Several companies are working on solutions to make cycling more environmentally friendly. One of the most promising is to create more distance between the emissions and the cyclist (above), following the model of “zero emission” cars, which run on power generated by polluting power sources – it’s just that they aren’t in close proximity to the car. Some cyclists already have adopted diving snorkels to reduce their emissions that way.
An even easier solution may be to redefine “bicycle” to encompass just the machine, without the power source. The bicycle’s emissions already are zero, it’s just the cyclist who pollutes. The bicycle industry has started an aggressive lobbying campaign to change the relevant regulations.
As you can see, even small steps can go a long way toward protecting our planet’s future! The bike industry is working on decreasing the emissions from their products. Hopefully, we can announce a “zero emissions” bicycle soon.

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Comments (52)

  • JPI

    One remark: should the emissions produced for manufacturing the items be added to the total? Thus, a car starts its life with much more CO2 emitted than a bike.

    April 1, 2014 at 12:32 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Ask the people at Nissan who put the stickers on their cars!

      April 1, 2014 at 8:09 am
      • GuitarSlinger

        Nissan is advertising a pant load of Hype & Hyperbole hoping no one will notice that ; 1) Manufacturing EV’s [ all of them ] creates a larger carbon footprint than the manufacturing of 50 full sized SUVs along with driving them for 10,000 miles .. 2) Creating the electricity to charge an EV creates a fairly substantial carbon footprint as well as depending on where you live massive amounts of pollution 3) Building new power plants in order to meet the increased demand of EV’s should they become the norm [ our US power grids already being pushed beyond maximum capacity ] would create a huge carbon footprint as well as massive amounts of pollution and environmental damage …. 4) Disposing of an EV once either crashed or past its prime creates a devastating carbon footprint .. not to mention excess environmental damage . Simply stated .. the ZERO Emissions Car / Motorcycle … in fact any form of transportation is an abject Myth . There Is No Free Lunch ! Period . And every so called current solution other than increasing mpg .. 9 times out of ten creates as many if not more problems than it solves when it comes to emissions ; Read the book : ” Break Through ” by Nordhaus & Shellenberger

        April 2, 2014 at 8:17 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I read that in Germany, Mercedes Benz is installing wind power to meet the electricity needs of its upcoming electric Smart car. Not zero emissions when you consider the manufacture, but much better…

          April 2, 2014 at 5:15 pm
    • William Parsons

      An all electric car is far from zero emissions. The previous comment about the CO2 released in the manufacture of a car vs the bicycle is correct but more relevant is the energy stored in the cars batteries comes from the electric grid which could be coming from anything: coal, natural gas, or yes, solar, wind. But even solar, wind, hydro, have carbon costs involved in the manufacture of materials for production and transmission of power. There is no human activity that does not have a carbon dioxide cost but your exhalations don’t compare to any manufactured cost. So go ahead and walk and ride your bike everywhere.

      April 3, 2014 at 4:23 am
  • samsavvas

    ‘Course carbon ’emissions’ are only relevant if the CO2 involved is new to the biosphere – or at least if it hasn’t been with us for many millions of years. I don’t think pasta and wheaties count! But hey, it is April 1st eh! Savvas

    April 1, 2014 at 12:46 am
  • Gert

    Maybe a closed circuit rebreather mounted on the rack with a valve that can be used for carbonizing your waterbottles.
    I think that is the answer

    April 1, 2014 at 1:03 am
  • Daniel

    Your suggestion that companies making devices to move the pollution higher into the atmosphere is akin to the mistake larger emitters did with taller smokestacks. Try getting fully into the 21st century and advocate for filters at the sources, our faces. Once we have useful filters that don’t interfere with cycling, we need to consider how to transport our exhaust to sequestration sites (by bicycle, perhaps?) but otherwise this seems far more sensible and effective than simply moving our exhaust higher into the atmosphere.

    April 1, 2014 at 2:14 am
  • Len Clark

    Yep, very funny on this day of all days!!!! lol.

    April 1, 2014 at 2:15 am
  • Cory b

    I read a similar article today. I have seen these new cars in the UK. Jan, have you been told when Grand Bois will be coming out with their production bikes? And will you be stocking them?

    April 1, 2014 at 2:18 am
  • The Coasting Frenchman

    I couldn’t agree more! Let ‘s reduce our emissions when we cycle, or at least make them more remote. I’m ready to try the snorkel, and with what other people have said elsewhere about the emissions caused by cattle, I think we should also watch what we eat before we go for a ride, just to keep other kinds of emissions in check…

    April 1, 2014 at 2:34 am
  • TimJ

    I make sure my cycling is as environmentally friendly as possible by not riding. Never riding any of my five bikes doesn’t do much for my physical condition but provides loads of green cred. Now if I only had ten bikes to never ride…

    April 1, 2014 at 4:51 am
  • Bryan Lorber

    VERY Clever! You almost had me. Happy April 1st to you too! Keep up the great work.

    April 1, 2014 at 5:23 am
  • John Schag

    You almost had me there- very funny!

    April 1, 2014 at 5:43 am
  • john titus

    not all my exhaust comes from my nostrils which is why I always ride stoker on a tandem

    April 1, 2014 at 5:47 am
  • erinlaine

    Cyclists really should practice holding their breath longer. Wouldn’t this help? Ha, ha!

    April 1, 2014 at 6:05 am
  • Adam in Indiana

    Fantastic ideas! I believe I will begin implementing them on the 2nd of April… … …

    April 1, 2014 at 6:16 am
  • William Boyd

    You could save even more carbon emissions by not participating in the event!

    April 1, 2014 at 6:31 am
  • John Brooking

    Cutting down on the bean content of my pre-ride meals has cut my riding emissions considerably. The downside is I get more guys drafting my wheel than I used to. 🙂

    April 1, 2014 at 6:36 am
  • Jeff

    There might be zero emissions at the tail pipe but these cars are absolutely not zero emissions. Most electricity is generated using CO2 producing methods which generates far more CO2 than your bike breath.

    April 1, 2014 at 6:43 am
  • marmotte27

    Good one!
    I’d really like to know how many people believe the nonsense about zero emissions cars (electricity comes out of the socket, right?). They could actually pollute more, not less, for a number of reasons, especially if people don’t drive less but more, believing their car to be “zero-emissions”.

    April 1, 2014 at 7:12 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      That is something few people consider. The actual pollution is the miles-per-gallon times the miles driven. If I drive my old Subaru 500 miles a year, that causes a fraction of the pollution of driving a “green” hybrid 10,000 miles a year.

      April 1, 2014 at 8:07 am
      • WLamb

        This is the problem with ubiquitous efficiency metrics; one can have a relative improvement (emissions per mile) but an absolute increase in emissions (more distance travelled). As you say, many people justify the latter using the former. But if you want to geek out on economics: the former quite often drives the latter (Jevon’s Paradox)!

        April 1, 2014 at 9:16 am
      • Phil

        That’s true, but the pollution of driving a green (or really any color) hybrid for 500 miles would be less than your Subaru 500 miles.
        I think another good thing to consider is the fuel source of human. The environmental impact of raising a lot of our food (meat especially) can be quite large in many instances. While I think this anecdote goes to far, my eyes were opened when I read someone write that the impact of carnivore riding a bike is much greater than a vegetarian driving a hummer. I’d love to see someone actually do some research on this as I find the thesis provocative.

        April 1, 2014 at 4:44 pm
        • Greg

          That is indeed very provocative. I’d love to see good data on that as well. A lot of assumptions and extrapolations, I’d wager. Be skeptical. Remember that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. 🙂

          April 2, 2014 at 7:58 am
  • Ty

    Glad you pointed this out Jan! I’ll be sure to use my car for a lot more errands and trade in my Xtracycle!
    You gave a lot of good information here, but you did neglect one very important emission from cyclists, and randonneurs in particular: Methane!
    This is a particularly toxic gas,and it is emitted in great quantities from randonneurs on on both long and short ride and brevets. The reason? Microwave burritos at controls!
    This is definitely harming our environment and we as cyclists need to be aware of the problem and do something about it! Short of eliminating the burritos, and no one wants that, someone needs to design some form of self-sealing chamois or wearable cyclists exhaust pipe filtration system.
    However I do have some concerns about fit and comfort of the latter idea…
    Perhaps the crack boffins at BIcycle Quarterly could work on some designs and test them in the wind tunnel?

    April 1, 2014 at 7:23 am
  • Steven D

    Breathing in general is not green. As of last year I stopped.

    April 1, 2014 at 7:24 am
  • azorch

    “Zero Emissions” is certainly a desirable product development commitment. I’d be very curious to know more about the holistics of such products as I am also concerned about the carbon footprint inherent in the “front loading” – the production of the battery system, for instance, as well as the sustaining aspects such as the source of power for charging of the battery, etc. (Many electric supplies are still coal fired, I understand.) I’m sure nothing comes without a price somewhere along the line, no product will ever be “perfect.” It would be good to be able to weigh all the factors in giving due consideration.

    April 1, 2014 at 7:26 am
  • lyle

    good one!

    April 1, 2014 at 7:50 am
  • Daniel

    Maybe you’ll go into this more in the next BQ, but this article overlooks the methane pipe in my bib shorts, which puts out more exhaust than both nostrils and my mouth combined.

    April 1, 2014 at 8:16 am
  • Bill Gobie

    I can’t believe you failed to credit your guest author, WA State Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Vacuous Cranium).

    April 1, 2014 at 8:26 am
  • Greg

    This is right on. Did you consult with Mike Kone on this project? I’ve just ordered 257 of his three-ounce Regina America Beryllium (‘totally RAB’) freewheels. Fantastic new technology!!!!!

    April 1, 2014 at 8:32 am
  • David Pearce

    Except that I am now going outside to take the lights & fenders off my Volvo!

    April 1, 2014 at 9:37 am
  • Barbara Kelly

    You forgot to mention another emission, methane, from a different orifice. 🙂 Speaking of April Fools, did you happen to read Lovely Bicycle’s PBP poem today?

    April 1, 2014 at 9:42 am
  • Bubba

    Since many of us use CO2 canisters to inflate our tires, I hope you have also considered the serious environmental impact of the planet-destroying high volume tires in the Compass lineup. I hope those over-fat abominations end up in the landfill where they belong, and Compass comes out with skinny, non-pneumatic solid core tires. Furthermore, I expect an immediate and permanent halt to all printed materials, especially Bicycle Quarterly magazine (a.k.a. “Clear-cut Quarterly”), but printed books as well. Only then can Compass Bicycles truly claim to be a company that cares about the environment.

    April 1, 2014 at 10:42 am
  • Andy Sutterfield

    I’m taller than most other cyclists so I’m already well on my way to moving my emissions farther away from my bicycle.

    April 1, 2014 at 11:12 am
  • John Hawrylak

    Who is the cartoonist?? The guy on the bike looks familiar
    John Hawrylak
    Woodstown NJ.

    April 1, 2014 at 3:57 pm
  • thebvo

    Wow. Checking this post last night, here in Japan (when there weren’t any comments to tip me off to the “April foolin”), I gullibly took the bait, and asked my riding buddy if Jan had perhaps begun a new “recreational” Washington activity. I almost posted a reply with multiple questions on this (false) premise, but I was too tired to engage. I’m glad I didn’t! Everyone else was smart enough to keep an eye out for BS on April 1, but not me! I’m special! ; }

    April 2, 2014 at 12:45 am
  • Steve

    Even better are the newer Subarus which bear the label PZEV for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.

    April 2, 2014 at 12:32 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes. They are zero emissions when parked with the engine off. (Most cars have some smog-forming emissions from gasoline in the fuel tank evaporating.)

      April 2, 2014 at 5:16 pm
      • Greg

        Not exactly. We have had evaporative emissions control systems on cars sold in the USA for a very long time now. Gas caps are no longer vented, for starters, but it is much more complex than just that. Activated-carbon canisters, purge valves, purge lines to and from the fuel tank, an ECU to run them, etc. There are evaporative emissions tests that new cars have been tested for, for a very long time. I’m not sure how Subaru got the “PZEV” rating on the Forester, but it may be due to emissions being so small that they are ‘ND’ (not detected) during one phase of the EPA test cycle, perhaps. That doesn’t mean that they were zero.
        A big issue now in testing for auto. emissions is that the max. standard for what can exit the exhaust pipe is often lower than that pollutant’s level in the surrounding ambient air. Drive your car more, and clean the air! (That last sentence is a joke, please relax, y’all, but the rest is true).

        April 2, 2014 at 5:52 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I believe that the PZEV is the California standard, and Subaru decided to sell the same cars, built to CA standards, in the entire U.S.
          The “zero emission” is also a California standard, if I recall correctly. If Nissan had put it in quotation marks, we would be hard-pressed to fault them…

          April 3, 2014 at 5:01 am
    • mimi boothby

      so Subaru has learned how to divide zero?

      April 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm
  • Robert Wiard

    I ment to send this Tuesday, I heard an unnamed bicycle pump manufacturer will be introducing a hand pump with an internal carbon dioxside filter. This pump will be able to seperate out the CO2 found in our atmosphere and allow the bike to store it in the tires.
    I also heard about a new wheel mesh cover that fits between the rim and hup over the spokes. The mesh has a slight electric charge induced by the bikes generator that will enable the mesh to remove ground level ozone before it can rise into the upper atmosphere.

    April 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm
  • Heather

    Was this an april fools posting? Cause that is just silly. No car is zero emissions because the manufacture of the vehicle requires new materials, takes resources to be built, perhaps not the best labour or environmental standards, and is shipped to you.
    I do know someone who bought a nissan leaf which was $40,000!!! even though she already has an electric truck made with a conversion kit. These new cars are so ugly and full of ridiculous features, all encouraging more and more consumption.
    The bicycle industry does create some pollution et al, but the end product is non polluting.

    April 3, 2014 at 7:26 pm
  • oldairhead

    All EV’s should come with a bumper sticker which proudly proclaims “I support strip mining!” The rare earth elements required to produce the necessary batteries for these vehicles come primarily from huge strip mines in Canada. Hardly an environmentally friendly enterprise. Not to mention that these “green” vehicles are basically rolling hazmat sites. The cost to recycle a retired battery or to clean up battery leakage resulting from an accident (read hazardous material spill) is huge in terms of both carbon output and dollars. But hey, at least their intentions are good, right?

    April 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm
  • Daniel

    This discussion is getting home too serious for an April Fools’ Day joke. It’s true that zero emission vehicles don’t exist, which could be why Jan was poking fun at them. So I’ll add to the serious turn,
    I recall riding past the Climax Mine above Leadville on my 4130 steel framed bicycle, thinking about the relationship between my frame and the huge mine that likely supplied the molybdenum for it. Material for bikes are supplied at a different scale than that for cars but it still adds to our overall impact on the environment.

    April 6, 2014 at 6:21 am
  • max

    This is too funny! Even funnier is everyone’s reactions. Haha

    April 6, 2014 at 10:39 pm

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