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The environmental impact of the cycling industry

OneForTheRoad

Maximum Pace
Jan 3, 2021
78
91
Some good food for thought here.

"The bike industry sometimes gets a bit of a free pass on environmentalism. We're not the oil or automobile industries – or a better-known perpetrator, for want of a better word. But we're the bike industry, and there's still a very real carbon footprint there."

 

Benedikt

Cruising
Nov 5, 2021
12
21
@TokyoLiving ah but have you heard of the impact of the shoe industry?

A bike is about 10kg... Even a kei car is a solid 900kg of stuff.
Not that I don't think the bike industry has to be responsible as well, and some of the steps listed in the article will hopefully help with that, but as a whole...

Either way, in the end being responsible will (hopefully) result in lower costs and a better business, though the plethora of Chinese copycat (e-)bikes on amazon don't inspire confidence at the moment...
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
3,287
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I'm gonna start walking from now on.

Don't forget that cycling is very efficient. It will let you cover the same distance using a lot less calories. Just compare how tired you feel after cycling 20 km vs. walking that far. The more calories you burn, the more food you need to eat to replace them. The carbon footprint of food production and distribution amounts to about 1/3 of total greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the food we eat in Japan is imported from overseas, either as ingredients (e.g. grain) or as animal feed, and all the farm machines and trucks that supply the supermarkets run on fossil fuels. Shipping by air (e.g. avocados from Mexico, grapes from Australia) is the worst. So arguably, cycling has a lower carbon footprint than walking.

Yeah, I realize your answer was tongue in cheek :)

Regarding carbon footprints for different frame materials: What we are talking here is a few kg of material, for example about 3 kg of steel in the case of a low end frame and fork, plus assorted bits of aluminium for cranks, handlebars, rims, etc. Just compare that to the average family car which these days probably doesn't start much below 1,000 to 1,300 kg, depending on size. If we could only replace a fraction of cars with bicycles, that would be a huge net benefit, regardless of the carbon footprint of the bicycle industry. One car equals 100 bikes, just looking at raw materials and energy consumed to make them, without looking at fuel consumption.

Both steel and aluminium can be recycled. It takes a lot less energy to melt aluminium than to melt steel. OTOH it takes a lot more energy to make aluminium than to make steel. There are zero-carbon ways of making steel (direct reduction with green hydrogen) but they are not being used yet. There aren't any zero-carbon ways of making aluminium, even if the electricity comes from hydroelectric dams. Every known aluminium process either burns carbon as anodes used for electrolysis (the current Hall–Héroult industrial process) or to first turn the oxide into a halide (historic technology, e.g. Ørsted process).

Though both steel and aluminium can be recycled, neither is likely to be turned into new bicycle frames. That's because specific alloys are used to optimize strength to weight ratios for bikes. Your old steel bike is likely to be reborn as cheap rebar rods or in shipbuilding while your aluminium frame will turn into beer cans. It's not strictly a circular process yet because each recycling generation is degraded from the previous one by mixing of different alloys.

Carbon fibre is essentially non-recyclable. At best you can use it as fuel for thermal power plants. That is not the whole story though. The average car will emit far more CO2 every week than the production of a carbon frame and fork which will last for many years. The energy input to make it is probably also a lot less than for steel or aluminium using current technology.
 

Elzico2012

Maximum Pace
Jan 29, 2014
161
199
Cycling to a nearby store instead of using a car certainly offsets the bike production carbon footprint.

As for the environment, the impact of races has also been questioned.
A few years back in France, some associations started to question the impact of the Tour de France, considering the caravan of 4000 people is moving daily, causing pollution (cannot deny that). But the focus was centered on littering, specially the riders plastics and bottles, knowing the race goes through mountains, national parks where ecosystems must be preserved. The mayor of Rennes even refused his city to host the depart of the Tour this year.
But it is such part of the culture and entrenched, all those discussions were quickly shut.

Personally, I have always been concerned by all the bottles thrown by riders, even if materials are now biodegradable. Though most are picked up by fans but there are so many places where nobody stands along the road. I am quite happy with the UCI rule of designated littering areas
 

OreoCookie

Maximum Pace
Dec 2, 2017
1,915
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It is not a bad idea to think about it, but I'd put everything in context. I reckon the CO2 and other emissions of one F1 race will probably dwarf the emissions of the TdF, and perhaps several big stage races taken together. Ditto for bikes: yes, production creates emissions, but let's compare that to the environmental impact of a car (ICU or electric, doesn't matter) — it's going to be very small.

Still, I am all in favor of forcing everyone, including bike manufacturers, to think of recyclability — and force them if necessary. Just think of all the trash one trip to the supermarket produces, especially in Japan, where everything has to be wrapped individually.
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
3,287
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I reckon the CO2 and other emissions of one F1 race will probably dwarf the emissions of the TdF, and perhaps several big stage races taken together.
Actually, no :) A quick back of the envelope calculation shows that the TdF uses a lot more fuel than F1 motor racing.

Under current regulations F1 cars are limited to 110 kg (about 140 l) of fuel per race and there are 20 team cars, for a maximum fuel consumption of 2,800 l. The maximum race distance is 305 km, less than a tenth of a typical TdF (or two of its stages).

The TdF covers about 3,400 km. There were 184 riders from 23 teams in the 2021 TdF, about 3/4 of whom made it to the finish line. If we assume an average fuel consumption of 8 l/100 km (12.5 km per l) for support vehicles and team transport, then each would burn 272 l of fuel while going from stage to stage. I think it's a safe bet that 23 teams supporting 184 cyclists would use far more than 10 cars between them, which would be the breakeven point between the racing fuel consumption and TdF fuel consumption. An F1 race uses a fraction of the fuel used in the TdF.

Reality is much more complex, of course. My calculation is not counting any fuel used to get athletes, drivers, mechanics and other staff to the start and back home from the finish (by air, car or trains), same for moving the race cars around which will almost certain involve international cargo flights.

The ecologically most damaging aspect of F1 racing is not the fuel it uses but the value set: The glorification of internal combustion engines and fast driving, which multiplies the damage a million times when people buy cars for their personal use. I am not innocent myself. You mentioned Audi inline-5s in the other thread - I have had 5 of them over the years, back in the 1980s/1990s ;)
 
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bloaker

Sincerely A Dick
Nov 14, 2011
3,148
4,739
Small Plug for a company my friend works for.... Rebel Cycles (Why Cycles) and their Carbon Wheels.

Lighter, stronger, made in America and 100% recyclable. The new Revel wheels just flipped the script. The same bike nerds who brought you Revel Bikes are proud to present Revel Wheels. These rims are made from the brand new Fusion-Fiber]TM ​technology developed and manufactured in an aerospace facility in southern Utah. There's no environmentally harmful or brittle epoxy in this carbon- it is a toughened, high performance composite polymer that makes for a significantly more durable, lighter, and better riding wheel with a nice damped feel. Demo a set of RWs today or read the reviews below and see for yourself.

So at least some companies are looking to help with Carbon and its responsible use.
 

OreoCookie

Maximum Pace
Dec 2, 2017
1,915
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Actually, no :) A quick back of the envelope calculation shows that the TdF uses a lot more fuel than F1 motor racing.
To be honest, I was not thinking of fuel consumed and emission during races, but mostly the emissions by travels and all. (You mention that as well.) Here are a few things that came to mind:
- Every team has to air freight 4 cars (2 cars per driver), parts and all that. They seem to transport the parts with large trucks. (I am assuming the teams are using air freight, because transporting everything by ship would be too slow.)
- Every team has to transport its, well, entire team. I assume that the number of people in an F1 team is comparable or larger than that for a pro cycling team, although perhaps this is not correct.
- Apparently, some drivers arrive in their own private jets.
- You have tons of spectators that travel to one place rather than lots of residents as is the case with cycling races. Also the spectators need to travel to and from the venue.

So if you take the total carbon foot print into account, I reckon a single F1 race has the TdF beat.

And you are right about the glorification of the ICU. So many emotions go into the sound of engines and all that.
 

Benedikt

Cruising
Nov 5, 2021
12
21
On the topic of F1, they have more than one set of equipment, constantly travelling all over the globe. What can be transported by ship will be, but obviously car parts will have to be either air freighted and/or trucked to make it between races.
DHL did a really interesting video on how the logistics work which can be found here.

(They also seem to have released one specifically about logistics during the pandemic that I missed, see here; )

Quick Googling says that a TdF team is approx 30 people, whereas an F1 team is allowed a maximum of 50 staff flying to events. Not to mention all the celebrities and such that F1 teams fly in for promotions...


As for cycling, during the Olympics road race what surprised me most was the amount of non-team related cars either going ahead of or following the race. Not sure if it is the same for TdF, but they had 10+ cars with judges & staff ahead of the racers, multiple buses as well. Probably 20 motorbikes riding the course making sure there was nothing on the course that could cause an accident.
After the racers and team cars had passed by, a seemingly endless row of various event support cars, 10+ cleanup trucks, multiple ambulances, staff buses, and more kept rolling by for what felt like forever -- obviously needed in the case of a crash but a lot of emissions at the same time. Either way, small steps is what it takes. I for one am all for DQing any rider that litters the course, and think designated trash zones were a great change.


Perhaps while thinking about these, we could outlaw those big advertising trucks that drive in stop-and-go Shibuya traffic all day every day... How many of those trucks do you need to have the same emissions as a cycling race...?
 

bloaker

Sincerely A Dick
Nov 14, 2011
3,148
4,739
Small Plug for a company my friend works for.... Rebel Cycles (Why Cycles) and their Carbon Wheels.

Lighter, stronger, made in America and 100% recyclable. The new Revel wheels just flipped the script. The same bike nerds who brought you Revel Bikes are proud to present Revel Wheels. These rims are made from the brand new Fusion-Fiber]TM ​technology developed and manufactured in an aerospace facility in southern Utah. There's no environmentally harmful or brittle epoxy in this carbon- it is a toughened, high performance composite polymer that makes for a significantly more durable, lighter, and better riding wheel with a nice damped feel. Demo a set of RWs today or read the reviews below and see for yourself.

So at least some companies are looking to help with Carbon and its responsible use.
Ugh - REVEL not Rebel. Not sure if Spell Check got me and I didn't pay attention of is I just suck at typing. (btw, I really suck at typing when a kid is in my lap)

www.revelbikes.com/revel-wheels/
 

andywood

Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008
3,079
3,305
Without reading what is said above, I think personal choices make the difference. The kids walk to school, the wife walks to work, I bike to work. I run or snowshoe in winter. If it is really bad, we'll car share. The car is a 12 years old kei, the bike older than that titanium. The car will die soon. The bike probably will go to the grave with me. Everyone's situation is different. But do what you can. Ride your bike. It's better than driving a Chelsea Tractor. Peace!

Andy
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
3,287
3,039
Perhaps while thinking about these, we could outlaw those big advertising trucks that drive in stop-and-go Shibuya traffic all day every day... How many of those trucks do you need to have the same emissions as a cycling race...?
I was told those Shibuya trucks tend to have Kanagawa license plates because Tokyo basically prohibits their activities (though not severely enough to ticket Kanagawa trucks still doing that job).
 

Benedikt

Cruising
Nov 5, 2021
12
21
I was told those Shibuya trucks tend to have Kanagawa license plates because Tokyo basically prohibits their activities (though not severely enough to ticket Kanagawa trucks still doing that job).
No more prohibited than this! Spotted around Shinjuku today.
663801.jpg
 
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