Everyone over a ‘certain age’ will remember the comment from Norman Tebbit that everyone should ‘get on their bikes’ to help find a job – that was the 80’s, but it appears we may be told the same now, but with a potentially different end result.
Apparently we should ‘cycle like the Danes’ as that would cut our carbon emissions by 25%!
According to a report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF) if the EU cycling rate was the same as Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the EU would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted emissions reduction, this is obviously dependant upon what forms of transport the cycling replaces.
This figure is also likely to be a significant underestimate, as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars. So it does offer a potentially low-cost way of reducing emissions.
Focusing on less technologically complex solutions to reducing emissions like this, rather than electric cars, makes a lot of sense, especially as a high proportion of journeys within the EU are 1.25 miles or less (so easily done on a cycle).
The big advantage of the bicycle is that it exists as a vehicle, and most of the infrastructure is already in place to allow its use. Electric cars need a massive amount of investment in charging points to make them anywhere near being a viable form of transport.
The calculations for bikes is also all encompassing. It includes manufacture – the ECF took a heavier, European-style bike as its model, assuming each used 14.6kg of aluminium, 3.7kg of steel and 1.6kg of rubber – maintenance and even the impact of producing extra calories consumed by someone cycling rather than driving, estimated at 175 an hour, on average.
This came up with a total of 21g of carbon emissions per passenger kilometre travelled for a bike, as against 271g for people in a car and 101g for a bus. The impact of electric-assisted bicycles, a boon for older or infirm riders, was almost as low, at 22g.
Increasing continent-wide cycling to Danish levels would, nonetheless, be quite a leap. The EU average is just under 120 miles per person per year, while in the UK it is a mere 46 miles, less than 8% of that in Denmark (which is 600 miles).
However, even if we only undertake a small amount of bike travel it is going to help reduce our personal carbon footprints – and every bit helps!