Banking on Biking: Don’t Stop the Cycle

It seems like every rise in the price of gas elicits a familiar slew of curses and concerns from just about everyone. Last week, I was pleased to see two articles on the topic of biofuels in the New University. I am glad to see a more enlightened debate on the matter, as the issue of energy is a matter of both national security and planet stewardship. It is as though everyone is looking for a simple solution, a quick fix that accommodates both our wallets and our way of life.
In the arena of transportation, hybrid vehicles, hydrogen cars, electric cars and biofuels are all areas of active research and development. However, the most efficient transportation is already on the market. The vehicle of choice is especially attractive to those who live within a few miles of their work or place of study. I am, of course, referring to the bicycle.
For one minute, we shall ignore the exercise, better sleep, greener conscience, healthy tan and other positive effects of riding your bike on a regular basis. If we adopt a reductionist approach to the bicycle and simply translate fuel cost in terms of pure energy, we will arrive at a few interesting numbers.
I spend a lot of time in a research lab at the medical school. Using a popular distance and workout-charting Web site, mapmyrun.com, I discovered that I bike 3.8 miles every day, and at my body weight, traveling at a leisurely pace, I use about 170 calories (Kcal) for a round trip. A gallon of gasoline carries 34,800 Kcal. Calorie for calorie, joule for joule, I get about 780 miles per gallon! Eat your heart out, hybrid junkies.
Among those endorsing the biofuels, there is much debate about the best organic medium to produce the most efficient fuel. I will hereby propose the absolute best biofuel yet: pasta. The other day, I bought a pound of pasta for $0.67, with 105 Kcal per ounce, or 1,680 Kcal per pound. The current price of a gallon of gas is around $3.80. Dollar for dollar, to match the fuel costs of my cheap road bike, I would need a car that achieved a fuel economy of over 210 miles per gallon. The value keeps rising along with the price of gas.
While on the topic of pure cost, consider that my bike, helmet, maintenance, lights and bike lock combined cost less than half of what most people pay for their annual car insurance. And it never expires.
With this information in mind, one cannot help but cringe at the automobile traffic on Arroyo Drive. Most of these cars’ destinations are less than a mile away, merely a hop closer to Ring Mall. Many will argue that this act of self-transportation is so wasteful that it should be considered an ecological sin against the planet. With the rising cost of tuition and gas, coupled with many students’ overwhelming debt, it’s also just plain stupid. For some, driving a car is more convenient than taking a free shuttle. Because my vehicle has two wheels and pedals, I usually park within 10 to 15 feet of my classes, and traffic never slows me down. If you don’t already own a bike, get one. Find one on craigslist.org, often comparable in price to a tank of gas.
If we remove the reductionist view and venture outside the dollar equation, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t want to be more fit, tan and good-looking. Yes, cycling has this side effect. For those who believe that the demand for oil might contribute to the level of violence and struggle in the world, the bicycle may be an effective means of counter-terrorism. The bicycle also lets you lighten your ecological conscience by lowering your carbon footprint. Promote peace, save the planet, save your wallet and look good doing it.
However, what about when it rains and is unsafe for two-wheeled transport? We live in Southern California, so it rains approximately 15 days per year. For those days, I prefer the bus or foot transport, and I have accordingly invested in a pair of shoes and an umbrella.

Ryon Graf is a fifth-year genetics major. He can be reached at rgraf@uci.edu.