So far, so good with the Project. No serious snags as of yet. Frankly, I wish I had a little more trouble with this–it would certainly make for more interesting reporting. Going “car-lite” has just been too easy so far.

Running on Empty

While doing research for this Project, I’ve come across several arguments “against” bike commuting. The same ones seem to appear again and again, and they are mostly really arguments against putting BC on too high a pedestal. Some of them are worth writing about in future posts, but one in particular struck a chord with me.

Some detractors of BC point out that biking expends energy just as driving does. This energy must come from somewhere, the argument goes, and that somewhere is the additional food you have to eat. Once you start tracing back where that food comes from, and what resources are used to produce and deliver it, you will eventually end up at the very same oil wells from which your car’s gasoline is derived.

(This point was made apparent to me long ago when I read Richard Manning’s article for Harper’s, The Oil We Eat. Manning puts America’s food consumption in the context of the Iraq War, but the evidence doesn’t stop at Iraq’s borders.)

To make a simple leap from this point to the conclusion that bike commuting is overrated would obviously ignore a lot. Not the least of which is the fact that some people may not eat more, thus providing the benefit of weight loss. And for some people, weight loss is a good thing.

For me, however, weight loss is not a good thing. Not at all.

Since last January, I’ve lost about twelve pounds from my already-slender frame, or about 2/3 of a pound a month. This is not so much due to biking. It has a lot to do with my taking up running, and probably a little to do with life stressors, and simple inattention to how I’m eating. My doctor has shown some concern in the past, as has my family.

before and after

The picture above and to the left was taken two years ago. The picture on the right was taken this morning. Not a huge difference by “Biggest Loser” standards perhaps, but then the last thing I want to do is be in the running to win that particular contest.

Crunching the numbers, a person of my size biking at a leisurely pace expends about 250 calories in 40 minutes, which is about the upper limit of the amount of time I bike in a day. In food terms, that is one stalk of celery with two tablespoons of peanut butter, and ten large baby carrots.

There are two conclusions to make from this. One, we’re talking about the energy in roughly sixty cents’ worth of food. I don’t know how much oil would have been expended for me to eat such a colorful and delicious snack, but it had to have been less than sixty cents’ worth. The USDA has a nice data visualization on its site showing where your food dollar goes. By its count, 3.5% goes to “energy” costs. For my sixty cents, then, we’re talking about roughly two cents.

By contrast, if we assume I covered about 10 miles in 40 minutes on a bike, the same distance in my car would have burned up about a dollar’s worth of gas. (I believe it was David Owen, in his fascinating contrarian Green Metropolis, who wrote that only 10% of the gas that a soccer mom’s Ford Expedition burns is used to propel said mom; the other 90% is used to propel said Ford Expedition.) Even though these are rough numbers, it’s clear that biking wins the fuel wars.

The second conclusion, the more real and more worrisome conclusion, is the same conclusion my doctor advised me of several months ago. It’s common sense, really, but so easy for me to forget. The more active you are, the more you have to eat, if you don’t want to lose weight.

Now where did I put that secret stash of Butterscotch Krimpets?