Thursday, March 06, 2008

Green Bicycling Test

I wrote this yesterday afternoon but I was too tired to finish it (I had been up all night sorting out a year of accounting for DJWriter, Inc.). My brother woke me up at 9 PM, and we talked on the phone for eight hours. By then, I was tired again. Anyway, I'm finally awake enough to wrap this up, so here it is...

I'm not sure what I think about this. At first blush, I'd say hardcore environmentalists like the Sierra Club can suck the fun out of anything, even bicycling, with a depressing injection of eco-guilt. Go ahead, take the "How Green Is My Bike Ride?" test. Then come back and we'll talk about the results.

Much to my amazement, I did well:

Your score: 82 out of 100 points.
American Flyer (80-100 points):
You're truly using your bicycle to save the planet. Keep pedaling!
I've never felt like my cycling was saving the planet. In fact, I do some things that are blatantly eco-unfriendly, the cycling equivalent of dumping motor oil in a river. Incredibly, they didn't take off many points for those behaviors, but they docked me harshly for another rather innocuous answer.

My worst answer was clearly #2. I drive to most of my bike rides. Heck, the main reason I chose a hatchback was to cart my bike around (at least we own a compact car). I know that wastes gas, pollutes the atmosphere, etc., but I get little joy from city cycling. Being hyper-alert in the city wears me out. I can ride 20 miles on the North Branch Trail and feel less exhausted than I do riding the six miles from my doorstep to the start of that trail. I also prefer suburban streets -- fewer stop signs and parallel parkers -- so sometimes I drive to road rides, too (my wife is a Chicago police officer so moving out of the city isn't an option). Somehow, the Sierra Club gave me six of ten points for this environmentally irresponsible/unforgivable behavior. Question #6 about my favorite type of riding, which is on a deserted country road, is similar. From my home, it's more than an hour's drive to any country roads, even further to deserted ones. They gave me eight points, but I deserve less. For goodness' sake, I even wrote a book premised on driving someplace to ride (although I try to accommodate everyone).

Instead, my worst score was on #3. When it gets dark, I don't ride my bike. There are rare occasions (once or twice a year) when I use battery-powered lights, but I generally avoid it. For that, the Sierra Club gave me five points out of ten. But there's nothing inherently wrong environmentally with not riding at night. They presume that this restriction limits my cycling and automatically makes me drive more, but it really doesn't. Living the semi-employed freelance lifestyle, I ride as much as I care to during daylight hours. Besides, I'm an old married guy -- where am I going to go at night?

I must be doing something green to score 82/100, though. Each of these practices earned ten points: I patch my tubes, I ride steel frames (generally -- five of seven bikes are steel, and I ride them 95% of the time), I clean my chain with citrus solvent (albeit not much more often than I ride at night), I have racks and fenders on my primary bike (plus rear racks on three others), and I fill my water bottles from the tap (at least when I'm home -- when I travel, I often choose bottled water over awful-tasting motel water).

What have I gained from this test? Not much. I'm already doing some good things, but I am unlikely to change the bad ones. Considering that someone who doesn't own a car only beat me by four points, I think this test is a dubious measure of greenness.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I suppose the "One Less Car!" mantra doesn't count if there aren't any to begin with.

My friend in rural Minnesota will get a kick out of this...