Ditch the Car for a Fun and Easy Body-Friendly Ride
Driving a vehicle to work, the store and the gym on congested roads does more than try our patience—those daily petroleum-powered trips are polluting the planet. The Clean Air Council reports that each gallon of gas we use on the road results in 20 more pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) mucking up the atmosphere we breathe. In fact, all motor vehicles combined are responsible for 31 percent of the total CO2 emissions currently contributing to global warming.
Because most car trips are short—the National Household Travel Survey finds that half of all the trips we make are three miles or less, 72 percent of these in motor vehicles—they could be replaced with a more eco-friendly ride. With such a wide variety of snazzy new options available, from cargo bicycles to electric motorcycles, it’s never been easier to move on our best intentions.
Recumbent Bicycles and Velomobiles: Recumbent-style bicycles look unfamiliar because they are ergonomically designed with higher pedals and large, back-supporting seats that distribute a rider’s weight—allowing people of all shapes and sizes to lean back and pedal comfortably while maintaining safety and speed. These people-friendly cycles can be of typical bike length or longer, and some are trikes, with two back wheels. They also can be equipped with a pod-like cover for year-round riding.
The covered, aerodynamic, three-wheeled versions are known as velomobiles, or bicycle cars. Rod Miner, president of Lightfoot Cycles, which specializes in recumbent bikes, side-by-side four-wheel tandems, adult trikes with cargo and pet carriers, and velomobiles, says that almost every model can be given added oomph with an electric or a small engine assist. “For the cost of a gallon of gas,” Miner says, “one of our super-efficient, electrically assisted cycles can travel 1,200 miles.”
Electric Bikes: These offer a zippy, eco-friendly way to run errands, combining pedal power with the assistance of a small electric motor that facilitates speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. They require no gas, license or registration, and often are allowed on roads where mopeds and scooters are off-limits. A good electric bike can travel 40 to 50 miles on a single charge. In another twist, the power of the motors in Kalkhoff brand bikes, known as pedelec bikes in Europe, increases the more you pedal.
Electric Motorcycles: Electric motorcycles provide the same thrill and speed as gas-powered versions, but minus the noise and dirty emissions. These motorcycles are ready to race: The Mission R electric racing superbike is not only a sleek-looking machine, but can go from zero to fast in one gear. They also look nearly identical to a traditional ride, hosting a battery pack and motor in place of the powertrain.
Because motorcycles are small and efficient, they don’t require heavy battery packs, and can be plugged into any home outlet to charge. Most will run for about two hours, or 40 to 50 miles on a charge. A federal incentive of a 10 percent tax credit helps with the purchase price, along with state incentives active in California, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina and pending in many other states (update at ZeroMotorcycles.com/it/incentives).
Electric Dirt Bikes: Nature lovers may recoil at the idea of gas-powered dirt bikes or motocross bikes tearing around trails, but in designated spots, they can provide the thrill riders seek, minus the noxious exhaust and noisy, revving engines. In fact, Dirt Rider Magazine says of the all-electric Zero X dirt bike: “Utter silence... is the inevitable sound of the future of off-road motorcycle riding.”
Its battery charger plugs in to any standard outlet, and all of the company’s lithium-ion power packs are recycled. While the battery-powered Zero can reach off-road speeds of up to 47 mph, the company Razor also designs scaled-down electric motocross bikes (and quads and scooters) for younger enthusiasts that are built for fun, with speeds of up to 14 mph for up to 10 miles on a single charge.
Longtail and Cargo Bikes: Longtail, or cargo, bikes are designed for carting everything from groceries to kids. An extended mount for the back tire gives riders extra space to use as a long, flat seat for kids to straddle, with space on either side for saddlebags (called panniers) or other bucket- or basket-type attachments. It has a bit larger turning radius and two kickstands for keeping the bike upright when stationary.
With a base price often upwards of $1,000, cargo-oriented riders may wish to opt to convert an existing bicycle into a longtail with a backend attachment like the Free Radical from Xtracycle, which can be bolted on to provide two deep compartments for hauling up to 200 pounds of carry-ons. Madsen Bikes come equipped with a large, sturdy bucket that supplies a fun ride for young ones—or for packing beach gear or shopping bags.
Balance Bikes: Pedal-less or “walking” balance bikes (also known as run bikes) are all the rage in kids’ bicycles today, and a quick perusal of YouTube videos of kids riding them shows why. Because little ones are able to use their feet to push off the ground, then lift their feet as the bike rolls forward, even tots as young as two or three can do some serious cruising. Not only can they go somewhat faster than they would with a hard-to-accelerate tricycle, they also learn how to balance themselves, facilitating a quicker transition to a larger bike without training wheels when the time comes.
Bike Accessories: Rock the Bike, a collaboration of inventors and advocates in Berkeley, California, wants to make bike riding a fun, community-centered, mainstream activity with citizen advocates everywhere.
Products offered by Rock the Bike are designed to make daily commuting and night riding easier, including cargo bikes designed for hauling heavy stuff; the Biker Bar, which allows several riders to produce clean energy from pedaling together (providing a steady 200 watts of power); Bike Blenders, which let riders pedal their way to tasty smoothies; and The Down Low Glow multi-colored neon lighting for bike frames that provide better nighttime visibility.
Information at RockTheBike.com.
Brita Belli, the editor of E – The Environmental Magazine, is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.