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Anything to be more of an "un-driver" (get out of an automobile and reduce your mileage in a car) is huge, whether you walk, skate board, bicycle, paddle, or take mass transit. But even within the lower carbon-footprint and poison-footprint modes there are more and less sustainable ways to do them. As time goes on and as the world's population counter keeping clicking on millions and millions people, we are going to have to increasingly keep pushing the envelope on what is model behavior to keep minimizing our destructive impact. Here are some considerations for greener bicycling:
Step One: Get a Bike.
The first step is to buy a durable, decent bike -- not necessarily a bells-and-whistles, high-tech material machine or new bike. The operative word is 'durable'. A cheap (i.e. flimsy) bike and a durable, decent bike both use about the same amount of materials and energy to manufacture, but the durable, decent bike will be much easier to adjust and maintain in the long run so it will last much longer -- create a significant savings in materials and energy in the long run.
At the low end, the list price of a new bike, for any given model is an informative proxy for its durability. If cost is an issue, learn about the price point were inexpensive bikes become durable bikes. Now that you know what you are looking at, or with help from a friend or local bike shop, you can find a durable pre-owned bike for much less, or even free; check on www.freecycle.com, www.craigslist.com, bulletin boards, yard-sales, garage-sales or your local bike shop.
As best we can tell, given the longevity of most bicycle frames, the life-cycle environmental/energy impact of the extraction, refining and fabrication of the material used to manufacture basic, decent bicycle frame (steel, alloy, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber) is not significant different. Aluminum frames use some extra energy in the fabrication and if they crack are generally un-repairable so may prematurely be on their way to a recycler. Carbon fiber is most susceptible to dramatic, un-repairable, catastrophic failure. At the absolute end of life, steel and aluminum are the easiest to recycle.
Step Two: Keep Your Bike a Long Time.
The next step is to keep you bicycle a long time. The manufacture of a new bicycle dwarfs the environmental impact of fixing a bicycle. Most decent bikes can be kept on the road for years with routine maintenance and the occasional replacement of parts like brake pads and the drive train. Of course, when every possible it is better to repair the part than replace it. This goes all the way down to a tire punctures. Even the environmental impact of patching cement (off gassing) is miniscule compared to the impact of producing a new inner tube and shipping it around the world.
Store your bike inside or under cover as best as possible. This make a huge difference on maintenance and can extend the lifespan of a bicycle ten times or longer.
If you are not a do-it-yourselfer, make friends with your local bike shop. They can help you keep your bike running for years and in the long run save you a lot of money.
Step Three: Keep Making Green Choices.
These represent a lot of little things that can add up so try to thoughtful, forward thinking and conscience about even the small actions and little choices.
Don't over lubricate (grease and oil) your bicycle. Any excess is was wasting resources, and some will likely drip onto the road and eventually add to the pollution of the land and water. The import location for chain lube is between the plates and pins. One drop of lubricant along each pin is sufficient. Spraying the outside of the chain gets relatively lubricant where it needs to be, wastes a huge amount lubricant and leaves a lot dripping off.
Use a biodegradable, non-petroleum degreaser and "non-butyl" or "butyl-free" cleaners.
Minimize the use of hazardous (petroleum, caustic and volatile) materials. Properly manage and properly recycle and dispose of any hazardous lubricants and solvents that you must use.
In general, consider the environmental footprint and impact of the packaging of your bike related purchases. If it is practical, buying things in bulk (like patches) can save a lot of packaging.
Don't use lubricants, degreasers, polishes, paints, etc., in aerosol cans. Aerosol cans are resource intensive to manufacture and non-recyclable -- destine for the landfill or the bottom of some body of water where they pollute for centuries.
As you bicycle around, look for alternative to individual, non-biodegradable, packaged, energy "food". It is easy to buy a variety of nuts, grains and dried fruit in bulk and prepare your own energy snack, that you carry in a reusable container. [A number of simple tests have been suggested to help people determine what is real food: If your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it probably isn't. If one of ingredients has more than four syllables, it probably isn't. If the item has more than five ingredient, it probably isn't. If it is not canned or frozen and has a shelf-life of over two-weeks, it probably isn't. These may be over-simplified, but you probably get the picture.]
Purchase bicycle light systems with rechargeable batteries. Recycle batteries properly.
When you do replace a part on you bike look for opportunities to re-use (maybe as art) or recycle the item. Generally the last resort should be sending them to the landfill.
If you are at a point that for some reason you need a new bike look for opportunities to re-use or recycle you bike. Generally the last resort should be sending them to the landfill.
The International Bicycle Fund is an independent, non-profit organization. Its primary purpose is to promote bicycle transportation. Most IBF projects and activities fall into one of four categories: planning and engineering, safety education, economic development assistance and promoting international understanding. IBF's objective is to create a sustainable, people-friendly environment by creating opportunities of the highest practicable quality for bicycle transportation. IBF is funded by private donation. Contributions are always welcome and are U.S. tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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