Does riding a bike cause more pollution than driving?

Published March 4, 2013

"You would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car ... You can't just say that there's no pollution as a result of riding a bicycle."

Washington state Rep. Ed Orcutt, defending his support of a new bike tax that the legislature is considering as part of a large transportation package. Orcutt, a Republican, was interviewed by about comments he made in an email to a constituent opposed to the bike tax. In the email, Orcutt wrote at one point: "Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.'' Orcutt told SeattleBikeBlog that he had not "done any analysis" of the difference in CO2 from a person on a bike compared to the engine of a car. Others have, the blog noted. A 2011 study by the European Cyclists Federation compared the CO2 emissions of bicycling versus other modes of transportation, taking into account not just the emissions from the vehicles themselves, but from the entire life cycle of the mode including production, maintenance and fuel — which in the case of bicycling includes caloric intake. The study found that emissions from cycling were 10 times less than those stemming from a passenger car, "even taking into account the additional dietary intake of a cyclist compared with that of a motorized transport user." — tbt*