Archive for the ‘Pollution’ Category

How green is your bike? Ask Specialized

30/04/2014

Cycling is environmentally cool, right? Cyclists are not merely friends of the Earth but lovers, carers and life-long best mates, right? Bicycles are as benign as a gentle breeze wafting a summer meadow, right? Wrong. A new report says otherwise. It lays bare the impact that manufacturing bikes has on the environment. It’s not pretty.

ImageJust in case you suspect that it’s propaganda put out by the roads lobby or auto industry, you should know that it’s actually been produced at the expense of, and with huge help from, the third largest US bike seller, Specialized. With their income from 9% of the US bicycle market, they’ve paid three post-graduates at Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, to dig the dirt on how much of our planet’s resources are used and abused to make the machines we love.

It’s a big report. There’s a massive amount of detail. It deserves to be studied and the facts and figures broadcast, published and gossipped. Such as the fact that it takes more than 30,000 litres of water to make just one Roubaix fork. Specialized uses enough water making Roubaix frames to supply the water needed by 477,000 people per year. “These numbers are staggering”, say the authors.

Making a a kilogram of a carbon frame uses 45% more water than an aluminium frame but, getting its own back in the race to depleteImage the planet, aluminium frames require more energy during their manufacture. “Over 58.7 gigawatt-hours are used per year to produce all the Allez framesets sold in a year, which is enough power to supply New York City for approximately 128 hours. The Allez frame’s most energy intensive process is artificially aging the aluminum frame to achieve specific metallurgy properties. This requires the frame to be heat treated at 400°F for ten hours.”

Other figures are equally shocking. In making all of the Allez framesets that are sold in a year, 6.4 million kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent are released into the atmosphere. To make the Roubaix frame, 1.01kg of waste are generated. For every kilogram of chain produced, there’s an astonishing 3.69kg of waste.

I won’t go on – you can read, open-mouthed, all 179 pages of the report yourself. Download it here. And do compare it with the impacts of other forms of travel, as detailed in the first chapter of my book, Cycling Science.

Of course, Specialized doesn’t do any of the manufacturing itself. It’s done mostly in China and Taiwan, with some components made in Japan. Each country, and each region within it, has different environmental goals. Some even have to meet national or international standards.

And Specialized must be applauded for being so candid about the impact that the making of their bikes is having on Earth. If ths publication can encourage other manufacturers to be equally transparent then there is hope that they will all work together to reduce their eco-footprint – not to boost cycling’s genuine green credentials but for the sake of the planet.

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Listen up!

31/07/2013

traffic bicycleSshhh! Cycling’s way down the list of noise polluters. A well-maintained bike on a smooth surface can be near-silent (assuming the rider isn’t wearing chain mail, playing a bugle or both). The peacefulness is one of its pleasures.

So that makes a bicycle a relatively good platform for collecting other sounds on the move. What you do with those noises is up to you and different scientists are doing surprising things.

There’s a team in Austria that’s been eavesdropping on a rider as she pedals around the town of Graz. She knew about it. Before she started she phoned the lab and kept the call connected. The researchers were able to hear all the sounds around her wherever she cycled.

Then they analysed the audible clues and, like sound detectives with their ears to the ground, they succeeded in working out her route just from the noises they heard through her phone. It’s an impressive result.

It’s not clear from this experiment who had the most fun but it does show that even if you doubt the existance of Big Brother (he does exist), it seems that he doesn’t need to watch you to find out where you are. All he has to do is listen and he’s got you located.

The research paper will download when you click here.

Elsewhere, three unfamous (as yet) Belgians have been cycling round cities capturing the traffic noise as they ride. At the same time they’ve been sampling the air, not just through their own mouths and noses but also through chemical sensors.

They made 200 trips and then calculated that there is a relationship between traffic noise and the level of carbon particles that pollute the air. This shouldn’t be very surprising because it stands to reason that the more traffic there is, the noiser it is and the greater the quantity of pollutants they are pumping into the atmosphere.

Here’s the clever thing about the research. Lots of people want to know how dirty the air is in our city streets at different times of day and in different weather conditions. The general aim is to keep the air cleaner somehow or other and thus improve everybody’s health. The problem, though, is that air quality monitoring equipment isn’t cheap.

By showing that noise levels are a reliable indicator of air pollution levels, the Belgian team says that audio recordings captured by street-level microphones can reveal the truth just as effectvely as air quality sensors. And microphones are much, much cheaper.

How ironic that the toxic emissions from motor vehicles will be more easily monitored because of an experiment by cyclists.

The abstract of the research can be seen here.