Electric cars vs bicycles: which has a higher carbon footprint?

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mercedes benz bicycle 007

mercedes benz bicycle 007

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Electric cars are simply nicer and calmer to drive than conventional cars, and as their prices fall, that may be what will lure mass-market buyers over time.

But they have undeniable benefit of lowering wells-to-wheels carbon emissions per mile driven, and they can also be powered entirely on renewable energy.

Which makes them good for drivers and the environment at the same time.

DON'T MISS: Once Again: Electric Cars Have Lower Lifetime Carbon Emissions

Calculating the wells-to-wheels carbon emissions of transport has emerged into policy circles as analysts consider various combinations of vehicles, fuels, energy carriers, and generation plants.

But one of our readers took that curiosity a little further.

Calculations of overall carbon output for electric cars vs bicycle riding [source: Randall Hamlet]

Calculations of overall carbon output for electric cars vs bicycle riding [source: Randall Hamlet]

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Regular Green Car Reports commenter Randall Hamlet asked himself how the carbon emissions associated with riding a bicycle compared to those of an electric car.

The spreadsheet here was the result of his research and calculations.

The full set of data and calculations are here, and he welcomes comments on his sources, methods, and assumptions.

Hamlet notes on the spreadsheet (which readers can download and adjust using different assumptions and data sources if they wish):

I used the Leaf, Bolt, Accord, and Prius for comparisons.

I used a variety of sources, including the UCS, IPCC 2014 report, and the EPA. The food data is from Shrink That Footprint, which compiled the data from the USDA and other sources.

For details on the mathematics, sources, and notes, please look at the "Data" sheet. You can also more easily customize the data for different models on that sheet.

ALSO READ: 2014 Nissan Leaf Has Lowest Lifetime Carbon Footprint: Report (Feb 2014)

You can find the "Data" sheet at the bottom of this window. You can customize some values (highlighted in yellow) on this page but you must first copy this to your Drive or download it as a file.

Hamlet told us he was surprised after his first round of calculations.

2017 Nissan Leaf

2017 Nissan Leaf

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"The margins are so large," he wrote, "that driving a Nissan Leaf is cleaner than powering a bicycle eating only beef"—if that Leaf is charged on electricity that was generated using anything except coal.

"My results show consuming an average diet and riding a bike is lower-carbon than an electric car powered on natural gas," he said, "but worse than one powered by nuclear, solar, hydro, or wind."

And, he joked, if you live in a home equipped with solar panels, "you now have an excuse to tell your doctor when they ask why you don’t exercise more."

CHECK OUT: Does The Tesla Model S Electric Car Pollute More Than An SUV? (May 2013)

(Editor's Note: Exercise is good for virtually all humans for reasons that have nothing to do with lowering your personal carbon footprint. Ahem.)

Hamlet notes that he wasn't able to figure out if the EPA vehicle-emissions calculator includes carbon emissions associated with manufacturing and disposal.

That would affect the results, and under some circumstances, could produce results under which a Chevy Bolt EV charged on coal-generated electricity would be almost as low-carbon as a Toyota Prius hybrid at more than 50 mpg.

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