From the book "Riding the Hummus Trail: Off-Road Bike Trails, Hummus and Everything in Between" (Photo: The Hummus Trail)
As is well known, in recent weeks Israel has been full of demonstrations that have flooded the streets, squares and roads. Whether you're protesting or not, you've probably also found yourself in an extremely long traffic jam, with no end in sight, and wondered - why am I not on a bike now?
Bicycles are a relatively simple development that has completely changed the way we move around space, redesigned parts of our cities, allowed people from diverse classes to move around relatively quickly, and most importantly - it is one of the most environmental means of transportation we have.
However, like many of the world's products, bicycles have also turned in a problematic direction in recent years: this industry, which heralded a greener future, has become much more polluting than it was. So no, don't cancel the purchase of your next bike – but yes, you should read a few things before choosing which one to purchase.
The bicycle industry has become far more polluting than it used to be. Riders in Tel Aviv (Photo: ShutterStock, Shutterstock)
Steel - Out, Aluminum - None
First of all, it's important to be clear: bicycles are still the greenest mode of transportation. While the carbon footprint for the production of petrol or diesel-powered cars is 35-6 tons of CO35 (depending on the type and size of the car), the carbon footprint of a steel bike is 171 kilograms – that is, producing one small car is equivalent to producing 80 steel bikes. And that's before we even start talking about the huge cumulative pollution created by vehicles that consume fossil fuels.
But although they are still among the winners of the sustainability competition, in recent years bicycles have become less environmental, due to several processes taking place in the industry, the main ones being the change in production materials and the decline in the quality of spare parts.
Before the 20s, almost all bicycles in the world were made of steel – a durable, easy-to-repair and simple to recycle material. But in recent decades, there has been a shift to making bikes lighter than aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and carbon fiber – materials that require more energy investment to produce. How significant is this change? The carbon footprint of a steel bike is 35 kilograms, while the carbon footprint of an aluminum bike is 200 kilograms; Quite a large difference.
So why did this change happen? One of the main reasons for this is that large players who entered the market preferred to produce lighter bicycles, and therefore turned to materials such as aluminum and the like, which are also more polluting. Another main reason is that today many consumers prefer to buy cheaper bicycles - which last less time and whose repair (if possible) involves the use of poor-quality spare parts.
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Producing one small car is equivalent to producing 171 steel bikes (Photo: ShutterStock)
A billion (bicycles) Chinese are not wrong?
And when we talk about big players, there is one country that stands above them all: over the past two decades,Chinahas become the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world – about two-thirds of all bicycles produced in the world, or 70 million of the 110 million pairs a year, are made by it. China's largest manufacturer, Fuji-Ta, produces about one-fifth of the world's bicycles and about 55,10 bicycles a day. By comparison, Europe produces about 60 million bicycles a year, and the United States produces only about 90,<> bicycles a year. "Chinese companies have no competitors and one of their goals is not to have a bicycle industry anywhere else in the world," says Dr. Daniel Mishori, a researcher in Tel Aviv University's Department of Environmental Studies and former chairman of Israel for Bicycles.
According to Mishori, the process taking place in the bicycle industry is also happening in other industries such as cars, toys, fashion and more. "Starting in the <>s, the bicycle industry accelerated the Planned Obsolescence model – a deliberate policy of artificially rationing the lifespan of a product; If in the past we repaired or replaced parts for regular bicycles every few years, today it may happen once a year," Mishori explains. "This change has been made so that we can all purchase more."
According to Mishori, the change in the industry is very extensive and the product of a deliberate policy. "Today's bikes are not the bikes of yesteryear: this industry has become corporate and globalist," he says. "Today, it is even deliberately hiding its true pollution indicators and figures."
About two-thirds of all bicycles produced in the world come from China. Bicycle factory (Photo: ShutterStock)
The price of electrification
Another reason for the change taking place in the industry is the electric bicycles that have rolled into our lives at record speed, which is only increasing: in 2019, 3.7 million electric bicycles were sold, and in 2021, 9.7 million such bicycles were sold worldwide; An increase of more than 160 percent in just three years.
The catch on this bike is mainly the battery – which in many cases is made of problematic materials. For example, most of the batteries for these bicycles manufactured in China are lead-acid (batteries based on creating a chemical reaction), whose manufacturing, recycling and landfilling process is dangerous and polluting. Also, direct contact with parts of them poses a health risk due to toxic gases emitted by the batteries.
A more than 160% increase in sales in just three years. Electric bicycles (Photo: ShutterStock)
A bike that will last a lifetime?
However, due to the fact that bicycles are still a highly environmental mode of transportation, Mishori says ways must be found to make this industry more sustainable and raise the lifespan of bicycles back. "The best ways to combat this process is to introduce regulations that will preserve the quality of bicycles, and create competition in a market that China dominates – so that regular bicycles will survive for at least 20 years," he says. "In other words, you have to turn the bike into a 'Lederman' knife – you buy one that lasts a lifetime."
So, before you buy a new pair, check what materials it creates (aluminum? steel?) and where in the world it was born, with the slogan for the right choice being: the closer (to you) the better. In addition, it is recommended to check with the store whether the pair you have chosen can be easily repaired and whether the type you are buying has spare parts available. Ready? Get going.
The article was prepared byZavit – the news agency of the Israeli Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences