Sustainability in Cycling

Hi all, I’ve really appreciated seeing more of a focus on sustainability in cycling here, and reading Dave Rome’s article on his five things he’d like the industry to do got me thinking about things we could do as consumers to make cycling more sustainable. So, I thought I would present a few of my own ideas to get things started, and see what other people have as well.

Since this is the internet, I should caveat that I don’t think you’re a bad person if you don’t do these things, etc. etc.

  1. Buy more used bikes. I hear the guys on the podcast talk a lot about how many new industry innovations aren’t particularly useful. They are expensive, both from a financial perspective, as well as from an environmental one. Producing a new bike involves shipping raw materials around the world, likely laying up or welding a frame in a different place than the materials are produced, shipping that frame to an assembly shop, and then shipping the final product around the world. Buying a used bike locally saves a lot of shipping and production emissions, and probably isn’t that much worse than the new version.

  2. Buy fewer bikes. I’m already at fault here, since I have two bikes (my wife has zero, so it averages out, right?), but having more bikes than we can use contributes to the shipping and manufacturing emissions and waste mentioned above. I certainly don’t begrudge someone buying their dream bike(s), but maybe sell the bikes you aren’t riding any more, so that someone who needs a bike doesn’t have to buy a new one.

  3. Prep your own riding snacks. This one is smaller than the other two, but it always bothers me when I buy gels or other sports-specific foods and they come in single-use packaging. I try to remember to make myself sandwiches or granola squares and put them in tupperware or packaging I can reuse. It’s not going to change the world, but it does lead to less trash, and saves me money, so that’s a bonus.

What about other people? Are there some sustainability in cycling ideas you have that I can apply in my own life, or that we can work on together as a cycling community?

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Interesting post. I buy used bikes, and bike parts, because honestly I like some of the older things (frames especially, such as carbon frames circa 2006 - 2013 or so) better than new, they’re cheaper, and though of course some care and caution is required, generally easier to maintain and run. So, I got the used thing covered.

Not sure I agree with point two, about fewer bikes–as I can certainly see a need for at least two, and don’t see a real impact by having a few more–different tools for different tasks.

I agree with preparing your own food AND drink–I make my own sports drink for my water bottles, as well as pack my own lunch for the long rides, and am totally against gels and other instant fixes, instant garbage.

One I would add is using air pumps over CO2 cartridges. I get it that CO2 is easy, quick and all that but it is really horrible from an ecological point of view, putting more gas into the air, on the one hand, and more garbage on the floor, in the form of spent cartridges, on the other. A good hand pump can do the job just as well, and can be reused for a long long time. So, that’s my contribution towards the list on sustainability.

  1. Buy used, on occasion.
  2. Pack/make your own food AND drink.
  3. Use a hand pump instead of carbon dioxide.
    and, one more rather obvious one
  4. Repair your tubes (if you use them) instead of throwing them away.
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The question is really whether bikes, bike kit, gels and so on cause more or less pollution per € spent.

Most people, if they save money buying less bikes, will spend the money somewhere else. The net ecological impact depends on the emissions and pollution per € of the bike industry versus other stuff.

Also, even if you didn’t spend the money saved, philosophically, I don’t think consumer austerity is the real answer to ecological problems. That bike we buy or don’t buy is someone’s job. Cutting down on economic activity is superficially cleaner, but increases human misery and actually depresses investment into cleaner technology. Buying cleaner makes sense, sure, but not buying anything new - not so much. The real solutions are political - taxing pollution to give industries an incentive to pollute less. Perhaps too serious a topic for a cycling forum…

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Not sure how this fits in, since neither of the prior posts said anything close to not buying “anything new”–but yes, any change in any form will affect jobs, income, and so forth–but that’s leaping way past the intent of the thread, as I understood it at least, which was to offer constructive suggestions that might have a positive impact on the environment, with respect to bicycles and bicycling–certainly keep old bikes running is not a bad thing, and consuming less expendables isn’t either.

And, no, the “real solutions” aren’t fundamentally political, they’re personal–at least that’s where they’ve got to start, with individuals caring enough to make efforts to bring about change, and when there are enough of those, they affect others around them, and when enough people do that, they will have an impact on the industry.

Interesting topic. What’s my contribution?
I repair my gear: e.g. gloves that open in their sewings
I try to buy durable kit, even if a bit pricier
I would never ever consider using CO cartridges instead of my pump
I repair my punctured tubes
I think twice if sending back or not something I purchased online, and I usually search for a vendor who sells and ship every item I need in a single shipment, instead of buying here and there
I value brands who clearly state their commitment to reduce their carbon footprint
I value environmental conscious websites (like, increasingly, Cycling Tips).

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I don’t believe the assertion that consumption and growth generally is sustainable at a fundamental level, however our consumption choices always have consequences. Here are my guidelines I try to follow when buying a bike.

  1. The frameset is made domestically. If not, then it must be used. Steel or ti for longevity.

  2. The bike and components has common standards where parts are easily found.

The ultimate aim is that the bike needs to be low in complexity, is low maintenance, requires little effort in maintaining it and therefor is highly reliable. Fewest internally routed cables as possible.

Wheels must have easily replaceable and sourced standard j-bend spokes. Most of the time, I build my own wheels. Clincher and tubes only. I patch all my tubes. It’s worked well for me through 25 years of road and off-road riding/racing. Sure, it’s not optimal in the desert or other extreme places, but I don’t ride in those places very often.

Not all my bikes are made without outsourcing (such as my Ritchey), but it’s what I aim for if at all possible. If I pay more for such a bike, then my decision will be far more careful, deliberate and thoughtful so as not toss the bike after a year. Also, such a bike can be sold to someone who will be able to continue using the bike because replacement parts will be easily found to keep it going.

In a nutshell, that’s my idea of sustainable cycling consumption.

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There’s nothing inherently unsustainable about modern componentry, just have to learn new things. Shouldn’t mix up sustainability and “it is not modern”.

For instance, internal cable routing is a pain to do - the first time. Afterwards you install cable liners and changing cables is a breeze. That’s not related to sustainability in any way, just the way you’re used, or not used, to doing things. It doesn’t make the bike any less reliable.

Longevity of steel and titanium versus CF is also not a given. There’s a lot of shaking fist at clouds over CF but it’s a well proven and durable material by now.

You are correct that internal cables is not a feature which support the concept of “Sustainability”. I simply do not find internal cables to provide much benefit outside of an XC ride in the mud. Time fixing or replacing internal cables, especially while on the road is very time consuming. I admit that this kind of repair is rare, but it would be nonetheless a more complex procedure for a beginning cyclist to perform. Cycling and the maintenance should be more accessible to more people more easily and that hopefully transfers more people to cycling, which is more sustainable than cars.

Carbon fiber, as far as I know is not recyclable. Steel can be melted or otherwise rust back into the dirt. Titanium - not so sure but I am sure the tubes could be repurposed into some really nice furniture.

The reliability of steel and titanium frames/forks is generally going to be far more reliable than a carbon frame/fork. The frequency and probability of the inverse being true is still pretty low. Sure, carbon forks are ubiquitous at this point, but you’d have to replace that fork (again, not recyclable) at some point far sooner than a steel fork. The majority of carbon forks also don’t ride as nicely as even average steel forks. All it takes is a crack to form in a carbon frame to render it too unsafe to ride. You could ride a cracked or bent steel or ti frame for a good long while before the tubes ever detached. The way carbon parts shatters like an explosion would simply never occur in a steel or ti frame or fork.

It may be that the issue of durability for carbon frames vs steel is irrelevant for the average leisure cyclist, and important only to amateur racers who obviously stress a lot their bikes in a way I’ll never do?
I have three steel bikes, because steel you know, but if I’ll ever buy a carbon frame I would not be bothered by durability doubts, frankly.

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I think of it this way - one would never find a used, ridable carbon frame that was mishandled and thrown into a dumpster. I believe durability is relevant to the average leisure cyclist because with carbon, you’ve got to be careful when you handle the bike. Steel bikes can be ridden leisurely to a bike rack at a destination without worry that someone might crack it while hitting it accidentally while parking their bike next to yours.

The lack of insecurity in steel/ti or even aluminum is a kind of freedom. This kind of freedom can’t be had with carbon. It’s this kind of freedom that people should experience when riding a bicycle.

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N=1, but some months ago I was going for a drink with some friends by bike, with my steel touring bike which had some 15500km on it. I was just riding, got on my feet on a slight uphill and crack went the downtube. I did buy a steel (with CF fork) Ritchey frame to replace it, fit with most of the components from the old bike, but my CF road bike has more kilometres than that, and is still going strong.

The question about sustainability for me is largely tied to the ecological footprint of bike industry, per dollar spent. It is probably vastly better than spending the same money on air travel, but compared to other industries - I just don’t know, and that’s a very interesting question to ask.

C’mon…this is getting a bit absurd. No one’s carbn frame is cracking because someone accidently bumps it in a bike rack with another bike.

You are making a lot of assumptions / statements re: the durability of carbon vs. steel that are based in myth and lore.

And saying you can ride a steel fork that is cracked is a really good way to find yourself on an emergency trip to the dentist.

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Maybe my example was poor, but I’ve had rocks hit the downtube of my carbon XC bike and produce delamination. It’s probably why so many carbon mountain bikes at least have downtube protection as standard these days. Could a strike from a handlebar do the same to a top tube? Maybe, maybe not. Would this even be less risky with a steel bike? Almost certainly.

I didn’t say I would ride a cracked steel fork. I said that a cracked steel or ti frame would have a much lower probability of catastrophic failure which would result in injury than a carbon frame would. It’s true however that a bent steel fork can still be ridden. You could probably find a way to bend it back somewhat straight and continue to ride to your destination, even if slowly. Carbon, not a chance.

If you even create a small hairline split in the steerer of a carbon fork, not even the blades, the fork is done. All it takes is overtightening the stem or otherwise improper alignment of the internal wedge and the stem clamping area. An accident can create cracks you’ll never see until one day the carbon decides to detach in a split second. I’ve never even heard of a steel steerer cracking or snapping.

No.

If you damage the steerer of any fork, the fork is done. Sure, you could in theory replace the steerer on a steel fork, but you’ll spend more on the repair than 1) the fork is worth and 2) than you could buy a replacement carbon fork.

That absolutely occurs…as it does with any other material. Just because you have never heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Steel repair is cheap. You don’t even need to be that skilled to do it. Might not be pretty if you’re not that skilled.

If you really believe the probability of catastrophic damage to steel is not that far from carbon, then there’s really nothing to argue.

I’m not going to take my high-end steel fork to just anyone with a blowtorch. YMMV.

Please tell us what the probability differences are.

Look, I get it…you don’t like carbon (for whatever reason). That is absolutely your prerogative and you are free to argue the merits of whatever material you prefer. But the “arguments” you are putting forward, as noted, are full of logical fallacies (Strawman, Anecdotal, and appeals to the extreme).

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Where is your evidence that a typical full carbon fork is more durable than typical steel one? If you posit that what I am saying is untrue due to lack of evidence (or poor argument), how is your proposition any more true?

If I threw a rock at the downtube of an S-Works Tarmac carbon frame, then threw the same rock at the same force at the downtube of say, a Surly Crosscheck for example and asked you to pick one of those bikes to descend Mont Ventoux with. Which would you choose? How’s that for strawman?

I have full carbon bikes too (with full carbon forks, including crown and steerer) - I didn’t say I don’t like carbon bikes.

In addition, this thread is about sustainability, which carbon is not. Steel will rust and go back into the ground. It can be melted down to be reused as something else.

Another Strawman argument…I never made this claim. Feel free to quote where you think I did.

Another logical fallacy…1) I never made the claim you say I did (see above) and 2) You are making the claim re: steel. It is not my job to prove it wrong, it is your job to provide evidence of your assertion.

Then make that argument…but you are taking it into a different direction when you start talking about 'catastrophic failures" and carbon frames cracking due to being knocked in bike racks.

Clearly you’re offended that I am stating that most steel forks are more durable on average than most carbon forks. I apologize if it is against your belief system to make such safe assumptions.

I’m afraid there’s no need to argue over this carbon/steel thing because it’s fair to say most of our bikes will still be here when we will not.
Now, back to environmental sustainability, yes?

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