How many miles to ride to make your bike carbon neutral?

by 26

The Trek sustainability report isn’t new news, but thanks to the upcoming ‘Bike Week’, some PR has reminded us of the ‘Rule of 430’, which got us wondering. We thought it might get you wondering too…

How to make your bike carbon neutral: The Rule of 430

how to make your bike carbon neutral
Source: Trek

This rough and ready rule is based on the average carbon footprint of four of Trek’s most popular models – Madone, Rail, Fuel EX and Marlin (for those unfamiliar with the models, that covers road, e-MTB, hardtail and full suspension). Added to the formula is the assumption that your car gets 22 miles to the gallon, and out pops the number 430 – the number of miles you need to ride instead of driving to make your ride carbon neutral.

Source: Trek

Oh yes, uh huh. How often do you ride your Marlin instead of going on the school run in the car? Or take your Madone to the supermarket? So, hmm. Perhaps you should see the equation as ‘how many miles do you need to ride or walk instead of driving in order to offset your bike purchase?’. Or maybe it’ll make you think harder about the environmental cost of play, and make you hold on to your bike a little longer before swapping to a newer model – or just get out on it a bit more to help justify that swap?

The Rule of a bit more than 430

Looking at the formula again, it’s based on the average CO2 emissions across the range – 174 kg CO2. If you want to be a little more honest with yourself about the impact of your bike, you could look at the detail of Trek’s analysis. If your bike is a full suspension mountain bike, you might like to put a different number into that formula, something like 200-225 kg CO2 maybe, or more still for an e-MTB.

And does your car do 22 miles to the gallon? If you’ve got a VW T5, it’s probably more like 35 miles to the gallon. A Ford Transit is maybe about 30 mpg. A Citroen Berlingo is more like 48mpg. Those kinds of mileage are going to make a whopping great big difference to your offset mileage number.

And what if you have more than one bike? It’s not exactly unheard of. Then you’re going to need to ride a lot more miles (instead of driving) to offset your n+1 collection.

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A cargo bike example

But what about those bikes that truly are car replacements? The cargo bikes, electric town bikes and so on? Since Trek doesn’t make a cargo bike, there isn’t a comparator in their report, but elsewhere PedalMe has calculated that an electric cargo bike has a manufacturing cost of around 280kg CO2.

I have been riding around on a long tail Benno Boost for nearly a year now – a slightly different set up to the bucket style cargo bikes that PedalMe uses, but let’s go with the 280kg figure anyway. If I wasn’t riding the Benno, I’d be in my Volvo, which gets about 45mpg. Which gives me 1418 miles before I start offsetting the Benno’s manufacturing.

how to make your bike carbon neutral

The odometer on the Benno currently shows 2447km, which is 1520 miles – so while it did have some miles on the clock when it came to me for test, I think it’s basically taken me a year to cross that offset boundary. Except that in that time is has been charged up lots of times with electricity, which I’ve not accounted for, and it’s had a new chain (two actually, because it’s so long). Really, it needs another new chain and cassette now – so a few more emissions there. But, roughly speaking, a year of genuine car replacement riding to cross the manufacturing offset threshold.

Car replacement and bike offset

If you’re not in the market for a full on cargo bike car replacement, how many journeys could you swap out to a bike instead of a car? And now you’ve worked out the carbon cost of your bike collection, how many miles of swap will you need to break even? We’d be interested to hear the results of your calculations – head to the comments!

While you’re here…

If you’re really keen to leave the car at home but don’t want to be riding a full suspension mountain bike to the shops, a second hand bike with a milk crate or panniers attached could be a great car replacement. Check out our guide to buying a second hand bike:

For an in depth look at the Trek Sustainability Report, head here:

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  • This topic has 26 replies, 19 voices, and was last updated 1 month ago by jeffl.
Viewing 26 posts - 1 through 26 (of 26 total)
  • How many miles to ride to make your bike carbon neutral?
  • Premier Icon James
    Full Member

    I pity the folk with electric cars who will have to ride an infinite number of miles 😉

    Premier Icon newretrotom
    Full Member

    Don’t forget in those calcs that US gallons are smaller than UK gallons!

    US = 3.785411784 litres
    UK = 4.54609 litres

    Premier Icon newretrotom
    Full Member

    So multiply your UK MPG figure by 0.83 to get your US MPG figure!

    Premier Icon chrismac
    Full Member

    The reality is that the overwhelming majority of bikes sold are for leisure use so will never offset any carbon. It’s just another example of how the sustainability report is a marketing stunt rather anything meaningful

    Premier Icon DB
    Free Member

    The reality is that the overwhelming majority of bikes sold are for leisure use so will never offset any carbon

    Its worse than that, people make journeys in cars and vans to ride these bikes.

    Premier Icon pmurden
    Full Member

    Cool. I’m officially carbon neutral and I can say that I beat it by miles.

    Premier Icon monkeyboyjc
    Full Member

    The reality is that the overwhelming majority of bikes sold are for leisure use so will never offset any carbon. It’s just another example of how the sustainability report is a marketing stunt rather anything meaningful

    100% this – the sooner we recognise that the vast majority of cycling / MTB in the UK is a luxury sport or for leisure rather than a necessity the better. The amount of pointless ‘eco’ products in MTB really annoys me – for example a well known UK brand pitching bamboo microfiber cloths to dry your bike as an eco friendly product! Completely unnecessary and pointless – the worst of the worse green washing, and actually puts me off but any of their products at all.

    Premier Icon robertajobb
    Full Member

    Exactly the point I’ve made (and been shounted down about by some ST writers (not Hannah) before), especially around E-MTBs. Let’s be real; nearly nobody (except Mark) really rides they’re £8k full susser e-mtb to work. Half the time they are loaded into a transit van and driven 150 miles each way to a bike park to use them. As environmentally sound as burning oil and coal and gas.

    Premier Icon newretrotom
    Full Member

    There are environmentally friendly ways to do mountain biking – always ride from your door, if you’re going to go on a trip away go by train/bus/ferry.

    Unfortunately a lot of people build mountain biking into a very environmentally damaging lifestyle – have a big truck so they can stick the bikes in the back, drive it to far away trail centres where another big truck shuttles you up the hill. Fly to destinations to do the same thing there.
    It would probably be more environmentally friendly to have a motorbike instead, at least then you’d always be riding it from home and it would create less pollution than a big truck.

    Ultimately the carbon footprint of your bike itself is almost irrelevant assuming it’s going to last a few years compared to the things you’ll have consumed during the time you own it.

    Premier Icon ayjaydoubleyou
    Free Member

    The reality is that the overwhelming majority of bikes sold are for leisure use so will never offset any carbon. It’s just another example of how the sustainability report is a marketing stunt rather anything meaningful

    fully agree.

    but can we also consider what I would be doing with my free time and disposable income if it wasnt mountain biking?

    whats an equivilent hobby I could be doing instead? I would almost certainly have a less fuel efficient car, as the current one is selected for the long distance fuel economy and bike carrying.

    Maybe add a motorbike too. Both obviously made on the other side of the planet and shipped to me, as well as the fuel running costs.

    Pre 2020, most of my colleagues of a similar age seemed to usemost of their annual leave on foreign stag dos and other trips, usually in the form of 4 day weekends. My 2 annual alps trips (one summer, one winter) were far less air miles than they all managed.

    Premier Icon HoratioHufnagel
    Free Member

    Calculations like this just seem to full of errors and assumptions they are almost completely meaningless. Just seems like a lot of greenwashing. The largest polluters try and escape blame by blaming the consumer .. “We’re just giving them a choice!”, like the did with road accidents, educate the victims before making cars safer etc.

    The whole system needs changing, co2 emissions need to be priced in through tax if necessary.

    All these offsetting calculations and stuff are too indirect.

    Premier Icon clubby
    Full Member

    I also hate the manufacturer’s and media’s use of “carbon neutrality” as the be all and end all of environmental impact. Far more to a product’s overall impact than that.
    Aluminium may have a lower carbon footprint than carbon fibre, but it’s mining and production is a filthy and polluting business. China produces half the worlds aluminium (India and Russia next) and we know how well known they are for good environmental practices.

    Premier Icon monkeyboyjc
    Full Member

    There are environmentally friendly ways to do mountain biking

    Ultimately the carbon footprint of your bike itself is almost irrelevant assuming it’s going to last a few years compared to the things you’ll have consumed during the time you own it.

    Buts Its 100% not an environmentally friendly sport – which ever way you look at the sport, it’s a leisure activity that has only environmental impact not gains or positives.

    Any company trying to make the sport more environmentally friendly is great, by reducing the carbon footprint of products and services. But like all industries it’s ultimately driven by 💵💵 .

    Premier Icon Daffy
    Full Member

    A significant percentage of people who have more than one bike, commute by bike. My commuter has (easily) paid for the carbon footprint of all (7) my currently owned bikes and did that in one (7-8000km) year. I also walk the 3.5km round trip for lunch whereas my car driving colleagues seem to be HAVE to drive, even though it’s almost 5km through the one-way system. N+1 – for a sustainable lifestyle.

    Premier Icon Daffy
    Full Member

    Is any sport sustainable? The global trainer (shoes) industry accounts for almost as much CO2 emissions as aviation…2% annually!

    Premier Icon ScotRoutes
    Full Member

    but can we also consider what I would be doing with my free time and disposable income if it wasnt mountain biking?

    whats an equivilent hobby I could be doing instead?

    Walking and/or running?

    We’ve just been surveying mountain bikers here in Singletrack’s backyard of Calderdale, and of 400+ respondents, nearly 60% of them said they used a bike to get to the start of most rides. So I’m not sure we’re as bad as we think we are. Obviously it’ll vary by area, but if you live somewhere with good riding…

    Premier Icon ayjaydoubleyou
    Free Member

    Walking and/or running?

    still got to find a way to empty my wallet and get an adrenaline fix somehow

    Premier Icon brainflex
    Full Member

    What about the carbon cost of vehicle manufacture? Does that get taken into account?

    Premier Icon squirrelking
    Free Member

    What about the carbon cost of vehicle manufacture? Does that get taken into account?

    Only if it’s replacing a vehicle. If it’s not why would you?

    As others have said, if it’s not replacing a motorised vehicle it’s greenwash. All hobbies have environmental impacts even if you’re Doug Forcett, what actually matters is how manufacturers support Right To Repair, how the products are manufactured and how they are distributed.

    On the first point most manufacturers are fucking abyssmal and until someone actually bangs their collective heads together and actually comes up with meaningful standards nothing will change (derailleur hangers, shifter mounts, brake mounts, axle widths, axle diameters etc. – pick one any or all)

    Premier Icon chrismac
    Full Member

    We’ve just been surveying mountain bikers here in Singletrack’s backyard of Calderdale, and of 400+ respondents, nearly 60% of them said they used a bike to get to the start of most rides.

    Try asking the same question in the Peak District out most other places. Where I live you can’t do an mtb ride from home. Lockdown proved that to me s as all out riding from the house could have been done more easily on a gravel bike with no requirement for a mountain bike.

    Premier Icon chrismac
    Full Member

    Is any sport sustainable?

    No of course not that’s why it’s all greenwashing. Sticking with bikes just look at races. Can you imagine the carbon footprint of the DH World Cup this weekend. Even most of the commentators are on trans ocean flights just to sit in the commentary booth. I’m quite sure trek and the other top trans will be there with lorry’s full of spare parts etc.  And dh is small scale compared to something like the giro

    Premier Icon Superficial
    Free Member

    I am fortunate that I live near where I ride, so 90% of my rides are from the door.

    OTOH, my MTB is quite new and not recyclable. Plus, it probably came on a ship from the Far East. Oh, and I just took it on a plane for a holiday.

    Commuting on bike definitely seems good for the planet but I suspect MTB never really is.

    Premier Icon Milese
    Free Member

    This stuff does boil my pi$$.

    Pretty much everything you spend money on has an environmental impact – its all made of something, transported from somewhere or involves someone else doing something. Dont believe otherwise. I know change has to start from somewhere, but dabbling with the fringes and pretending that makes it ok is so false.

    Some locals are trying to get a 2 mile ish cycle path built to avoid having to cycle on a busy-ish section of A road, which would link a couple of tiny villages to a town in Cornwall, and they’re trying to sell it as being an environmental scheme. There is no way that there would be anywhere near enough vehicle replacing journeys on that path to cover the environmental impact of laying all that tarmac, let alone all the middle class old people buying bikes.

    Great for leisure, be great to be able to get my kids out, good for public health and road safety, would link the town into quieter country roads, but environmentally beneficial, no chance.

    Premier Icon 1961Bikie
    Full Member

    To be a grumpy Gus, you can ride as many miles as you want, there’ll still be a big lump of unrecyclable carbon fibre left when you’ve finished riding it. But at least there’s a few hundred grams of carbon sequestered.

    Premier Icon jeffl
    Full Member

    Looking at it my pinnacle arkose and inbred 29er offset their carbon footprint by commuting to work (2,430 & 2,418 miles respectively) now some of those are fun miles and I may have taken the scenic route rather than the direct route is take in the car (25 miles vs 15 miles).

    My main play MTB doesn’t / didn’t get used for commuting.

    What it has meant though is that we’ve been able to stay as a single car family, which is great.

    For my MTB rides I normally try and ride from home. Can mean an hour of road work to get somewhere interesting as I live on the edge of the Peak District. Do sometimes drive if time is limited but it feels like cheating.

    Other positive aspects of cycling are the physical and mental health side of things. Any day I cycled to work was generally better than when I drove in.

    Edit: My bikes are alimium or steel so pretty recyclable.

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