Bike Vs Car (and other transportation analysis)

1400kg/3000lbs of German technology versus 20kg/45lbs bike
car versus bike

The idea of this post came after realizing that on the same distance, if I was running I would be home half dead while after biking I didn’t even feel the need of stretching. So I decided to compare the efficiency of running & biking.
After that I asked myself, what about the car ? Bus ? Train ? Plane ?
What is the difference on short distance & long distance ?

What/How to compare & Methodology

First warning, the numbers are mine whenever possible for example : the calories usage on a distance will be based on what I’m able to do, the gas usage & cost will be those of my car… (luckily I don’t own a bus, helicopter or plane, so I will use other sources of statistics for that)
I will compare those means of transportation on a few scenarios which also reflect my usage (but it can be an easy basis of comparison to anyone)

  • City 1 km (0.6 miles) : usual trip to the grocery store I’m mostly using
  • City 2 km (1.2 miles) : daily trip to bring my daughter at daycare
  • City 11 km (7 miles) : distance to my office by bike
  • City 23 km (14 miles) : distance to my office by car
  • Trip to Paris 350 km (220 miles) : romantic weekend in Paris anyone ? :)
  • Trip to sunny Nice 1200 km (750 miles) : visit to the French family
  • Trip to snowy Kiev 2200 km (1370 miles) : visit to the Ukrainian family

Human powered

The main measure is calories, how much it “cost” to move at some speed for some time. The real cost of these calories can vary a bit. If you are overweight, it’s negative (as you won’t need any extra food & health improvement will decrease your costs on the long run ;)). If you are very fit, it may be around 50ct per 100 calories

  • Walking : 70 calories per km (120 calories/mile) cost 0-50ct
  • Running : 90 calories per km (140 calories/mile) cost 0-50ct
  • Biking : 25 calories per km (40 calories/mile) cost 0-10ct

First surprising find, walking is not much more efficient than running. And biking is between 3 and 4 times more efficient than walking/running… And that’s with a big bike featuring a baby seat carrying a lovely 10kg girl in it.

Gas glutton

For car, I’m using the stats of my car gas usage (with a bit of tuning depending on the distance). Gas cost around 1.45€ per liter (equal to 7$ per gallons).
For public transport, train/bus/plane, it can vary so much depending on the situation that I will compare the mean of transportation, I will use CO2 output as comparison.

Comparison on short distance

There are 2 ways to compare things. First you can check the cost in food or gas to go somewhere. Second method is to also take in account how much you value your time (what do you prefer, sleeping 1h more ? Enjoying stop n’ go traffic jam for 1h with angry people ?). I took 10 ct for someone fit and 40 ct per 100 calories (for someone super fit that would need to eat extra to handle this sport). For anyone slightly overweight or more, cost would drop to 0 or even be negative… Meaning that doing sport would earn you money (as it would decrease your healthcare costs & increase your life-span).
As for the value of my time, I considered 30ct per minute (which add up to less than 20€ a hour)

transportation cost 10ct

The ultimate transportation method is the bike :)
Even when you value your time, if there is a bit of traffic jam, the difference doesn’t end up as so much

transportation cost

The ultimate transportation method is still mostly the bike :) on more than 20 km (12 miles) the gain of time with the car compensate the gas cost. But it doesn’t take in account the price/amortization of the car itself, the parking costs, insurance,…

Comparison on long distance

CO2 usage for transportation

Nothing much surprising here. Bus & rail are much more efficient than car & plane. One little surprise is the train CO2 production when going to Kiev. I guess the reason is pretty simple… Trains in Ukraine mostly date from USSR and are not as efficient as in Western Europe like bullet train Thalys.
Biking is still good for saving the planet, but it will take a bit more time :)


Few things to take in account. When I’m driving the car I’m the only driver, so I need some break and rest… It’s probably why the bus seems much faster (as bus driver are used to drive long period, and there is often 2 drivers per bus). As for train to Kiev which is super slow… Soviet train are also not very fast :)

Costs of travel (when traveling alone on the left, and as family on the right)

On the left is the raw cost (gas or price ticket). On the right, it include a component which is your time, I put it as 30€ per hour for our family (and some accommodation if more than 1 day). And this change totally the result ! Plane which is the most expensive became the cheapest when taking in account the time not wasted. On short distance, train & car become nearly equivalent (as train is much faster but more expensive)

Comparison Bike vs Car for commuting

Let’s end with a last comparison, but the most useful one, going by car or bike to office. The main difference is that I have to drive 23km (14 miles) taking the ring to avoid the city center traffic jam. While by bike I can go straight along a nice canal most of the way in just 11km (7 miles). So time wise, I need 45 minutes in both case. I also compared the cost depending on how much you value your time (from nothing to 60€ the hour). As the travel time is identical it doesn’t change much to the comparison, but it show how much commuting can cost you over the long run if you value your time even a little…
Over the year, the bike is 2500€ cheaper than using a company car than I’m getting for “free”



What does 200 calories cost
What will you get for 1 dollar
Wikipedia energy efficiency
plane CO2 calculator (in French)
Bus CO2 calculator (in French)

4 thoughts on “Bike Vs Car (and other transportation analysis)

    • Distance is often the issue. When I was living in Paris I bought an electric bike and I was doing 30km (20 miles) per day without even sweating much.
      But yeah, if you are owning a house you don’t always have the choice.

  1. This is definitely entertaining and a great post. We don’t even currently own bikes since our summer move to Texas. I bought one down here but then decided to take it back because the roads are so terrible and dangerous. There isn’t any real opportunity for riding between my wife and I. I take the bus to school/work and it’s free because I’m a PhD, while my wife’s commute is straight highway. We wish we could bike more, but not right now.

    • As long as you can avoid some commute, it’s very good. The advantage of public transport is that you can read a book or check your mail, nearly not as stressful as being stuck in traffic jam…

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