Debate from the trails: How sustainable is cycling?

One of the things that we regularly wrestle with is the impact of the choices we make in our beloved sport. This month, we've been thinking and debating the environmental impact of cycling, and more specifically, bikes. Undoubtedly cycling is one of the most eco-friendly forms of transport, but to produce the kit we need to do it, we still use large amounts of energy and resources.

Depending on the type a frame you're looking at the impact can vary widely. Aluminium for example, takes a huge amount of energy to mine and refine, whereas carbon has a lower energy footprint but in turn uses a huge amount of water to process. On the flip side aluminium is a valuable commodity which is widely recycled, whereas carbon fibre is rarely recycled. It’s worth a look at the Specialized lifecycle analysis if you’re into geeky nerdery like Rob. If you’re looking at an e-bike then add into the mix, the impact of mining and refining rare earth metals for the battery.

There are some interesting lower impact frames that are gaining a following, such as the cool self-build bamboo frame from Bamboo Bicycle Club, and then there are some just plain out-there options like this full-suspension plywood frame…we’re yet to be convinced on this one.

Fundamentally all the mainstream technologies on the market will result in a reasonably hefty impact on our planet. Producing an aluminium frame uses the same amount of energy as running your oven for three hours every day for a year, so the key question isn’t whether you need another bike (n+1 rule and all that), but do you really need to buy a new frame, or could you buy refurbished?

If you are buying new it’s worth noting that the impact will be roughly the same for a £300 bike as for a £3,000 bike so if spending thousands on a bike means you're more likely to love it and look after it then buy once and buy well.

Having said all the above, cycling is a very eco and efficient way to travel, especially in a city. The best thing you can do with your bike is use it as much as possible, and care for it so well that it lasts a lifetime for you or for its next owner. From a purely environmental perspective the most eco way to cycle is probably riding a beaten-up old banger that has been around for many years that you use for a daily commute to avoid a car journey. But let's be honest aside from the environment, it's also really important to consider mental health and well-being. A good bike ride can do wonders for your health, and your frame of mind, and that is before taking into consideration the community aspects of riding with friends or family.

We'd much rather you spent £3000 on an amazing bike so you can go and spend time on the trails or seeing new parts of the world you live in, compared to the same amount on fast fashion or petrol.