How do automobiles work? What are the core principles of automobiles? Why haven't I owned one until recently? Why do I own one? The answer to these questions and probably more may appear in this blog post.
Let's start with a bicycle, my preferred mechanism of transportation. Despite slander that occurs against it, bicycling is one of the most efficient forms of transportation that exists. I'll get to why below. Why would anyone need anything else? Well, bicycles are terrible modes of transportation for long distances. I live far enough away from work to make cycling a bad commute. I can do it, but not 5 days a week, not even 3 days a week. Bicycles are light and provide significant advantage over walking, running, swimming, kayaking, driving, and bussing, but in a very short range. Anyone who says they bicycle to and from work everyday lives a short distance from work or can cycle for a significant amount of time. How far is the furthest I've heard someone commute by bicycle? 17 or so miles up hill both ways is about the furthest and the cyclist was in terrific shape. The furthest I've cycled daily is 5 miles each way. It was so difficult that I could only ride 4 times per week, leaving me at home 1 day per week.
Efficient? If you are limited to only cycling 50 miles per week, your carbon footprint is almost non-existent. Remember that your footprint is eating and then breathing, something that all drivers must also do. If you eat more than a driver (which is silly to consider), it won't be much. Then where does all that energy (kinetic: ½mv² and potential: mgh) come from? Well, it's pretty clear that it's the pedaling you do. But everyone should exercise. Cyclists just do it on their way to work instead of at a gym or running in a circle. Have you ever exercised before? So let's compare a car and driver to a cyclist.
Random carbon footprint calculator says a car emits 1.03 metric tons of CO2 driving 2500 miles.
Another random carbon footprint says that the average American emits 20 metric tons of CO2 in a year.
But these are not good comparisons because the average American drives to work. The average person in the Netherlands rides a bicycle to work and emits 10 metrics tons of CO2 in a year. So the amount of carbon emission between a cyclist and a driver can vary by 10 metric tons per year. A car driving just 5 miles each way only emits 1.03 metric tons, so we're talking about an order of magnitude difference in carbon footprint. Alas, this doesn't solve the problem of whether bicycles are more efficient than cars, but it does provide us with some scale.