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Friday, January 14, 2011

Buying Into Cycling For The Environment

Bike Radar has an excellent piece on the impact mountain biking has on the environment. The article casts light on the ripple effect our cycling and our purchases have on the environment. The whole article it really worth a read.

When we ask bike distributors what eco-friendly products they stock, the answer is usually: “All our products are green.” It’s wrong, but it’s an easy and understandable trap to fall into. Isn’t cycling green? As a form of transport it is, and as a low impact way to engage with the great outdoors it’s a green activity, if you ride responsibly.

But consider the energy used in manufacturing frames, the carbon footprint of hauling components from their Far East birthplace, and the fact that most of us drive to the trail or bike shop, then we’re entering a grey area. For their product launch last year, one company even shuttled the press up to the test trail by helicopter. So, is mountain biking any greener than, say, playing squash?

Now, as I am poised to buy a new bike, I am confronted with including the environmental calculous into my purchase. I also need to evaluate where I failed in the past.

My current frame lasted 3 years. I was hoping to move it to secondary status after five years, but that didn't happen. At the moment the frame has opportunity to become smelting waste or wall art. I'll have to choose the latter. Luckily for me, the frame was the cheapest major part of the bike.

On the positive side, I believe that you often must pay a little more for quality and so many of my parts are still useable and should be for a long time. In the 16,000mi. or 26,000km I put on the bike, I replaced the aluminum stem, a couple chains, a rim (bent), a lock ring, bar tape a few times, and I just had a bottom bracket in stalled. The Bike Radar article rings of irony if you consider the magazine's most essential purpose, is to entice readers into consuming the (add superlative here) product being sold by the sponsors who buy ad space. One of the things I hardly ever felt over the past 3 years of owning my Salsa was bike lust. I rarely, I can't say never, but I rarely thought about "upgrading". I overspent a little in the beginning for parts that would satisfy me for the life of the parts. That was the beauty of my Chris King parts.

My Chris King hubs were able to be easily cleaned and refurbished without having to throw anything out. Many of my other components are still in great condition. They are not ultra light carbon, but they are light-enough, strong and reliable. My King headset did, in fact, outlast my bike. Longevity and Chris King's environmental practices are why I will continue to put Kings on future bikes despite the high short term costs.

I am also not a huge fan of Carbon Fiber composites. For bike components, this is where the metals...shine... over CF. Alloy can be recycled, steel is repairable and can last decades. Despite its initial price tag and difficult extraction, titanium can last a lifetime with no discernible change in performance. I think the jury is still out on the longevity of current composite frames, but once it breaks what do you do with carbon? You can't put it in the ground and let it biodegrade. You can't melt it down and make something new. You can't hammer it into key chains, salt shakers or church keys. The carbon fiber recycling industry is still in its infancy and there is still a long way to go to keep, not just your busted fork, but also the industrial waste from the production of your carbon fork, out of the incinerator or landfill. Cycling Satin Cessena has some insights into the future of composite recycling at the bottom of her great article on materials and efficiency. Currently, the best bet for a busted composite frame or fork is an expensive repair by folks like Craig Calfee.

Personally, I feel spending a little more for longevity and to support those companies that have made changes to be more environmentally friendly is an excellent first step.