CO2 emissions from cycling revealed

A study by the European Cyclists Federation (ECF) that compares the CO2 produced by cycling with other modes of transport concludes that Europe could reduce its overall emissions by one quarter if its population cycled as regularly as the Danes.

According to the report cycling is responsible for CO2 emissions of 21g per km. The calculations included emissions associated with production, maintenance and fuel. The figures were based on a heavy 19kg European-style town bike built using 14.6kg of aluminium, 3.7kg of steel and 1.6kg of rubber and the cost of producing the extra calories consumed by a cyclist rather than a motorist.

The report calculated that an average car produced 271g and a bus 101g.

In Denmark the average person cycles almost 600 miles each year – far more than the EU average of almost 120 miles per person per year and a total of 46 miles in Britain.

Why bother calculating the CO2 emissions of cycling?

Cycling is often cited as a zero-emission activity, but while this is true for air and noise pollution, the same cannot be said about cycling and greenhouse gas emissions. In accurately answering the question of how much pollution is produced by cycling relative to other modes of transport, the authors of the report believe that a robust case for placing cycling at the heart of transport policy. They acknowledge that the assumptions made about emissions resulting from manufacture and increased intake of calories mean that their figures are conservative and that the true figures for cycling are likely to be far less than 21g per km.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) said: “Cycling is a simple, cost-effective and efficient way of reducing emissions, but headlines are more likely to be grabbed by the promise of electric cars.”

Download Cycling and the Law E-book

What makes cycling in Denmark different?

The first thing I noticed arriving in Denmark, although I had been warned, was that the Danes love their flag – it’s everywhere. Village after village was festooned with flags. Every house seems to have a flag pole.

The second thing was the number of cyclists. People of all ages on sit-up-and-beg bikes pootling about. People tell me that more people cycle in Denmark than here because Denmark is flat – okay Denmark isn’t hilly, but nor are most of our urban areas. So that reason doesn’t hold. It’s the weather then – no wrong again – Danes cycle in the snow at -10°C. I think the reason is because Denmark is more socially equal than Britain so you do not have to wear Lycra to ride a bike.

Cycling is regarded as just another mode of transport so it needs to be catered for just like any other. Consequently, the streets in Denmark tend to be designed for cyclists. No surprise that people cycle. It’s the layout and traffic rules that make the difference.
I noticed this starkly when crossing the border from Belgium to France – many cyclists in Belgium but few in France. The weather does not recognise boundaries and the terrain was the same. The only difference was the street layout. In Belgium the cyclist is catered for to a far greater extent than in France.

So that is what we need to do here. As cycling is even more efficient and green than walking, street layout should begin with the cycle then add walking, then motorised traffic. Such an aspiration is so far removed from current experience we should begin with the inner parts of our towns and cities – the area within 800m of the town centre.

Cycle insurance

Cycle insurance from the ETA includes new-for-old, cover for accidental damage, £1m third party insurance, personal accident cover and if you breakdown, we will even come out and recover you and your bike. Get an instant online quote below.


  1. Kirmo Uusitalo


    Has anyone calculated how much does the required additional daily shower and extra washing of clothes emit CO2?

  2. Nicholas decker


    To the above comment.

    Extra showers and clothes isn’t a factor. I still only shower once a day and throw the same clothes in the wash. People who cycle are usually eating better and therefore the body odour is less ( you sweat what you eat).

  3. Kevin Keeble


    I travel from Chatteris to Girton on the back roads of Cambridgeshire by car and what happens is that cars travelling at 50mph to 60mph have to slow down to say 10 to 15mph to pass cyclists. This increases the carbon emissions of the cars as they slow down and speed up, the cyclists hold up traffic as well. These carbon emissions should be added to the cyclists carbon emission total and not the cars?

    • David Fyfe


      what an idiot

    • Ian


      Studies commission by the City of London show that optimum cruising speed is 40 mph for reduced emissions of both NOx and CO2. It also showed that reducing speed from 30mph to 20mph showed mixed emission results with Diesel cars reducing emissions of CO2 and NOx and petrol cars increasing both but by very small amounts when dropping to 20mph. So I’d be interested to see the data you have used to make your assertion.

  4. Hans Fuchs


    @Kirmo: if you are used to ride you dont sweat so much. and sweating itself is cleaning. as long you are a healthy living person (eg. a fit bicycle rider), it smells less.

    @Kevin: so you guess it would be better for the environment if ppl who ride bicycle quit it and use cars instead?
    Maybe we should add co2-emissions of health care for ppl who dont do sports regularily 😉 And CO2-Emissions of building and maintaining the infrastructure and emissions due to electricity for lightning, emissions of emergency services necessary for accidents, emissions of policemen etc.?
    Moreover we could add the emissions necessary to earn the money to subsidy motorised personal transport?
    I guess if you count everything, the picture would be devastating for cars.

  5. James


    The amount of CO2 that a cyclist produces through cycling is inconsequential it would not have any net effect on greenhouse gasses if the cyclist produced more CO2 than a jumbo jet. The reason is startingly simple so I will try and say it as simple as i possibly can.

    There is already lots of CO2 in the atmosphere.This gets taken up by plants and converted to glucose via photosynthesis indeed the overwhelmingly vast proportion of a plant is built through the use of CO2. Animals eat the plants also absorbing. We also eat the plants and the animals that ate the plants. The we release CO2 back into the atmosphere through a process called breathing.The carbon part of the CO2 is the same carbon that was taken up by the plants. The oxygen which binds with the carbon in a process which gives us energy is separated from the carbon by the plants in a process called photosynthesis which releases the oxygen back into the atmosphere. The whole process is carbon neutral. So any argument based upon the carbon dioxide emissions of a cyclists a folly and now you have the reasoning in which to fight their ignorance. It is noteworthy to mention though that this whole process is actually powered by the sun. Yep hag is right the cyclist speeding past you while you sit in your fossil fuelled vehicle is actually powered by the sun.

    As an afternote to any objectors still clinging to their ignorant argument it can be further noted that even though you can say the same for fossil fuels they are actually carbon neutral as they are really only releasing into the atmosphere carbon that was taken from it so it is carbon neutral but over a period of aeons not a few months. However this carbon was captured millions of years ago and as such evolution means that the world has adapted to a lower carbon rich atmosphere very slowly whereas we are now pumping carbon back into the atmosphere which could alter the balance very quickly thus meaning that there may not be enough time to adapt which could also lead to a mass extinction, so you fat f*** get on your bike and ride to work and stop killing everyone.

    • Ian


      This is broadly true, but even taking into account the fixing of atmospheric CO2 to produce food there is still an additional CO2 cost of production for food that does create a net emission (the energy required to fix nitrogen in fertilizers for example). Plus some food types such beef have a greater environmental impact than locally produced vegetables. My point is of course somewhat pedantic as the emissions from a bicycle is still less than a tenth (probably waaaaay less) than that of a car. I wonder what the cost of food and the extra horse power required for moving the obese around the country is?

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Your name and email are required.