Following science, the human machine is not more efficient than typical gasoline engine. Each one of them converts less than a quarter of its intake of fuel energy into work while the rest is wasted. However, the bicycle-and-rider is the unsurpassed star among transport modes, says Robert Hurst in his “Cyclist’s Manifesto”.
The cyclists need a little animal and plant matter for fuel. But not much more than a sedentary person. Petroleum, oil based energy is highly concentrated , but still derived from animal and plant matter. Both can be measured in the same units: kilocalories.
Comparing the number of kilocalories that a cyclists uses to those burnt in the gasoline engine (or alas, even in electric eco-friendly feel-good-about-myself going-green uh-la-la-la-mr.-environmental responsibility such as the ultra-praised Prius) is 20 to 30 times smaller.
The fatal energy flop of any car is its weight. Even the Prius has to haul an extra-ton of metals and plastics that surround the poor driver.
“Nothing (…) can approach the efficiency of the bicycle. Cycling stands completely above other transportation modes in that regard. We can see that we promote these modes of transportation (commuter rail, biofuel buses, Prii or pedestrians) while trumpeting the critical importance of increasing efficiency, in inverse proportion to their efficiency. That would seem to be, a bit, inefficient”.
Hurst wrote an excellent book. In its last part he is advocating the bicycle from a multitude of perspectives, however the efficiency approach is simply groundbreaking.
If the reader does not mind diving into some diachronic analysis of the bicycle in America starting with mid 19th century, the book will take you to the most interesting and seductive corners of the history of mentalities related to transport. if you wanna read about how Americans wanted to import camels in their Dromedaries’ Plan in a crazy attempt to replace inefficient oxen and mules before the civil war, about Ford’s first quadrocycle that will bring about the automobile pest in the US, about how reckless the first cyclists were in the times of “Gangs of New York”, about gender difference regarding cycling and so many other issues, do read the Cyclist’s Manifesto. You shall also enjoy an easy-to-read straight from the pen style.