I have a bicycle, and I ride it regularly for recreation. I could probably work out a path that would safely get me to lunch. It would take over an hour to ride the bike each way and I'd arrive for my hour-long lunch sweaty but healthy. There would be no gasoline costs associated with the ride and, as a vegetarian, my total CO2 output would be nicely matched by the CO2 intake by the plants I consume for lunch. Unfortunately, if the majority of my energy came from meat and dairy products my greenhouse gas picture doesn't look so rosy. A person riding a bicycle at 10 mph who eats an average American diet is responsible for about 0.14 pounds of CO2 per mile traveled. This is largely due to the amounts of diesel fuel and natural gas used to fertilize and grow feed and to raise cows, pigs and chickens using industrial food processes. Still, that's only about 4.2 pounds of excess CO2 produced. To me, it's the extra time spent riding that limits my bicycle commuting.
Scooters are everywhere. I like scooters, particularly old Vespas when ridden by scantily-clad supermodels as they negotiate Rome streets. In the U.S. they've caught on because they're cheap. I decided to find a used 50cc scooter and see what it was like to commute on such a machine. I could have chosen any one of a number of inexpensive Chinese scooters, but they have a reputation for poor quality and almost no service. Besides, I wanted something European. I finally settled on a used Italian Aprilia SR50, a bit of a hot rod in the 50cc class. Top speed, after some enhancement, is a giddy 45 mph.
Riding my Aprilia to the Square Peg takes some logistical planning. It isn't fast enough to ride on the highway, so I need to take surface streets working out to the same 15 miles. Instead of 20 minutes, it takes 30 minutes each way. The Aprilia returns 90 mpg. So for my 30-mile round trip I'm using just a third of a gallon of gasoline, costing $1.33. See why so many people are riding scooters? My Aprilia has a two-stroke engine and spews high amounts of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, but at least its CO2 levels are low at 0.19 pounds per mile, releasing just 5.7 pounds of carbon dioxide. That's close to what I'd be producing if I were riding a bicycle while eating a standard U.S. diet, but it takes me half the time to do so. In its own geeky way, the scooter is fun to ride too.
The amazing thing is how quickly you reach a point of diminishing returns. Going from my 15mpg SUV to a 30mpg automobile is no hardship, yet shows the biggest improvement in costs and CO2 emissions. The Citron's rudimentary nature shows you just how far you have to go to get to 45 mpg or better, unless you're using expensive hybrid technology, you're on a motorcycle or scooter, or like our esteemed editor, you are the 40-year-old guy huffing along on a Schwinn.