Thomas Friedman, What do you Say to 912 Miles to the Gallon?

Mr. Friedman,

What do you say to getting 912 miles to a gallon of gas? I think you'd agree anything that gets that kind of mileage is worth a close look. You routinely jet around looking for ways for America to have a less oil-dependent future. Between the travel and the crafting of alternative visions, you must be having fun doing good. But you are overlooking the easiest way to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. I like to think of it as the 912mpg solution.

You might not be so enamored of this solution. It's cheap. It's old technology. It relies almost entirely on renewable, non fossil-fuel energy sources. You won't need to scour the globe for experts to interview. You won't need to do the hard work of sussing out what the future will look like, as there are test programs in many locations. It doesn't involve you traveling far. It doesn't require planting more corn or building more fuel-efficient cars, or even creating new vehicles. Actually, it doesn't require cars at all.

The 912mpg solution runs on human-grade energy sources. Many probably think of the energy source as "food," which is what it is. The 912mpg solution is a bicycle. The fuel is food. Your mileage may vary, but it will still kick the butt of any other vehicle on the planet. There are approximately 31,000 calories in a gallon of gas, the fuel that most cars run on. Riding a bicycle on a flat road at about 15mph burns .049 calories per pound per minute. 912mpg is what a 175-pound person would burn on a 30-pound bicycle. A lighter person will get better mileage, and a lighter bike (15-pound bikes are easily available), will help further the mileage. On the flip side, riding uphill and/or at greater speed will bring down the mileage slightly, while riding downhill will increase mileage. On the other end of the scale, cyclists in the Tour de France probably get only 300mpg, which is still impressive.

That's right, the 912mpg solution is as easy as riding a bike. And cycling is a great thing to do for many reasons. Improved fitness is one reason--as you know, our society has an obesity problem, and using a bicycle for transportation could reverse that trend. A healthier society will take fewer sick days, fewer hospital stays, have better sex, and live longer.

Naturally, environmentalists should love this solution. Less driving will result in cleaner air, cleaner water, combat global warming, reduce noise pollution, and spread the intervals between costly and environmentally damaging road repaving. With roads, we'll be able to move more people more quickly on our existing infrastructure, which will reduce traffic congestion, helping everyone get to work faster.

The 912mpg solution is something economists should love. Drivers will reduce the cost of operating a car, which can run over $11,000 a year. By reducing the miles driven, the car will last longer. By driving less, the driver will be safer as well, so the risk of being in an accident goes down. Further, the person will be getting a two-fer, both transportation and exercise in one activity, and it's easy to do both well--unlike doing a crossword puzzle and driving or watching TV and exercising. Economists will also love that the bicycle commuter will be arriving at work alert and ready to go.

The 912mpg solution is something commuters should love. Besides reducing the need for special exercise time, something often skipped in busy days, short commutes will often be faster on a bicycle--thus giving the commuter back some time in their day. The commuter will be bursting with endorphins, kind of like natural cocaine, which will leave them happier. The endorphins will reduce the need for that morning cup of joe (good for the wallet, good for office productivity) or the sugary donut, though if the commuter indulges in the donut, her body will easily burn it. Parking a bicycle is easier than parking a car, and there are usually parking spaces close or even inside the workplace.

And it's easy. Most of the country lives within five miles of their workplace. At 15mph, a speed most could obtain with daily use, a five-mile commute takes 20-minutes, probably roughly the same time it takes to drive.

I concede there are problems with this solution. The number one problem is change. People are afraid of it. Change will happen one way or another. And continuing the habit of a single person commuting to work by car is a multiple-whammy, hurting the pocketbook today, really hurting the pocketbook tomorrow, and making the world a less good place to live. Global warming, oil shortages, increased traffic are all changes, too, so people can't sit back and hope for the best; they're going to have to choose change one way or another, and all they can choose is how costly they want the change. The number two problem is sweat. People are afraid of it. I guess we can put the greatest brains of the fragrance industry to work (here you go, travel around the world in search of solutions to smelly sweat!), though a simpler solution might be a shower at the office. People will complain about traffic, but they always complain about traffic, and statistics show that the more people who are out riding, the safer they will be. Power in numbers is certainly true.

I am happy to take you on a tour of the 912mpg solution working here in New York City, but I'm sure you can do it at your home. Just find your underused bike, pump up the tires, lube the chain, swing a leg over, and ride to the office, the corner store, the local coffee shop. You'll be saving money, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, helping save the environment, and getting in better shape.