What is the most energy-efficient way to travel ? In miles per unit of energy, the bicycle is a very energy-efficient way to travel. A properly built bicycle will even handle a fair amount of cargo. True, there are a few drawbacks: hills (up). Rain and snow. Wind. Roads dominated by cars. Old age.
Or you might try something called a velomobile. It’s a recumbent bike with a lightweight, aerodynamic shell around the rider that provides shelter and cuts wind resistance. Velomobiles are even more energy-efficient than bikes.
You can add a little electricity to a bike–an e-bike–or to the velomobile for a hybrid velomobile. The small electric battery provides a little assistance for going up hills and against the wind and when you just feel like going faster. The price of an e-bike ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. A velomobile is even more–about $8,000. Those numbers make me flinch, but if you live in a community where commuting by e-bike or velomobile is feasible, they compare very favorably to the cost of a car.
The operating costs, of course, really put cars to shame. Cheap fuel and maintenance costs, no insurance required, free parking, and no registration costs. (However, e-bikes are not allowed on the street in New York and perhaps other states.)
How about a horse? Weren’t the good old horse and buggy days better for the environment?
Maybe out on the ranch. But in urban areas they were an environmental nightmare. Horses are methane factories, producing 15 pounds of shit per day. In fact, the advent of internal combustion rescued cities from being buried in manure. There were mountains of the stuff. The surrounding farmers couldn’t take it away fast enough. You can imagine the smell, but the flies and subsequent health hazards were worse.
If you’re time-rich or perhaps not going that far, you can walk, which is a lovely way to travel. Smell the roses and notice the world so many of us rip through on our high-speed trip from the cradle to the grave.