A while back, I opined that cars stink. And they do. But they’re just so hot!
And how hot are they?
Well, OK. Usually not that hot.
But ask any cyclist who has had to wait next to a car how hot they are, and the answer is damned hot.
The reason is two-fold. First, cars are hot because they use internal combustion engines. Their power comes from igniting a mixture of gasoline vapor and air in a confined space, resulting in an explosion that pushes a cylinder back, ultimately driving a shaft that connects to the wheels.
Second, that explosion is hot (duh!). And the engine can’t make full use of that heat. Which means that the engine is not very efficient. In fact, you get very little bang for your three bucks and change per gallon. Internal combustion engines seem to max out at about 20% efficiency. Leftover, unused heat is vented through the exhaust system, radiated through the materials that make up the engine, and dumped to fluid coolants that circulate through the engine to keep it from melting, and which are then cooled themselves by dumping their heat into the atmosphere through the car’s radiator.
Of course, most cars also dump heat through their air conditioning systems, and so the occupants of the car are kept blissfully unaware of just how hot they really are.
OK, so. If you’re a driver–particularly, since you’re reading this blog, a driver who also rides a bike–consider this: how much heat do I need to dump into the atmosphere today? Any chance that I could ride my bike to the store instead? Yes, people get hot. No, people do not get that hot.
It may feel like it some times, but we’re pretty much temperature-limited.
Ten gallons of gasoline will buy you a set of panniers. Not terribly good ones, so splurge. Spend twenty gallons of gasoline. Then put them on your bike and put your stuff in them and ride to work. Or school. Or empty them out and ride to the grocery store, and ride home.
Cars aren’t the only contributors to global climate change, or maybe even the most important ones. But they certainly contribute to local climate change. So if you can’t ride your bike, at least shut down your car when you’re not using it. Don’t leave it idling when you run into the coffee shop “just for a moment.” Shut it down when you’re sitting at a long light. Don’t dump more heat (and stank) than you need to.
Remember, it’s cool to be hot. But it’s hotter to be cool.