baby + tub o' compost on an electric cargo bike

Like a ton of bricks

Hardware Coop floor in progress Each 12 inch ceramic tile weighed 4 pounds and we needed 850 of them. That’s 3,400 lbs in tile alone. The floor project would also require about 12 bags of mortar at 50 pounds each. That brings the total weight of the project to 2 tons now– 4,000 pounds, before we even add the grout.

Of course, I calculated what it would take to carry all this on my bike. The tile alone would take 17 trips at 200 pounds per trip.

I decided cargo biking wasn’t practical for this job, but I still had the opportunity to have most of the material pass through my hands. I helped load and unload much of the 50 pounds bags of mortar, and two car-trailer loads of tile. By the end, I felt well acquinated with the full impact of 4,000 pounds. I could feel in my bones the amount of energy it took to move that material.

And for a least a moment, I appreciated cars for this. They were far better for carrying 2 tons of materials than a bike would be.

And that’s when it hit me like a ton of ceramic tile. The average American car weighs 2 tons.


All this energy… all this effort required to move 4,000 pounds… all that energy is purchased and consumed every time a car is driven for any purpose. This near-miracle is being accomplished to visit the corner store and fetch a a single bag. So often, cars carry little more than a single passenger a short distance.

baby + tub o' compost on an electric cargo bike

A vehicle like the Hummer takes the inefficiency of weight vs. cargo to dramatic proportions. The “light” H3 tips the scales at about 4,700 pounds for the weight of vehicle, yet has a payload of only 1,150 pounds. Compare that with a Yuba Mundo cargo bike— the bike weighs 55 pounds, but is rated to carry 440 pounds.

Is our energy crisis a crisis of supply or a crisis of inefficient demand? Any way I can slice and dice it, using a 4,000 lbs vehicle to transport a person and a small amount of cargo for less five miles is an highly inefficient way to accomplish the task.

My vote for the using the limited resource of oil is to conserve it for cases when no great substitute exists. Using 4,000 pound vehicle to move myself when I could be using a 40 pound vehicle is not one of those cases.

In future posts I’ll be writing more about how electric cargo bikes are a practical part of my car-replacement solution. Until then, I recommend Morgan Gidding’s writing on the topic “A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers“, see part 1 and part 2. Our new electric Yuba Mundo is also covered more on Flickr.