Bicycling the Globe at a Bargain
October 17, 2011 11:11 AM   Subscribe

35 days, 2822 miles through 9 states at a cost of $252.51 ($7.21 per day). George 'the Cyclist' Christensen spends a good part of each year bicycling through a different country and wild camping in places like Iceland, Turkey, China, the foot of Mt Fuji and around Lake Victoria; And writing about his travels on his blog from libraries and internet cafés. For the past eight years, too, he has also followed the Tour de France after first watching upwards of 70 films [in 12 days] at the Cannes Film Festival.
posted by Rashomon (20 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
as a touring cyclist myself, i have to say that his diet sucks. half the fun of touring is all the eating you do. all he's eating is baked beans and ramen. no thanks. pick up some fresh veggies, tasty cheese, something saucy to pour over them and something like tortillas to transport all this to your mouth and you are seriously eating a "gourmet" meal.
posted by rainperimeter at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The bulk of my diet consisted of seven gallons of chocolate milk, 27 cans of baked beans, eleven loaves of bread, eleven burritos, sixteen bananas and 62 packs of ramen noodles.
posted by stbalbach at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2011

During the Tour Divide, I went through most of Wyoming on Peanut Butter and Bread. Adding Jelly, just before the Great Divide Basin was a revelation. I lost maybe a pound a day during that ration.

Eating is def. an important part of bicycle travel. France was a wonderful experience, even when eating on the, "cheap". Oh the bakeries! Oh the Pastry Shops! No weight lost in 2 months of 100 - 160 km/day!
posted by alex_skazat at 11:31 AM on October 17, 2011

Back when I was bicycle commuting, I ran the math on the cost of food per mile traveled by bike- Essentially the MPG rating for my body. I don't remember my numbers, but the cost is significant.

Your body is an order of magnitude more efficient than a car, but the car drinks fuel that is an order of magnitude cheaper per calorie than the fancy food you eat.
posted by colinshark at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

How the hell is he riding 100+ miles on less than $5 of food? His diet is literally a diet - most days he seems to get less than 1,000 calories. WTF?

Anyway, the rest of it is a fun if rambling travelogue.
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on October 17, 2011

Your body is an order of magnitude more efficient than a car, but the car drinks fuel that is an order of magnitude cheaper per calorie than the fancy food you eat.

True, but there's little to be learned from that. One must exercise, regardless. If you can work it into your commute, you're still saving 100% of the costs associated with running a car during that time.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:39 AM on October 17, 2011

colinshark: "the car drinks fuel that is an order of magnitude cheaper per calorie than the fancy food you eat."

I don't know about anyone else, but the "fancy food" this cyclist likes has a shit-ton of butter in it, and often incorporates large servings of fried potatoes or melted cheese.

Cheap calories are easy to find, you just have to realize you can stop avoiding them now that you burn so many.

I bet you I can go further on the calories in a gallon of high fat chocolate milk than your car can go on a gallon of gas.
posted by idiopath at 11:45 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Back when I was bicycle commuting, I ran the math on the cost of food per mile traveled by bike- Essentially the MPG rating for my body. I don't remember my numbers, but the cost is significant.

Except that you have to factor in that you would have eaten something that day anyway. So what you really have to figure out is how much more (if any) you eat due to your commute.

In my case it was nothing more, I lost 20 lbs when I started and now I still eat the same amount but my body has reached an equilibrium, more or less.
posted by mikepop at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pemmican is what Amr Indians used for long distance travel high energy food. Roald Amundsen used it to get to the South Pole. I've made it from scratch using grass fed organic beef and it works and is cheap and tastes good and lasts. It's also loaded with nutrients if you use bone marrow.
posted by stbalbach at 12:00 PM on October 17, 2011

I read this guy's meal plan and really wished he had provided pre- and post-ride weigh-in numbers. I went on a long tour and probably shed 15 lb—and I wasn't overweight to start with.
posted by adamrice at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2011

His diet makes me dry wretch just to read it. Pop tarts, fanta and cheese puffs? *hurl*
posted by Joe Chip at 12:26 PM on October 17, 2011

I finished my math on cycling efficiency which I was talking about earlier. It's all in a spreadsheet, so I can tweak the constants.

Human Muscle Efficiency = 20%
(Studies put this number at 15-25%)
Gasoline price = $3.5 per gallon
Car Efficiency = 25 miles per gallon
My weight = 160 lbs

I calculated the price of my food per energy, based on my grocery bill and caloric intake. You can eat cheaper, but this is realistic.

Average Food Cost = $0.0036 per kcal
or 280 kcal per dollar

I also calculated my cycling efficiency based on a five mile commute to work, using an estimated 150 average watts of pedal power. Calorie charts confirm this number.

Cycling Efficiency = 51 food kcal per mile

From the above numbers, I can directly compute the marginal cost of traveling by car or by bike.

Driving = 0.14 dollars per mile
Cycling = 0.18 dollars per mile

Shit! Cycling is more expensive per mile because food is damn expensive. We can also put the bike in mpg terms if we consider that a gallon of gas contains a hecka cheap 31,000 kcal of energy.

Gasoline = $3.5 per gallon
Food cost, gas gallon equivalent = $111 per gallon

And we can also compute an equivalent mpg number based on a gallon of gas, or its caloric equivalent.

Driving = 25 mpg
Cycling = 601 mpg

Cycling: Great mpg, but absurdly expensive "gas".
posted by colinshark at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

colinshark, I think mikepop has it right. The way I figure it, the price of car commuting is
food + gas
whereas the price of bike commuting is
food + marginal extra food to sate me 'til lunch
posted by JohnFredra at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2011

Yes, but add the health care cost benefits, the intangible long quality life, greenhouse gas benefits of cycling, and maybe you'll get to a true comparison. But, really, there is no comparison. Cycling is just fun.

OK, just throwing in the usual "true total costs" thing in here like normally happens...
posted by Eekacat at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2011

Right. I'm saying that the food cost is significant and comparable to cars in very real terms.

Bike 10 miles to work (and back). Burn 500 food calories. You might not realize it, but your body wants those calories back. Feel extra hunger and eat about 300 calories more at lunch and dinner. That costs about a dollar.

Could have driven for a dollar.

Even if you're dieting, how long can you bike to work regularly before you reach your target weight and caloric goals? In a couple of months when your body balances out, you are directly paying for your leg power.

Of course, cycling is AWESOME, and has tons of other benefits, including health, like Eakacat said. But the food costs money.

Just saiyan.
posted by colinshark at 3:06 PM on October 17, 2011

Could have driven for a dollar.

Yeah, don't forget to add in the amortized cost of the vehicle, the other non-gas fluids and expensive bits and pieces that need replacing, not to mention the registration and insurance costs.

AAA cost-per estimate is about 58.5 cents per mile, so that 10-mile drive is at minimum $5.85 -- and that doesn't even count loan payments.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:35 PM on October 17, 2011

Source (PDF) -- with ranges of 38.1 cents/mile for 20,000 miles in a small sedan to 96.4 cents/mile for 10,000 miles in a large sedan.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:38 PM on October 17, 2011

I think George is my new hero. I'm hoping that my next big adventure is a cross-country bicycle trip. I'm not the cycling enthusiast that he is, but I can understand his philosophy of constantly challenging himself, seeing the world, and living through rich experiences.

I completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail last year, so I can relate a lot to the post and the man. One main thing to take away is how cheaply he recently biked. It breaks down to about 9¢ per mile. A good figure hiking the AT is about $2 per mile. I can't even imagine how cheap it is compared to staying home and living a normal life.

To me, the moral of the story is that it isn't how much you eat, how much you spend, but that you come out of it a fuller person.
posted by RobMaule at 9:38 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

When all you need is more calories (assuming other nutrition is taken care of with the baseline diet), calories can be gotten very cheap. Pancakes made from scratch or fried potatoes or peanut butter (the cheap kind with all the sugar) will get you the extra calories dirt cheap.

Also, in terms of energy usage a bicycle is the second most efficient way to get from point a to point b (second only to a barge).

Regarding this guy's energy intake, the trip to Chicago from Colorado has a lot of downhill. I would not be surprised if he would have eaten 3x as much travelling in the opposite direction.
posted by idiopath at 2:51 AM on October 18, 2011

The thing to understand is that George has been cycling for so long and under so many different situtations and conditions that by now he knows exactly what his body needs including calorie intake, etc. A novice may not want to follow his diet to the letter but I would think that just about anyone would figure out what they needed if they were cycling thousands of miles.

But the key to the post - really - was to emphasize George's intrepid spirit. There are few travelers who head off to China or Turkey or South Africa without a rigid itinierary or lodging reservations. George dives in [or cycles in] and takes it as it comes day by day. And he does it at a relatively minimal cost. I think there is something admirable about that. So if he wants to eat pop tarts and cheese puffs every so often then more power to him.
posted by Rashomon at 10:27 AM on October 18, 2011

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