If Tour de France Powered the World
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is how two-wheeled vehicles can steam four-wheeled ones.
By Tracy Moran
Tens of thousands line the routes, cheering on the lean, mean, muscled machines who pedal their way through 2,187 miles’ worth of French hills, countryside and mountains. The 198 men cycling in the annual Tour de France — women are still excluded — are among the world’s fittest, so perhaps it’s time to harness their energy for a greater good.
“Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use,” famed Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz once said. But the spandex-clad Tour cyclists know how to notch it up in any gear. And with that in mind, ExerciseBike.net decided to compare the amount of energy these competitors expend to give us an example of how that output stacks up against everyday power usage.
The bikers expend enough energy to light up the Eiffel Tower — which has 20,000 lightbulbs — for 3.2 days.
That same energy, from peddling a combined total of 432,957 miles, could power the Empire State Building for 48 minutes, the average French home for a whopping 663 days and the average American home for roughly 170 days. It’s also enough to drive a Tesla 18,000 miles, brew 114,356 pots of coffee and bake 773 turkeys.
The figures were gathered by using MET scores, average finish time and the average weight of Tour de France competitors to get the total number of calories burned. Then, by comparing these calories against data from the National Institutes of Health, researchers converted them into muscle energy, then changing calories into kilowatt-hours to get the equivalent electrical output per rider. On an individual basis, for perspective, these top racers are pedaling enough to power a 100-watt lightbulb for 258 hours or a washing machine for 51.6 hours.
Wondering how you can harness your two-wheeled vehicles into some laptop illumination? Not so fast. While it’s true that energy converters exist and that gyms’ worth of bicycles can help trim some energy costs, it’s important to remember that the average Joe is no Tour de France cyclist. Even at their elite level, and riding nearly 2,200 miles each, notably up some seriously steep mountains, each rider musters less than 20 hours’ worth of air-conditioner energy.
According to Michael Bluejay, aka Mr. Electricity — he runs the “Saving Electricity” blog — the typical bike generator can produce only 100 watts, so pedaling an hour a day for a month would get you about 3,000 watt-hours, or 3kWh, which is less than 1 percent of what an average family uses. Then there’s the fact that “cyclists’ energy isn’t ‘free’ — it takes energy to make the food that the cyclists burn, and the human body is pretty inefficient at turning food into work,” he says. All that cycling, in other words, could end up taking more energy than using a motorized vehicle.
So pedaling your way to a substantially cheaper energy bill is unlikely. But if nothing else, the Tour de France muscle men’s power, translated into electrical output, shines a bright light on “the incredible amount of energy that the riders expend … and how much energy we use everyday,” says Sanica Apte, media relations associate with Fractl, who publicized the study.