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The bicycle: a vehicle of Transition?

The bicycle is a perfect example of the permaculture principle that everything should have multiple functions. And as permaculture is one of the key cornerstones of the Transition movement, I think this qualifies bikes as a brilliant thing for a Transition Initiative to get involved in. Let me elaborate.

messing about on my Otesha tourBut first a disclaimer: I am a bicycle fanatic, it is my transport of choice as well as a passion. So I can provide a litany of benefits of bicycles, but there are also a few downsides that I will also endeavour to mention in an unbiased way!

The most efficient form of Transport
The bicycle is an incredible machine. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport in terms of distance travelled for calories of energy used – even more efficient than walking. In a city it is often one of the fastest ways to travel as you can take lots of short cuts that vehicles cannot and you can bypass all the nasty queues. It is also much less stressful; you can't miss it (like you can public transport) and you don't have any problems finding somewhere to park it or to fill it up with fuel (like you would a car).

It is also a lovely way of travelling longer distances and a lot easier than you imagine (remember the efficiency). I am not a fast or pro cyclist by any means and I do not have an expensive, flashy bike, but I can happily cycle 60 miles in 6 hours, including lunch break. I'm ready for a massive dinner and bed at the end of it, but I have visited my parents several times in this way and taken all the stuff I needed for a few days stay. A lovely way to spend a day, cruising through little villages and farmland. It does of course take longer than a car and you probably need to set a day aside for the journey, but we are going to have to have to learn to travel more slowly in the future as generally faster equals more energy.

A healthy bike!Living an active life
A big benefit of using your bike as a means of transport is that you get exercise and fresh air at the same time. Rather than our rather odd concept of going and 'doing exercise' it helps you live an active life so planning in seperate exercise sessions becomes unnecessary. If you haven't done much cycling before it takes a while to build up the muscles, but once you are doing it regularly then it is surprisingly easy!

Making Connections
Cycling is a much more sociable form of transport. You can talk to people on other bikes and there is currently a great sense of camaraderie between cyclists, although this could be because we are currently in the minority. Cyclists are usually very happy to help each other out; if you are fixing your bike at the side of the road you will normally get another passing cyclist asking if you are okay and need any help. Or if you have any bicycle questions at all there will be lots of cyclists happy to give advice.

bicycle smoothie makersThere are many examples of how bicycles can bring communities together. Transition University of Aberdeen are one of the initiative to have set up a bicycle reuse and repair centre called Becycle, which not only does what it says on the tin, but it also creates a community around it that can then seed other projects as people get talking.

Transition University of West Scotland that I was involved in also ran some Dr Bike sessions, which turned out to be some of our most popular events!

I'm not specifically aware of any bicycle and social inclusion projects in Transition Initiatives, but I know that there are quite a lot of cycling projects that use bicycles and bicycle repair to work with marginalised people, providing them with a community and empowering them with bike repair skills. Freewheel North is a good example of this. 

Lower Resource use
Depending on what you eat cycling can use a lot less energy than fossil fuel powered vehicles. Due to the high carbon footprint of a lot of modern food eating more of it because you are cycling could actually increase your carbon footprint. Although you could argue that at least it is a renewable resource! But if you are eating a planet-friendly, locavore diet then it use much less energy.

Road space needed by different forms of transportThere is also much less embodied energy in the vehicle because it is that much smaller than a car. It also has a lower water footprint than a cup of coffee...

Being smaller also means that it takes up much less space on the road and therefore requires much less infrastructure than our current transport network, as this picture interestingly illustrates.

Symbolism
The bicycle is a fantastic symbol for freedom as it removes your dependence from a lot of our current convenience culture. Repairable, cheaper, adaptable, sharable.

Bike garden!It is also a great vehicle of revolution as anyone who has been on a mass cycle ride can testify, it's an inspiring experience. It was also very symbolic in the beginning of the womens rights movement as it gave women the freedom to travel without relying on their menfolk, many of them also started wearing trousers, scandalous! I was also going to make a bad pun about the revolution of the wheels, but I can't think of one...

Downsides
The bicycle, unfortunately, is not completely perfect. It still requires fossil fuels to make it in the first place and then to produce the parts to maintain it. There have been a couple of really interesting blogs recently around this topic, such as Andrew McKays on Transition Voice. And it is an important topic to consider so that we can start coming up with solutions, bamboo and wooden bikes are definitely interesting ideas.

Current transport hierachies also make cycling often quite unsafe and scary, when you have a double decker bus cutting you up you feel more than a little threatened... hopefully this will improve though as more people start cycling and people cannot afford to drive so there will be less cars on the road.

But all in all I think that the bicycle should definitely be a vehicle of transition and I would love to see more cycling projects springing up in Transition Initiatives soon.

Via la cycle revolution!

Photos: Messing around on my Otesha cycle tour (Beth Sissons), a very healthy bike, Transition UWS bicycle smoothie making (Kristina Nitsolova), a comparison or road space used by different forms of transport (press office, city of Munster, Germany) and a bicycle mohawks! 

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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