Eight Bicycles

While it's always a delight to see someone on a bicycle, very few are actually designed with the environment in mind.

So what would a sustainable bicycle look like?

Here I take you through some examples of bikes with interesting features, which we can plug together to make an ideal bicycle.

1. The "Groene Fiets" bike is made by Swedish manufacturer Kronan and is endorsed by the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth. It is simply a good, solid bike that will last for years. It appears to have a back-pedal brake and so needs no cables. As brake and gear cables are probably PVC, this may be why FoE endorsed the bike.
2. I am a big fan of Folding Bikes as they encourage more people onto two wheels by being easy to store and to take on trains. The Brompton is very popular, but new folders are always appearing. Of interest is the Birdy, a super-high-performance aluminium folder, the Skoot, which folds into a suitcase, and the Boot Bikes which are available with Budget hire cars.

3. Speaking of hiring, surely the best way to maximise the use of the materials that go into a bike is to hire it out constantly. The famous free "White Bikes" of 60s Amsterdam are back again this year, despite being stolen before. This time they are designed to be vandal-proof and are hired out using smart cards.
4. Bike design can have a big influence on speed and ease of pedalling. Obviously, you wouldn't fancy going up too many hills on the Kronan, so what makes a bike fast? The answer is drag and weight. The Fastest Bike in the World is a faired version of the Easy Rider, ridden by "Fast" Freddie Markham.
5. Freight bikes such as this Brox 4 wheeler are in use in London by delivery company Red Star, and Taxi Bikes ferry people around the West End.
6. Grown materials can also replace metals. There are bicycles hewn out of teak, and also ones made of bamboo tubing.
7. Electric assist is becoming very popular. See the back issues of the BioThinker for details of the Powabyke. Combining the folding element together with electricity gives you the Honda Compo. And don't forget that unless you eat only home-grown food, a lot of fossil fuel went into making the energy that drives your muscles. So if you charge your electric bike with PV panels, then you may actually be more "solar" than if you pedal ...
8. Greentyres™ are solid polyurethane tyres which can never be punctured. They are made with no CFCs and the product itself cures at ambient temperature, saving the energy required by rubber vulcanisation. The product lasts longer than rubber and when the tire eventually wears down it can be recycled.
Putting it all together, we can say that the ideal commuting bike would be:
  • recycled aluminium
  • folding
  • solid tyres
  • fan belt or shaft drive so no oily chains
  • recyclable

    All this is today's technology, and the least researched area is probably the recyclability.

    New Addition: Feb 2002

    Where do dead bikes go, anyway? Well, Sean Evans has kindly sent in a top-ten of 'dead' bike destinations:

    1. The Police Station (stolen, abandoned, recovered, then stored in the Police Station recovered bikes shed forever because the owners have got a new one on the insurance).

    2. Stored forever in old sheds or garages.

    3. Dumped in water (canal, river or sea)

    4. Sold on Ebay (and then resold and passed on, forever being used, refurbished , upgraded etc.)

    5. Left locked to railings (this is a slow death, involving the removal of components until the last bit is still attached via U-lock until it too is sawn off and thrown into a Council truck).

    6. Used as a clothes horse in the bedroom.

    7. Used as a pedestrian mantrap in dimly lit hallways of blocks of flats.

    8. Sawn up and used for other purposes. (wheel-truing stand, trailerbike, hanging basket bracket).

    9. Part of a modern art sculpture.

    10. Really nice or famous ones may end up in a museum.

    So you see, not many bikes actually die, they just rest for a while before being reincarnated - nirvana for them is being looked after by a careful owner.

    If you want a really green bike, then you could emulate Greg Blackwell, who has built three bikes from parts found at the dump.