Part 2 of our investigation on the state of bicycle society. While graveyard fleets of free-floating Chinese bikes may have shed a light on the darker side of the sharing economy, what about the community and not-for-profit aspect of urban bicycles?
For Daniel Robinson, the massive arrival of Chinese bikes in the UK is bad news. “They’re a threat to existing projects. Bicycle programs need public funding,” explains this solidary bike activist. “Our programs don’t make money directly, but rather by improving people’s health.” He believes that these new companies, which are capable of investing at a loss for several years, will tilt the power struggle.
For the past four years, Daniel has been rallying the solidary bike community in Liverpool with Peloton, a social entreprise that leads several programs for bicycle repair, rental, maintenance and education. Also in charge of maintaining the city’s public bike-sharing system, he employs people going through social rehabilitation and teaches bike repair to people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. All these programs reflect his singular obsession to consolidate the bicycle industry and its wealth on a local scale: “The more we produce locally, the more value we add, and the more jobs we create.”
Wind in everyone’s hair
Little by little, Peloton has broadened its outreach. Bicycle repair workshops have been extended to schoolchildren. Daniel also heads the local branch of Cycling Without Age, a non-profit initiative founded in Copenhagen in 2012, which defends “The Right To Wind In Your Hair”. The concept is simple: offer free (or low-cost) bicycle rides to elderly people. The organization is currently present in 37 countries, with more than 20 programs in Great-Britain.
The motive for all these partisans of solidary bicycles is equal access to bikes for all marginalized communities (elderly, social rehabilitated, poor…). In Glasgow, for example, the organization Bike for Good slashed the price of annual membership to Nextbike shared bicycles from £60 to £3 for the community of surrounding housing estates, reports the Guardian, and also made the program accessible through cash payment options.
In France, Grenoble has planned solidary pricing for some 6,500 long-term rental bikes from its Métrovélo service. Users can choose their model: standard bike, tandem, folding or cargo bike to transport big things or small people. Full price, a one-year rental costs 132€, including maintenance and equipment (helmet, lock, etc.); the solidary price (based on family quotient) is 48€ per year.
Bicycle solidarity also accompanies a dedication to social rehabilitation. In Evreux, since 2009 Tandem has been hiring people who are unemployed, in debt or have health problems to fix abandoned or donated bikes. The repaired bikes are then sold at low cost. In Tralissac, since May 2016 Vélorution Périgourdine offers a free bike-repair workshop every Saturday that attracts refugees, according to France 3 Nouvelle Aquitaine.
Bicycle workshops often reflect a social and community vocation, such as Atelier Vélorution Bastille in Paris, which reserves slots for self-taught bike mechanics “in a non-mixed environment for women and non-binary people,” asserts Laure Paulin. Since she launched the organization in 2015, she adds, it has been attracting a wide diversity of people, re-balancing the otherwise male-dominated bike world and even convincing a few women to volunteer. Above all, it’s an opportunity to learn bike mechanics. “It allows us to develop the sorority and feel capable without our men friends,” she smiles.
I fix my bike, therefore I join the community
The idea of bicycle solidarity stems from tinkering, or rather from self-repair. In the United States, one of the pioneers of the movement is the Bike Kitchen, founded in 2003. Since then, bike repair associations have been popping up around the planet. According to Heureux Cyclage, a French network of solidary and participative bike repair workshops, France alone has more than 200 workshops nationwide.
Map of self-repair shops by Heureux Cyclage:
These DiY workshops play an important role in developing a local community of cyclists. Most of the time, they’re free or “participative” (pay-as-you-wish or lend a hand), along with an annual membership of varying price (10€ for Vélorution, for example). Most of all, they operate on an exchange of knowledge—everyone comes to fix their own bike with the tools in the workshop, and others help if needed… recalling the principle of fablabs.
Often, they also sell used bikes at a low price. Atelier Dynamo in Nancy sells bikes for around 40€. Others offer long-term rentals. “It’s too bad that the media is less focused on these services than on the abuse of free-floating bikes, which project a negative image of bicycles. The consequences go against the objectives of participative and solidary workshops,” says Rémi Rebour, cofounder of La P’tite Rustine, a recycling and repair workshop in Bron, near Lyon.
Reclaiming the asphalt
Meanwhile, amateur bike communities are no less active on the streets. Often the ride from quiet self-repair to cyclist activism is just a short spin away…
Cyclists lobby to make bikes accessible to all and demand better urban infrastructure for cycling. From one big city to the next, collectives such as Vélorution organize rolling demonstrations of local “critical mass” to reclaim the asphalt. Some, like the protest in Paris on March 21, are political—cyclists converged on the river banks, which were in danger of being closed off to pedestrians (the City appealed). It was a “positive and luminous” parade in defense of “soft transportation”.
"On roule Paris" X Cyclofix. 21:03:18. Il y a ceux qui en parlent et ceux qui agissent. ? Coursiers, réparateurs, passionnés, velotaffeurs, cyclistes en tout genre. Tous ensemble à rouler dans le même sens, vers le même but > le maintien des voies sur berges piétonnes ? @messengers_of_paris @parisavelocestsympa @lesboitesavelo @coursier.fr @couriier @pcrgravier @gow_girlsonwheels #reparation #bike #street #bicycle #cycliste #cyclisme #rouler #ecologie #startup #parisvelo #parisavelo #reparation #paris #onrouleparis #chistole #messengersofparis #velorution #velourbain #manif #velo #cyclofix
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Then there are the alternative bicycle parties, like Bike Wars—a celebration of bikes that have been tinkered, modified and augmented. This “Mad Max demolition derby on a bike” claims to “create to destroy (think vintage Burning Man featuring punk Robot Wars)” according to the French Bike Wars organized for the past three years by the Stendhal collective in Paris, in venues that are always kept secret until the last minute.
Bike Wars 2017 in Paris by Stendhal:
This competition originated in the U.S. in the 1990s among broke biker communities who couldn’t afford to buy a motorcycle and so instead customized and modified their bicycle, according to a recent report by Tracks. All in the name of war on wheels, racing to be the slowest, or parading on a small bike.
Next, part 3 of our investigation on electric bike-sharing