Riding bikes is not just fun but also sustainable and the best available solution when it comes to covering short and medium distances. It has a number of positive attributes, being a healthy, emission-free activity requiring very little material and space. The bicycle is therefore rightly considered part of the solution to many of today’s problems: overcrowded and congested cities, noise pollution, a dearth of parking spaces and the need to overcome our reliance on fossil fuels. However, it is entirely unwarranted to rest on these laurels, as many players in the bike industry seem wont to do.
Hardly any manufacturer is truly in the know about the ecological and societal footprint of globalised production. Acquiring this knowledge is an ambitious task that requires a lot of commitment and is fraught with pitfalls. But I believe it would be wrong if manufacturers were to abstain from tackling the subject of sustainability because of the difficulties involved.
Starting with the MTB boom at the tail end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, bikes have been built by cycling athletes for other cycling athletes. This has meant that passing trends and functions were turned into selling points that the majority of cyclists are not even able to experience or which have been of little or no use to them. Such sales strategies have resulted in ever shorter lifespans of the standards for tyres, hubs, bottom brackets and fork dimensions, to name only a few. What was en vogue in one season became outdated only one or two years later. This would not be so bad, were it not for the fact that many a bike has ended up far too early on the scrapheap of obsolescence due to insufficient availability of spare parts and the resulting lack of repairability.
Current bike tech is only partly sustainable
The industry has been rejoicing in the electric bike boom for the past decade, ignoring the fact that the ‘e’ in ‘e-bike’ changes virtually everything about a bicycle. Brake pads and rotors that have historically been optimized for weight give out after a few minor descents, super-narrow chains with delicate sprocket clusters that fail after less than a thousand kilometres, equipment that is not designed for the higher loads created by more cargo, longer distances and transporting children, as well as the churn of model changes combined with the poor supply of spare parts: all this can easily ruin the potentially stellar ecological bottom line of riding e-bikes.
Unfortunately, while sales continue to surge, they do not even remotely reflect new surveys on the actual use of all the bikes, e-bikes and cargo bikes as replacement for cars. According to current publications, the use of motor vehicles is more widespread than ever. There are manifold reasons for the failure of e-bikes to replace cars. Too many potential bike users are still afraid to move in road traffic, topped off by the constant fear of bike theft. The argument that a bicycle is less convenient in day-to-day use should also be taken seriously.
We as an industry need to firmly advocate and support the use of bicycles beyond their mere manufacture and sale. Only when sufficient and convenient bike paths, safe public parking spaces as well as showers and lockers at workplaces have become available will the many bikes sold be put to intensive use. Only then will buyers continue to enjoy cycling and be willing to buy their next great bike before long.
Lobbying to secure future sales
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