How to Set Up and Run a Bicycle Repair Company

This is a guest post from Robin Lovelace (email: www (dot) lovelacerobin (at) yahoo (dot) com), a PhD student in energy research at the University of Sheffield, UK. Robin has recently set up RobRod's Repairs, a mobile bike repair business.

1. Introduction

Many of the articles that discuss the causes and effects of humanity's unprecedented energy use are entirely theoretical, offering little practical guidance for the everyday reader.

This essay offers respite to all the people who confront our collective energy problems with a furrowed brow and an expression that is puzzled by the continuous stream of theoretical insights that explain our current circumstances. This essay confronts our collective energy problems in more practical terms - with an adjustable spanner and a puncture repair kit at the very least.

Be the change poster seen on a bicycle in York

2. Target audience

If you are young of heart and pioneering of spirit, this article is aimed at you. If you sometimes think about forming a small company in response to unprecedented global circumstances - the prospect of terminal declines in oil production and a changing climate - I suggest that you need to read this condensed chunk of knowledge, especially if you enjoy riding a bicycle and can operate a spanner.

3. Why should you set up a bicycle repair company?

Rich people (anyone earning more than $20,000 a year is rich, regardless of what their neighbours may think) burn ~200 kWh of primary chemical energy each day. Of this 70 kWh is converted into transport (MacKay, 2009: Chapter 3 and Chapter 5). (70 kWh equates to 30 miles in a 30 mpg car burning 40 kWh of gasoline and one long haul flight burning 30 kWh/day of kerosene, averaged over the year.) Conversion processes for transport include:
  • Petrol exploding in an internal combustion engine’s combustion chambers exerts a force on the pistons inside the bonnet of a car.
  • Kerosene igniting inside a turbofan combustion chamber expands, spinning the jet turbines and thrusting the oxidised waste products out the back. For every 1 kg of fuel burned, a typical commercial jet engine produces 3.16 kg of CO2, 10 g of NO2, and 1-3.5 g of CO, all important greenhouse gases (Brasseur et al., 1998).
  • Hydrogen molecules in natural gas (CH4) react with nitrogen in the Haber-Bosch process, creating nitrate fertiliser that improves the yield of the world's industrial agricultural systems. The food derived from farming may eventually end up metabolized in a human body, in order to power leg muscles to walk or push pedals.
All of these processes depend on fossil fuels that are running out. Thus, a good reason to set up a bicycle repair company is that, despite the lengthy food chain, cycling is the most efficient of the above methods of converting fossil fuels into personal locomotion (especially if you eat well). A typical US car consumes 100 kWh of chemical energy per 100 passenger Km (24 miles per gallon), a plane 50 kWh and a bicycle 2.4 kWh – the bicycle is 50 times more efficient, ignoring the energy costs of production of the car or the food (MacKay, 2009, 2009).[1]

Another reason for setting up a bicycle repair company may be to make money. Cycling is a strong growth industry globally. There are more bikes than cars in the world and thousands of these cycles are sat in garages in various states of disrepair. Bike repair is labour intensive, uses few resources, and provides people with a new form of transport. If you are a bike mechanic and operate a fair business in your area, you may become a valued member of your local community, especially if fuel becomes scarce.

4. Why you should not set up a bicycle repair business

Before diving in, consider your circumstances and the nature of the local economy where you live. If the answer to the following questions is no, setting up a bicycle repair company may not be such a good idea:
  • Is there demand for bike repairs in your area? (Test this by offering a ‘Dr Bike’ free session, or create demand through advertising/collaboration with local government)
  • Can you fix bikes? (Put yourself to the test by fixing as many bikes as you can – fix those of friends, family and acquaintances; work/volunteer in a local bike shop; get an official qualification)
  • Will you be offering something new in your area? (If there is already a good bike shop or mechanics – collaborate with them unless they are not interested)
Do not give up if you cannot say yes to all the questions. Bike repair should not be seen as a short-term money spinner like a trendy new Internet company during the dot-com boom. Bicycle repair is inevitably a social activity where you will slowly build up a network of friends and fellow cyclists who trust your abilities. But this growth will only occur in proportion with your bike repair skills: try to go too fast and you may have problems. Therefore when the answer to any of the questions is a 'maybe' instead of a definitive 'yes' perhaps you should consider abandoning the profit motive altogether, especially in the first few months or years. Remember, every time you look at a bike, or help someone else to fix one, you are gaining something priceless: important knowledge and skills that can be bought only with time. In my experience, the reward of fixing someone's bike for free is the satisfaction of providing them with increased independence from cars, money and petroleum. An option I highly recommend is volunteering for a community bike project or helping an experienced bike mechanic – that way you will learn more quickly and support a good cause.

The altruism and goodwill mentioned above does not mean you should never make money from fixing bikes. By contrast, the warm glow generated from free repairs on both sides of the equation may become one of the central selling points of your business. You may also need money in order to invest in better tools and equipment. RobRod's repairs overcame this problem with a £500 grant from a small entrepreneurs organisation. This highlights the low startup costs of bike repair industries and the possibility of acquiring funding from sources acting in the public interest.

5. What you’ll need

Tools are the most important work items a bike mechanic owns. Good tools will last decades, and it is possible to grow an affinity to tools that are used frequently. Low-quality tools can provide a cheap solution to infrequent problems, but may become a burden when they fail. For this reason, I recommend investing in high quality tools right from the beginning, as they will make bike repair more enjoyable. I have found it useful to divide my tools into two groups – one group I always bring with me, and another that I leave at home unless I know they will be used.

Frequently used tools, in rough order of frequency of use (Figure 1):

Allen keys (known as hex keys in the USA)
An adjustable spanner with a range up to 20mm +
Decent metal tire levers – could save you much time and effort
8 mm spanner – used frequently on older bikes
10 mm spanner – receives very frequent use
13 mm spanner – for adjusting seat height
15 mm spanner – the most common wheel nut size
15 mm pedal spanner – simple a thin, sturdy 15 mm spanner
Philips and flat-head screwdrivers – medium and small sizes
Chain tool – essential for fixing chains
Spoke keys - 3.23 mm, 3.30 mm and 3.45 mm keys will fit practically all spoke nipples
15 mm and 17 mm cone spanners are frequently needed for hub servicing
Crank extractor
14 mm socket wrench
Cable cutters – essential for replacing worn cables
Plumber wrench or 30, 32, and 36 mm spanners for adjusting old headsets

Figure 1: Frequently used tools

Infrequently used tools, best used in a work shop:

Shimano freewheel and cassette removers (other, less commonly used removers exist)
Bottom bracket tool – for the Shimano 20 tooth BB cups common on newer bikes
Bottom bracket lockring
Hook spanner – for the majority of older BBs
Hack saw

Many specialized tools such as BB thread chaser, headset race hammer and truing jigs exist. Because of the cost of these tools, they are not accessible to most amateur bike mechanics. By working or volunteering in an established workshop, it may be possible to use these tools.

Along with the tools there are a number of items that are used in bicycle repair. These can be split into essential and useful items.

Essential items for basic bike maintenance:

  • Lubricant is necessary to make bikes perform better. Mineral oil is the cheapest and most widely available lubricant. A few drops added to chains or oxidised cables can make a bicycle more pleasant to ride at virtually no cost. Grease is necessary for servicing hub, headset and and bottom-bracket bearings, although I rarely use grease for minor repairs. A light, squirtable lubricant is extremely useful for penetrating inaccessible components and removing handlebar grips.
  • A high quality pump is essential for inflating tires to the correct pressure (40-80 psi is correct for most bikes, although one should always check the recommended pressure on the outer tire). As well as having gauges, track pumps require less effort to pump-up tires than do hand pumps.
  • Puncture repair kits are crucial. There are many types on the market, and can be acquired at low cost.
  • Spare inner tubes – there comes a time when puncture repairs are no longer sufficient to fix a leaky inner tube. Presta (thin) and Schrader (thick) tires are the main categories, although many diameters and thicknesses are available
Other useful items:
  • A bicycle work stand is near-essential if you do frequent repairs. Lightweight and compact models are available for the mobile bike mechanic.
  • Spare inner cables – there are different types of both gear and brake cables, so make you get the right ones
  • Spare outer cables – gear and brake cables are different. Buying in bulk (e.g. 30m) yields significant economies of scale and will allow you to share with buddies.
  • Cable tidies – allow you to finish your cable repairs with a safe and attractive finish.
  • Spare outer tires – will come in useful but are costly (if bought new) and bulky.
  • Pannier racks and baskets – these can greatly increase the utility of a bicycle.

Figure 2. Items for bike maintenance

Figure 3: The whole mobile repair kit ready to go

6. How to set up

Setting up shop can be as simple as that. However, it is highly recommended that you get public liability insurance before doing repairs for people you do not know. Personal experience leads me to recommend keeping bureaucracy to a minimum in the early stages, although it may be necessary to keep detailed logs if the project grows into a full-scale company.

It is possible to set up shop just with a bike trailer, tools and a work stand, and preferably another bike mechanic for support. This was found to be an enjoyable and profitable option for RobRod’s repairs when we would set-up on the University of York campus on sunny afternoons (Figures 4-7). Having a workshop as base of operations is highly desirable, but can be expensive. One solution is to work in collaboration with a local bike shop in the area, or to set up a bike co-operative if you have the time and experience. The potential to expand may grow as global oil production shrinks, but the key is to start small and master the art of walking before you begin to run.

Figure 4. RobRod's in operation on the University of York campus

Figure 5. Packing up shop after a hard day's work

Figure 6. The advantages of being a mobile mechanic: more business and more old bicycle donations

7. Conclusion

Bicycle repair is a practical activity that can empower individuals and communities to tackle energy-related problems with their own initiative and skill – without recourse to state intervention or mass social change. The increased usage of bikes that small-scale industries such as RobRod's Repairs induces is likely to lead to broader change relating to localisation and shifting attitudes towards energy and the local environment.

Figure 7. Be the change poster seen on a bicycle in York

Figure 8. Think outside the box


The late Sheldon Brown has created the best website on bicycle repair available.
There are many second hand books available on bicycle repair on Amazon. is a bike business set up for the greater good; it inspired me to become an amateur bike mechanic.
Your best resource will be the real human beings who you work with to fix bikes.

[1] Even assuming the bicycle rider is powered by typical US food – an unhealthy choice requiring 10 units of fossil energy input for every one unit out (Pollan, 2006) – he would still consume 5 times less fossil energy per km travelled than the car driver. One could argue that the increased usage of a shower to cleanse the sweaty rider would offset this energy gain. However the argument is spurious for a number of reasons:

  • Bicycle riders require less energy-intensive medical treatment.
  • There are many hidden energy costs in driving, such as the production of the car, the urban sprawl that cars facilitate, the energy costs of road building, and economic power being inferred to those with a monopoly over private transportation.
  • Bicycles put people in direct contact with their immediate surroundings, leading to a greater sense of community in areas with high numbers of cyclists. This may lead to economic regionalism and hence lower transportation costs in the area.

I absolutely loved this optimistic and prescient article - please post more!

A very good Topic Post for the Campfire series.

It appears that there is far more usage of bicycles in Europe than in the USA. Within a 50 mile radius I know of only two bicycle businesses that offer bicycles for sale. In college towns there is always at least one. However for the rural areas I rarely see anyone riding a bike.

I had one of the farm as a youth back around right after WWII. But hard then to ride on gravel roads.

As a teenager in N. St. Louis county we rode our bikes to school and most kids did as well. Rode them to Boy Scout meetings. To the golf course to caddy. All over and paid little attention to traffic. Back then not everyone drove autos with a death wish. We mostly rode on the sidewalks but went into the streets as we felt led. Never an accident and never saw one either.

Then I/we all graduated to Cushman Motor scooters and the bikes were discarded for good. Then on up to motorbikes and then motorcycles and finally automobiles. Never looked back.

At 50mpg on my Harley I like to think I am doing some of my part to conserve and I did buy bike two years ago, used. Rode it down to the mailbox and parked it in my barn. I had an idea to mount a small motor on it which there was commenting on back a couple of years on TOD. Then it died out.
Never got the motor. Bike still in barn. But I think I will once more be riding it in the future. 'Knock On Plastic' if I live so long.

I do have a 70's era Honda Trail 90 I picked up a few years back. Had one back in the 70s and wanted to use it for trail riding and going thru the woods and fields here in my county. I restored it and tuned it up and I think I could get up to 100 mpg possibly.

Thanks for the article. It may inspire me to drag that bike out and clean it up this coming spring.

Airdale-BTW my late brother was a bike fanatic for most of his life.

"Put The Fun Between Your Legs: Become The Bike Bloc"

I'm lucky to have four bicycle repair shops within a mile of my house. Plus my husband is good-natured about replacing my worn brakes and tightening up all the things that come loose due to the jarring from the ridiculously rough road pavement of San Francisco. If I need to get the electrical components of my bicycle worked on, I have to take my bike about four miles to a guy who knows what he's doing. I think electrifying bicycles and doing that kind of repair will increase in popularity shortly. (Last year the Chinese bought 9 million cars and 23 million electric bikes.)

If we can just get decent bicycle infrastructure built (similar to Copenhagen or Holland), bicycle riding in the US will soar. For distances under two miles, riding my bicycle is faster than driving and parking, and certainly faster than taking the bus. For distances of three to five miles, bicycling takes 5 - 10 minutes longer than by car. An added benefit is that I always feel better, both mentally and physically, after riding my bicycle than I do after driving my car.

I give my friends bike tune-ups as birthday presents. It costs me nothing, and they love it.

Is there a way you can stockpile spare parts? It seems like you are fairly dependent on a continuing flow of replacement tires and other replacement parts, manufactured around the world.

For my 3-person family, I bought 6 bikes (1 road bike and 1 mountain-type bike each) and a couple of thousand dollars worth of spare parts and tools. Total cost less than $6K. Worth every cent. We have enough to keep us going for a decade, I'd say.

It is a lot easier to see how an individual can stockpile spare parts, by buying multiple bikes, than it would be for a bike shop to stockpile spare parts--especially if the shop owner has limited capital for inventory. Finding a place to store the inventory safe from theft may be a problem as well.

As long as everything is going well (UPS faithfully delivers spare parts, all the factories around the world build more, and export to US or wherever the shop is) the system works. But if there is a breakdown in the system, it seems like bicycle repair would be affected, just like other businesses.

Whilst some folk set up bicycle repair enterprises, the cycling system still relies on specialist parts from far flung parts of the world. Ideally someone else should setup a inner tube, tire etc. manufacturing process.

Unfortunately I expect such an enterprise would be hopelessly uneconomic whist cheap, mass produced Chinese imports are available. Not only uneconomic but also unnecessary.

Perhaps the what is really needed is the capacity to rapidly enter the bicycle tire market if/when the cheap imports abruptly stop. What is the minimum investment to have a capacity to rapidly enter an market which is currently impossible to be competitive in? What are the raw materials, the tooling etc. required to be in position to manufacture bicycle tires?

The must be a whole range of markets that are currently saturated to the exclusion of all potential local producers by cheap imports from the other side of the world. If/when the imports stop, systems collapse for want of vital components.

Is it possible to operate 'shadow industries' whose aim is not to produce product today, but to maintain the capacity to rapidly produce product tomorrow in anticipation of import disruption?

What are the raw materials, the tooling etc. required to be in position to manufacture bicycle tires?

Oil is used to make the synthetic rubber. You can get some forms of urethane elastomers and make tires like this:

How long do Air Free tires last?
Air Free tires will last as long -- if not longer than -- comparable rubber tires. The Legacy bicycle tire collection is made with either a high-rebound urethane elastomer or what we call the standard foam. Tires made of either material will last anywhere from 3000 to 6000 miles, depending on the rider's weight and the surface on which the bike is ridden. For example, in the Northeast, where they use shale in the asphalt, tire life can be shorter.

And to go the air-free way you'll need to rotate the mold:
spin a tire mold at about 400 revolutions per minute
And have over 20K for a mold:
it cost upwards of $20,000 to have a new mold
(if it is like a plastic molding machine I 'member being told they were $250K a pop new.)

If you go the rubber way, you'll need heat to bake the rubber - as my dead Uncle was fond of saying 'when its brown its cooking, when its black its done just like tires!' As I remember when the Uniroyal factory was closed the new occupants had to add a heating plant and insulation to the I'm guessing its a bit of heat....

Synthetic rubber can be made from alcohol as was done in WWII.

There are still a couple of independent cycle manufacturers in the UK. They specialise in niche markets or sell as a nostalgia band. Brompton and Pashley (I think) still make most of their own parts. There are also small scale specialist manufacturers selling at top prices on engineering quality eg. Airnimal and Moulton. They retain skills, but the last of the large manufaurers, Raleigh, have sold out to the far east, and are now clone machines.

There is a high degree of standardisation in sizes for cycle parts. You can mix and match parts from 10 manufacturers and 4 continents, and still have a reasonable chance of making a ridable bicycle.

Even once huge Raleigh only welded/brazed frames. All the components were outside bought, with few parts from the UK.

I didn't know you could import most cycle parts in 1887....

I think one might also want to set up a "recycling" system for bicycles, similar to junk yards for automobiles (at least here in the US). People buy up old cars, and sell their parts. It would seem like one would want something similar for bicycles.

The problem I would see is that the bicycles tend to degrade rapidly if left outside for long periods--at least that is my impression. Perhaps it is primarily good tires that need to be saved. If there are inner tubes from bad ones that could be used for patches, that would be good also.

This place is a great model for others.
_check out_and share_

From bicyclekitchen website:

Who we are & what we do

The Bicycle Kitchen is a non profit educational organization. We are a group of volunteers who run a space in Los Angeles filled with tools and stands for working on bicycles. Our hope is that you will come down and work on your bike! We will help you. We ask $7 per hour DONATION, (no one is turned away for lack of funds). We have almost every tool you could need and every shift at least one of us will be able to answer whatever question you may have...(hopefully).

In addition to tools we have tons of old donated bike parts and some semi-complete bikes, every now and then we get a fully operational bike. . .

We welcome anyone and everyone, we won't laugh at you if your bike is the wrong color or yell at you cuz you want to put ape hangers on a 10-speed. One of the most common things we do is fix flats, if you don't know how to do that you should come down for sure and learn, then you'll never be stranded again. Being able to work on a bike is very liberating. Once you learn about your bike you'll learn more about "biking" and you might enjoy it even more than you already do.

Sounds like a useful place.

Most of what you see WRT degrading bikes are cheap bikes that are poorly maintained. The parts that die out in the elements are chains, saddles, and tires, usually in that order. On many of these bikes the bottom bracket isn't sealed at all, so the bottom bracket bearings start eating up their cups, but you can't see that damage. The chain is the weakest link in any bike, since it has to be maintained frequently and starts to destroy the chainrings and sprockets (cassette or freewheel gears) quickly when the chain wear (we call it stretch) gets past a certain point. The biggest problem I see with junk bikes out dying on campus around here is chains that are rusting like mad. If you get a cheap car, never maintain it, and leave it out, it will start falling apart quickly too.

Of course, the simple solution is to avoid buying cheap bikes and leaving them out in the rain. Snow's not so bad, though road salt and slush tend to do in a chain pretty quickly if you don't take care of it.

I bike about 600 trips by bike per year, for around 1800-2000 miles per year. I usually have a tire on about half to 1/3 of the year each year (switch to studded tires in the winter, slick tires in the summer, and Avocet cross or similar tires in the shoulder seasons). Each of those sets of tires last me over five years like that. Any company that makes car or ag tires could make bike tires. Clinchers are just two wires for the beads, strong fabric for the casing, glue in key places, and some rubber for the tread and sometimes sidewalls. Sew-ups are even simpler. So tires are much less of a problem than people think. I think the roads will become unusable much faster than bike tires will become unavailable, but I live in freeze/thaw country.

Inner tubes last even longer, and can be patched many times.

Chains are a different story. Even with good maintenance, I only get about a year out of a chain. Once it gets to 1% stretch, I get rid of it to protect the rest of the drive train. If you're going to stock bicycle parts, I recommend chains and brake pads first. I service all of our 12 or so bikes in my household, including stocking parts, and have done almost all of my own bike work for over 20 years. I've never owned a bike stand. A truing stand is nice when you're building your own wheels, and mine (minoura?) didn't cost nearly as much as a bike stand.

BTW, I was just at Greenfield Village a few weekends ago. They have the original Orville and Wilbur Wright bike shop. One of the bikes there was a shaft drive. If things were to get so bad that we can't get chains, we could always switch to shaft drive. A single speed shaft drive is basically a pipe with some gears welded on and only four lubrication points. Hard to beat that for maintainability.

I bike about 40 km per week, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. I don`t have a bike with a chain, it is a belt (I guess made of rubber). It has lasted 12 years so far--no maintenance or replacements except for tires when they wear out. The bike (Miyata) is made of aluminium so it is light and doesn`t rust. I think it will last another 12 years if I`m careful.

As the economic crisis hit (and salary went down) , the bike became more precious. It is virtually free for me to use it as I replace tires only every two or three years. I use it to go to work, so it is vital. Save on bus fares, taxis, etc. And of course, I have no car.

The best part of using it are the country roads I can find to bike on. Now the auto traffic is significantly reduced (compared to a few years ago) on some smaller roads here due to the economy. Peaceful quiet roads are a gift of Peak Oil. Birds, bugs, flowers, trees.....I hope these will make a comeback as the cars gradually fade away.

Bicycles are great in that they are standardized. Personally I am not too concerned about bicycles degrading when ill-maintained; that problem will solve itself. The issue is parts, mostly. Assuming that people are not busy being subsistence farmers or killing each other, manufacturing bike parts will require industrial activity. Although tires are not made in North America now, North America does contain all the things necessary to make a bicycle. All you really need is steel and rubber and lubricants. North America probably still has enough manufacturing capacity to produce the bearings and chains and gearwheels for bicycles. The oil used (I realize that kerosene is not what they use to make tires although of course it could be done) for flying to vacations in North America is probably many times what is necessary to make bike tires for everyone.

Yes, if civilization collapses bikes are not realistic, but if that happens, most of us will be dead. Those of us who are prepared for total rapid collapse will have a chance, but I suspect that they will be killed by survivalists or ex-military with guns sooner or later if they are trying to farm. If you found a Cold War era nuclear bunker and stocked it with enough food and water to last a couple years then your odds would probably be a lot better on the surface - as long as nobody else knows about your bunker. And you would be weak and probably deranged from living in a bunker for several years.

The problem I would see is that the bicycles tend to degrade rapidly if left outside for long periods--at least that is my impression.

You obviously never ride bicycles ;)

The degrading is mostly just rust. Unless the thing has rusted up into a solid lump - which takes some decades or extraordinarily harsh conditions - you can scrub it up to functionality. It won't be pretty, but pretty bicycles get stolen, rusty ugly ones are left alone.

Honestly, bicycles are not a high-tech and complex thing. The latest road bike an Olympian trains on at a velodrome, sure, that's high-tech and complex. But something to take a person and up to 30kg of cargo, or up to 250kg of cargo with a trailer or carrier, that is not a complex thing. They were made before the Oil Age, and can be made after it, too.

Worry about spare parts for your fuel-injected, computer-operated SUV. Do not worry about spare parts for your ordinary commuting bicycle.

pretty bicycles get stolen, rusty ugly ones are left alone

So true. A bit of rust is the best anti-theft device available. I have been using the same old beater for the last 20 years (well, it's the same frame - some parts have been changed). It's ugly as sin, but rides fine and nobody looks twice. Never worry when I lock it up outside the train station.

Great article Robin. Best of luck to you!

Chris said...

*********"Unfortunately I expect such an enterprise would be hopelessly uneconomic whist cheap, mass produced Chinese imports are available. Not only uneconomic but also unnecessary."*******************

Everyone who is thinking of setting up some small business for a post PO future needs to read and understand this.

This applies to just about all of the BEST things to do;

Shoe repair
food processing

"Perhaps what is really needed is the capacity to rapidly enter the (enter any necessary product here) market if/when the cheap imports abruptly stop."

This is exactly what it all boils down to and I for one would like to see more discussion on this matter.


John Michael Greer has done an excellent writeup over at The Archdruid Report this week on exactly this type of scenario. This is a fundamental problem of our current economic paradigm. A post crash guild system, if we accept historical precedent, will remove this constraint, but the question is how do we proceed from here to there?

I think the answer is, nobody really knows, and whatever the migration path is, it will be messy and painful. Suffice it to say you will have to accept a period of significant unprofitability in order to be prepared. If you are not willing to accept this, you will have to accept the pain that comes along with a paradigm shift. That means there will be an extended period where such products simply will not be available. There is no perfect solution.

"Whilst some folk set up bicycle repair enterprises, the cycling system still relies on specialist parts from far flung parts of the world. Ideally someone else should setup a inner tube, tire etc. manufacturing process."

There are other systems needed to support a robust biking community--local policies that prioritize bike lanes, bike paths, bike bridges, bike sharing, bike stands/lockers, and laws that protect bikers and their rights to the road.

Even extensive biking infrastructure costs a small fraction of what roads and bridges for cars cost, but you need to have well organized consistent political pressure to be sure the right policies and programs get implemented.

Are we still talking about cycling in an economic depression or post-collapse world? What is wrong with the roads and bridges we have already? The volume of motorised traffic will drop heaps, and the number of cyclists rise a lot. That's a much safer environment for cycling than the motor-vehicle-saturated one we have now!

Morebikes, modern bikes were developed largely on the assumption of rather smooth roads. You can cycle on rough but it's relatively grim. The hard-surfaced road system in uk was built originally for bikes. It will rapidly deteriorate to unpleasant for cycling. Indeed many uk roads are already near uncycleable due to deterioration of surfaces.

Road wear will decrease along with car use.

It depends on how your roads are made, but much of "road wear" is not wear by vehicles, but by natural processes.

For example, many roads are made of bitumen and gravel. Over time the volatiles in the bitumen evaporate away, leaving clumps of bitumen and gravel and potholes.

Other roads are made of concrete, and over time with earth subsidence, cycles of cold and heat from weather, colonisation and widening of cracks by plants, the concrete breaks up, too.

That said, a road does not need to be very fine to be ridden on with less effort than walked on. Compacted flattened dirt will do. Anyone who has ever laid down new grass near their home, or seen it laid down in "nature strips" in neighbourhoods will have seen that it takes but a few weeks for a flattened dirt path to appear where people have been walking.

Since cars use around a tonne of materials to transport one or two people, they need very flat and well-maintained roads to be viable; they're stupidly inefficient to begin with, bad roads make them hopeless. Bicycles require less fine roads.

Of course, rocks and tree roots and so on will still turn up on roads. As noted in this article, drivers tend to just drive around obstacles, while pedestrians and cyclists stop to clear them away. So I am confident that pedestrians and cyclists could help keep roads in at least passable condition.

I really don't know how much business one could reasonably expect in other places working as a bike mechanic but in my part of the world even if bikes become very popular there will be very little opportunity to earn anything like a decent living working on them -for the very simple reason that they are too easy to fix.

Of course there may be a number of people who will ride very expensive bikes simply because they must due to regulations of the roads or unavailability gasoline and they might pay for repairs.

But in a working class town or mioeghborhood, at least every third man or teenage boy and quite a few women and girls are handy enough to make thier own repairs-and not only without paying labor but also usually faster than hiring out the work.

When I was a kid we rode old American made single speeds on dirt roads and thru the fields for years without doing anything other than oiling the chain and replacing a tire occasionally.

If you buy a good heavy duty single speed it will need VERY little work -probably no work at all -except tires-for years on end, other than lubing the chain etc.

We must be talking about different bikes. If you're buying expensive bikes, say over $800 today, you may be right that it could be difficult to stock enough repair parts. But if you're talking about low to middle end bikes from bike shops, say $300-$800, or used bikes originally from the same range, you're likely to get a fairly simple, highly maintainable, fairly cheap bike. It's like comparing a Ford Focus to a Porsche. It's pretty easy to find a shop that can work on a Focus and there are hundreds of parts sources with plenty of cheap parts. For Porsche parts, you usually need a dealer, with a small parts network and expensive parts behind them.

A chain takes up about 5/8" x 5" x 5" to store. They come in boxes that size. If you avoid getting the 9 and 10 speed systems on new higher-end bikes, you can get the standard chains that work on everything from a single-speed to 24 speed bikes. Those go for $10 to around $40 each. For $200 you can buy 5-20 of those chains, which should last you at least 6 months each. So you're covered for the highest wear item for 2-10 years. 20 of those chains would probably fit in a shoebox (~1' x 5" x 5"). I think most thieves will take my electronics before they steal my bike chains.

And it's a bike, not a car. If you don't count each ball bearing and each of the parts of a derailleur as individual units, which no one does since you just buy a new derailleur for $30 if it breaks, then you can't have more than 100 parts on a bike. Most of the parts are in the shifting equipment. Switch to grip shifters, bar-con shifters, or downtube shifters and you eliminate 20% of the parts on the bike. I bet my car's transmission has more parts than my bike.

I just took apart my son's 18 speed bike to paint the frame. It took me about an hour to strip it down to the frame, and about 4 hours to rebuild it, overhauling as I went. Most of that time was cleaning and re-greasing and making adjustments. Bikes really aren't that complicated.

Good comment. I would add that it's true that most of the complexity and parts in a bike are in the geared stuff - but remember that single speed bikes have been around for ages, and are very suitable for commuting on relatively flat ground. I travel 23km each way four days a week, and never change gears once.

If your area is hilly, or if you sometimes carry just yourself and sometimes carry heavy (30+kg) cargoes, then you'll need gears - or very strong legs. Otherwise, single speed is fine.

See here the multiple cogs on both sides of the drivetrain, and the derailleurs needed to move the chain from one cogs to another. Not pictured is the wires which join the gear controls to the derailleurs. With a single speed, you need only one cog on each side (instead of 3-10), and no derailleurs or gear controls. So you can make more drivetrains from the same amount of metal, and there are less things to tune up, go wrong, and be repaired or replaced.

Bicycles don't have to be complex machines.

Great article Chris. Would like to see more of this type of thinking.

Fifteen years from now young ladies will not be trying to find a lawyer or business school graduate for a husband. They will be looking for a general purpose handyman :-)

Haha ssssh - don't tell anyone or the good ones will all get taken! Some of us are thinking long-term already ;o) Plus, a similar observation could be made in the other direction.

Maybe the next incarnation of TOD should be a post-oil dating agency (hey, I'd definitely sign up).

More seriously, I think actually lawyers and business school graduates will have useful skills (as long as they can combine it with a few other things). The people to avoid are the Oxbridge(/Ivy league)-educated herd who thunder mindlessly into banking and financial services. This observation has become more timely in the last year or so but I have been saying it for a long time, acknowledging some honourable exceptions.

Fifteen years from now young ladies will not be trying to find a lawyer

Here's what a proper bike looks like.

[halfhearted chat-up line to Gail: I also know my allen-keys from my reverse-thread taps!];~}}

I went into a sports and hobby shop in a small country town in Australia. I noticed it had just been bought by someone who looked like they just retired from a desk job. They were trying to straighten a slightly buckled bicycle wheel by tensioning just the loose spokes ...wrong! Let's hope they did OK on the non-repair side of things.

I think people should learn of lot of repair jobs for themselves. I recently had to learn how to bleed a diesel fuel system having been a lifelong white collar worker. I think it would be great if most people knew some basic science, mechanical work, construction repairs, partial food self sufficiency and so on.

Let's not forget about the bicycle co-op. The best ones have a shop area with tools where you can do your own repairs.

I have used one of these and they are extremely well engineered.

For when the bridge goes out.

I was on the West Marin Stagecoach going out to Stinson for some surf fishing, and several youth were discussing careers in bicycle repair, and one was already in school to learn more.
A good sign!

Book recommendo: Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. A nice example of cycling as one rewarding part of an engaged, creative (even privileged) life.

One great thing about cycling is that you can vary the amount/rate of exercise you get by going faster or slower. Though if you are physically clapped out and the journey is a few miles too far it can be a major nuisance.

As for whether you should choose to start a bike repair enterprise, sure it is a worthwhile skill that will get you friends and a useful place in society, especially if you are conveniently near a market such as York University (and the city of York has long been famous for its anti-car policy). Else maybe not if living in a remote village of bull-barred 4x4s (suv's to you over theres).

Bike repairing is not a very lucrative business, compared to such antienvironmental lines as cars and airlines, except that the worm is turning those latter into loss-makers now!
If like myself you invest in hub brakes and chaincase, then you will spend even less on maintenance, near zilch besides a tyre every few thousand miles. Little profit there!

One critical question is of how bicycles will fit in the (non?)transitioning future. I'm sure RobinL will not have forgotten our previous discussion about this as he seemed a bit unenthused by it!

The thing is that if we have some sort of orderly decline, perhaps towards Indian/Afghan sort of lifestyle, then bikes and their repair are going to be one of the biggest businesses in town. But on the other hand, if there is significant disorder, then bikes are going to be rather too vulnerable to ambush and hijack. I speak with too much personal experience of such ambushes and hijacks even in our relatively secure contemporary world. It is impossible for even the strongest man to defend both himself and his bike. And bikes are easily attacked while being ridden. In my own experience I generally feel safer in urban while cycling than walking because you can escape more quickly and because walking companions are always alongside whereas as a lone cyclist the "enemy" are unsure whether your companions might be coming up round the next corner. But still great vulnerability, and my own bet is that a world of ambushes and hijacks is the likely way ahead in coming years. Hence a bit of an IF in there for me.

(RobinL's opening reference to "young at heart" I suspect is a wag at our previous private correspondence in which we exchanged some slight "insults" relating to age! And yes, you know who started it.)

In a heavily post-industrialised future, three features of bikes will be difficult to make anew or restore, namely bearings, tyres and most difficult, drive-chains. (If your chain is worn, i.e. the links are overlong, then it causes rapid wear of the gearwheels, along with certain other effects to make your journey more "interesting".)
Any thoughts on this?

Chain is not a problem as it can be purchased in bulk and cut to length, and there are only a few major types of chains used by the majority of bikes. Chain will also not deteriorate in storage.

Serviceable bearings will only last if greased on a schedule appropriate for the type of riding you do and I expect that type of routine maintenance may be difficult to keep up with in tough times. It will only be a matter of time before a bike is out of service for good if a bearing fails, and no matter how well they are serviced, with heavy use bearings will eventually fail. I'm not familiar with the scope of the number of different bearings models for various bikes, but I think anyone who invested $10,000 in a stock of the most commonly used bearings might be quite well off down the road. Like chains, bearings won't deteriorate in storage.

That leaves us with tubes and tires, and there lies the rub. They do not store well and will eventually deteriorate enough to be unusable (unsafe), although how many years before that happens is debatable.

My father, a teen in occupied Europe, talked of riding his bike all through the war. The "good" bikes were appropriated by German soldiers. He built his with mismatched sized wheels, and too small for a grown man. The tires failed early-on, and were repaired with carefully applied rags.

As a "child", he did not have the movement restrictions of adults, and so was the errand runner for the family. Many days involved one or more rides the few miles into town, besides riding to friends' houses. Of course there were obligatory stories of being run off the road by soldiers in vehicles, and of burned out hulks on the road in the later days.

Bikes and ingenuity -- a survial combination!

"That leaves us with tubes and tires, and there lies the rub. They do not store well and will eventually deteriorate enough to be unusable (unsafe), although how many years before that happens is debatable."

I've kept tires for up to ten years in a cool, dark place. Depends on brand. Cheap ones seem to suffer more from UV/ozone/O2 - my impression anyway. I'd bet you could keep tires indefinitely in a lidded plastic barrel flushed with argon or C25 (cheap mig welding gas) or even a Tupperware container likewise flushed. Anything to displace O2. Some people keep paint fresh by bleeding propane into the can before closure - may work for tires.
- Dean N.-

The sidewalls can crack with sunlight, solvents etc, but the nylon threads inside a tyre will hold together

Or a hunk of dry ice.

Geography plays a big role. On flat, or relatively flat land biking is pleasurable and reasonable.
When I lived in Santa Barbara, I would not be in an auto for weeks.
I need to gain 900 feet in elevation to get anywhere where I live now, and I'm not into mountain road racing at my age (60's).
I can put the bike on a bus rack, and use it when I get into town, and take the bus back in the evening, but jumping on for a trip to the store is not an option.
I would rather take a trail down the mountain, and hike back. Less cars, more opportunities for mushrooms and wildlife.
In Holland, you would be foolish not to have a bike.

There is a self-defence tactic for the cyclist that uses the bike. You step back from the oncoming bear, drunk, mugger, mountain lion, fanatic etc and lift the bike up so it is between you and them. Keep your hands on the bars and you can butt them with the front wheel. The idea is to have bike between you and them and perhaps put them off a bit while you yell for help, bang them in the face with your front wheel, haul out a .45 etc.

Doesn't guarantee anything of course, but keeping this tactic in mind might be of help. I've seen bike couriers employ U-locks as weapons. Self-defence is another reason to wear your helmet & gloves.

Either way, it'll be interesting.

That advice is fine if you're dealing with only one assailant per incident. Usually with urban gangs you aren't. But even so I have invariably managed to get away due to being quicker-witted than the yobboes.

"Bike repairing is not a very lucrative business."

I attended a two-week long course in professional bike repair at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon about 8 years ago. The whole thing was very high-quality, hands-on instruction.

But at the first session on the first day the instructor informed us that it's very difficult to make a decent living in the US repairing bikes ... that a bike shop in the US makes its money by selling bikes at a mark-up. So while the idea of starting a bike shop is good, especially in areas that do not have one, it's good to understand this ahead of time.

When I was in Germany a few years ago I went into a bike shop in Speyer, and I got the impression that the people there had professional training and were well-paid.

It may be that as bike usage in the US increases, we will see more flourishing, profitable bike shops here which will pay their mechanics a living wage, with benefits.

Secondly, it must be understood that making a bicycle frame, even, is an energy-intensive process. Making the chrome-molybdenum steel frame tubes is an industrial process. They must be welded together - another energy-intensive process. So with making the chain rings, and the cranks, etc. So, yes, bikes can be simple, but even the very simple ones don't come easily, either material-wise, or energy-wise.

Secondly, it must be understood that making a bicycle frame, even, is an energy-intensive process. Making the chrome-molybdenum steel frame tubes is an industrial process.

I was not aware that all bicycles were made with chromium-molybdenum steel frames, or that if made of some other material they would be at a dead stop forever...

"This is the way we do it today, therefore this is the way we must do it forever."

This kind of thinking lies at the heart of our failure to deal properly with the problems of peak fossil fuels, climate change, and world prosperity.

Cambridge UK supports at least 20 maybe 30 cycle / repair / hire shops. Almost all the money they make is from students and short term visitors. Most bicycle maintenance is easy and requires few, cheap tools. Experienced riders do their own, rarely replace their bikes, and spend very little time in bike shops. The rapid turnover of students and visitors provide almost all the trade. That and the local yobs and drunks that make Cambridge the UK capital of cycle theft and vandalism. I never leave my bike near a pub after 9pm.

Hey, that bike has fenders. It probably also has a chainguard. For some reason no one uses these features in the USA. And that's why we are so bad at using cycles for transportation.

For commuting, get rid of the chainguard, fenders, kickstand, front and rear derailleurs, and anything else that gets in the way. Basically, I would suggest getting a single speed road bike with a good set of wheels and thorn resistant tubes and tires. Reliability is the number one concern if you rely on getting to work each day.

I commute by bike. Good quality mud guards (fenders) are indispensable. Dump the the derailleurs, but hub gears are great, unless you have fitness to spare. A full chain guard is also indispensable (but almost unobtainable) because it keeps the chain oiled for longer, away from the dirt which grinds and wears out the chain, and keeps your trouser (pants) legs clean of oil. Hub brakes are also the most reliable and need least maintenance. They work in any amount of rain. Good quality puncture resistant tyres are also a godsend. The total package is quite heavy (which is fine here in Cambridge, UK, being almost flat) but if speed is less critical that reliability on a short daily commute.

LED lights are the lightest and easiest option, although some types can cut out without warning when the batteries go flat, so carry spares.

I work in an office where about half the staff cycle to work. I have just (failed) to repair a puncture on a co-worker's bike. I will have to fit a
new inner tube later. Since my employer is about to go bankrupt, I have seriously thought about setting up in the repair trade. Unfortunately Cambridge is saturated with cycle shops. There is one at the end of my street, I might ask if he wants an apprentice. Fortunately I can afford to take a 50% pay cut and still have a reasonable lifestyle with my family.

I agree that mudguards are very useful. Full mudguards stop so much of the spray flying around. Often you have avoided the rain, but the roads are still wet.

I don't use a chain guard though. I commute in shirt and trousers, but I put clips on my ankles so it hasn't been a problem. Depending on the weather, you can avoid excessive sweat by riding a bit slower on the way to work. Compared to riding in lycra/spandex, you'll still come out ahead, once you factor in the time you saved by not changing clothes and having a shower at work!

I like to have a fast bike with no mudguards, AND a heavier bike with mudguards and better load carrying capacity. Check the weather radar on the internet before leaving, to decide whether the rain will really affect your route or not!

A recurring puncture? Try these if you haven't already:
(1) Sharp object stuck in the tyre. Feel carefully all around the inside of the tyre.
(2) A spoke pressing on the inner tube. Check your rim tape. Any sharp spoke ends - file them blunter. Consider upgrading from the thin rubber tape to the tough stick-on "fabric" tape.
(3) Rough rim hole pressing on the inner tube, near its valve. Smooth off / chamfer the valve hole with a rat-tale file.

Chaincase (rather than mere chainguard) is a major reducer of maintenance bother and also helps to keep the rider clean and less bothered re clothes. Fenders/mudguards (plus mudflaps) enable you to arrive at parliament without wet/mud striping up your back and rest of bike mud-sprayed. Hub gears can be high reliability. Again I would only use hub-brakes because the rim sort are just too much work and bother and mess.
I don't agree that flat terrain goes with cycling. Ups and downs make it more interesting and give the effect of interval training which is recognised as better for health than constant. Strong wind can be a real bug though.

Are you being ironic? That's about the last bike configuration I'd recommend for commuting. None of those things get in my way. They let me go faster and get where I'm going in better comfort, in a wide range of conditions. I could see a shaft drive bike with an internal hub. That would be nice for a commuter bike. I've always thought single speeds were for people who live somewhere flat, don't really plan to ride the bike, are petrified about the complexities of changing gears, or are masochists. My poor mom was afraid of figuring out how to change gears, and got a single speed against my and my wife's, and even the bike shop's, recommendations. I don't think she's ridden it more than two hours in two years. It took my kids about a half hour to figure out how shifting works. I don't think they'd ever go back to single-speed.

I am not trying to be ironic. I spent about 30 years riding either a mountain bike or a road bike and finally decided to get a single gear road bike almost two years ago. The gearing is such that 90% of the people won't have the strength to get it up a moderate hill, but I swear by it now. When I am not commuting of course I will take my carbon or titanium road bike out. The difference is that I have all the time in the world should something go wrong when I am not commuting.

This is the one I have ($260):

I bike all year round in Minnesota and even a freewheel hub will lose its ratchet mechanism if it gets iced up the wrong way. That happened to me last winter. This one has a flip-flop hub but I have not tested the direct drive fixed gear configuration, which would remove the last of the failure modes.

Getting rid of your fenders is a terrible idea. You will get soaking wet and dirty every time the ground is wet (i.e. all winter). "Hey, how about I throw this bucket of sloppy freezing road grime on you right before you leave the house for work?" Look at a city where people are really using cycling for transportation like Amsterdam. Everyone has fenders.

This is my practical in-town transportation. 6 AM and the teenager just finished off the milk so an emergency dash to the convenience store is required. Just hop on and go. Stainless steel spokes and rim, full chaincase. This bike has sat out for years and doesn't skip a beat. Well, that decorative metal strip on top of the chaincase is just chrome plated and not looking so good anymore.

It's an Azor Super-Transport, fixed up by Henry Workcycles. That front rack hooks to the frame rather that the forks. So it can carry 50 pounds and not destabilize the steering at all.

Nice bike - like that front rack to frame idea.

The Brompton folding bikes also have frame-fixed front cargo - just a medium sized bag that clips on, but big enough for e.g. commuting.

I can put a couple full bags of groceries into the front basket on the Azor - fits fine, rides fine. Oh, yeah, that double kickstand means the bike will stand stably with all those groceries loaded onto it.

Yep, agreed, that's a beauty.

Hey, I ride an azor too! I ride it everyday to work and everywhere else in Chicago. This is a bike you can ride in normal clothes all winter.

Cool! Azors are still mighty uncommon on this side of the Atlantic!

Another great feature is the upright posture. Not only very easy on the arms, but you're up high where you can see what happening around and also you are very visible to other folks, i.e. drivers. I look Hummer drivers in the eye. They're pretty surprised to see me up there in the stratosphere!

sassr: My impression is that in the USA, bicycling has pretty much become dominated by the lycra-clad adult sport cyclists on the one hand, and the testosterone-soaked adolescent mountain bikers on the other hand. The types of adult cyclists who just use simple bikes to get around town are still very much of a novelty here in the US, compared to Europe and much of the rest of the world. That WILL change, of course.

in 2004 my sister and I traveled the trains thru china. One of the coolest thing I saw was an old guy (he looked 70) on a bicycle with knife sharpening stones and vise mounted on the back his bike. He traveled around to local restaurants and serviced their cutlery. I tried to take a picture of him and his craft but he was determined to deny me.

I have the 'need' to be able to cut and thread spokes - the normal suggestion is the Phil wood model.

They are a tad expensive at $3,700. (my memory had 'em at $6000 at one point) Any suggestions on less expensive products?

Ask your local bike shop if they will swap spoke sizes with you and buy a couple of boxes of 100. Pre-made lengths are the way to go. I presume you want a full wheel's worth rather than just replacing 1?

My bikes use uniquely short spokes. Cut with hacksaw, slightly grind the ends, then use a cheapish threader tool. I got one secondhand from an old workshop. Be sure to get the end-bends the right for the hub (steel=standard; alloy=longbend) or shim with brass washers.

Spokes need to be the right thickness for the holes in the hub. If the spoke does not fit tightly (and it should be as tight as possible) it will bounce around in the hole and break off the end.

I'm thinking about doing this... thou in hackney there are a fair few people on the bike mechanic tip..

Another possible way to go with this:

American Apparel in LA makes bicycles available to their workers for a very low rent. They also have a bike maintenance shop right in their factory. Thus, the employees can have their bikes worked on right there while they are at work, and then it is ready to ride for the trip home at the end of the day - or more likely, they just trade out a bike in need of repair for one that has been worked on and is ready to go. American Apparel set this up during a transit strike, but has kept it going, and it is very popular with their workers.

This is something that any employer with a large enough workforce to keep at least one bicycle repair person busy could and should implement. I would imagine that some deal could be worked out with a self-employed person to set up shop there as an independent contractor, which would then give the bike mechanic the possibility of still working on other bikes as well.

For those folks that already have some bicycle fix-it skills but are looking for a fast track to 'Bike Mechanic Guru', I recommend Barnett's Bicycle Institute in Colorado Springs.

I haven't owned a car since '05. The two-week BBI overhaul course is a little pricey but it has paid for itself in the shop costs I and my friends have foregone. Plus, the trails next to the school are sweeeet.

Excellent article, Robin; good choice, Chris. This is definitely one industry that will be experiencing growth. Having a cell phone also makes a bike mechanic on call no matter where they are, to be able to respond to people having en route breakdowns.

Coming in a little late on this post – lot of interesting comments and will try not to duplicate.

I ride a bicycle (or trike) about 4,000 miles a year – mostly in Wisconsin, but have enjoyed Ireland and France in the past. I have very mixed feelings about this whole topic. On one hand, I think the bicycle represents one of mankind’s finest achievements. I never cease to be amazed at the tremendous efficiency a bike provides for human transportation. I love the feel of flying through the countryside in the open air (never to be experience in a car –even a convertible). Being a very old guy (over 70) I really value the exercise part of cycling (even with a titanium knee). I truly like the idea of moving about the surface of the planet without contributing very much to GW, PO, etc. In a graceful power-down scenario, bicycles could be an extremely powerful tool for a “better life”.

On the other hand, we may not get a graceful power-down. The comments in this post about safety and viability of sustained bike maintenance in a post oil world are very valid. My pessimism comes from the fact that cycling is the US (in most places) is far more dangerous than it need be. Just think about the number of kids that could be biking 5 or 10 miles to school – but do not because of the danger from motor vehicles, the marketing/media spin of our extreme car culture, and a general rejection for this kind of self reliance and quest for physical fitness. Where I live, huge school buses are the major means of getting kids to school – what insanity. As a nation, we are far from making the investment in cycling that would represent a rational preparation for our energy future. I’ve worked on projects for cycling infrastructure and I can attest to the difficulty of diverting even a small portion of transportation funds to cycling projects – it can be done, but it takes a lot of time and dedication. I doubt that this pace is sufficient to build a cycling industry that can serve us well over the long haul.

A few random thoughts:

I can keep a chain functioning almost indefinitely with proper cleaning – our recumbent bike/trikes have huge chains and I really don’t want to replace them every year. However, complete cleaning does imply a good supply of cleaners and a compressed air source.

Wisconsin is home to the Trek bikes but I think most of the parts come from all around the globe. We do have a very high quality frame builder who does all his fabrication locally – but also get components from around the globe.

I never leave home without my repair kit which includes tubes, a foldup tire, cables, spokes, chain links, zip ties, morph pump, and an assortment of compact tools. The works only adds a few pounds and little space in my bag. I’m always amazed at the number of people who ride fairly long distances without any of the above. I recall saving our vacation a couple of times in places like rural County Mayo, Ireland when someone in the group broke a cable or chain or such.

The president of Trek spoke to our bike club and said that the great majority of bikes they sell are used for about 50 or 100 miles and then spend the rest of eternity hanging in the garage – maybe this is a great source of spare parts :-)

Bike helmets are essential and anyone who thinks otherwise has probably not seen the results of head crashes with and without helmets. Bikes should always ride in the same direction as cars – not the opposite as recommended for walkers. There are several organizations that really understand bike safety:

Bike helmets are essential and anyone who thinks otherwise has probably not seen the results of head crashes with and without helmets.

Certainly not. The supposed benefits of helmets have been extensively debated among the CTC membership
On the other hand I myself always wear yellow jacket but many don't. And toe-clips are essential for safety once you actually try them rather than stick to fantasising about the imaginary problems!

Hi RobinPC,

toe-clips are essential for safety once you actually try them rather than stick to fantasising about the imaginary problems!

I left toe-clips and straps in favor of a cleat system years ago - which I think are much safer than toe-clips and straps.

Fantasizing... hmm, well that seems like a pretty thoughless statement. I guess I should tell my friend with a plate in his head to stop fantasizing. Or, I should tell my several friends with helmets that were cracked wide open that they still would have only gotten a headache when their bare head bounced off the concrete.

Seems you are having a little problem with your courts regarding your position on this issue. I looked at your link and noticed this:

1. The case of Smith v Finch, in which a High Court judge indicated that cyclists who suffer head injuries when not wearing a helmet may not be entitled to full compensation if it can be shown that a helmet would have reduced or prevented their injuries.

This is CTC’s view on helmets:

CTC – the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation - always works in the best interests of all cyclists. If we felt that making helmet wearing compulsory would be better for cyclists and for cycling, of course we would support the move.

However, after years of examining all the available research on helmets, we believe that there is no clear or conclusive evidence to support the view that compulsory helmet-wearing would either advance the cause of cycling, or necessarily improve cyclists’ safety on the roads.

Forcing everyone to wear a helmet may well put some people off cycling altogether. ..... We don’t want anything to put people off cycling....

Basically, CTC seems primarily concerned with the idea that compulsory helmet laws discourage cycling and they want to promote cycling. I suppose this is a point - but, I also don't want non helmet wearers to burden the rest of us with their unnecessary injuries. I realize that you don't believe helmets prevent injuries - we have lots of folks here who believe the same thing about seat belts in cars. All I can say is that my many decades of cycling have convinced me beyond any doubt that helmets are a good thing - plus then keep my head cool in the summer.

I always wear bright colored clothing - given the vulnerability of a cyclist in traffic, why would you do anything else?

We have enough trouble getting cycles accepted as valid vehicles on the public roads. Wearing high visibility clothes, helmets, obeying the traffic laws, riding in a predictable manner, etc - these are all the kinds of things that differentiate us from the small children (that should not be out on public roads) and demonstrate that we are serious users of the roadways.

CTC seems primarily concerned with the idea that compulsory helmet laws discourage cycling and they want to promote cycling.

When cycling rates go up, head injury rates go down, and vice versa.

This is because most serious cycling injuries are caused not by collisions of cyclists with other cyclists, pedestrians or the ground/etc, but by collisions with cars.

When the rate of cycling is very low, car drivers consider cyclists an obstacle and are angry at their presence, and thus are relatively careless of their safety.

When the rate of cycling is high, car drivers consider cyclists just another part of traffic, and are careful of them.

This is why we see that Melbourne, Australia with compulsory helmet laws has 2% of trips taken by cycle, compared to Copenhagen, Denmark with no helmet laws and 40% of trips taken by cycle; yet Melbourne has a higher rate of head injuries and cyclist deaths.

When Melbourne introduced compulsory helmet laws, the trips taken by cycle declined from 4% to 2%, and the rate of serious head injuries per cyclist rose.

The best thing for cyclist safety is to have lots and lots of cyclists. Helmets discourage cycling.

However, it is true that there are things we can do to encourage cycling, and at the same time have helmets, and this would probably be safer still; we could perhaps have the best of both worlds. But if all we do about cycling is to make helmet-wearing compulsory, less people cycle and the rate of head injuries goes up.

There is some evidence that helmets may increase the risk of serious brain injury. The brain seems to be able to handle direct blows, but sudden rotation seems to cause more concusions and bleeding. This is why a boxer can take several smacks in the nose or cheek, but just one good blow to the jaw can knock them out - the sudden rotation of head and neck causes a concussion.

With some designs of helmet, the helmet on contact with the ground sticks to it, and causes the head to turn violently. So the increased padding against blows is offset by the increased number of rotational blows.

But this is a complex subject, and not all the medical science is agreed on.

I do not deny the validity of your personal experiences. However, public policy must be based not on personal experiences, but on the best information we can find about the effects of that public policy. Nothing is without risk, we decide what price we're willing to pay for things like transport, food, hot water and so on.

We combine that risk-benefit assessment with culture. There is strong evidence that compulsory helmet-wearing for car drivers would save hundreds of lives in Australia every year. But politically there's no way it'll happen; car driving is sacrosanct.

Our Western culture is unfriendly to bicycles. Perhaps that'll change as the costs of driving are finally passed on to drivers, instead of being absorbed by taxpayers as a whole and by the environment.

As I said, it's possible to conceive of a set of policies where we have both high cycling rates and compulsory helmet laws; but across the West, cycling is discouraged, at best tolerated by public policy; and compulsory helmet laws are part of this discouragement.

You may find this paper interesting.

Well replied Kiashu. I thought it should be enough for me to indicate that Dave's statement was controversial (to put it mildly) and that this debate has already happened thoroughly elsewhere without need for him then to re-go-on about it here! But then cycling brings out various positions of faith. I won't even start on my disproof of the sacred myth that a lighter bike is a faster bike!

Hi Kiashu,

It is interesting to see how quickly a person gets trashed for recommending wearing a helmet while cycling. Notice that I never advocated compulsory helmet laws - I just stated my opinion that helmets are essential for safety and I don't appreciate people who burden our health care with unnecessary brain injuries:

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute -
helmets ... can prevent up to 88 per cent of cyclists' brain injuries.

I really don't disagree with most of your comment. And, I would not spend any effort promoting a compulsory law. There are many other factors that contribute to bike safety. However, I will continue to advocate wearing a helmet.

Dave, do you not get the point that it is not agreed that brain injuries are reduced by helmets, and can be increased instead. Also it dawns on some people that there is money to be made by promoting helmets but none by decrying them. All this is abundantly discussed in more appropriate places linked above and this is/was not the place to do a half-baked recap of this important subject.

No, I don't get the point. But, I agree this is not the forum for this - I never thought a simple comment would result in this - whatever this is.

The definition of 3 cyclists in a room: an unruly mob.

So you didn't read the paper I linked to?

A conversation only works if each listens to the other. Now I know not to bother talking to you again.

I did read the link and I could offer links that have a much different point of view - but, I thought it was becoming apparent that this was not the right forum for a helmet debate. I simply cannot change my attitude about helmets because I have had such powerful personal experiences in this regard. Also, I don't know of a single person in our 150 member bike club that feels any different - and these are all folks who log several thousand miles a year of bike riding.

We don't have a compulsory law here and it is not even on the table. Here, the helmet law debate is totally irrelevant to our goal of getting more people cycling - the issues involve the car culture, the complete streets ideas, etc.

It is too bad that this thread did not focus more on ways to get more people cycling so that the bike industry will be more viable in the future.

Sorry you don't want to exchange ideas - I almost always read your comments.

The vast majority of "very experienced" bike club members religiously creep along the kerb (curb) in the delusion that it is safest practice. They never get round to studying the actual evidence which shows that close to the kerb is the most dangerous position, they just carry on with their "experience" based on a lifetime of ignorance! Ditto your 150 helmetwearers. Cheers!


BTW, as I gather that you are an Aussie, you should be nice to me (or at least humor me):-) I have not only purchased an Australian Greenspeed Tandem Trike (GTT5 - with 5BTC's & all the other options) but have also convinced two other couples to buy them. In addition, I am stopped frequently by folks who are curious about our trike and I always give them the Greenspeed contact info.

Given the crazy price of these machines, I figure I've single handedly propped up the Australian economy.

I am more in favour of "cheap and functional". I have an $80 k-mart mountain bike with $30 of slicks to speed it up. It has gears, but I don't use them.

I left toe-clips and straps in favor of a cleat system years ago - which I think are much safer than toe-clips and straps.

I've seen no evidence that there is any significant hazard in toe-clips. I once had to jump over the bonnet of a car that had stopped in front of me and I did so with not the slightest injury and landed on my feet.
Toe-clips have the further advantages of enabling use of ordinary shoes and being cheaper and universal standard and less hi-tech and less attractive to thieves who are intimidated by them! They might be best for pro-racers but that's another matter.

Wearing high visibility clothes, helmets, [....] - these are all the kinds of things that

..of things that present unnecessary obstacles to more people cycling or bothering to cycle on a particular occasion. It's the motorists that should have the hi-vis and helmets, not the cyclists and pedestrians.

with no intention of more flame... my knees like the float of certain cleat systems. Also, one of my worst falls resulted from having the strap too tight on toe-clip and strap system. Mostly, I just did not like your tone because I happened to express my feelings about helmets.

Aha, your point about tightness of the toe-strap is sound. I always have my straps snug but not grippingly (as never found it necessary). Also the nature of the footwear and pedal enter into the escape equation. And one's best cycling setup is also partly a question of whether you are cycling a continuous twenty miles or just half-miles at a time as many Amsterdamers would.

I always wear bright colored clothing - given the vulnerability of a cyclist in traffic, why would you do anything else?

Because most people are very concerned about their self-image and most especially do not include bright colours in that self-image. Ever seen a Savile Row suit in bright yellow? That alone puts a load of people off cycling let alone helmets. In Holland etc you just get on your bike to nip to the shop etc, you don't spend ten minutes preparing to do so! And a lot of cycling in uk is off-road (on sidewalk etc) too.

Thanks for the comment Dave. Yes cycling is an amazingly efficient form of transport. Add panniers, baskets, trailers and other carrying equipment and they can be used to supply heavy goods (well up to ~100 kg - plenty for the weekly shop). Your 'on the other hand' comments are valid if oil were to completely disappear from the face of the Earth. Hubbert's curve indicates that this will not happen. We simply need to use far less oil than we currently do.

Given bikes are 100 times lighter than cars, and are far simpler to manufacture and maintain, it is fair to assume they consume less than 100th the oil of cars. Thus bikes could be one of the key technologies making humanity's energy descent less painful, or even "graceful" as you put it. Along with localized farming systems, renewable energy supplies, and totally altered aspirations and metrics of success, the bicycle could help to "reset the agenda for Western society" as Tim Jackson does here.

Perhaps my idealism is a result of my age, but I know that without dreams our future will be far from graceful. Hoping I'm still pedaling aged 70, Robin.

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. People will not go quietly into the dark night. We have to plan for the future regardless of how bleak it is. Our plans need to be realistic (hence the pessimism of the intellect), but we need to eventually make a decision and hope for the best (optimism of the will).

Bicycles are the most elegant machine which has ever existed. They are useless for war (except purely as a way of moving people from A to B), lasts a very long time (except for the consumable parts) and are powered by the rider. Bicycles allow roads to move more people through cities than walking, mass transit or cars with a fraction of the resource consumption. They are not only fun to ride, they are also practical. They depend on roads, but they do not destroy roads as rapidly as cars nor require as wide of a road.

In reality, it is bicycles which truly offer the mobility and freedom that cars pretend to offer.

" is bicycles which truly offer the mobility and freedom that cars pretend to offer."


People who don't ride a bike on a regular basis usually find this hard to believe, but it's true.

Hi LNC3,

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

I like that statement and perhaps it describes my feelings fairly well. I can hardly not have some degree of pessimism given our current state of affairs. But, there is a big part of me that wants to see the silver lining in this dark cloud. So, I do keep plugging away at projects to promote cycling - I guess this is the act of the "will".


My bike has saved me not having to buy two cars (12 years means 2 cars I guess) and pay for all the insurance, gasoline, parking fees, etc. I don`t mind rain, just have a raincoat and bring dry clothes. So I don`t have to work to support a car!!!

Shopping? Yes, I can buy just enough, never too much! Since I can`t carry that much!

Someone studing design once told me the bicycle was the most important design innovation in history. And I agree!!!!

Ditto (almost) I share my car with my wife, but I commute by bicycle. If I didn't, we would need another car, and that would cost at least $3000 a year. Eight years means a saving of $24,000 - minus the cost of two expensive bikes plus spares and riding gear.

That said, I have spent almost as much money over the years buying exotic bicycles as I have on cheap cars.

Hi RobbyLove (Robin),

As I said, I have mixed feelings about all this. I agree with you completely regarding the value of bikes - and I sincerely hope that your vision is the correct one.

Good to see idealism and good dreams for the future in your generation.

valid if oil were to completely disappear from the face of the Earth. Hubbert's curve indicates that this will not happen.

But discussion on theoildrum has made clear (to many if not all) that for all practical purposes oil might as well be disappearing from the face of the earth, in not so many years, as its extraction/production more and more depends on hi-tech which is becoming less and less. Sure we'll be able to crush a few of our scarce nuts and seeds to provide lubricants, but much more?

If everything crashes, long-term access to bicycles will not be a primary concern. In the short term, you have to worry about getting killed, and in the long term you have to worry about starving. By that time, most of the bands of unprepared people who will try and kill the prepared and take their food will probably be dead, but the groups who are left will be experienced, hardened killers by that point. It'll be like dealing with modern day Vikings.

I would modify that scenario a bit. A somewhat useful comparison would be with the band of experienced hardened killers which was started by a certain Mohammed 14 centuries ago. They indeed managed to thrive on a basis of piracy and plunder, but only did so in a context of (a) lots of flourishing wealthy communities (and in the case of the Banu Nadir they had a warehouse of pricey weapons which of course fell usefully into the victors' hands); (b) easy means of getting about by horses/camels across deserts; (c) no harsh winters to present problems of lack of warmth and food.
And even they would have needed to bring into their community/gang sufficient numbers of non-military men, hence the importance of supplementing killing [e.g. 9:5; 9:29] with enslavement [e.g. 8:67], adoption of war-orphans [e.g. 59:7], intimidation of many peaceful others into working for them [e.g. 59:2 and look around you today], and subjugation of entire functioning nations of unconverted infidels as in the "peaceful" conquest of Judea.

Trying to transplant this to a post-peak situation, I would guess that any future killer-groups would have a substantially higher level of need/dependency on non-military services of other survivors. The person who has expertise with a gun is going to very much appreciate your expertise with spades, hoes, seeds, spanners, frying pans and so on, and the last thing on his mind will be to kill you unless you present a threat in return. I believe the main risk would be in the early days/weeks when panicking completely-clueless idiots with knives/guns would present a temporary hazard till they come to their own sticky end by various means.

Once everything reaches equilibrium I'm sure that is what will happen. What you describe is the final equilibrium state, where military power is the de facto government, which has plenty of civilians who work for it in relative safety in exchange for protection. I am not suggesting that those who try and survive entirely by plundering others will last forever, but I am saying that although their numbers will decline rapidly, those that do not die soon will be the best-equipped and most ruthless. A feudal system seems like the natural order of things. Of course, some of these groups will see the light and transition to their new role as warlords eventually.

As someone who grew up in what we felt was the most dangerous part of the Cold War (the 80s) playing roleplaying games and watching bad action movies, the "hordes of mutant cannibals" stories are really entertaining, but it's worth remembering that they don't correspond to any historical reality.

"they don't correspond to any historical reality."

Really? Maybe not your straw man of "hordes of mutant cannibals" (though in Leningrad and the whaleship Essex disaster here was certainly cannibalism), but aren't you aware of the huge extent of wandering gangs and pirates plaguing communities throughout the Dark Ages, for instance Viking raids on Britain. Note how medieval European cities had to have fortifying walls around them, and ask yourself why. Hadrian's Wall to defend Roman Anglia from the Picts.

Furthermore, the coming years/decades with vast billions of globalised overshoot populations faced with the never-before collapse of the corporatised life-support sytem, isn't going to "correspond to any historical reality" either.

Most towns and villages in the middle ages weren't walled. It's just that big walls leave a lot of evidence behind for archaeologists, ordinary houses don't.

You're also reversing the order of events. Dark Ages Britain didn't get Vikings and then collapse into a localised feudal society. It collapsed into a localised feudal society and then got Vikings - the Vikings were looking for easy pickings. When the Vikings went to Constantinople they were so far from a threat they were absorbed into the army - and the Byzantines are hardly known for their extraordinary military prowess and efficiency.

Thus, if we allow our societies to collapse into localised feudal fiefs, then indeed we'll have a big problem with banditry. If we are to any degree a country any more, then each region will lend help to the other, and modern Vikings will be wiped out (in first world countries), or simply absorbed into the military (in third world countries).

In any case such a collapse takes generations. No need to stock up on assault rifles and spam against the hordes of mutant cannibals just yet.

Kiashu, you mix some true facts with some muddle there. The Vikings came in the Dark Ages (not really a civilisation so much as primitive tribal societies) and the feudal society was the European (christendom) civilisation that developed thereafter (still existing during the Normans and later).
Of course the Vikings couldn't overrun Constantinople, because that was a surviving civilisation unlike Dark Ages Britain.

And I wasn't talking about archeology. Even minimal historic towns in France etc are liable to be (present tense) fortress-type entities. Many villages could easily lack protection for the simple reason of being very poor (and not having JCBs conveniently to hand, yes?).

Main point is that I was talking about what happened, not about what ALWAYS happened. They didnt build that huge Hadrian's Wall (again without civil engineering plant) as a speculative gesture, likewise the desperation of the Anglians being deserted by the Roman Army was unlikely to have been unsoundly based. Point is that your dismissal of prospects of rampaging loons seemed much too absolute, ok?! (You haven't morphed into Dave have you?!!!)

"Bicycle repair man!? But How!?"

Thanks for this article. It comes at a time when I'm personally feeling kind of "lost" on what to do with my life. My present job is soon disappearing and I'm not sure what to do next.

Maybe this article is an idea... although I must say... I'd have a lot to learn about bicycle repair before I can seriously consider starting a business. My bicycle repair skills/experience is limited to fixing flat tires (and maybe some other small repairs like replacing breakpads and such).

Your article has got me thinking though... Maybe I should start looking to volunteer/learn at some community bike place. If nothing else, at least it would be a constructive thing to do... better than sitting on my ass worrying.

I'd really like to see more articles of this kind. The more ideas the better... maybe one will show up that really "jives" with me.



Something not explicitly pointed out in the article or in the subsequent discussion, though implicit all over the place is the brain-dead persistence of America to stick to Imperial measurements!

The article has Metric mm measurements, a large number of comments (since they appear to be primarily USA based) use Imperial measurements.

You would think the NASA probe that crashed because the scientists were using Metric and the engineers were using Imperial would have been an enlightening moment, alas, not so.

I guess it would be too much to hope that the International Standards Organization might encourage America to emerge from its self imposed dinosaur mentality.

You might be tempted to conclude that my rant is not particularly applicable, but just to plant it firmly into context consider that in the early 90's when I was living in London, UK, I purchased a Trek 950 Single Track (made in the USA) along with a pair of inner tubes and spare inner cables for rear gear and brake cables. The longer rear cables can easily be used as front cables.

The bike was purchased for a 2 week tour in Iceland and probably through a combination of luck, skill and the fact that the tires were new, I did not get any punctures. On the return flight to the UK the airline put my bike on the wrong flight and sent it to Scandinavia for a day :( when it finally arrived in the UK one of the wheels had a puncture - both tires were deflated for the flight.

This was when I discovered the spare tubes had Schrader (thick, same as a car) valves, but the wheel rims had small holes for high pressure Presta valves. Drilling a bigger hole and compromising the rim would not have been an option in the middle of nowhere in Iceland.

I am now resident in the USA and when the time came to replace a brake cable with the spare, I discovered that the spare inner cable (from the UK) was marginally too thick and would not pass easily through the outer cable. This is yet another example of something that would not have been a problem if everything was metric and standardized.

I have three bikes: a USA mountain bike with 26 inch wheels, a vintage UK touring bike (Dawes Galaxy) with 27 inch wheels and a road bike with 700mm wheels. Go figure.

It would be oh so ironic, if during the post-peak crash America finds itself truly screwed because the critical parts it needs are only available in Metric sizes.

Hi There,

Well, what a busy link. I started a mobile bike repair business when I started my studies at UBC over twenty years ago, after working a couple of years in a bike shop. It kept me in beer and gas (yes bad) money. you know why? 'Cause I'm good at it. Bikes in the 80's were much more basic, and yet it's the same talents and skills then as now. I'm mechanicaly inclined and I fix most things, my diesel truck, electrical appliances, my shop's plumbing, you name it. Sure fixing bikes is easy, if all you do is flats, chances are you're putting in the wheels crooked, funny how your axles bent a few weeks later. Fix youre own car, then wonder why you get half the milage. It's amazing the number of poeple who come to my shop and tell me how they are so good at fixing there own bike, then are in a week later because they can't get a bottom bracket threaded, or how they tell me how good they are at fixing bikes, but ask me "how do you true wheels?" I've seen quite a number of bearings and other bits destroyed by people who think that wrenching is easy. Sure basic bike repair can be done by most with some mechanical inclination, but have you ever watched a person play professional guitar after decades of experience. That's comparable to my trade, looks easy when I do it, quickly and economically, but the reality is most would go bankrupt if they tried to make ends meet in this business. If it didn't kill them from exhaustion after months of hundred plus hour weeks, mind you life and seasons in the far boreal north aren't much like what most people explerience. Or the fact they have to tie up tens (or more) of thousands of Dollars, Quid, Dirhams, whaterver, to supply parts for technologies as runaway as any other on this planet. Used to be I didn't have to stock more than 6 and 7 speed parts, my stocking requirements have multiplied almost exponentially in the past few years, and it doesn't all move that quick, and obsolesence is a problem. I didn't have to rebuild shocks or hydraulic brakes two decades ago. The reality is, if you want to get good at this business, it takes thousands of hours to do so, like most trades. I went to the Barnet school for the shock course and I've talked to many people whove gone to UBI in Oregon, they call themselves a mechanic after two weeks of getting too much information thrown at them, what an insult. They come into my shop to try out for work and tell me they can't do something because "it's been a long time", three months since the course. This on adjusting parts which where developed 10 years after I got into the business (ie: V brakes, and other bits). Enough ranting, I'm selling my shop cause I'm getting to old to work this hard, and I'm tired of overpaid (it's a government town) ignoramusses treating my trade as though any idiot could do it, and I'm too nice to charge what I really should. Ah, I should stop bitching , I'm really appreciated for my talent and experience by a vast majority of my clientele, I care and do my best for them, and if you want to stay in this business that counts for a lot. My advice, if you're a nice guy it's going to be damned hard to make a decent living at this, I sacrificed my youth and have done ok, compared to 90% of the planet. For the standard of living here, I haven't made minimum wage for the hours I've put in and have only done well through too many hours, frugality, not having children and having the good fortune to buy into real estate (with help) young. And I'm not just a mechanic/shop owner, ther's much more that I do, but art isn't an easy haul either.

Good luck, it's an honourable enterprise, but you're better off working a "real" job.

Phillipe, Some good points. Some people have innate talent in engineering, whereas many others do not but still harbour a delusion that their Oxbridge degree proves that such lowly functioning must certainly be within their intellectual/neurological range! Anyone considering entering this trade would be well-advised to find some way of verifying whether they have that requisite natural talent. The acid test is: do the things you design/make/repair/restore function properly? The 1892 piano I restrung 20 yrs ago is still in tune and my re-engineered 1963 bike hasn't killed me yet either so I rest my case! (PS: I had no training in either field.)

The Achilles heal of the bicycle is the bottom bracket. There is no longer a manufacturer of rebuildeable units left. I've stock piled chains, chainrings tires tubes cables, but here in northern Vermont I'm lucky if a bottom bracket lasts two years.
The roads I'm sure will fall apart very quickly in a low oil world. Get the asphalt out of the way and foot and bicycle traffic will make a smooth path fairly quickly. The Paris Roubaix bicycle race is on roads built by the romans, often competitors will ride the track along side. Here in Vermont a lot of the dirt roads are as good or better than the paved.
Should we advocate a strategic bicycle reserve?