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Cycling and the Environment

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When bicycles first started appearing the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. They allowed workers to get into cities quicker, or allowed them to work at a factory in the next town. Unlike horses they didn’t require to be feed or take up so much space. In many ways bicycles were the perfect companion to a new urbanised life, until of course the internal combustion engine.

Although bikes are still used today as a means of transport they are more closely associated with environmentalism, the green movement and the outdoors much more so that industrialised cities and factories with dense columns of black smoke rising from the chimneys.

It’s somewhat ironic that nowadays bicycles are seen as the answer to over industrialisation and the subsequent pollution they brings when bicycles themselves are a result—direct or indirect—of the replaceable parts and the Industrial Revolution.

Cyclists are often closely allied these days with environmentalist. The Critical Mass movement began in 1993 in San Francisco and has now spread throughout the entire world. Generally held on the last Friday of every month, the movement is an organised ride through a city with the goal of raising awareness about the pollution that cars generate and seeks to offer alternative methods of transport, namely bicycles. So influential has the movement become that directors Elizabeth Press and Andrew Lynn created a short documentary entitled ‘Still We Ride’ documenting the Critical Mass movement in New York City. Nowadays in Asia there are Critical Mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, Taipei, Karachi and Jakarta, and in Europe they’re a regular occurrence in cities like Vienna, Berlin, Bratislava and Brussels.

That’s not to say that all people who bike are environmentalists. In recent years some cyclists have tried to distance themselves from environmentalist issues. They argue that by allying with environmentalists cyclists are limiting the appeal of bicycling. Those who don’t share environmentalist values for example, might feel reluctant to take the bike to work. These cyclists also argue that it’s more about imagine than ideas in some cases.

But for the most part, cyclists tend to have a green world view. Cycling has had a longstanding association with progressive ideologies. For example, about a century ago bicycles were indispensable to the feminist cause and suffragette movement. In a restrictive society, bicycle allowed women to be less reliant on men by allowing them to go places and see people without needing to be taken by a man. These days independence is less of an issue for cyclists but they tend to focus on policies that better society by creating a space for clean living.

Whether one is interesting in cycling for ideological reasons or merely for sport it’s clear that bicycles have become a meaningful part of many people’s lives. By allowing cheap and quick transportation to next the village over or the other side of the city, bicycles remain one of the defining forms of transport of our age.