Covid-19 has been a game changer which made us all stay at home. We didn't have any other choice than radically changing the way we live, work, travel and consume. These changes in our behavior resulted in a lower ecological footprint per person and thus, paradoxically enough, created the kind of change we need to make in order to save our planet. However, the way we produce and use goods hasn't changed. If we want to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050 and build an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions , it's time to change the way we produce things. And this also counts for bicycles.
Unfortunately, the cycling industry still works in a very traditional way. Most of the bicycles on our streets today are manufactured in low-cost countries, transported en masse around the world and then sold to customers without much responsibility about what happens with the bicycle at the end of its product's lifecycle. For several months, we kept on hearing that bike manufacturers can't keep up with the increase in demand due to global supply chains disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. That's why and when we started wondering: isn't it the right time to also adapt the way we produce bicycles and make them more local, open and circular?
Belgium has everything it takes to make that happen: raw materials, manufacturers with the know how, empty factories, people eager to make a change & an increasing demand for sustainably manufactured goods. So what's stopping us?
Over the last few years, we have been active in the fields of open knowledge, open source and open data. As coordinators at Open Knowledge Belgium, we've had the chance to be on the front row of projects like Influencair, EqualStreetNames, Open Summer of Code, HackYourFuture Belgium, Wikipedia editathons, Welcome To My Garden & the Bike Data Project. While working on those projects, we've learnt first hand that change only happens when people with different backgrounds work together. We truly believe that this also counts for the Longlife Bike project. Therefore, please read on to the bottom of this page and get in touch if you want to discuss or be involved in the Longlife Bike project!
This page serves as a starting point for our own adventure, and serves to explain you about the opportunity we see for making the transition from a linear trash machine to locally manufactured and circular bicycles. It's work in progress - please leave a comment or drop as if you want to contribute!
Since the industrial revolution, human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change. Today's world population is using more resources than the earth can provide . As presented by Kate Raworth's doughnut economic model, we need to do whatever we can to stay within our planetary boundaries. This also implies the understanding that many natural resources are finite and need to be used in a smarter, more sustainable way .
At the same time, we yearly dump a 2,12 billion tons of waste & 99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within 6 months . This is also the case in the cycling industry. It's estimated that roughly 15 million bikes are discarded by their owners every year .
Underlying the problems of the exploitation of natural resources and waste generation is the way our traditional industrial production processes work. FAB City Global Initiative, which aims to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities, made a great visual illustrating how manufacturing processes traditionally work after 200 years of industrialization:
Looking at cycling industry, most of the brands, especially the bigger ones are nowadays industrial brands which produce en masse in low-costs countries and then drop their products on the market without much involvement, bond or interaction with their end-users, the cyclists. This has several consequences - we want to highlight 3 of them:
Long waiting times to get a bicycle It's amazing to see how many more people discovered the joy of cycling since the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, as manufacturers struggle to meet the increase in demand, it can nowadays take up to several months to get a new bike . The worldwide shortage of bicycles can be explained by the spike in sales . Yet, it also points out how vulnerable global and long supply chains are. When factories were shut down in East Asia, the center of the bike industry’s supply chain, there were just no bikes being made industry-wide .
Little to no advice on maintenance and repair Like it is today, manufacturers produce their bikes, deliver the finished bikes to bike shops and don’t provide much information on where the bicycles come from nor take any responsibility concerning the maintenance and repair of their manufactured goods. This transactional relationship between manufacturers and cyclists strongly represents how the linear economy works. A few manufacturers - mostly those who're making customized and expenses frames themselves - properly inform their customers about the origin, maintenance and repairability of their bike. For most of the other brands, cyclists are left behind with the choice to figure it out by themselves or pay a bike mechanic for help.
No incentives to design bicycles for a long life The most sustainable bicycle is the one you already own. As so many bikes are discarded by their owners every year, we need to both raise the quality of the bicycles on our streets so that cyclists keep them longer and develop strong incentives to give bicycles a long life. As most of the bicycle parts simply end up as trash, there's work to be done in making them reusable, recyclable, regrowable or biodegradable. Overall, cyclists deserve better, and we also as society need to do better if we want to be climate-neutral and build a circular economy by 2050.
Instead of making the raw materials travel around the world and throwing so many bicycles and parts away, we will explore how local, open and circular bicycles can be made.
By adopting a more local, open and circular approach, we will be reducing the amount of imported goods and resources like water or energy, increase the use of recycled raw materials for the production of bicycles and focus on the exchange of data (information, knowledge, design & code) instead of materials .
FAB City Global Initiative beautifully shows what the production of products that can be produced locally and shared globally would look like:
Do you remember what we said before? Belgium has everything it takes to make that happen: raw materials, manufacturers with the know how, empty factories, people eager to make a change & an increasing demand for sustainably manufactured goods.
Very practically, in the upcoming weeks and months we will be exploring different ways to make the production of bicycles more 1. local, 2. open and 3. circular. Below you can find our first ideas.
Raw materials for frames can be grown locally like bamboo, can be purchased locally from Belgian companies or recycled from old steel or aluminum. Belgian steel companies are struggling to reinvent themselves and are considered to be part of the old economy - what if we could make them part of the new economy and shorten the supply chain?
Some parts can be produced on a very local level by 3D printing them.
By producing our bicycles locally, we can create more local employment and meaningful jobs.
As there's only several local frame building experts in Belgium, we could - similar with what we did with HackYourFuture Belgium for IT developers - set up a training program that prepares the next generation of bicycle builders.
Given the short supply chain production methods, empty factories can be used as local production hubs across multiple cities.
If you can't open it, you don't own it. Therefore, more transparency is needed to inform cyclists where and how their bicycles and parts are being produced.
As the exchange of data (information, knowledge, design & code) is key to successfully transition from a linear to circular economy, the design of the bicycle and all related outcome will be published under an open license such as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International.
This means that enthusiasts from all over the world can contribute to the project, but also just take the design and build their own bike from scratch.
Ultimately, our goal is not to keep it for ourselves, but to create a community of believers and doers who want to change how the cycling industry works and give bicycles a long life.
First of all, there's the right to repair that belongs to the core of the circular economy. In order to retain the value of high quality goods, cyclists should be empowered and encouraged to maintain and repair their own bicycle. Similar to what pioneers like Fairphone and Patagonia created on iFixit, we see a lot of potential for:
An online platform with information & videos on how to maintain and repair a bike at its best.
A bike passport so that users have everything they need to know in a handy format.
An online forum where the community can come up with ideas and discuss solutions.
Although our first prototypes are unlikely to meet all requirements of a fully circular and sustainable bicycle, we will push it to the maximum and invest in more R&D on how to make bicycles more circular.
Inspired by what Precious Plastic did in 2018, we're also eager to organise a large bootcamp in Belgium with creative minds to find solutions - through for instance biodegradable materials - to make cycling parts more circular.
What’s more circular than buying a circular bike? That’s buying it second-hand in, for instance, a web shop - as Patagonia set up for its products with its Worn Wear program. Are you having your bike for a while and are you up for a change? We can only dream of a brand with a buy-back warranty which means that the manufacturer buys it back at any time for a fixed price, no strings attached.
This blog post is only the beginning of the Longlife Bike project! We need your help to make it happen.
We'll need a team with a creative and activist mentality to change how the cycling industry works. Are you interested in being part of this project? Please drop us an email at [email protected] and let's talk!
Are you currently looking for a bicycle? Please drop us a message at [email protected] too! We'd love to hear from you what kind of bicycle you're looking for and what steps you're taking to buy it.
Happy cycling & onward to a local, open and circular future!
Manon and Dries