There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting on a new bike. You go along to your local bike shop, pick out the one you want and get yourself measured up.
But if you already have a bike, do you really need another?
N+1 or N=1?
Our social media feeds are filled with new products. New bicycles, components, clothing and accessories are hitting the market every day and marketers are getting very good at manufacturing need, tempting us to hand over our hard-earned money for those marginal gains.
Of course, the bicycle industry is no different to any other consumer-focussed industry. The consumer electronics industry is continually iterating on what came before and prematurely ending the working life of products that are otherwise perfectly fine.
Yet the bicycle has changed little in decades. Since the derailleur hit the market we’ve been largely tinkering around the edges. The frames get lighter; the gears shift a little easier; there are more cogs now than ever before in a vast range of ratios.
Indeed, bicycles have certainly improved over the years, but the bicycle made decades ago is probably good enough for most people’s needs. With the occasional change of chain, cassettes, bearings, cables and brake blocks the bike bought decades ago is probably going to be fine for decades to come.
The true cost…
There are a number of reasons to find contentment in the bike you have, not least the embedded carbon involved in manufacturing anything. Sure, it’s a whole lot less carbon than manufacturing a car, but it is still there.
Shreya Dave’s research went on to measure the full carbon footprint of commuting by bike using life-cycle assessment, the analytical tool that environmental consultants employ to compare products that are often very different. She concluded that an ordinary sedan’s carbon footprint is more than 10 times greater than a conventional bicycle on a mile-for-mile basis, assuming each survives 15 years and you ride the bike 2,000 miles per year (or slightly under eight miles per weekday).
If you think about it, any carbon emissions that aren’t strictly necessary are wasted. However, businesses have worked out that if they build something that never needs to be replaced, we never need to buy their product again. To ensure the money keeps rolling in, products are designed to fail –usually a few weeks after the warranty expires.
With cars becoming ever more complex, there are thousands of potential points of failure, but unlike the cars of old the cars of today are designed to be really difficult and really expensive for people to repair at home. Once the warranty expires you are effectively playing the waiting game, waiting for something really expensive to happen.
Fortunately, things are much more straightforward on a bicycle. As long as it is well looked after, a good steel frame from 20-30 years ago should be absolutely fine. Add a new set of wheels, new bearings, chain, chain ring & cassette and you are good to go. Best of all, a steel frame from 20-30 years ago still looks cool and, dare I say it, beautiful.
A bike is for life, not just for Christmas…
In Cardiff we are very fortunate to have a number of workshops repairing and refurbishing old bicycles. They take the old bicycles gathering dust in our garages and sheds, replace the parts that need replacing, clean them up and give them a thorough check over before selling them onto you and I for a very reasonable price.
Not only that, these workshops will build bicycles with you in mind. If you pay them a visit, or give them a call & talk through what you need from a bicycle they’ll find a way to meet that need, be it a particular style of frame; your luggage requirements or your height or weight.
The benefits to society are numerous. Not only does it keep the local economy moving, it also keeps these old bicycles in service, continuing to pay back the cost to the Earth –the embedded Carbon. You would have to ride a new bicycle approximately 400 miles instead of driving a car to cover the bicycle’s initial carbon footprint. Many of these bicycles will have covered that distance long, long ago.