Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Post SHTF Bicycles--Some Thoughts

In most of these films, there always seems to be a gap between having a vehicle and gas and being shit out of luck, as if no other possibility existed.
--"6 Technologies Conspicuously Absent from Sci-Fi Movies" at Cracked magazine (discussing the lack of bicycles in post-apocalypse movies).
Adult Tricycle (Source)
The other day, while driving home from work, I noticed a couple older women (probably in their late-50s or early-60s) riding adult tricycles with the rear baskets/cargo areas filled with bags from the grocery store. Looking at them, I realized that the trikes would make pretty good post-SHTF transportation.

I suspect that most preppers think of a post-SHTF bicycle (if they consider it at all) as a "bug-out" bicycle: a mountain bike (typically), camouflaged and outfitted to carry lots of gear.
The ideal post-SHTF "bicycle"? (Source)

Something more realistic (Source)
The photograph immediately above is from an instructable entitled "Bug Out Bike - Apocalypse Bicycle," where the author describes how he/she made this particular bike, and the reasoning behind certain of the features. But a lot of people have thought about what is best in a "bug-out bike." See, e.g.:



However, if we are headed into a slow decline/economic crash, it is not like we will be heading for the hills. We (hopefully) will have jobs; we will still need to get to stores. But gas may be expensive or hard to obtain. Like many a third-world country. I suspect in that case many of us may have to resort to the humble bicycle for much of our transportation.

When I served as a missionary in Japan, and like most Japanese at the time, we used bicycles for our daily transportation, including grocery trips. (Since we proselyted in my area by stopping people on the street, we generally rode our bikes for 6 to 8 hours per day). The type of bike we used is referred to as a mamachari (mother's bike), although nearly everyone used them. (See also here for more information on the mamachari).
The mamachari (Source)

The photograph above is pretty typical of the type of bicycles I used in Japan. (It is similar to the bikes typically found in China and Korea, and Vietnam, and, I suspect, many other countries).  It is very simple (mechanically speaking) single speed bike. There is a basket at the front of the bike in which we would carry a backpack or bookbag with our supplies on most days, and groceries on a shopping day. On the back was a cargo rack, to which we could tie or bungy a box. On shopping trips, if we could not fit everything in the basket or on the cargo rack, we would dangle extra bags off the bicycle's handles. Since rain was a common occurrence, I carried a full sized umbrella stuck point first down between the seat and rear rack. Although I can't tell if this is the case on this photo, the small light on the front of the bikes I used was powered by a small dynamo (rather than batteries)--the light could be flipped so the wheel for the dynamo rested against the front tire and, as you peddled the bike, the turning tire would also turn the dynamo. Since it relied on friction between the dynamo wheel and the tire, it made it substantially harder to peddle the bike, as well. The bike stand (rather than a kick stand) made the bike more stable when loading materials on it. Although the mamachari is considered to be a city bike, we rode them everywhere. These bikes were easily maintained and cheap (so cheap, that, if anything broke or a tire went flat, most Japanese would simply abandon their bike or throw it away rather than fix it; this meant that there were literally piles of these bikes dumped in empty lots near large apartment complexes or train stations, providing a ready source of parts).

There are disadvantages to such a bike, of course. Being cheap, they weren't always built to the best quality standards. The single speed made it mechanically simple, but impractical if you had to climb really steep hills, and, obviously limited its top speed if you had to travel very far. (The Japanese didn't travel long distances on these bikes, but as missionaries, it was not unusual to have to bike several miles to appointments). But the basic premise is sound--something with wider tires (but not too big) for decent traction and balance, fairly simple to maintain and repair, and set up to easily carry groceries or other cargo (i.e., something generic rather than specialized packs or specific gear/equipment), and a comfortable, up right posture. A few things I would change from the basic design would be multiple gears (although I don't think you need 20+ "speeds"--three choices would probably be sufficient), and better brakes than was typical (although I don't think disk brakes are necessary).

6 comments:

  1. Good points about bicycles - less maintenance than a horse.

    On the other hand, I think a bicycle is only really safe in a relatively peaceful conditions with relatively intact civilization. A bicycle would probably be inappropriate for a civilian trying to survive in a war zone, such as wartime Bosnia-Herzegovina, where snipers were shooting at civilians. A bicycle would probably also be inappropriate in the first year or so of a TEOTWAWKI event when there would still be a lot of two-legged predators.

    Bicycles are simple to operate, easy to repair, and reasonably reliable. But, they offer no protection against attackers.

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    Replies
    1. I agree that bicycles are not necessarily the best vehicle for a full-on Mad Max scenario, but I was thinking more of the situation of a slow economic collapse or depression where resources are scarce, but there is a semblance of some order. However, even in a grid-down situation, the bicycle is a viable mode of transportation: it is quiet, agile, and (especially if using a sturdy mountain bike) capable of going places that a larger vehicle cannot. At worse, if you encounter a fallen tree across a trial or road (which actually is not that uncommon when riding trails through woodlands), you can simply lift the bike over the trunk. Obviously I don't have experience at being shot at by snipers while riding a bicycle, but it can't be any worse than walking.

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  2. As to bikes being inappropriate (see above comment), if the options are a) walking or b) riding, I don't see how the bike is less viable than walking.

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  3. Unless somebody "convinces" you he wants your bike more than you do...

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    Replies
    1. I don't let the possibility of car jackings deter me from using a car; the possibility of bike theft is not going to deter me from using a bicycle.

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