Bike Mobility

The bicycle has now been around for over a hundred years and has served as the survival transportation for millions of people throughout the world.  While riding a bike is not convenient as driving or riding a motor vehicle for equal distances, it may be your best alternative to walking or the expense of using a motor vehicle. 

The following is an article written for savvysurvivor by a bike enthusiast.  It makes a good introduction to the subject for a survivor.

Bicycles as Alternative Transportation

By Light Dragoon

Late in the last century, the bicycle evolved into the basic design which we recognize today. It quickly was adopted by the people of the industrialized world who were in need of transportation, yet who could not afford the means to keep a horse and buggy at hand, meaning about 90% of the urban population at the time. Just as quickly it was integrated into the popular culture: we still can remember the song "Bicycle Built for Two". The bicycle was in many ways the perfect vehicle for the less affluent, in that it was reasonably inexpensive, easy to use, reliable and cost very little to keep in good repair. More over, when you were done with it, you could park it and leave it there, something which you cannot do with a horse, at least not more than once. In many ways it was the bicycle which began Americanís love of tinkering with machines. Remember that Orville and Wilbur Wright were bicycle mechanics before they were aeronautical engineers.

The soldiers of the world were also quick to take an interest in the military applications of the bicycle. Throughout Europe, units of both volunteers and regulars were formed with the bicycle as their primary mode of transportation. By World War One, the bicycle was well established as a military vehicle, though the conditions of the Western Front rapidly reduced bicyclists, like their cavalry counterparts, to the role of messengers. In the United States, experiments were conducted in the 1890ís with soldiers from the 25th (Colored) Infantry riding bicycles from Ft. Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri, proving that despite the poor quality of the almost non-existent roads, it could be done.  Click here for more details on Bicycle infantry in US history . In the inter-war years, further use of bicycle troops were made in Europe, though the whole idea was pretty much dropped in the United States due to the twin, but conflicting love affairs developing in the Army: The horse and the internal combustion engine. Add to that the enormous distances in the US, there was just not much interest.

WWII saw a resurgence in the use of the bicycle by civilians in both Europe and the United States due to the shortages of petroleum and rubber, and the Japanese Army made spectacular use of bicycle infantry to flank Singapore in early 1942, allowing the capture of that city with very little effort. But with the end of the war and rationing, people turned to the automobile with a will. The post-war economic boom added to the process, and only now, 50 years later, is there a re-emergence of interest in the bicycle, mostly as an object for amusement rather than as a major form of transportation. However, in the developing world, it was quite different.

Anyone who has seen films of Shanghai, or Saigon has witnessed the wild melee of rush-hour on bicycles. The Third World still is enthralled with the bicycle, for the same reasons our own ancestors were a century ago. They are reasonably cheap, easy to use, easy to maintain, and furthermore, after initial manufacture, and the replacement of tires, they use no fossil fuels. The only energy required is the sweat of the operator. This also is a major attraction for the other major users of today in the US (after the hobbyists): the urban poor and even the homeless. Kids too are major users in the US and elsewhere, and there are still plenty of commuters in the US and Europe who, like their Asian counterparts, ride their bikes to work on a daily basis.

There is still even some military interest. Recent articles have been written promoting the use of various types of bicycle for units of the US Army, Click here for details and the Swiss maintain bicycle units in their citizen army (Swiss military web site). But the most impressive military use of the bicycle was not in these venues, it was in the war in French Indo-China between the forces of the Union of France and the Viet Minh. Pushed to the brink by the forces of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the French were besieged at Dien Bien Phu, (more info here) deep in the mountains of northern Viet Nam, where it was assumed that the Viet Minh could only bring small arms and mortars to bear due to the remoteness of the outpost. With superhuman effort, the Viet Minh were able to transport an entire REGIMENT of artillery to the hills surrounding the French bastion, and bring it under constant fire. Not only did they bring the guns over jungle tracks, but they supplied them with sufficient shells, and did it all with bicycles and horses. It was concluded that each man could carry upwards of 300 pounds of equipment on his bicycle, and still be able to push it through the jungle tracks for 8 or more hours a day.

Now to fast forward to our own day and age. We are a society obsessed with the automobile, and there is very little frank discussion of viable alternatives to either driving or walking to a "retreat" in the event of a major disturbance. This is very much a foolish oversight, for almost everyone in his youth rode a bike, and most folks have a bike just sitting in the garage, while they are worrying about how to pare down their "Bug-out-Bag" to a manageable, man-portable weight.

In the scenarios positied by Savvy Survivor, we are happily enjoying our lives with ample fuel, food and shelter, some of us concerned about the possibilities of devolution in the social structure, but most people blithely going about their business as usual. Some folk, however, may well already be in the "Scenario One" mode, living hand to mouth with little in the way of food, fuel or shelter. These people are already using bikes as a part of their every day life-style. If, as is entirely possible, there are major energy shortages this summer, many people will be moved to dust off their old bike and begin to use it for much of their daily transport needs. As things degenerate, more and more use of bicycles will become evident.

One of the main uses which I see for bikes is not so much as a means of rapid and comfortable transportation, but as a method of moving a great deal of weight over long distances in a reasonable amount of time. Most people, when faced with a "Bug-Out" situation, will be hard pressed to carry much more that 60 pounds of gear on their backs. This must include food, water, shelter and any weapons and ammunition they intend to bring with them. Many folks will have pre-positioned some of their needed goods at their retreat, but still, with a pack of that size, you are going to be slow and awkward at best. Consider the concept pioneered by the Viet Minh. If you stow your pack and other equipment on your bike, you are not only relieved of a tremendous burden, but you can now actually increase your load! I wouldnít recommend packing 300 pounds of gear on it, but still, you are now reducing your personal load to your weapons, ammunition and some emergency gear, while the heavy and bulky items are now being pushed by you, not carried.

There are many items available to the consumer today to fit out a bicycle to almost any taste imaginable. I would tend to go with the more traditional styles, more out of the issue of robustness than anything else. There are plenty to chose from, though, in any event. One could even pick up a Airborne folding bike, ( ) to carry in your vehicle, as part of your mobile BoB . (Plus, you can experiment with packs, modify them to your heartís content, and find a system that actually works for you. Set it up to push, or ride. There are also small trailers available to carry all of your gear, so you donít have to make a real choice between having lots of stuff and pushing, or being able to ride at the expense of gear. Plenty to look at, plenty to boy or make, should you wish to.

The German Infantry of early WWII was expected to be able to march 50 kilometers per day with a full field pack. On our own Western migration, a wagon train was expected to average 20-25 miles per day. If you are traveling at a fairly average speed of 3 miles per hour, then it is going to take you some 8 hours of constant walking to get 24 miles. Consider the difference between packing the weight of your pack for 8+ hours per day, and pushing your bike the same distance. Quite a difference. If you are using the trailer method, you can move at almost the speed of a motor vehicle on rough roads, with a good percentage of the capacity. 90 to 100 miles per day would not be out of the question at all, and for people in shape, more than that would be reasonable.

For a post-collapse situation, the possession of a bicycle would be absolutely critical. If there were only limited cases of violence, and day-to-day life was kept up to some degree, then the bike would be crucial for going to market, work, and any other travel needed. Without a ready supply of fossil fuels, or in the event of their being priced out of reach, it would devolve to three choices. Walk, Ride a horse, or ride a bike. Walking, while available to most at a modest cost, is very time intensive. Horses require a whole host of other skills and needs not available to everyone, though a perfectly reasonable alternative to the other systems. Bicycles are cheaper that horses, much faster than feet, and readily available (now). Plus, they are fairly all-terrain. Just donít try to ride in the sand.

The bike is in many ways the optimum solution for all of the reasons which the Environmentalists preach, plus for the reasons the Viet Minh used them. Cheap, reliable, no fossil fuels, reasonably fast, carry a good deal of weight when properly slung, and they can be used in the most God Forsaken paces on the planet, without undue difficulty (well, without enormous difficulty). Something to ponder while considering the future.

Light Dragoon



Back to