Cycling and the Circular Economy

In a time of rapid change, the need for a global solution to tackle climate change is becoming alarmingly pressing. One attempt to create change sprung from the idea of initiating a Circular Economy, which provides an alternative to the current linear model of manufacturing, extending the lifecycle of products which can then be recovered and reused. Not only has the Circular Economy illustrated the need for recycling, it calls for reusing and redefining materials in order to alter the manufacturing process.

The problem with this is there are no real initiatives in place that help the everyday consumer to becomes part of this economy and change the way they perceive repair and maintenance.

Due to their modular features, Bicycles make a perfect example of a product that can be reused and recycled, extending its lifecycle and minimising waste and the extraction of raw materials.

Firstly, bicycles are modular and can be updated and changed through its many different parts.

Modularisation allows for flexibility and interchangeability to meet the needs of end users Gershenson et al, 1999

Modular designs also allows for the reduction of life-cycle costs by reducing the number of processes and the repetition of these processes. According to Ulrich and Tung , modular design allows for greater ease of product updating and an increased product variety.

The bicycle industry is a fragmented market due to the various specialised capabilities associated with the manufacturing of various components. Most of the bicycle components have defined interfaces for over 50 years, creating the opportunity for modularity, however the problem seems to be that bikes are continually being wasted and there seems to be barrier in people’s perceptions about how they can be empowered to fix their own bikes.

People may choose to recycle their bikes, however the raw materials needed to make the bike (steel, aluminium, rubber and oil) will most probably end up in landfill. Recycling and recovering energy from waste when it’s burned only captures 5% of the value of the original raw material used to make all the products in the first place (Siegle, 2017). The norm should move away from this model, and find ways to keep the materials and then use them to construct more bikes and other mechanical equipment.

One great example of a project happening in the UK is the Imagine Project, which is run by Isla Rowntree, a former professional cyclist, who has taken the initiative to create a scheme to rethink the manufacturing of bicycles to make them last much longer and to then be separated and reused. This will help to contribute to the circular economy, finding ways to reuse parts and find new roles for them to play in modulated and improved bikes of the future. One question to ask is will this build traction and is this something that bicycle users will adopt? This involves changing the perceptions of waste and making people think more consciously about their personal waste stream and how they can fit into the circular economy. One striking statistic made by Isla was that the average mileage achieved by bikes from a major manufacturer lasts for approximately 16 miles before it is stopped being used and is on the way out! This has got to change.

This is an example of one initiative in place that it trying to make a difference in minimising waste but the challenge is now making this the industry standard and causing widespread adoption into the reuse and redefinition of bicycles.