Bicycles are almost everything that cars are not. While cars burn gas, bikes require only human power. Cars have played a key role in producing an epidemic of obesity, and bikes are playing a key role in fighting it. Cars are large, heavy machines, almost all of which are devoted simply to safely moving the car itself. A car can easily weigh thousands of pounds, even if only to carry one 150lb person. A bike, on the other hand, weighs 20-30lbs, and can carry far more than its own weight. Cars require vast and expensive parking facilities which tend to compete in terms of cost and environmental impact with the entire rest of the industry combined (cars and roads). Bikes require a post or railing. Cars are unbelievably expensive – on par with regular, full-time university tuition, if not a fair bit more. A bike can be bought for $20 at a garage sale and maintained for about that annually, provided it’s in good shape. Bikes are repairable at home with simple tools and little skill. Cars are not. A bike can last decades, and many if not most do. Many of the bikes I ride on a regular basis (and have ridden full-time as a courier) are from the 1970s and 80s. Cars last a decade of “average” use at best, without serious and very expensive maintenance.
The key factor here is that bikes are so plentiful and long-lived. We don’t need to buy a new bike for everyone in Hamilton – we could put thousands more on the road instantly with a little maintenance and a bunch of cheap parts. The costs involved would be on par with a cab ride, or even a few trips on the HSR per person. Volunteer-based co-op bike shops are an amazing tool for introducing people both to cheap cycling (dropping the costs involved by a factor of ten at least) as well as teaching bike repair.
Here’s a good short piece from The Oil Drum about setting up a bike repair operation with a few people and a small budget.
And here are a few links to community-based bike shops in Hamilton: