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The Appropriation of Bicycles in West Africa

Pragmatic Approaches to Sustainability

Hans Peter Hahn

Bicycles have a wide range of functions and roles in West Africa. They have vital functions for everyday necessities, but they also constitute prestige objects. The appreciation of bicycles in Africa started very early, almost simultaneously with their diffusion as consumer goods in Europe. However, the adoption of bicycles followed a specific pathway, which is explained in this article within the conceptual framework of appropriation. Cultural appropriation highlights the significant modifications of bicycles in Africa and the abandonment of some functions like braking. In spite of the technical simplifications, modified bicycles are perceived as having higher value, by virtue of their fitness for the tough roads and their increased reliability. Appropriation results in a specific “Africanized“ bicycle, which makes possible a prolonged usage. This essay argues that the “Africanized“ bicycle constitutes a model of sustainability in matters of transport, one which is not sufficiently recognized in current debates about sustainable innovations.

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Contested Spaces

Bicycle Lanes in Urban Europe, 1900-1995

Ruth Oldenziel and Adri Albert de la Bruhèze

Today most cities emphasize the construction of separate bicycle lanes as a sure path toward sustainable urban mobility. Historical evidence shows a singular focus on building bicycle lanes without embedding them into a broader bicycle culture and politics is far too narrow. Bicycle lanes were never neutral, but contested from the start. Based on comparative research of cycling history covering nine European cities in four countries, the article shows the crucial role representations of bicycles play in policymakers' and experts' planning for the future. In debating the regulation of urban traffic flows, urban-planning professionals projected separate lanes to control rather than to facilitate working- class, mass-scale bicycling. Significantly, cycling organizations opposed the lanes, while experts like traffic engineers and urban planners framed automobility as the inevitable modern future. Only by the 1970s did bicycle lanes enter the debate as safe and sustainable solutions when grass-roots cyclists' activists campaigned for them. The up and downs of bicycle lanes show the importance of encouraging everyday utility cycling by involving diverse social groups.

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Esther Anaya and Santiago Gorostiza

Compared with work in other European countries, the history of bicycle mobility in Spain is still in its infancy. In pioneering work, some historians have dealt with the nineteenth-century origins of cycling in Spain, particularly its athletic aspects. Other historians have reviewed the main cycling competitions in the country: the Volta a Catalunya, organized in 1911, and the Vuelta a España, begun in 1935. Utilitarian cycling, however, has received less attention. A few authors have highlighted the bicycle’s importance in Spain over most of the century, but none have examined the evolution of utilitarian cycling in Spain during the twentieth century. Although archival sources are ample, their diversity and wide dispersion in various government archives, especially at the municipal level, are research obstacles.