Home UK & World Will cycling help solve pressing social problems?

Will cycling help solve pressing social problems?


In support of June 3 is World Bike Day ideas that bicycles “contribute to cleaner air and less congestion and make education, health and other social services more accessible to the most vulnerable.”

Bicycle plays a big role in physical activity. This was especially true during the pandemic, when buying bicycles went overboard. Against the background of blocking measures, the bicycle remained an important alternative to public transport, while offering the benefits physical activity in the fresh air and socially distant. But even before the pandemicpeople’s interest in bicycles grew.

Cycling can be the answer not only to our physical activity and problems with the pandemic. This could offer government officials a way to address converging crises in health, transport and climate. At the same time, increasing the use of bicycles can create new economic opportunitiesfor example, offer low-cost bicycles for sustainable transport and mechanical training to local communities to create jobs.

And as gas prices continue to rise due to the prolonged invasion of Ukraine, governments are urging citizens to think about cycling. It is clear that the ability of the bicycle to respond to pressing social problems has caused both intrigue and optimism, especially in the context of COVID-19.

Bicycles for development

We are a group of researchers interested in the social and environmental dimensions of sport, physical activity and health with an emphasis – for the work described here – on the perceived role of development in the cycling boom.

So far, our study has been trying to map bicycles for development a movement that considers cycling a powerful technology that occupies a notable implications for social change and development goals.

Our study shows that this movement is largely driven by the work of NGOs that deliver bicycles to communities around the world.

These initiatives can be completely local, although they often cross international borders – organizations that collect used bicycles in one place sometimes send them to another. Bicycles delivered to communities often come from donations, microfinance initiatives or social entrepreneurial enterprises like those run by women in rural Uganda.

Over the past six years, our study in Canada, Nicaragua and Uganda has found out the main ways that bicycles for development initiatives seem to have a positive effect. For example, bicycle access can promote mobility, which can lead to a variety of opportunities (such as access to educational opportunities and local markets for the sale of goods), and can also foster a sense of social integration or economic development.

Creating a workaround

In Canada, we conducted research with communities in Toronto and Vancouver. Our research in Toronto has shown how to take bikes mutual aid organizations respond to increased food security during a pandemic. Focusing on the experiences of 2SLGBTQ + and racing cyclists, we found ways in which different cyclists challenge racial and gender oppression systems using a bicycle to break down stereotypes about who can participate in cycling.

However, despite the fact that cycling has positive potential, our study also demonstrated that providing bicycles to women and girls is in a sense filled with tensions and challenges. For example, in our latest study in Uganda, some women explained that prior to receiving a bicycle, they were primarily responsible for care and other household chores such as cooking.

Having received a bicycle, they now also have to engage in economic activities, which means more work-oriented women in rural areas. This often leads to the widening of existing inequalities between men and women.

There also caused concern over the quality of donated bikes. For example, some of the donated bikes required certain unavailable spare parts, which means they were of little use once they broke. But I like the programs World Bicycle Aid “Buffalo Bike” aims to address this issue.

The fact that bicycle assistance can have unintended and sometimes negative consequences coincides with many research in sports for development, and in development research more broadly.

We call these unintentional negative outcomes of development-oriented activities as forms of “ironic activity».

While our study found the positive potential of bicycle access, our findings also steered us in other directions: bicycles can empower people and communities, but they can also reflect or exacerbate existing problems and inequalities. Bicycle development programs can have both expected and unintended consequences.

While optimism is welcome in connection with World Bicycle Day, it is important to remember that for all its potential, bicycles cannot solve our blocked modern crises on their own.

Janet Otte, Patrick Aul and Lidit del Socara Cruz Senten are co-authors of this article. Janet has experience managing development projects on refugees, women’s rights and clinical research in Uganda. Patrick is a sociologist who collaborates with developers and research organizations in Uganda. Lidit is the director of the Asociacion Movimiento de Jovenes de Ometepe in Nicaragua.

Authors: Lyndsay MC Hayhurst – Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology and Medical Sciences, York University, Canada | Brad Millington – Associate Professor, Sports Management, Brock University Brian Wilson – Professor, School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia | Janet Steinman – Postgraduate Student, Kinesiology, University of British Columbia | Jessica Nachman – MA, School of Kinesiology and Medical Sciences, York University, Canada | Mitchell McSweeney – Doctor of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia

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