At a conference organised by universities in Northern UK. 17 Sept 2021.
link to presentation (20 mins)
DecarboN8’s International Conference
Community bike workshops: place-based organisations and the culture of active travel
Simon Batterbury, University of Melbourne/Lancaster University
Everyday cycling in cities is a form of ‘active’ travel, and a response to mobility crises, congestion, and climate concerns. As part of a cycling renaissance, community bike workshops or ‘bike kitchens’ have flourished in Western countries, now numbering in the thousands. Largely staffed by volunteers, and lying outside mainstream state or corporate control, they assist anybody to keep mobile through maintaining their own bike, cheaply. A few meet the needs of particular social groups, particularly the socially disadvantaged. In all cases, workshops contribute to sociality and a culture of active travel. I offer a typology of workshops, and an exploration of their key contributions and challenges. Comparative research was conducted from 2015-2021 through 45+ workshop visits, interviews, and participant-observation, mainly in Brussels, across France, the US west coast, and Australia. Workshops form part of the ‘urban commons’ and ‘mobility justice’, are reliant on an ever-changing mix of participants and aspirations, and follow different trajectories. They have complexities compared to building more supply-side bike friendly infrastructure, the latter generally favoured by planners and engineers, but they do increase cycling ‘demand’ in particular urban localities.
Batterbury SPJ. [and with work from a community of scholars]. 2020. Overcoming urban automobility in community bike workshops: a political ecology approach.
improvised version and questions here (20 mins)
longer, less concise version, better quality here (30 mins)
The Political Ecology of Urban Mobilities POLLEN [Political Ecology Network] Biennial Conference 2020, 22-25 September 2020
CHAIRED BY Dr. Yvonne Kunz
Urban political ecology (UPE) supports understanding “the ways in which political, economic, and ecological processes work together to shape and transform cities and the lives of the people who live in them” (Heynen 2017). Current discussion on climate change, on mitigation and adaptation strategies have brought urban mobilities to the forefront. Urban transport is a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and hence a point of intervention to policy makers to foster transitions. Often, these interventions for transitions cause unevenly distributed burden for different groups of urban inhabitants. Failures of making urban mobilities more sustainable might call for new ways of framing doing travel in urban contexts and for critically analyzing the allegedly political solutions around this topic. We are seeking papers providing a mix of papers introducing ways of critically engaging with urban mobilities from a Urban Political ecology perspective.
Simon was on the road in Feb 2020, visiting workshops, with some kind funding from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. Working to putting together a comprehensive study of best practices and aims of bike workshops by 2021. Accompanied by Mildred Locke and Matthias Kowasch.
SB has been volunteering at WeCycle in Northcote, Melbourne since July 2019. It is a volunteer-run initiative enabled by small grants, Council support, and volunteer mechanics and fixers. Craig Jackson and Gayle Ilievski set it up in 2016. Donated bikes are re-homed to refugees and asylum seekers referred by caseworkers from support agencies. Other bike find good homes too, through sales or donations and there is occasionally space for people to fix their bikes. WeCycle is one of a number of Melbourne bike workshops set up more recently than the original Bike Shed at CERES. WeCycle usually staffed 10-3 Saturdays in Batman Park off St George’s Road. http://www.wecycle-melbourne.com/
Batterbury SPJ, D. Mateo-Babiano. 2019-20. Comparative evaluation of community bicycle workshops in Australia, France and UK: supporting low carbon urban transport, individual wellbeing, community economies, and cycling cultures. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) Future Cities Seed Funding. AU$9,600.
This project aims to explore and compare the contribution of community bike workshops [CBWs , ‘bike kitchens’ or ateliers vélos,] in Europe and Australia to creating a cycling culture, and better wellbeing and transport outcomes in different city-regions. We will use the 3Is (i.e. ideas, interests and institutions) as a comparative evaluation framework to appraise urban community bike workshops as nodes of low carbon urban transport, as contributors to individual wellbeing, better and vibrant community economies, and shapers of cycling cultures.
- How do selected bike workshops create demand for urban cycling? How are they challenging mainstream mobilities through active urban transportation ?
- What are the major motivations and governance arrangements of these community workshops? With what political and other alliances?
- Test the counterfactual: are they simply offering a service to the poor and to bike enthusiasts, permitting them to save money and build/maintain a ride?
- Are workshops ‘prefiguring’ the low carbon future? As many workshops transition into having salaried employees and more secure premises, are there lessons for urban practice, community economies research, and transition theory?
A key source came out in 2017, based on a French survey.
Meixner, E. 2017. Etude d’évaluation sur les services vélos – Enquête sur les ateliers d’autoréparation de vélos. ADEME [ADEME did one just on bike workshops. This is a key source.] https://www.heureux-cyclage.org/IMG/pdf/cahier_ateliers_autoreparation-services_velos_ademe-2017.pdf
A constant complaint in Brussels volunteer workshops is the lack of stable premises to operate. I even helped one of them ‘move house’ last month. Last weekend in Berlin I managed to visit two workshops, and found both had stable premises. The ADFC Werkstatt, Berlin-Mitte, is situated in the ADFC Berlin headquarters. ADFC is the everyday cyclists organisation, with about 150,000 members. They offer insurance to members, publish guides and maps, etc. The workshop was given its space at the back of the building for free, along with financial assistance to buy tools and stands, and has a moderate range of opening hours. The front has a bookshop and a few bike parts for sale too. The workshop has pretty much every tool on hand except welding gear. The volunteer we talked to has been working there 13 years, and the workshop is older than that. Non-members of ADFC are welcome and they just take donations and the costs of parts from them. The workshop can afford this because they do not have major outgoings. Arriving on Friday, it was busy. Bike security engraving was also going on. It was nice to see some older, expert mechanics at work.
A second workshop was the Fahrradwerkstatt in the Regenbogenfabrik, in hipster-alternative Kreuzberg (photo on right). This is a legalised former squat, run as a collective, with several activities in the buildings including a cinema, restaurant, and woodworking studio. You pay at least E3 a session plus parts, and as at ADFC, often have to work on your bike outside when it is crowded. The space is stable (gone are the days of housing battles with the police in the 1980s), and the precise nature of labour (volunteer or paid) I am still not sure about, since they were really busy when I was there. They have bike hire and some other paying activities.
Berlin was extremely interesting. Good road treatments for bikes (but certainly not everywhere, and some lanes are pretty ropey), decent junctions designs, masses of bikes around (unlike Brussels, modal share has reached over 10%). Nobody wears a helmet and the city is moderately flat. Different bike hire possibilities at shops, and also citybikes. I am sure it is grimmer in winter! There are other workshops, but weekend hours are very limited so I could not visit – maybe this is just not a tradition there, to be open at weekends. One workshop I really wanted to interview, Bike Aid Berlin offering bikes just to refugees and people without papers, closed its doors semi-permanently before I could get there, following a vigorous debate about its identity politics and mission.