Is America ready for the Zombie-bike-pocalypse?

zombie bike ride 045
Image from Oakland Local on Flickr.

We live in precarious times. Climate change is turning parts of Miami into the ocean. Sovereign debt levels around the globe are equal to or greater than many nations entire economic output. Nervous feelings have people “prepping” for a choose-your-own-calamity future of hyperinflation, civil war, nuclear disasters, peak oil, disease epidemics, Mayan calendar predictions, and a loss of cable T.V.

The questions arises in your mind: “During the zombie apocalypse, how will I get around?”.

If you think it is going to be on a bicycle, think again.

First, let’s talk about your bike. If you are like most Americans, you have access to a broken bicycle suspended on a wall or stored under a tarp. Fixing this bike is going to require special knowledge, tools, and components. I know for a fact that bike mechanics are a wily bunch, and you very well might run into one in a post-apocalyptic scenario surviving off of the vapors from tubeless tire paste. This fine fellow (or lady) is unlikely to have access to the parts required to fix your bike. Why? Once the great American landfills are emptied of bike parts, we will be left with nothing but metals in mineral form and the stars above to fix our bikes.

According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association:

“The U.S. bicycle market is dominated by imported bicycles. In 2010 it is estimated that 99% of the bicycles sold in the U.S. were imported from China and Taiwan.”
NBDA Industry Overview 2010

In the U.S., we don’t make much of anything related to bikes and bike parts anymore. Tubes, tires, brake pads, ball bearings, ball bearing assemblies like the headset, bottom bracket, and axle and cone parts for hubs – all of these are made abroad. Then you’ve got cables and assorted hardware and tools that will quickly disappear into the maw of demand and no new supply.

What happens when you inevitably break a spoke? How many spoke rolling machines are there near you? How many steel wire manufacturers will still be cranking out the stuff your bike needs?

Bikes are cool, but they require a lot of special stuff and an industrial economy chugging away on coal and steel to produce. Post collapse can mean a lot of things, but I don’t imagine bike parts manufacturers and distributors are going to have much of a future for a good long while until we self organize ourselves properly on the second go-round.

Second, let’s talk about our roads. Bike riders in the US were at the forefront of the Good Roads movement decades ago – since their specialized devices required much higher quality roads than were required for travel on foot and by horse and carriage. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently published an estimate of the cost to maintain our existing highways and bridges at $2.2 trillion. How will we collectively re-pave those roads in a post-collapse world?

Finally, how many bikes would we need once everything collapsed and you (and others like you) jumped on their bikes? According to the NBDA, the U.S. imported almost 20 million bike last year. Owning a bike shop, I can tell you that most of those bikes have been sold, and are deep into their life-cycle which terminates at the raw metal and plastic forms baking in the sun or packed under mounds of dirty diapers at the local trash pit (since most bikes sold in the U.S. are of the disposable chain store variety). We are a nation of over 300 million, with only a scant 1 to 2% of our total population riding an a regular basis. What happens when the imported bikes are cut off and demand shoots through the roof? There is no capital to invest in mines, factories, logistics, tooling, and retailers. There is no currency to facilitate nationwide trade. So, what will happen?

zombie bike ride 006
Image from Oakland Local on Flickr.

It all spells a fairly fast demise for travel by bicycle once the zombies, meteors, floods, debt crisis, civil war, nuclear explosions, and network T.V. stations arrive in full force.

Ladies and gentlemen it is time to think seriously about the zombie-bike-pocalypse. If we can “Occupy Wall Street” perhaps we can also occupy domestic bike fabricators and tool makers. Can you imagine a future with no bikes? What a calamity.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 30, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Hahahaha… excellent article, but a bit over the top (and down into the abyss). Way, way long before we run out of bike parts, we will see a total demise of motorized transport. We will have the roads to ourselves, albeit strewn with broken glass, trash, dead cars, rocks, and building materials long since fallen off of structures.

    The “Apocalypse Bike” will have to be equpped with heavy duty and fat tyres to handle these roads. We may need to save all those 2 inch knobbies we now toss into the dumpster. They will be packed with a material other than air. Dense foam rubber, rags, straw, other tyres shredded up, or whatever.

    Certain parts can be made from scratch or refurbished. I already do this with bearing cones, threaded parts, cable bracket/guides, tools, etc. All bikes can be made single speeds after the supply of fiddly gear-changing parts disappears. Frames can be made from wood, plumbing parts, other frames, bedframe channel, etc. And without power tools or welding equipment.

    A far bigger problem will be hanging onto your bike in a world of thieves and cutthroats. Just riding down a trashed out street will truly be a “ride on the wild side”. (It almost is now, just wait ’till Halloween night in NE L.A.) Riding in packs and packing a gun will be a minimum requirement. (Imagine “Mad Max” only with bicycles instead of gas guzzling motor vehicles which will have been long gone).

    For a glimpse of things to come, one has only to visit a bike co-op. Parts bins stuffed with bike bits from the 1960’s on, ceiling hooks with rusting hulks awaiting either repair or recycling, broken and worn hand tools soldiering on until completely unusable. Homemade mechanical aids and Rube Goldberg setups for special modifications to allow extended interchangeability of components. (Just a couple of days ago, we “cold set” a frame using all-thread and fender washers). Frankenbikes built from diverse donor bikes fly out the door into the hands of those now seeing the leading edge of the apocalypse already intruding into the “cheap oil fiesta” ranted about by James Howard Kunstler ( Still, we toss out much of what could be used in a truly dire situation which may very will come to pass. Fodder for bottom-feeders of the future.

    So, we are very well equipped to handle whatever is coming. A true total swing of entropy could still happen, but we will be pedaling our human powered vehicles right up to the very end.

    I can’t wait.

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  1. […] you are counting on your bicycle to get you through the American zombie apocalypse, you better start stockpiling bike parts in your bike shop […]

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