Designing Affordable Bicycle Components For Transportation And Practicality

One Street's Bicycle Shift Lever

Photo Credit: One Street

In the U.S., bicycle components are often seen as luxury items. All sorts of fancy, high tech designs have been created in the name of precision and shaving weight off of the bike. None of these components are designed with durability or practicality in mind.

While this might not present a problem in a wealthy nation where the vast majority of bike riders are reasonably well off — at least in terms of having disposable income — it can prevent people from riding altogether in nations where bicycles are the main form of transportation due to poverty. Such individuals are in no position to spend a fortune to replace warn or broken bike components.

In response to the needs of these bike riders, at least on advocacy group has begun to design components made out of common materials which can be obtained anywhere in the world. This approach would allow people in remote areas of less developed countries to manufacture the components themselves. And, of course, since the design is simple and made out of inexpensive materials, the cost to produce and sell the components is a fraction of what components cost in other countries.

The first example of this idea was devised by an organization called One Street. The organization’s mission, according to their website, is: “Serving leaders of organizations working to increase bicycling, including pedestrian, transit, and social equity needs.”

Addressing social equity needs is where this bicycling advocacy organization differs from many others. As they seem to know, bicycle riding should not be reserved for those who are well off. Everyone should have access to this form of transportation. However, the cost of bicycles, while much lower than that of cars, is too high for members of lower socioeconomic groups.

To level the playing field, One Street’s Executive Director, Sue Knaup, “designed [a] shift lever in response to complaints from their bicycle programme partners around the world. These programs provide bicycles to people who ride daily, but can no longer find basic, durable bike parts, especially shift levers.”

On their website, the design is described as follows:

“Our Bike Shift Lever has only six parts – four are common items and two are cast out of scrap aluminum using the techniques outlined in our book, Backyard Aluminum Casting. This shifter works for either the front or rear derailleur and for all gear ranges. It also works for throttles and chokes on other sorts of machines such as yard equipment, small motorcycles, and boats. It is designed for easy production and repair by people who rely on their bicycles every day.”

This bike shift lever works with front and rear derailleurs through all gear ranges. It is also simple to manufacture using instructions found in a book sold by One Street via their online store.

Ms. Knaup was no stranger to metallurgy when she began the process of designing this shift lever. She was a former bike shop owner and welder and only needed to obtain information on casting. She did this by talking with metal casters and mold makers..

As Bike Biz put it in their article on this subject, “After working with local casters and reading around the subject, she built her first charcoal furnace using a flower pot and a hand pump. She has since upgraded to a brick furnace that uses a hair dryer for its air supply. With future license partners in mind, she captured every step in One Street’s new book, Backyard Aluminum Casting.”

The project was initially funded on Kickstarter, which has become a valuable tool for entrepreneurs and non-profits who don’t have other channels for obtaining funding to launch their ideas. All One Street needs now is license partners to help them produce the levers around the world.

It’s about time that someone took the lead in producing affordable bicycle components. Even though cycling is commonplace in many parts of the world, it is not sustainable in less developed countries.

This is particularly sad because the use of a bicycle is actually much more meaningful for these people than for America citizens who ride bicycles for fitness and recreation. Bike riders in developing countries gain freedom from having an inexpensive reliable form of transportation.

Freedom to travel gives them access to necessities like education and employment opportunities. It broadens their horizons and helps them to improve their quality of life and that of their families.

It would not be a bad thing if this trend trickled down to more affluent areas of the world. Amid all of the glitz and glamor of first world countries with their iPhones, Xboxes and Land Rover-type motor vehicles, poverty exists. In fact, American citizens live in poverty and go hungry too much of the time.

“In 2013, 45.3 million [Americans] (14.5 percent) were in poverty [and] 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.” Certainly those who cannot afford to eat also cannot afford to buy or maintain a bicycle  — or a car.

Lack of transportation, particularly for those who live in areas underserved by public transportation, makes it more difficult to climb out of poverty. Employment opportunities are limited by an inability to travel to work. So many of these people either stay in very low paying jobs or do not work at all because collecting welfare is preferable to working for wages that are as low or lower than what they would collect from public assistance programs. Perhaps some of them would be more motivated to improve their lot if they felt they could obtain better paying jobs.

Affordability and practicality are not terms we associate with bicycles. Sure, there are cheap bikes which can be purchased in big box stores. But they are cumbersome to ride. And when they break, parts are hard to come by. Many bike mechanics also refuse to work on these bikes because they are so poorly made.

Success for One Street’s bike lever would mean success for us all with respect to making bicycling more mainstream and accessible to a wider audience. We must not forget this during the holiday season where rampant buying is the norm and extravagant spending is encouraged, rather than frugality.

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2 Responses to Designing Affordable Bicycle Components For Transportation And Practicality

  1. Jonathan B. Horen says:

    An excellent post! Thank you.

    Regarding poverty in America: Although it’s perhaps unpleasant to put meals together when living on a restricted income, it becomes difficult — often, nearly impossible to do so without transportation, either public or private. An increasing number of Americans — not only urban, but exurban and suburban — live in “food deserts”, where a four or five-mile trip to the supermarket (each way) requires careful planning, and a circuitous trip involving several buses… or, the bi-weekly benevolence of friends. Without bicycle racks, most supermarkets are useless… and we go hungry.

  2. Jacob says:

    This post is informative. I want to try to assemble my own bicycle. I dont have much skills doing this, but everything can be learned. I’ll follow your guidelines here. Thanks!

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