Post “Peak Oil” Transportation – The Bicycle

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Transportation after “Peak Oil” will be very much a return to the times before the motorcar and this will mean, theoretically, only three modes of transport for most people. In fact probably only two as the third may not be as feasible for those in the lower income brackets.

Once the balloon has gone up finally and the oil, the cheap and exploitable oil, is gone transportation will be different and we will have to return to walking and cycling and we want to look here at bicycles and maintaining them “after the event”, as I like to call it.

As said, aside from walking, for the great majority, adults and children, the mode of transport will be the bicycle but I think that, for ease of maintenance, we may have to rethink the kind of bike that we have and the gearing used.

The problem with the so-called Shimano gears with the derailleurs by the crank and especially by the cog wheel cluster on the back wheel is that those derailleurs are worked with wire cables (but then so are the brakes) and that they tend to be only effective for a number of years before they, especially the back wheel one, need replacing.

Those derailleurs can also be rather sensitive to impact and especially to mud and dirt. The springs, however, are their weakest points and ones they lose their strength they have an adverse impact on the cogs and thus can cause damage to the rest of the bike.

From what I have seen so far is that they appear to need replacement every five to eight years, depending on use of the bike, and that may be a problem for when we have lost the oil and motor transport and with it a great scale of manufacturing we will not be able to get those dérailleurs easily or cheaply.

The best way to prepare some bicycles that you have – and for this purpose some bikes that some people have discarded are ideal – and turn this bike or those bikes into single-geared ones.

Those are not the so-called fixed-gear ones that have also become rather popular in recent years but they do have freewheel hubs and, in fact, can be directly converted from a standard mountain bike wheel for instance.

There is no need to go through the rigmarole of taking the cassette off and replacing it with a single freewheel cog, saving thus cost, though it is true that, generally, the single cog seems stronger than those of a 5 or 6 or even 7 gear cassette. But not really by that much again.

I believe that single geared bicycles will be the ones that will get us through as they will be less liable to have problems as those with the gears. How many hours have I spent fixing and realigning gears I have not counted but sure enough many.

Yes, it is true that a single geared bicycle is a bit more hard work especially in rougher terrain and uphill but then, who said that you have to cycle up the hill; you do much better pushing the bike up and then coasting down the other side. That's how I do mostly, much to the annoyance of those that pedal like mad in low ratios and arrive up the hill all out of breath.

Also, do you think you really have 15, 18 or 21 (or even more) gears on those fancy bicycles that you see? The truth of the matter is that it is maximum 3 (in words: three) gears – the three cogs at the crankshaft with 5, 6, 7 or even more sub-gears for each gear, amounting to the number they like to quote of whichever amount of gears.

So, as you can see, really not much has changed since the three-gear hubs that came about in about the 1930s or so, though there remained the single-geared bike for many years still. They were the cheaper work horses.

It is easy and – I believe – worthwhile to convert an old bicycle or two, especially if you can get hold of them cheaply, to single gear.

Building” a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle

“Building” a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle is a very simple undertaking for anyone with a little common sense and the wish to tinker around a little.

First you remove all the gear tools. This is to say you take off the front and the back dérailleurs with all the associated cables and hardware, including the gear changers on the handlebar (or wherever).

Then you shorten the chain – which will be rather longish – to fit relatively tightly from the second cog up on the back cluster to the middle cog (if you have three front cogs) of the ones where the pedal crank is.

And now you have a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle and you are all set.

Shortening the chain: If you want to reuse the original chain that was on the bicycle – and not one with a “joiner”, as used to be the standard on the old style bikes – you will need a chain tool. This is definitely a tool worth investing in, as it will come in useful on many occasions when a bicycle chain needs repair.

A chain tool can be bought from the Internet and also instructional videos can be found there and instructional texts. However, I would recommend you purchase the tool at a bike store and ask one of the people there so show you how to use one.

If you have never used one of those tools before it is good to actually be shown – physically and actually – in person – how to “break” a chain and how to put it back together.

The chain, when you have shortened it, should be as tight as possible from the back cog to the front one as you no longer have a dérailleur acting as a chain tensioner.

Changing an old mountain bike from Shimano multi-gear to single-gear can be done in less than an hour.

When I am finished I am going to have at least two of these kind of rebuilt bikes, all made from salvaged old bicycles that were thrown out by folks.

THE REASON for advocating this simple bicycle for post “Peak Oil” transportation is because it should be very low maintenance and should be much less prone to problems than the bikes they are made from.

© 2010

To learn more about Peak Oil and what a society post Peak Oil might look like get and read the book “The End of Oil”. You can obtain the book via