Monday, January 28, 2013

Bicycles in a post-apocalyptic world

Hey disaster novelists: Remember bicycles, skate boards, roller skates, and push scooters.

I'm reading some after-the-electromagnetic pulse disaster novels where the electric grid has collapsed. Lots of people walking home or fleeing home on foot. In the vast majority of these novels there is no mention of any means of human transportation between a car and walking. So some guy has to walk home hundreds or thousands of miles across a post-apocalyptic landscape to get back to his family. Every person he comes across either is on foot or has some Mad Max truck fuel. What's with that?

Is this bias by the authors due to a total lack of bicycles, skate boards, roller skates, and push scooters in their rural or suburban neighborhoods? Am I so out of touch with life in some American states that I'm mistaken in thinking that large areas have no bikes? I do not think so. In the United States annual bicycle sales at 20" wheel size and above run at 11 to 14 million per year. If we suddenly couldn't get any gasoline easily tens of millions could bicycle and maybe well over a third the population. Throw in skate boards, roller skates, and other smaller stuff and 3 mph travel seems avoidable.

What's even weirder: post-plague novels have this problem. So, fine, most people do not own a bicycle. But if 99+% of the population has just died surely there is a bicycle for each and every person still alive. Hiking is really optional in such a scenario. The average travel speed should be above 10 mph if almost everyone dies.
--Randall Parker, FuturePundit, on technological substitution possibilities. HT: Megan McArdle