Home Sustainability News & Blog What’s a bike got to do with it?

What’s a bike got to do with it?

February 14, 2013

Meet Student Sustainability Blogger Emily Smith van Beek

By Emily Smith van Beek

Sustainability Blogger

I am 25 years old and have never learned how to ride a bike. When I was a child, I used to zip down the streets on my tricycle, but I never advanced beyond that. This year, for my ‘Dare to Remember’ campaign, for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, I dared myself to learn how to ride. 

In many of the places that I will be living and working in development, bikes are luxury items.  They are used to transport children to school, as community ambulances, and as transportation for agricultural goods between small communities and urban markets.  

In addition to the benefits of riding a bike in the developing world, it makes sense to have this skill at home in Canada. The amount you can cut your carbon footprint by shifting from car to bike is enormous. Your own two feet are generally more reliable than any bus schedule, and just think of the bulging calf muscles you gain. 

I am currently living with a Mexican family of very progressive social, economic, and environmental thinkers. I have learned more here in the last few weeks than I have most of my life in a classroom. I recently sat down with my host brother Miguel Hidalgo Diaz to speak with him about ‘bicimaquinas,’ an electro-environmental bike initiative he has been involved with for five years in San Cristobal. The bicimaquinas movement was started by an organization in Guatemala, funded (financials and used bikes) by a Canadian not-for-profit organization. It is all about using bikes to share development and knowledge, giving people independence and bringing communities together. It is social, environmental, and electrical, based on human rights. Through the internet, the movement has spread around the world. 

In Chiapas, the general population has limited access to energy and electricity, as a result of political problems. The government restricts the access of a plethora of energy from hydroelectric dams to corporations, while communities go barren. One of the only things the massive hydroelectric dams offer rural communities is a high state tax to access the energy source. 

Bicimaquinas is a movement that keeps Mexicans in control of their own livelihoods and communities. The concept is simple: if you’re already using your strength to power a bike for transportation, you can keep up the same pedaling motion to power electricity.  In Chiapas, 40 percent of residents are refusing to pay for electricity. Some people are declining as part of a movement to oppose the government, and others simply because they can’t afford it. 

Trouble viewing photos? Click here.

Miguel and his team at the bicimaquinas headquarters, called the Jaguar Café, say that they can make anything that runs in a circular motion into an alternative energy form powered by a bike. They make everything from bike blenders (morning exercise with a sweet treat of a smoothie at the end) to bike-powered laundry machines. For special clientele who can afford more personalized services, they’ve even constructed a bike machine that powers movie theatres. 

All the materials used at the Jaguar Café are recycled. Nothing goes unused. Even if a bike is donated and is in poor condition, it will be broken down for parts. Every aspect of this movement screams self and long-term sustainability. There is no patent on the product; anyone can make them. 

In fact, Miguel encourages the spread of information as an environmental and cost-efficient way to view a new form of electricity. He hopes to educate and inspire rural communities on how to effectively use and recycle materials they already have, to decrease pollution, and to obtain long-term, self-sustaining energy. Bicimaquinas are open to expansion and interpretation. 

Not only is the bicimaquinas movement an environmental one, it is social, cultural, political, and based on human rights. It boils down to the expansion of alternative development initiatives, making people stronger and bringing communities together. Watch the video here and prepare to be inspired!

BICI-LAVADORA from Conga films on Vimeo.

Wish me luck as I learn to ride!

Peace, love and prosperity,