National Bike Month is coming to an end, and it’s likely inspired some new people around the country to add biking to their lifestyles. One of the first things they may have discovered is that cycling comes with its own array of accouterment—gear to keep you dry, lights for safety, and tires, inner-tubes and chain lubes to keep your ride rolling. Giving extra thought to your biking accessory choices can make your ride even greener and provide longer-lasting solutions. In some cases you might be able to up-cycle everyday throwaway items, putting durable, everyday materials to work on your bike, instead of building everlasting landfills.
Built to Last
The environmental-impact decisions you make in the lifecycle of your bicycle begin with the bike-buying process. First: do you really need a brand-new bike? There are plenty of expert builders putting together smooth rides out of used “vintage” frames. While drive trains have improved over the past few decades, frames haven’t. Some of the toughest, most comfortable, and, for daily use, practical frames are vintage. Build a new bike on an old frame, and you’re reducing wasted materials and wasted energy, all while getting a unique and probably more-comfortable bike.
A sustainable approach can even extend to the chain lubricant you use. The traditionally petroleum-based lubricants that wash away when you ride in the rain don’t go away—they end up our waterways. There are plenty of eco-friendly, biodegradable lubricants that will keep your crank-set squeak-free.
Lights, Batteries, Action
If you’re a cyclist with a nightlife, you need small portable lights to stay safe. When shopping for lights, we invite you to look beyond the first disposable-battery-powered light you see. LED bike lights are brighter and more efficient than ever. In fact, blinking LEDs, or “blinkies,” are more visible and use less energy than continuously lit lights. Better yet, look into the new generation of compact rechargeable lights, many of which charge from a computer’s USB port. If you go with a battery-powered option, using rechargeable batteries is an eco-friendly option.
Of course, lights powered by the bike itself are by far the savviest solution to a cyclist’s lighting needs. It’s essential to stay lit when stopped, and today’s low-friction hub-dynamo- and magnet-powered systems store a charge so you’re bright even at a standstill. If you ride regularly, especially year-round in the early morning or after dark, these are your most sustainable investment.
To Live and DIY
If you’ve ever been caught in the rain on a bike with unprotected wheels and spent all day with a wet back, you appreciate that groovy accessory, the fender. Fenders are often the last thing you add to a new bike and the first thing to fall off, usually right before a squall. But with a little Macgyver-esque finagling, you can give a plastic bottle, or even used bike tires a second life as durable fenders. You can also up-cycle used tires as tire liners to reduce the risk of flats.
And of course patching an inner tube rather than buying a new one is always the more environmentally/wallet-friendly course. Used inner tubes are surprisingly versatile—basically giant rubber bands—perfect for bundling things, tying stuff down, and even launching water balloons. The Internet is replete with ways to up-cycle used tires and inner tubes. If you’re not a DIYer, plenty of places recycle them, grinding them up and converting them into new uses including the rubber pads beneath playground equipment.
Sustainable America Contributor