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The role of Bike movements in the ecological transitions

Ongoing research
Begin: August 2021
End: June 2024

The return of pro-bicycle policies in cities in Europe, the United States and other countries, including cities in the global south, owes much to the lobbying of pro-bicycle movements. The aim of this research is to perform a comparative analysis of biking mobilizations in France and the USA and to question their role in the social, political, and environmental transformation of the spaces in which they emerge.

Research participants


Contact : Christophe Gay

The current destabilization of the dominance of automobility and fossil fuels has opened the possibility of envisioning “post-car futures” (Dennis and Urry 2009) and “mobility transitions” (Nikolaeva et al. 2019). Cycling advocates and policy-makers have embraced the promotion of “active transport” (cycling, walking) plus greater use of mass transit and new forms of micro-mobility, as the solution to pushing forward this sustainable mobility transition. Yet it remains unclear how great an impact the expansion of cycling practices and infrastructure can make when automobile dependence is still so extensive and locked into most built environments. Moreover, there are also concerns about the role of low-carbon policies in making affordable low-carbon transportation less accessible for low-income communities.


The return of pro-bike policies in cities in Europe, the United States and other countries, including cities in the global south, owes much to the lobbying of pro-bike movements. In the context of these controversies on the role of bicycles in the mobility transition, the objective of this research is to perform a comparative analysis of biking mobilizations in France and the USA and to question their role in the social, political, and environmental transformation of the spaces in which they emerge.

This dissertation will explore how political activism emerges out of cycling movements and the role that these mobilizations play in shaping larger societal transitions. This question is one that interests theorists of mobility justice (Sheller, 2018), and historians of urban mobility (Emanuel et al., 2020). There are many ways to approach it. This research will focus on the role of activists who participate within the Bikespace under different hats: these include expert-citizens — who are both practitioners, planners and activists; community leaders and organizers who also work performing community outreach programs for government agencies and planning firms; activists who have acquired roles of political leadership; and “activist-scholars” who have played a central role in mediating and translating the discourses, frames, and representations of cycling movements across different contexts, thereby actively participating in amplifying the representation, the circulation, the impact, and the efficacy of such mobilizations. The project will seek to better understand the impact of such intersectional activists on local policy networks, as well as in building wider ecological transition movements.

In the last few years, bike movements have been active in promoting policies that favour cycling and the political objectives that they favour in France and the Americas. Activist-scholars have been involved both on the ground — leading and organizing — and by accompanying these movements from academia. These experiences of everyday mobilities turning into political mobilization have been described in the academic literature in both France and the United States (Lugo, 2018; Rigal 2020), and as pertains to various marginalized cyclists such as women (Abord de Chatillon, 2020) but also racial minorities (Barajas, 2016; Lugo, 2018).

These studies lead to 3 core questions :

  • How do the motivations, values, and the embodied practices of cycling — that happen within the “Bikespace” of the bike movements — shape their political objectives and the actions they pursue in order to satisfy them?
  • What role do bike movements play in translating local cycling movements into sustainable mobility transitions, and then in amplifying such transitions across the urban, national, and transnational scales?
  • And how do they do so in contexts of intersectional politics that can be inclusive of many groups who have traditionally been excluded from urban planning and transport planning?


This research will analyze and compare the political transformation brought about by bike movements operating within different urban and national contexts, as they seek to amplify their impact across scales. I propose to choose the terrains for this doctoral proposal according to the territorial anchors of the networks of bicycle activism and research to which I belong, and the gatherings, meetings and congresses where the advocates meet. By belonging to these networks of both LHC and The Untokening, I have access to a broad network of activists based all over France, the US, and the Americas. Yet my participation is also rooted in those places where I have been actively engaged with the cycling communities as an activist, as a researcher, or both: Geneva, Paris, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Bogotá.

The approach will combine different kinds of methods, adapted to different scales:

  • 1) at the embodied scale the aim of my research is to use participant observation to study how intersectional identities (e.g., race, gender, class, and migration status) shape the practices of biking, the political views, and the objectives of participants;
  • 2) at a meso-scale the aim of my research is to analyze organizational structures and specific events organized by cycling activists to better understand how these actors — informed by their identities and life experiences – participate, lobby and formulate policies to influence the production of “Bikespace”, thereby shaping practices of local and regional governance;
  • 3) at a macro level my research aims to study how these actors participate in building national and ultimately transnational networks of bike activism that inform the policies adopted in their respective countries.


Abord de Chatillon M. (2020) “Feminine Vélonomy: Characterising women’s experiences of bicycle repair and maintenance within patriarchal contexts”. In Cycling societies: emerging innovations, inequalities and governance, dir. D. Zuev, K. Psarikidou and C. Popan, Routledge.

Barajas, J. M. (2016). Making Invisible Riders Visible: Motivations for Bicycling and Public Transit Use among Latino Immigrants (Doctoral dissertation, UC Berkeley).

Dennis, K., & Urry, J. (2009). After the car. Polity.

Emanuel, M., Schipper, F., and Oldenziel, R. (2020) A U-Turn to the Future: Sustainable Urban Mobility since 1850. New York and Oxford : Berghahn Books.

Nikolaeva, A., Adey, P., Cresswell, T., Lee, J. Y., Nóvoa, A., & Temenos, C. (2019). Commoning mobility: Towards a new politics of mobility transitions. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 44(2), 346-360.

Rigal, A. (2020). Changer la vie dans un atelier d'autoréparation de vélo. Forum Vies Mobiles.

Sheller, M. (2018). Mobility justice: The politics of movement in an age of extremes. Verso Books.

Sheller, M. (2020). Mobility Justice. In M. Büscher, M. Freudendal-Pedersen, S. Kesselring and N. Grauslund Kristensen. Handbook of Research Methods and Applications for Mobilities. Elgar Publishing.


For the Mobile Lives Forum, mobility is understood as the process of how individuals travel across distances in order to deploy through time and space the activities that make up their lifestyles. These travel practices are embedded in socio-technical systems, produced by transport and communication industries and techniques, and by normative discourses on these practices, with considerable social, environmental and spatial impacts.

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Mobilization is the action by which individuals are called upon to gather in the public space for a concerted effort, be it to express or defend a common cause or to participate in an event. In this respect, it is a social phenomenon appertaining to mobility. This article has been written by Sylvie Landriève, Dominic Villeneuve, Vincent Kaufmann and Christophe Gay.

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Movement is the crossing of space by people, objects, capital, ideas and other information. It is either oriented, and therefore occurs between an origin and one or more destinations, or it is more akin to the idea of simply wandering, with no real origin or destination.

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To cite this publication :

Alejandro Manga Tinoco (25 August 2021), « The role of Bike movements in the ecological transitions », Préparer la transition mobilitaire. Consulté le 13 June 2024, URL:

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