Our industry excels at making us want to buy ever more products. Whether it’s to have the most current bike, the trendiest accessories, or the latest gizmo to make our riding better, or something else. While this is the obvious course for any industry looking to stay alive and profitable, it doesn’t always align with the modern goal of protecting our resources, whether they are raw materials or the finished products themselves. In our little niche of bikes, there’s a depressingly large carbon footprint involved in the creation and delivery of the products we use. And it’s easier than ever to forget that each of us plays a role in how much is consumed or wasted along the way. If we each put some thought into a few small things, we can combat the increasing trend of our “throwaway” society.
Here are three areas to consider:
1. Make your gear last longer
This is a great goal if you love your bike and want to keep it for many years, but it still applies even if you buy and sell bikes frequently. Either way, there are ways to keep your bike running well and prevent unnecessary parts replacement while you own it.
-Don’t use too much chain lube. First of all, it wastes lubricant. But more significantly, the sticky coating of excess lube attracts dirt, which then wears out your drivetrain prematurely. Use a light application of the appropriate lube for your weather and conditions, and make sure to wipe away any excess that’s clinging onto the outside of the chain, where it’s not serving any lubricant purpose, anyway.
–Replace your chain at the first measurable sign of wear. This may sound counterproductive but bear with me. Yes, you will consume a couple more chains in a year (depending on how much you ride), but the rest of your drivetrain — the expensive, materials-intensive parts — will last much longer. You can go quite some time on the same cassette and chainrings if you keep your chain fresh. So, how do you know when to replace it? Bike shops have tools that will measure the elongation (or “stretch”) of the chain and can establish when that base level of wear has occurred. In the case of newer 12-speed chains, which are more stretch-resistant, a more reliable technique is to pay attention to the side-to-side flexibility of the chain. A noticeable increase in flex can let you know it’s time to replace it, as is a degradation in shifting that has no other cause.
-Keep tires in circulation longer. When your tires wear down, move the front tire to the rear and only replace the front. Then see if another bike can use the old tire — a townie bike, or another steed that has fewer traction demands.
-And finally, clothing-related: Don’t wash your jerseys, bibs, etc. in harsh or highly fragrant detergents. These will cause your expensive clothing to break down prematurely and require replacement. Or use a detergent for technical apparel. Plus, only some garments state low heat in the dryer on the care labels. Those are typically DWR treated fabrics, where the heat reactivates the coating. Let’s be honest, technical fabrics are designed to dry fast, let them hang dry while you save energy and your gear.
2. Give your gear a second life when you're done using it.
You can sell or donate many items so that others can put it to use. If its usefulness is over, see if it can be recycled.
-Nearly every major city has a co-op bicycle shop, such as Community Cycles in Boulder or Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery in Denver. The bikes you donate are usually refurbished and resold at affordable prices to people who can’t afford the cost-prohibitive gear. Plus there’s often an educational opportunity for youth to learn bike maintenance and retail skills in earn-a-bike programs.
-Many cities have secondhand gear stores, where your older bike can find a new owner while you recoup a little of your financial costs. You can often pass along skis, snowshoes and other outdoor stuff while you’re at it.
-Find ways to recycle old bike parts, and not just into wacky art projects. Many recycling centers can take alloy parts such as chains, rims, spokes, frames, etc., to meltdown as part of their standard metal recycling. Eco-Cycle in Boulder, for example, will take many metal parts as well as tubes and tires, which are recycled into other products including playground materials.
3. Places for our rides
Finally, this roundup wouldn’t be complete without considering our most important resource of all: the trails and our access to them. When you peel away the surface ego and competitiveness that may overlay our sport, mountain biking is a beautiful activity that meshes well with care for the environment. It’s a beautiful marriage of human-powered movement and communion with nature; a way to witness and become part of the flow of Earth’s rhythms, with the weather, the change of seasons, and cohabitation with other creatures. It’s a celebration of the outdoors and the escape it brings from urban living. So it seems to me that caring for the landscapes that provide the very purpose for our sport would be vital to us all. Especially if those trails are in your backyard, where you want them to last many years for your kids to ride, or if they are in the backcountry, where thoughtless use can cause impacts for years to come. Every rider plays an essential role in protecting the trails that bring us so much joy.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
–Ride it like you care about it. Avoid riding when there is mud; go through any mud you may find rather than widening trails to go around it. Stay on the trail rather than cutting corners or creating new lines around technical sections.
–Respect and yield to other users and wildlife. If your parents didn’t teach you how to share, it’s never too late to get started!
–Volunteer to build and maintain trail (it’s actually very gratifying) or donate money to organizations that do.
These small steps will make you feel good, too, especially if you see someone out on the trails, having a great time riding your old bike. You can take pleasure in the fact that you’ve done something to better the world, both for others and for Mother Nature. Thanks for becoming a part of more sustainable mountain biking!