Bikes. They’re fun to ride, they help us get around, and they’re a brilliant way to stay fit. Plus, they’re good for the planet. But the question is, how good?
It’s estimated that there are more than one billion bikes around the world. And China is massively holding first position with a whopping 450 million bikes - almost half. Cycling is also becoming an increasingly popular mode of transport in the UK, with an estimated 20 million bikes on our little islands alone.
Bikes come in all shapes and styles—including sleek road bikes and rugged mountain bikes—with around 364,000 bikes being produced every single day around the world. That’s 15,000 per hour, or 4 bikes a second - a rate two times higher than cars! So, considering these staggering numbers, it’s not surprising that bike waste is a problem worldwide. That’s one of the reasons why Decathlon UK has launched its new sustainability initiative Second Life, to inspire positive change for the planet and its people.
This article will look at the life cycle of a bike, and explore how we can use the recycle, repair and reuse philosophy to reduce the number of bikes going into landfill.
What is the life cycle of a bike?
There’s no doubt that when it comes to emissions, cycling is far better for the environment than cars and buses. In fact, a bicycle commuter who rides 8km to work four days a week will save 750Kg of CO2 emissions in a year. But with so many more people taking up cycling, are bikes as environmentally-friendly as we think? To find out how green they really are, we need to take a look at how bikes are made, the raw materials used, and how we dispose of a bike once it’s reached the end of its life. So let’s learn more about the life cycle of a bike.
What are bikes made of?
The most important part of a bicycle is the diamond-shaped frame, which links all of its components together in the correct geometric configuration.
The frame provides strength and rigidity, and is a key factor in the handling of the bike. Historically, the frame was made of strong, heavy steel, but the 1970’s saw a new generation of more versatile alloy steels which could be welded mechanically, leading to the production of light and inexpensive frames.
A decade later, lightweight aluminium frames became the popular choice, and advances in technology by the 1990’s led to the use of even stronger and lighter frames made of composites of structural fibres such as carbon.
Components such as wheels, brakes, derailleurs, and chains, are usually made of stainless steel. These components are generally made elsewhere and purchased by the bicycle manufacturer.
Where are the majority of bikes built?
Bicycles were once almost exclusively manufactured, assembled and sold in an individual country, or even region. A bike may have been manufactured in a single factory, then would often be sold in a local shop and ridden a few miles from home.
Now, creating a bicycle links factories and craftspeople from all over the world, meaning the average bike may have travelled thousands of miles before even being ridden.
The majority of bikes nowadays are manufactured in China. They are one of the main suppliers of carbon fibre, and that, coupled with cheaper labour, allows prices to be kept low. The bikes are then transported all around the world to various retailers, ready to be purchased by their new owner.
Though many retailers now, including Decathlon, have moved much of the production to Europe. Most of Decathlon’s bike range is designed and developed by our engineers in-house. And the individual components are assembled by our bike specialists, so you know you’re always getting the best quality bike for your money.
How are bikes made?
Seamless frame tubes are usually made from solid blocks of steel, which goes through several stages to create the finished frame. It can then be further manipulated to increase strength where necessary, and decrease the weight. This is usually better than seamed tubes made from flat steel strips, which are then wrapped into a tube shape, and welded together. The tubes are then assembled into the frame by hand-brazing or welding by machine.
The components are generally manufactured by machine, and then attached to the frame, either by hand or by machine. Final adjustments and tweaks are then made by skilled bicycle builders.
Are there any industry standards for bikes?
Since 2015, ISO 4210 has been the established global standard for testing bikes. It outlines a process for testing the strength of components built on three pillars: fatigue (caused by recurring loads), overloading, and impacts.
Bike manufacturers set up tests to ensure a certain degree of operational safety.
However, testing to ISO 4210 alone does not guarantee a safe bike. Pedals, for example, are required to undergo an impact test, but cranks are not, even though they are directly connected to one another. And forks must undergo a disc brake load test, but not frames. This is why Decathlon also ensures thorough testing of its bikes to ensure they are safe and of the highest quality. And this is why we offer a lifetime warranty on all our metal bike frames, forks, handlebars and stems - because we have the utmost confidence in our products.
Is building bikes sustainable?
We know that riding a bike is certainly much better for the planet, compared to driving a car or hopping on a bus. Though not all bikes are created equal when it comes to sustainability.
The majority of bike frames are manufactured in Asia and then transported elsewhere to be assembled and sold, increasing its carbon footprint. Some bike brands have made the switch and are assembling frames in-house, using sustainable steel - and then sold locally. This process makes the life cycle of a bike much friendlier for the environment.
We, at Decathlon, are continually working towards a more sustainable future, and looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint. That’s why, of the over 4 million bikes sold annually in Europe, around 160,000 are made in Lille at the B’Twin Village. Decathlon also operates large-scale production facilities in Portugal, with over one million bikes assembled annually.
How many years should a bike last?
Just like a car, a bike’s parts will wear out over time.
Depending on how much your bike is used, certain parts will need to be replaced, upgraded, and repaired during a bikes life cycle. There are lots of factors which determine how often particular parts will need changing, such as what your bike is made from, the number of miles you do, and even your own bodyweight.
But let’s say you cycle around 100 miles a week - you can expect to change your chain and brake pads on average every few months. Whereas, any frame, providing it’s properly cared for, should last a lifetime. And if you’re looking to go carbon with your choice of bike, Decathlon also offers a 5-year warranty on the frame and forks, and 2 years on the parts, for that extra peace of mind.
Are bikes worth repairing?
Throughout the life of a bike, it will no doubt go through many repairs and component changes to keep it in tip top condition. A regular service (just like a car) will help spot underlying problems early on before any real damage occurs, prolonging the life of a bike and saving you money in the long run.
It’s always advisable to take your bike to a professional workshop so the experts can give it the once over, but if you do feel comfortable doing maintenance tasks yourself, then this will save you a good chunk of money.
Of course cost and practicality need to be taken into account when deciding whether to repair a bike or simply buy a new one, but one bike repaired is one less bike going into landfill!
How can you make a bike last longer?
Looking after your bike can save you from being stranded miles away from civilisation, or being involved in an accident. It’s always advisable to give your two-wheeler a once over before setting out by following the ABC of maintenance: Air, Brakes, and Chain.
- Air: Correct tyre pressure is essential for safety. Inspect the tyres for signs of damage that could allow air to escape. Make sure the tyres are properly inflated, and that you take a pump and puncture repair kit on the ride with you in case you need to perform a quick roadside repair.
- Brakes: Test the front and rear brakes to ensure they’re working properly. If a lever “sinks” it might be a sign that a brake pad is worn out and should be replaced. Likewise, if your brakes make a horrible squealing noise, then you might need to replace the pads to prevent damage to the brake rotors or the wheels’ braking surface.
- Chain: And finally, you should examine the bike chain and gears. Proper bicycle chain lubrication not only makes shifting gears easier but also ensures the drivetrain lasts longer. If you’re having shifting issues, you might be overdue for a new chain. Replacing the chain regularly will make the cassette last longer. Each cassette should last, on average, as long as three chains, so not replacing a stretched chain will cause unnecessary wear to the cassette.
It’s important to listen to your bike, as strange sounds are your bike’s way of trying to tell you that something isn’t quite right. Ensure you see to any issues when you first discover them to prevent things getting worse - and more expensive! And wiping down your bike and its components after every ride goes a long way towards keeping it in good running order.
It’s also a good idea to get your bike tuned up every couple of months or so to keep everything running smoothly. Because as they say - prevention is better than cure!
What do I do with my old bike?
Too much is simply thrown away these days, instead of being repaired or reused.
It’s estimated that roughly 15 million bikes are discarded by their owners every year, with many of these unwanted bikes ending up in landfill. Though the problem of bike waste can be helped with recycling. Even bicycles in poor condition can be repaired or reused, however, if a bike is beyond repair, the main parts can usually be recycled at your nearest recycling centre.
You can also donate your old bike to charity. Some not-for-profit organisations collect unwanted bicycles and then sell on refurbished bikes at reduced prices to those who need them.
If you’d like to get a bit of cash back for your old bike to put towards a new one, you can sell it on a website such as eBay, Gumtree, or Preloved which specialise in second-hand goods.
Or if you’re looking to save a little money on your next bike, why not take a look at Decathlon’s Second Life sustainability initiative, where we recycle, repair and reuse sports equipment to give products a second life. Customers can enjoy great quality products at discounted prices - good for your pocket, and the planet!
What is Second Life?
At Decathlon we’re dedicated to sustainability, so we’ve made it our business to reduce our impact on the planet and give lightly marked sports equipment a second life. That’s why we’ve launched our Second Life initiative as a way to repair and reuse bikes and other sports equipment, to prevent them from going to waste.
Our Second Life products come from a range of areas within Decathlon. They might have been marked in transit, purchased by a customer and returned, used by our designers or testers, or showcased in store. And while they are fully functional, they can’t be sold as ‘new’ due to scratches or minor damage to the packaging, even though they’re still in excellent working order.
So, each Second Life product is refurbished by our expert technicians and undergoes a rigorous condition rating process before being assigned a grade from A to D, which then determines its discounted price. This means we are still able to offer customers all of the original Decathlon promises, warranties and guarantees as a brand new product bought from www.decathlon.co.uk or in our stores.
How Decathlon refurbishes a bike
Before an ex-display or nearly new bike is sold through the Second Life initiative, it’s thoroughly checked over by our team of specialists. If they find a problem, such as worn brake pads, the bike will be repaired so it’s in full working order again.
When you purchase a Second Life product, you’re not only getting an excellent bike or piece of sports equipment for a fraction of the original price, you’re also doing your bit to make a dent in the millions of tonnes of materials being sent to landfill every year.
Second Life products support our promise to significantly reduce our waste and CO2 emissions, which in turn will help to reduce our impact on the environment and protect our planet.
Check out some of the Frequently Asked Questions to find out more about Decathlon’s Second Life sustainability initiative.
Why Decathlon is working towards a regenerative economy
It’s important that companies and brands start working towards a regenerative economy.
For us, this means creating a business that is financially sustainable, whilst simultaneously contributing to our well-being, whether socially or environmentally.
It’s about seeing the world in a different way, and a shift to an ecological world view in which a healthier environment is the model. A regenerative economy seeks to balance, which is why Decathlon, among other brands, are focusing on sustainable practices that not only create profit, but also restores the health of our surrounding ecosystem to create a healthy balance.
Tackling climate change is necessary to create a sustainable future.
To transform the economy so that it works for both people and planet, new economic opportunities need to be found from creating a growing, greener economy. It’s crucial that businesses start to reduce their carbon footprint by using eco-friendly materials and processes, moving production locally to decrease pollution caused by transport, and reusing and recycling where possible.
It’s also important that consumers are better informed, so they can start making different choices about what they buy and how they live.
Consumers are increasingly looking for brands that champion values that align with their own. They’re looking for sustainable products which are not limited to materials and packaging. They’re looking to buy from companies that focus on sustainability across the entire supply chain and all business operations. This applies to the full life cycle of a product, from the raw materials, to the manufacturing process, and whether it can be recycled or reused. It’s therefore important that brands begin to work towards a more regenerative economy - protecting our environment, and limiting waste.
Rise of the second hand market
More and more companies and brands are realising the need to recycle, repair and reuse to do their bit to reduce waste. And with May 2020 having the highest demand for second hand bikes since 2004, it’s clear customers want to do their bit for the planet too.
Too much money is spent on items that hardly get used. Most of us have items at home which have only been used a couple of times - think of that exercise bike, kitchen blender and DVD boxset. By selling them on or giving them to charity, we’re actually creating an opportunity for other people to buy our pre-used items for a much better price. And we can buy the goods that we want, while saving a few pounds too.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular second hand items:
- Used Cars: Many people decide to sell perfectly good cars, simply because they want something new or different - rather than because their car no longer runs. This is why buying a used car is a smart option! It’s estimated that a new car can lose up to 35% of its value in the first year, and 50% or more over three years. So buying a reliable, good-quality used car can save you a huge amount of cash. Companies like Cinch, AutoTrader and Cazoo make buying used cars easier.
- Pre-owned Electronics: With technology constantly evolving, and new models being released all the time, second hand electronics can be bought pretty cheaply. Flat screen TV’s, laptops and mobile phones can seem outdated very quickly, and with so much competition between retailers and manufacturers, there’s always a big supply of used electronics. CeX, eBay and Cash Converters have a vast array of used electronics on offer.
- Nearly New Sports Equipment: Many of us decide the new year is the perfect time to get in shape, but tons of fitness equipment ends up shoved in the garage, never to see daylight again. There are plenty of exercises you can do without any equipment at all. Then, when you’re in better shape and you know you want a specific piece of equipment, why not buy second hand from sites like Gumtree, Freecycle, or through Decathlon’s Second Life sustainability initiative?
- Second Hand Furniture: When people move or redecorate, they often need an easy way to get rid of furniture they no longer want. You can always take it to your local recycling centre. You can also sell it on sites such as Facebook Marketplace, or donate it to a charity, like The British Heart Foundation, who will usually come and collect your unwanted furniture for free. There are also apps that list hundreds of pieces of used furniture, at a fraction of the original price.
- Vintage Watches: Some of us wear the same watch every day for years, and others get worn a handful of times on special occasions. Even when watches have been used, they do little other than just sit on our wrists. This is why the second hand watch market is so popular, and you can find a lot of good quality pre-loved watches for a fraction of their new price. Watch Finder and Chrono24 have a huge selection of used watches to suit every budget.
Whether you’re in the market for a bike, TV or a sofa, it’s often better for the environment to buy second hand. After all, new bikes usually require an entire global chain to produce and transport, along with the environmental costs that an industrial system occurs. So if you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, buying second hand could be the way to go.
If you want to find out more about what Decathlon is doing to become more sustainable, you can read about our company sustainability mission here.