Created By: BadKarma on August 17, 2011 Last Edited By: BadKarma on October 1, 2011

No Bikes in the Apocalypse

The disturbing propensity for post-apocalyptic stories to forget that bicycles exist.

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Trope
In most of these films, there always seems to be a gap between having a vehicle and gas and being shit out of luck, as if no other possibility existed.

So somebody dropped the nuke. Maybe the zombies showed up and ruined society. Or it was the aliens and their battle lasers. But somehow, you're stuck in a crapsack post-apocalyptic world, and you need to stay on the move.

You hear that there's some nice little place to hole up in somewhere in Maine, and you jump in your car to drive there. What's this? You're almost out of gasoline, and nobody owns a gas station any more? Well, you'd better hope that you used to own a horse ranch, because otherwise you're walking. After all, bicycles never seem to stick around for Ragnarok.

This odd anomaly in transportation availability seems to manifest in many stories where it logically shouldn't. Sure, of course Frodo can't mountainbike his way into Mordor, and his pal Aragorn can't grab a BMX to reach Gondor with some fancy wheelies. But that doesn't stop Viggo Mortensen from somehow forgetting that bikes exist in The Road. Whether you're watching 28 Days Later or Mad Max, the problem remains. Fantasy and Sci-fi works involving post-apocalyptic worlds all have selective amnesia when it comes to the world-changing invention of the bicycle. Maybe it's because horses are just cooler than bikes, or maybe it's because all the idiots in the plot don't know how to pedal, or maybe it's because those world-destroying nanobots have a specific affinity for aluminum frames.

At some point, the fridge logic sets in and viewers start wondering just what's wrong with post-apocalyptic humanity for them to completely ignore the world's most popular form of mechanical transportation.

Now, if the ancient technology is randomly picked at and put together improperly, you've got yourself a Scavenger World, and it might at least make a bit of sense not to have too many bikes. That's at least a bit excusable. But if you're watching or reading a story where gas-powered vehicles exist and foot-powered ones mysteriously don't, then there are No Bikes in the Apocalypse.

Compare Schizo Tech and Scavenger World. Contrast Ragnarok-Proofing, for those rare cases where bicycles are still around and in working order, 500 years after the fact.

Examples

Film

Literature

Live Action TV
  • Falling Skies
  • The Walking Dead averts it in the first episode, but nobody uses a bike for the remainder of the series.
  • Averted in Jeremiah.
  • The History Channel's "documentary" After Armageddon also invokes this trope when the main characters neglect to salvage, buy, or come across any bikes at all.

Video Games
  • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are partial aversions. There aren't any bicycles, but there are tricycles which serve no practical purpose for either 101 or The Courier.
  • Bicycles exist in Half-Life 2, but they inexplicably cannot be used by player characters.


I've already actually indexed the trope because I didn't realize that this process existed in such a capacity. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NoBikesInTheApocalypse

Obviously, it needs more examples. I put a few of the more popular ones in there when I was writing the details. Gogo, Wiki Magic!
Community Feedback Replies: 42
  • August 17, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Notable aversion: Zombie Land. The main character/narrator lists some of the advantages of a bike.
  • August 17, 2011
    BadKarma
    I don't recall him ever actually using one, though. I think it may be more of a lampshade than an aversion.

    Go ahead and add it on if you want :)
  • August 18, 2011
    LobsterMagnus
    Subverted in the 1933 novel The Shape Of Things To Come by HG Wells. One chapter tells of a diary written by a cyclist during his journey through the post-apocalyptic Europe of the year 1958.
  • August 18, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    My memory fails me, but I believe the titular star of The Postman rode a bike to deliver mail in Post-Apocalyptic America. If I'm remembering correctly, this example is aversion, and if I'm wrong then it's just a plain example.

    • Possibly to avoid story marrying gameplay, there are no rideable Bicycles in Fallout games. Eagle eyed tropers may be able to spot some bikes depicted in ruins, but this troper has yet to see any.
  • August 18, 2011
    fulltimeD
    @Bad Karma: I thought the implication was that this was his primary mode of transportation before he met up with the other protagonists but I don't remember if we actually saw him ride one or not, though I don't think that makes the difference between a Lampshade Hanging and an Aversion.
  • August 18, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    ^ He had a 4-door automobile when the movie opened didn't he?
  • August 18, 2011
    jaytee
    ^, ^^: I certainly don't recall him riding a bike in the movie. I don't even remember the scene where he explains the usefulness of bike, to be honest. But he definitely started the film with a car (remember, he drops the keys and the door was unlocked already?)
  • August 18, 2011
    BadKarma
    I remember him discussing the bike, yes, but he didn't ride one. The car he was driving in the beginning was, to the best of my knowledge, a gray Nissan Sentra.
  • August 18, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    He did attempt a motorcycle. It didn't work, though, which might make it something of a double subversion.
  • August 19, 2011
    BadKarma
    Remember that the thing with motorcycles is that they still count as fueled vehicles. The whole fridge logic of this "proposed trope" (which is really VERY prevalent, but I'm busy with other things and haven't attempted to catalog all of the examples) is that bikes can be used for extended periods of time, never run out of "fuel" unless you, the rider, have run out of food, and are both easy to operate and VERY common (which would mean that, even in a post-apocalyptic scenario, there'd be about a billion of them lying around).
  • August 19, 2011
    Speedball
    Could this trope be expanded to anything else that we don't see in an apocalypse but should? Like, oh... camping tents?
  • August 19, 2011
    Frank75
    I'm a biker myself, but I can see the Achilles Heel of bicycles: Once there's a hole in the tires, they may be hard to fix and impossible to replace. Car and motorcycle tires are more durable. OTOH, it doesn't explain why some people still have gasoline in these worlds. Gas can expire too, and much faster!
  • August 19, 2011
    AmyJade
    Averted in Jeremiah (Live-Action TV)
  • August 19, 2011
    MidnightRambler
    @Frank75: Cycling on with a flat tire is very uncomfortable, and it is one of the mortal sins of cycling, but I know from personal experience that it's possible. I recently rode 35 kilometres with a flat front tire, and while it should only be done when absolutely no other options are available, I think having a ravenous horde of zombies on your tail counts.
  • August 19, 2011
    Smo
    Mentioned on cracked.com, IIRC
  • August 19, 2011
    Madcapunlimited
    Really having a hard time remembering if there was ever a bicycle used on Jericho. I feel like there must have been one at some point. Anybody remember?
  • August 19, 2011
    BadKarma
    I took the trope quote from that cracked article. It was one of my more favorite articles, actually (although not the reason I made this; I had other reasons).

    And yes, a flat tire is uncomfortable to ride with, but even in a Scavenger World, it means that they just need to find another of the multitudes of abandoned bicycles. Car tires are more durable, but you have at best a few hundred miles on them until they're utter garbage in a world that no longer has a working gas industry. Gas doesn't just magically pump, refine, and distribute itself, after all.

    As for expanding it to camping tents, I think it may be plausible. It's another sort of 'technology' that is overlooked at times. However, the sheer amount of abandoned houses that people normally find usually suit their needs. Never the less, camping tents are applicable enough; the trope is, after all, supposed to be about any simple, logical, and populous thing that everybody completely ignores.

    If so, should we change the title? Or should it be an allegorical catch-all title, since there's nothing in the Apocalyptic Tropes index that really comes close to it? I kinda like the ring of the current title, after all, but I'm fine with changing it or at least making alternate titles.
  • August 19, 2011
    jaytee
    If there are people that do expedition touring on bicycle (self-supported touring in unpaved and/or developing world conditions), urban apocalypse biking should be no problem. Patch kits are quite compact and make tubes last nearly forever and there are plenty of tough-as-nails tires out there.

    My suggestion would be to find a rigid (no shocks), steel-frame mountain bike with 26" wheels. 26" is the most common bike wheel size and is easy to find worldwide, even in remote areas. The mountain bike frame will have plenty of clearance for big ol' tires, which are less likely to puncture.

    I could go into further detail about what would make the perfect apocalypse bike, but that would just be excessive bike-nerding.
  • August 20, 2011
    AmyJade
    ^ A suggestion like that should be in the description.
  • August 23, 2011
    BadKarma
    I can add it in.

    Does anyone wanna help with some listed works? :) I don't want to sit around and pull out the entire post-apoc genre by myself!
  • August 23, 2011
    jaytee
    ^, ^^: let me know if you need any elaboration/rewriting. Bikes are a passion of mine, and I've often pondered what the best bikes for different survival situations might be. :)
  • August 24, 2011
    Frank75
    It depends on how much time has passed since the apocalypse. One year later, you may easily find abandoned bikes in good condition. 100 years later, not so much.
  • August 24, 2011
    BadKarma
    Good enough point, but few post-apocalyptic stories take place that long after because the immediate threat is already gone and humanity is likely surviving pretty well. If it's something like A Canticle for Leibowitz, the singularity event is more of a framing device than a direct aspect of the plot itself.

    Btw, does anyone remember if people use bikes in Canticle? I don't know if I have that book lying around anywhere, and it might still be applicable for this trope if you focus on the parts with the direct aftermath (instead of the parts a millennium later).
  • August 24, 2011
    JonnyB
    There are bicycles in Half Life 2, but nobody ever rides them (and they are unridable for the player as well).
  • August 24, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    I edited it for the asscaps format. Also, I've read A Canticle for Leibowitz. It starts out about six hundred years after the in-story apocalypse and bike usage isn't mentioned anywhere. Probably a justified trope because the whole point is for it to keep with the theme of history repeating itself - bicycles as a technology did not exist in the medieval times that the earliest point in the book is supposed to be modeled after. Also, I was thinking of 2012, the one by Roland Emmerich. Probably justified there as many of the problems are natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions that no one but the most adept biker could escape on a bicycle.
  • August 24, 2011
    BadKarma
    Agreed. I hadn't read it in a while, and I didn't remember if they showed any sort of flashbacks to the Flame Deluge.

    As for 2012, I'd say that's justified as well. The parameters make it so that you have to consider something After the End, not during. During the End would still allow for gas consumption and car usage. And nobody but the most adept ANYBODY could escape from the plot of that movie (both figuratively and literally). The sheer improbability of the main character's family surviving makes it more likely that God exists and is currently living as a gypsy woman in Madrid.
  • August 24, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    The History Channel's Speculative Documentary After Armageddon also counts. The family it focuses on escapes their house and the prospective looters in their car. Failing that, they start walking to wherever they need to go. Using a car rather than a bike, especially as the first option, is justified because during the After The End scenario, people are looting and a car would offer better protection from marauding gangs than a bike. Though after the family abandons their car, they start walking and never find any bicycles. I can understand that there's a man, a woman, and a kid and for that reason, they wouldn't find three bikes immediately, though eventually they would have to find at least three. I saw it on You Tube. Maybe you can look up a summary or watch at least the part with the family's journey to discern whether or not this trope is justified.

    About 2012, I meant no one but the most adept bikers because the family often has to travel at speeds that only a car rather than a walker could get up to (~60 mph or so). I've heard of bikers going up to ~60 mph, but I think that one would have to train particularly hard to be able to get up to and maintain that speed on a bicycle, especially to the level at which Jackson drives.
  • August 27, 2011
    BadKarma
    Bumping and adding the History Channel stuff. :)
  • August 30, 2011
    BadKarma
    Shifty-eyed bump...
  • August 31, 2011
    JonnyB
    You posted The Walking Dead... but in the first episode of that series it actually subverts the trope. After escaping the hospital, Rick Grimes steals a bike to get from there to his house.
  • August 31, 2011
    BadKarma
    I didn't add that. :) It was added by someone else when I accidentally made this page on the full site. I'll remove it. :)
  • August 31, 2011
    YouKeepUsingThatWord
  • August 31, 2011
    JonnyB
    Ok then, it's averted in the first episode, then played straight after that. Is that better?
  • September 4, 2011
    Xtifr
    Wait, this is a trope about something not appearing in a work? So it's a subtrope of Fridge Logic, which is YMMV? I think the only way to get this to fly, except as a YMMV trope, is to limit the examples to aversions or lampshade hangings only.
  • September 5, 2011
    BadKarma
    I don't know if it's YMMV very much. If a post-apocalyptic game, tv show, movie, or story should logically have bikes but doesn't for some reason, it qualifies. And yes, it's a trope about not having something. An aversion would be a post-apocalyptic story that actually thought to bring bicycles into the mix. Since there are a very large number of works that follow it, I don't see as much of a problem as say, a trope about not using glasses. :P
  • September 6, 2011
    lars_h
    Averted in Dark Angel: Fueled vehicles are fairly rare, whereas the main protagonist and most of her friends work as bicycle messengers. YMMV on how post-apocalypse it is, though.
  • September 6, 2011
    Deboss
    Given the nature of the trope, I think this would be an "aversions/subversions only" trope. Also, you've been infected with some X Just X.
  • September 6, 2011
    zitanier
    In Mad Max this is somehow justified. The whole point of the movie was to show how dependant was human society on the oil.
  • September 6, 2011
    BadKarma
    But then Mad Max is a broken aesop, because people would easily be able to maintain civility and acceptable long-distance transportation with, you know, bicycles. There's no reason for them to not use the things, so it fits in perfectly.

    Then again, if this is to be retooled as an Aversions/Subversions trope, I... don't exactly know how to switch it around. Should I start listing all of the works that DO use bicycles when they're supposed to?
  • September 10, 2011
    deuxhero
    • Averted in Nintendo Wars, the post-apocalyptic Days of Ruin/Dark Conflict is the first US release to include bicycle infantry.
    • Justified in Devil Survivor, the remains of Tokyo aren't suited to any form of movement other than walking (or flight/teleportation for demons that have it).
  • September 10, 2011
    Gatomon41
    • Averted in the No Brand Con 2010 (an anime convention) promotion videos, which featured a Post-Apocalypse theme. After the End of the World, one character is hunted down by a Biker Gang. But instead of Mad Max style motorcyclists, we get regular bicylyists. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBIoDRFkMw4
  • October 1, 2011
    MichaelKatsuro
    The Road lacks all bicycles.
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