No Bikes In The Apocalypse
"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. Heck, bikes at the very least are silent
. An engine in a depopulated world would surely be heard from miles away
. They don't even keep one in the trunk for when/if their car breaks down or are low on fuel.
This can be somewhat justified if it's more than a few decades After the End
, because roads would break down and become overgrown, which Jeeps and such could handle, but bikes couldn't.
For a little history: The forerunner of the bicycle was the dandy horse, which was just two wheels and no pedals - your feet were the drive. It was patented in 1818. The first with pedals was built in 1839 by a blacksmith. Because of this there's really no reason (aside from the fact that Tropes Are Tools
) that a post-apocalyptic world can't maintain or produce their own bikes. They may not be as complicated or as comfortable as modern bikes, but they'd still get you places without having to worry about fuel or animal care.
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
So why do writers have their characters do this? First off, people like cars and trucks
, and want to live vicariously through the characters
. Secondly, the very reasons why having a motor vehicle is a bad idea in real life are why it's helpful for writers
. You can instantly add drama
by having the characters break down
, run out of fuel, or be stuck inside
while the zombie hordes/mutants/creatures/bandits try to get at them. Lastly there is the reason of Money, Dear Boy
- a TV show or movie simply can't ignore the money Product Placement
gives the production, and car companies give a LOT of money.
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.
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- Once a failed nuclear strike causes massive electronic failure in The Dark Knight Returns, everyone either travels on foot or horse.
- The Book of Eli could potentially have this be a Justified Trope, since the main character is blind, even if he also has a Disability Superpower. It doesn't explain why nobody else has them, though.
- Lampshaded in Zombieland, when the main character remarks on the useful attributes of a bike during a zombie apocalypse. Notably, the main cast still doesn't bother using any of them. Justified in that abandoned cars with at least partially full gas tanks are everywhere.
- 28 Days Later. Pretty ironic, since Jim's character was a bicycle courier before the accident that got him into a coma in the first place.
- The four main characters in Carriers are perfectly willing to shoot innocent people for their gas, even though the world is almost entirely intact. The idea of getting gas from other cars or finding bikes never comes up. The only justified instance is with the father and his sick daughter because he needs to get her to medical attention ASAP.
- The Road: No one rides bikes. The main character at least as the excuse of having a cart filled with all of his supplies to push around.
- Played straight in Earth Abides, despite that novel's general attempt at realism on most other possible issues related to a Depopulation Bomb; early in the novel the main character drives around for a while, and later in the novel some of his sons fix up a car and drive around a while, but eventually these cars break down past their ability to repair. After that point they and everyone else in the novel either travels on foot or by horse.
Live Action TV
- Falling Skies: The 2nd Mass seems to only use a vehicle if it requires gas.
- Revolution: No electricity? Okay, that is the premise. No steam power? No, until we see the Georgia Federation using it in "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". No bikes? Okay, that's just odd. Averted Trope in "Chained Heat", a woman and child are briefly seen riding one in flashback, one week after the blackout. Later on, bikes are seen for sale on a market.
- The Walking Dead:
- The group doesn't seem to grab a bike from anywhere, despite having practically the whole world to pick from. Averted in the pilot, though: after getting out the hospital, Rick rides a bike for a few minutes before abandoning it.
- The light green 2011 Hyundai Tucson Limited continues to not only be used, but it seems someone has found the time to keep washing it.
- in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are partial aversions. There aren't any bicycles, but there are tricycles which serve no practical purpose for the playable characters.
- Inverted in Half-Life 2. There are bikes, but you never see anybody using them. You can find several of them and indications of the rebels using them (eg. "Highway 17", where one is found next to a corpse and a crossbow), but they are all rusted beyond usage, and work as little more than decorations and Gravity Gun ammo.
- The inversion is subverted in the derivative Concerned Web Comic: Gordon Frohman's vehicle of choice is a rusty bike.
- Justifed in Devil Survivor, it's mentioned the ruins of Tokyo aren't suited to anything but walking.
- Lampshaded - twice - in Zombies Run. In the training missions, one of the Runners - for whom a bicycle would be INSANELY useful - is mentioned to be constantly on the lookout for bicycle parts (and failing to find enough.)
- More cruelly, it's also possible to unlock a bicycle rack as an add-on for the housing units in Abel Township, where the flavor text rather vaguely notes that they are 'unsuited for use outside of Abel.'
- Bikes seem suspiciously absent from Stand Still, Stay Silent. There are horse carriages, trains, ships and giant tanks, but apart from that, people are seen only walking. On the other hand, we haven't seen much of the inhabited cities (and we probably won't, as the premise of webcomic is exploration of the Silent World), and bikes might be quite unsuited in mountainous, troll-infested Scandinavia.
- Batman: No Man's Land has one person specifically mention that to most people in abandoned Gotham bikes are worth more than cars because gas is so hard to come by.
- A tandem bicycle is used in the latter half Six String Samurai.
- Used as transportation inside the safe zone in Warm Bodies.
- Used by the heroes at one point in the alien-bug movie Infestation, if only because the bugs hunt by sound.
- World War Z has an extended scene of military personnel riding bikes along a runway to refuel a plane in silence. For the most part it works.
- Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome shows various velocipedes being used by people to transport things around alongside animal-drawn carts.
- In The Stand, one of the characters, after crashing a motorcycle and walking for a while thereafter because of his fear of a serious accident with no one around, suddenly realizes that he can just use a bicycle. He even chides himself as being foolish for not thinking of this. Several other characters also use bicycles to get around.
- Zig-Zagged in the Emberverse. In the first trilogy, bicycles are in fact one of the better ways of getting large groups of infantry around the post-Change United States, and can turn a unit of archers into Fragile Speedster Glass Cannons capable of rapidly getting into the best possible position to rain arrow-y death on their enemies. They are quietly phased out after that as the writer expands the fantasy elements and makes the whole thing more like an Arthurian saga.
- The Zombie Survival Guide specifically states bikes are the best option for escaping zombies because they're quick, versatile, easy to use and maintain, and almost noiseless.
- In The Enemy Sam makes use of a bike temporarily, but crashes it before he can get far and so is forced to abandon it.
Live Action TV
- The original version of Survivors subverts this in one episode, where one of the characters introduces bicycles to the group, but it is never really picked up on; the characters drive cars until the gas runs out, then switch to riding horses.
- Bikes were used quite heavily in the first season of Falling Skies
- Averted in DayZ. The bike is the slowest of the vehicles, but it's quiet, doesn't tire out the PC like sprinting does, and doesn't rely on parts and gas like other vehicles do. It's still not very popular with the players, because it is very easy to shoot a player riding a bike, and ARMA II's clunky engine makes it very hard to exit a vehicle and fire back before the other guy has put half a magazine into you.
- Averted in Cataclysm, although bicycles can be somewhat uncommon if the RNG is in a bad mood. It's also possible to build your own with the right parts, and bicycle-like designs are the simplest designs short of simply putting foot pedals on a shopping cart.
- The Japanese in World War II took over most of Southeast Asia (most notably Singapore) largely by riding on bicyles to get to places that tanks and artillery couldn't get to.
- British forces took bikes to the D-Day landings, but for the most part ditched them as they were hard to carry up the beach while under fire.
- Throughout the world old shoe soles, curved pieces of wood, cut-down car tires (in places where cars existed but fuel couldn't be had) and other improvisations were used to replace unavailable bike tires.
- During the Vietnam War cargo-loaded bicycles were a significant component of the North's Ho Chi Minh Trail supply train, although motorized vehicles were also used there.
- They had already used them at Dien Bien Phu, which enabled them to supply the besieging forces in ways French high command had not thought possible.