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. Unless it's a mountain bike. In fact, a movement for "good roads" (i.e. any paving at all) began mostly on the insistence of cyclists in the late 19th century, only later getting taken over by motorists.

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 couldn't maintain or manufacture their own bikes. They might 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.

However, you should be careful not to overlook the fact that no matter how good a bike is, it's not a car. A bike can't carry more weight than can be pulled by the muscle-power of its rider, provides no shelter to the rider, be it from rain, bullets, or the hands of zombies, and unless you get a long downward slope in your path, you can't really rest while riding, since the rider is powering the bike. In Real Life, many who are into "prepping" debate the intelligence of keeping a bike for transportation in the event of catastrophe, namely because the bike doesn't provide the protection of a motor-vehicle, is nowhere near as fast as a motor-vehicle, but like a motor-vehicle can paint a huge target on the back of the owner in the eyes of other (possibly hostile) survivors. Of course, gasoline goes bad after a year or so (so no, you can't stockpile enough of it) and in countries such as The Netherlands or Denmark there are more bikes than people, so while people might steal good bikes, anybody stealing a bike if they're literally just sitting on the street stretches belief. Turning murderously violent over something like a bike would just seem silly if you can take one off the countless corpses in Amsterdam or Portland.

Compare Schizo Tech and Scavenger World. Contrast Ragnarök Proofing, for those rare cases where bicycles (among other objects) are still around and in working order, 500 years after the fact.


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  • In The Dark Knight Returns, Superman foils a nuclear strike. The resulting blast causes massive electronic failure. The inhabitants of Gotham then travels either on foot or, in the case of the Sons of Batman, on horseback.

  • 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. Ironic, since Jim's character was a bicycle courier before the accident that got him into a coma in the first place. Particularly strange in that, as the title of the film says, the movie takes place only a month after.
  • 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 has 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.
  • Lampshaded (sorta) in the German Bavarian Apocalypse (sorta) "MUC" note  by Anna Mocikat. The characters in-universe describe seeing a thingie which we immediately recognize as a bicycle. Maybe they all rusted away in centuries after, maybe only the very powerful after-apocalyptic dudes own one.
  • Justified in Z for Zachariah. The scientist Mr Loomis has to traverse on foot across a nuclear-polluted United States in a radiation-proof suit, after finding his car is too radioactive to safely drive in, and the suit is too bulky to ride a bike on.

    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. Bikes show up again quite a bit later in the Season 7 finale, being used alongside garbage trucks by the Scavengers.
    • 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.

    Video Games 
  • A bike-riding Nuka-Cola Delivery man briefly appears in Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel. Outside of that, the series plays it straight as an arrow: all you can find is kiddie tricycles that no Player Character has any use for. Fallout 2 is the only game that has any transport for the player character and friends that doesn't involve walking; the Chosen One can find a broken down old Highwayman (that's big enough to hold a Super Mutant or Robobrain) can repair and upgrade it from mechanics by finding the parts.
  • 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.'
  • Played straight in 7 Days to Die. Despite there being mechanical parts for different items that look like they could be cobbled into a halfway decent bicycle, the only vehicle available is a gas-guzzling motorized minibike. According to Word of God, it's planned for Alpha 17 to feature an actual bicycle that uses the player's Sprint Meter to move as a lower-tier, more easily accessible alternative to the minibike.
  • Played with in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Bikes are just another piece of Vendor Trash to sell and can never be ridden. Cross referencing some flavor text reveals that it's only safe to ride them indoors, and that the demons outside attack anything moving too fast.

  • 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.
  • Inverted in Bicycle Boy. The protagonist travels on a bicycle—however, all the other characters walk.


     Anime and Manga 
  • Highschool of the Dead has this in one of the arcs. It's explained that, aside from their advantage in speed, they can also be used for survey and see if a herd is ahead of the group. It actually helps them escape for a while. And then Alice falls from her bicycle...

  • 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.
  • In El Eternauta the main characters use bikes to flee from the soon to be nuked Buenos Aires, if only briefly due to the roads being littered with an entire army. They mostly use trucks for conviniency.

  • Massively averted in the horror/romantic comedy Turbo Kid, where bikes are the ONLY mode of transportation used throughout the post-apocalyptic wasteland. This leads to humorous juxtapositions of ferocious wasteland warriors mounted on 1980s-style BMX bikes.
  • 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.
  • Averted in The Boy and the World, where a bike is the main form of transportation for Cuca and the rainbow hat man.

  • 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 although still sometimes used for scouting and carrying messages. In the anthology "The Change" they appear or are mentioned in several stories especially "Phil, Lord of the Apes" where the bad guys are a biker gang that, since internal combustion is a thing of the past, ride bicycles instead of motorcycles.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Averted in Unturned as of version The Bicycle consumes the player's stamina for fuel, with stamina drain and speed regulated by the user's Exercise skill. It also makes no noise audible to players while moving unless you ring the bell. As a downside, it's the slowest vehicle in the game, it has no trunk space whatsoever, zombies can detect it from the same range as a motor vehicle, and thanks to Unturned 3.0's vehicle physics, it can't coast down slopes – like a fixed-gear bike, you have to pedal to keep going forward.

    Real Life 
  • There are some notable examples of bicycles being used in major battles during World War II:
    • Danish forces used bicycle platoons to try and hold off the invading German army.
    • Japanese forces took over most of Southeast Asia (most notably Singapore) largely by riding on bicycles 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. And earlier than that, 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. The Pentagon tried to supply the South Vietnamese with bicycles as well for added mobility during combat patrols, but this effort didn't go very far and was abandoned.