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No Bikes in the Apocalypse

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"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."

After the End, when the nukes have dropped or the zombies have taken over, survivors are often left with a limited means to travel to the local Safe Zone Hope Spot. For some reason, they almost always choose to Walk the Earth on foot, rely on animal power or scavenge for automobiles. No one ever seems to ride a bicycle.

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One would think that bicycles provide many advantages to the resident of a Scavenger World: they require no fuel, are easy to maintain, relatively lightweight and virtually silent. They're also just about everywhere, so even if one breaks down beyond repair, you can easily scavenge another one. It seems like a gross oversight for wasteland wanderers to not only ignore the benefits of bikes, but seem to pretend that they don't exist at all.

The Watsonian explanations can vary. Perhaps the end has only happened recently, so there are plenty of fueled-up cars to take advantage of. Maybe the characters need to travel a long distance more quickly than on a bicycle. Maybe they need to haul cargo that is too heavy for someone on a bicycle to manage. Whatever the reason, some survivors really do need a car.

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On the other hand, the reasons might have less to do with what makes sense for the characters and more with what makes a better story. A great deal of the world's fiction is written in the United States, where bicycles are seen as uncool transportation devices for children, recreation and tree-hugging hippies. It might undercut the drama of a bleak post-apocalyptic thriller if our grizzled hero is pedaling around on a BMX bike. It's generally more interesting if our heroes find a Cool Car or Big Badass Rig. Driving and scavenging for fuel provide opportunities for dialogue and characterization moments that would be more difficult if our characters were bicycling, and there are also opportunities for mechanical breakdowns, unexpected fuel shortages and Jammed Seatbelts to add some surprise drama. And all of this is to say nothing of the opportunities for auto Product Placement.

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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, even though bearings and chains should have long since rusted solid and rubber tires decayed into uselessness. Often involves Gasoline Lasts Forever, where people still use cars instead of bikes years after the fuel should have become unusable.


Examples

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    Comics 
  • 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.

    Film 
  • 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. However, given the pace at which the infected run (and never seem to tire), this is at least partially justified.
  • 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.
  • 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. What makes their eventual murder for fuel so messed up is that they are almost at their destination and could easily just even walk there without much problems. The only justified instance is with the father and his sick daughter because he needs to get her to medical attention ASAP.
  • Into the Forest: The family's only two options for getting to town are driving or walking for three days. When asked if they have bicycles, the sisters say their father gave theirs away to some needy kids shortly before the Big Blackout. One wonders why a father who stocks many other emergency supplies would give away all the family's bikes when he lives a three-day walk from town.
  • Mad Max franchise:
    • In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior: After the end, everyone seems to be driving around in muscle cars, and gasoline is the most precious resource.
    • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: Most people seem to have run out of gasoline. Max still won't abandon his Cool Car, however, and is using pack animals to pull it like an extremely heavy wagon. One fellow has a pedalled tricycle to pull his cart of (radioactive) water.
  • The Road: No one rides bikes. The main character at least has the partial excuse of having a cart filled with all of his supplies to push around. To make it even weirder, there is group of cannibals using a semi-trailer truck with a home-made gasifier attached to it - they had materials and skills to build one, but something as basic as bikes is missing.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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 Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Old Man in the Cave", the residents of the Village use dilapidated cars drawn by horses.
  • The Walking Dead: Zig-zagged. 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.

    Video Games 
  • In the Ashes 2063 total conversion for Doom, one no-name NPC envious of the Player Character's Cool Bike mentions that he tried to leave the settlement he's in on a bicycle, and the townsfolk just laughed at him. The game never explains why he was not successful.
  • Death Road to Canada plays it straight – either you have a car, or you're looking for an abandoned car to steal, walking on foot without making any progress towards reaching Canada, and suffering a plethora of bad events that drain supplies and morale like crazynote . More glaring because, unlike other post-apocalyptic The Oregon Trail expies like Organ Trail, the characters can and do lug around all their gear on foot if they're car-less.
  • Justifed in Devil Survivor: it's mentioned that the ruins of Tokyo aren't suited to anything but walking.
  • 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 (outside of its resources in Fallout 4). 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. Allegedly, it's because ridable bikes aren't the easiest vehicles to program in the engines the games use.
  • Inverted in Half-Life 2: there are bikes, you just never see anybody using them. You can find several junked bicycles and indications of the rebels using them in the past (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.
  • Project Zomboid is a particularly nasty case. One of the main aspects of the game is to make as little sound as feasible, while moving as fast as possible. Despite that, when vehicles were eventually added to the game, they consists exclusively from cars, each with an explicit loudness rating. And another aspect of the game is the finite nature of all supplies in it, so fuel eventually will run out. And when bikes were eventually added - on explicit and quite insistent community demand - they work as a weight reduction equipment, allowing to move around relatively big loads, but not affecting movement nor allowing to ride.
  • Played with in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Bikes are just another piece of Shop Fodder 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.
  • Zombies, Run!.
    • Lampshaded in the training missions, where 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'.

    Web Animation 
  • Afterworld has one of the most egregious examples. Russell Shoemaker, the main character, has to make a trip from New York to Seattle. He does so on foot, as there is no other transportation anymore. Early on he decides to make a "shortcut" in form of seizing a bike. Russ rides for few miles, then crashes on a straight asphalt road, totals his bicycle and gets seriously injured. He's then saved by a Wandering Jew and the episode concludes with An Aesop that it's better to stick to known and tested solutions, while "shortcuts" are bad for your character. Yeah. It's that kind of a show. And this is the only time where bicycles show up in it, through 130 episodes.

    Webcomics 
  • Played with in Bicycle Boy. The protagonist travels on a bicycle; however, all the other characters walk.
  • The inversion in Half-Life 2 is subverted in the derivative Concerned Web Comic: Gordon Frohman's vehicle of choice is one such rusty bike that doesn't even have tires.
  • 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.

Exceptions

    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...

    Comics 
  • 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 conveyance.

    Film 
  • Averted in The Boy and the World, where a bike is the main form of transportation for Cuca and the rainbow hat man.
  • The heroes at one point in the alien-bug movie Infestation ride bikes to get around, if only because the bugs hunt by sound.
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome shows various velocipedes being used by people to transport things around alongside animal-drawn carts.
  • A tandem bicycle is used in the latter half of Six String Samurai.
  • After the power has mostly been shut down to the whole world at the end of Transcendence, people are shown bicycling in the streets of Boston.
  • 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.
  • Bikes are used as transportation inside the safe zone in Warm Bodies.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • Averted in the Crosstime Traffic book The Valley-Westside War. 150 years after a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR, cars are useless except as animal-drawn carts (not that heavy once you remove the engine block), but some people still ride bicycles. Rubber tires having disintegrated in the meantime, people have to make do with wooden ones.
  • 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 speedy hard-hitters 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 they're 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.
  • 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.
  • Very much Averted in The Expanse: After a number of asteroids coated with radar-absorbent paint hit Earth in book 5, Amos and "Peaches" use bikes to get back to Baltimore instead of walking or stealing a powered vehicle. The advantages of bikes in a partially post-apocalyptic setting are later expounded upon by Amos to Alex.
  • In the Dean Ing novella/survival manualnote  Pulling Through, a family starts evacuating in a van, but switches to bicycles (and, in one case, a skateboard) after the van claps out. Later, one of the bicycles is modified to serve as an electric generator.
  • In Slow Music by James Tiptree Jr. Peachthief did, in fact have a bike, but a guy stole it. She and Jakko later find the guy dead and the bike broken beyond use. She's really sore about that.
  • 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 it sooner. Several other characters also use bicycles to get around.
  • In Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, the VRMMO world of GGO is a post-apocalyptic Earth of empty deserts and destroyed cities. One of the vehicle options available for use is bicycles, which Team T-S uses in Squad Jam 2 to speed along the top of the map's boundary wall, in contrast to the more conventional vehicles other teams use such as military trucks and Humvees.
  • 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, while also light enough to be carried over possible obstacles when needed.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Barrier: While the apocalypse wasn't as bad as in most works mentioned here, it was still bad enough for most people to be unable to afford cars. That portion of the population is shown to be going around on bikes and several background characters are shown to be making a living selling bicycle parts.
  • Bikes were used quite heavily in the first season of Falling Skies.
  • 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.
  • The Scavengers in The Walking Dead are the only one who avert it, whereas the other groups constantly scavenge for gas.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Averted in Twilight: 2000. Bicycles are considered much better than walking on foot. They by default multiply daily travel range by four, their maintenance is close to non-existent, and they don't require fuel other than eating roughly 200 calories more per day of travel. They are however obviously unsuitable for combat and - depending on the edition - don't increase transport capacity or affect it only by a marginal value. With proper engineering and enough parts, it's possible to assemble a bike-powered cart, but again, it's only good for travelling and light transportation.

    Video Games 
  • 7 Days to Die averts this, starting on Alpha 17. The bicycle works similarly to the Unturned example below, moving in normal speed at a player's running speed with the option to run faster but draining the Sprint Meter. It also has a modest "trunk" space with ten or so slots. Among all vehicles, it's the easiest to make, requiring just one skill point in the "Grease Monkey" tree and easily-collected items such as forged iron, household acid and mechanical parts; it also takes the least amount of repair kits to fix to full HP and, obviously, needs no gasoline to function. The downside is it is by far the slowest vehicle and it's no good at running over anything.
  • 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.
  • Double subverted in DayZ. The bike is quiet, doesn't tire out the PC like sprinting does, and doesn't rely on parts and gas like other vehicles do. Nonetheless, it's not very popular with the players, because it's the slowest of the vehicles and 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 already put half a magazine into you.
  • Dead Rising lets you use bicycles and skateboards to travel around the map faster. Since your vehicle options are limited, they will generally be the preferred mode of transport for savvy players.
  • Averted in Unturned as of version 3.20.9.0. The Bicycle consumes the player's stamina for fuel when pedaling fast, with stamina drain and speed regulated by the 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 can't outrun a wolf or bear even when going at its fastest), it has no trunk space whatsoever and can't take a passenger, 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. On a minor note, they can also be a nuisance if you're destroying vehicles to make room in the map for new spawns, as they're "armored" like combat vehicles and can only be wrecked by high caliber bullets, explosives, or zombie attacks.

    Real Life 
  • The ancestor of the bicycle, the dandy horse, was actually constructed and promoted by its inventor as a reaction to a global catastrophe. A massive volcanic eruption in 1815 resulted in global weather impacts and massive crop failures. The resulting shortage of horses motivated the invention of a new means of transportation.
  • 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. This allowed them to outrun retreating Allied soldiers and attack their positions from the back, while also bypassing the heavy-guarded roads, using plantation paths instead.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Throughout poverty-stricken Third World countries, 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 are used to replace bike tires when they are otherwise unavailable.


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