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  • 2018popanphd

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Utopias of slow cycling: imagining a bicycle system

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages351
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Award date25/07/2017
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This research investigates post-automobility futures by exploring the mechanisms through which the bicycle could reconfigure urban mobilities and catalyse change towards slow living. Drawing upon readings in mobility and utopian studies, the thesis considers three complementary aspects that could be decisive in the transition towards a 'slow bicycle system'.

I investigate first the potential of embodied and sociable practices of cycling to prefigure mobility futures that successfully challenge the 'car system'. Using (auto)ethnographic and mobile methods to document my own cycling, as well as that of various groups in London and Amsterdam, I unveil a cycling subjectivity informed by richly engaged immersions and interactions with the natural and social worlds. Their slowness challenges the dominant mechanical rhythms of automobility and the utilitarian space of the road. I consequently and secondly propose a critique of the current configuration and anticipated trajectory of the car system. I argue that the utopian promises of personal autonomy, freedom and economic progress epitomized by the motorcar have lost their strength. Furthermore, traffic congestion, air pollution, climate change and the shortcomings of neoliberal society could trigger the end of automobility. Instead, and thirdly, I show that a slow bicycle system could be articulated in the 'cracks' of the car system. Building on existing niches of innovations, I outline the steps required for societies to follow so that a slow bicycle system becomes a reality by 2050. I argue against the dominance of the car within the realm of urban movement and against the presupposition that speed constitutes the only way to assess the quality of human mobilities.

Thus, this research takes forward contemporary academic debates framing cycling as an alternative or subaltern mobility by claiming its central role in imagining post-automobility futures. Such sustainable futures can only be achieved once the doctrines of fast mobilities and economic growth are called into question.