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Cycling Against Poverty? Researching a Sport for Development Movement and an 'Object' in/for Development - Final Report for Non-Governmental Organizations

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Bicycles for development (BFD) is a nascent movement made up of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, governments, international organizations, and communities promoting and utilizing the bicycle to achieve community, domestic, and international development goals.

Bicycles for Development Research Project (2017-2021):

A team of researchers undertook research to explore the BFD movement by:

(1) Conducting interviews with BFD executives and practitioners working in organizations around the world; 

(2) Conducting fieldwork in Nicaragua, Canada, Uganda, India, and South Africa to understand the impact and challenges of bicycle use by diverse populations in local communities associated with the BFD movement.


The research team utilized a participatory action research approach and multiple methods for data collection including: semi— structured interviews, photovoice, photocollaging, digital storytelling, and observations.

Key Findings: Benefits of BFD

1. The bicycle as a transportation tool for:

• Healthcare;

• Livelihood activity;

• Education;

• Travel to markets;

• Household chores;

• Community and recreational events.

2. The bicycle as a tool for independence, selflearning, and skill mastery:

• Enhancing bicycle mechanic skills and understanding of bicycle parts.

• Sense of independence and confidence by bicycle users.


3. The bicycle as a means to challenge cycling identities, construct safe spaces, and disrupt gender norms:

• BFD programs sought to create inclusive and safer spaces for LGBTQIA2S+ youth and women and girls.

• Challenge common assumptions of white, male, and middle-class individuals as cyclists.

• Seek to ‘empower’ women and girls via enhanced mobility.


Key Findings: Challenges of BFD


1. Bicycle infrastructure and safety

• Bad road conditions.

• Privileging of automobiles in urban areas.

• Construction and limited bicycle lanes.

• Safety of cyclists at night, around cars, and for women and girls.


2. Gender norms, relations, and inequalities

• Provision of bicycles often increase the domestic responsibilities of women and perpetuate patriarchal relations (e.g., housework, farming, childcare).

• Jealousy and theft of bicycles by men and boys in community.

• Use of bicycles by male members of household.


3. Intersecting considerations

• Inclusion of women and girls in BFD programs and exclusion of men and boys.

• Class as a significant factor shaping access to bicycles.

• Expectations of who is a cyclist (e.g., white, middle class, often males, particularly in the Canadian context, i.e., Toronto).

• Able-bodied nature of using a bicycle


4. Environmental conditions, bicycle structure, and government regulations

• Import and export taxes which impinge on bicycle provision and programs.

• Structure of bicycle needs to be suitable for rural contexts.

• Droughts, floods, rain, and other environmental factors influence the ability to use the bicycle.




For BFD organizations and practice:

1. Seek to provide bicycles and bicycle-related workshops to all members of communities. • Enhance access to bicycles and work with all community members to work towards challenging social inequalities.

2. Hold bicycle mechanic workshops. • Eliminate bicycle breakdown costs by teaching mechanical skills, which may also build livelihood opportunities.

3. Market BFD programs and safer spaces. • Participants recognized the safe space of BFD programs. Market and promote these inclusive and supportive spaces for underrepresented populations to enhance inclusion and equity in cycling.

4. Work with other BFD stakeholders. • Connect with, partner, and create a network of BFD organizations to share strategies, learning, and best practices.

5. Involve bicycle users in BFD program decision making. • Participants felt being involved in decision-making was collaborative and empowering. BFD programs should work closely with the community, youth, and women and girls.

6. Acknowledge and challenge structural inequalities. • Structural inequalities continue to influence and create challenges to BFD work. Recognizing these explicitly and purposely working towards change is needed.


For policy:

1. Enhance bicycle infrastructure in urban and rural areas. • Bicycle lanes, roads, and spaces for bicycle parking are needed in order to improve bicycle users’ mobility.

2. Build and promote non-motorized transport policy. • At a national and regional level, non-motorized transport policy inclusive of bicycles and other forms of mobility (e.g., walking) need to be prioritized given the increase of such forms of transport in times of COVID-19.

3. Integrate the bicycle in environmental sustainability policies. • With the climate change emergency, policy-makers should advocate and promote the bicycle as a sustainable and environmental-friendly form of transport


For research:

1. Further investigate the possibilities, challenges, and tensions associated with BFD.

2. Explore the effects of COVID-19 on the BFD movement and bicycle use.

3. Expand understanding of bicycles use to alleviate poverty and contribute to livelihood opportunities.

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