Inspirador How Lisbon Is Bringing Refurbished Bicycles Back to the Streets

A bike is parked infront of a store in Lisbon
Especially during the pandemic, many people use their bicycle | Photo (detail): © Cicloficina dos Anjos

During the pandemic, many citizens of Lisbon were left without transportation options that safely allowed physical distancing. The solution: repairing old bicycles to put them back on the streets, serving those who need them most.

By Jonaya de Castro and Laura Sobral

The Inspirador is rethinking sustainable cities in identifying and sharing inspiring initiatives and policies from more than 32 cities around the world. The research is systemising these cases in categories, these are signified by hashtags.
 
#intensify_collaboration
considered by some as a ‘future accelerator’, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us not only to re-evaluate cultural plans but also to look for questions and answers that lead to the recognition of the intensitivity of the climate crisis and the strengthening of solidarity networks, as well as the digitalisation of everything, among other aspects. What we used to consider an unavoidable future, is already showing signs of rupture. Cities have revolutionized what we considered collective action, working with new time frames and mobilizing a wide range of actors, showing us new possibilities of creating a new future in the present.


Repairing instead of buying something new can be considered revolutionary nowadays. Many products are designed to stop working after a short time, and we are encouraged to buy new ones and give in to the illusion that the resources of the planet are infinite.
 
Swimming against the current, the people at  Cicloficina dos Anjosa prioritize the repair of bicycles, extending their use and putting them back on the streets. Their new project, called SELIM - Banco de Bicicletas (Bicycle Bank), collects, repairs, and offers used bicycles to those who need them through a long-term lease.
 
Cicloficina dos Anjos is a collective founded in 2011 with the purpose of training cyclists to be self-sufficient by teaching them to repair their own bikes for free. The idea developed organically from the Lisbon cycling community. “At that time, we were all crazy people who rode bikes in the city – there were no bike paths or anything like that. The group has always been united by the love of the bicycle,” says co-founder Nuno Pinhal.
 
As the organization developed, social and sustainability issues became more important for them, causing them to include fostering active mobility in the city and to strive for another, more people-friendly urbanism model.
 

Bicycles as a Public Policy  


The SELIM project emerged as a response to the new circumstances caused by the pandemic: “With social distancing in Portugal, we suddenly had to stop and look around, asking ourselves: ‘what do we need to do?’,” recounts Nuno. Many people had lost their jobs and needed a cheap alternative to move around the city. In addition, the use of public transport represented a dangerous exposure to the pandemic. “So, we wanted to do something about this,” says Nuno, “figuring out an alternative. Or better yet, making bicycles available as an alternative.”
 
Cicloficina presented a set of proposals to the Lisbon City Council and SELIM, which was among them, was approved for funding from public agencies as well as support from the Arroios Parish Council, which provided the workspace.
 
The project collects bicycles—mainly at the end of their useful life—through donations and refurbished them so that people can use them again. The idea is to always try to extend the life cycle of these bicycles as much as possible and collaborate to reduce waste.
 
For a symbolic fee that ranges from 10 to 30 euros - half of which is a deposit fee which can be recovered if the bicycle is given back - a person can use the bicycle for as long as they need. People who are interested can apply for a lease and the bikes are offered as long-term rentals as soon as they are refurbished. If the users don't return the bike by the end of 2021, when the first iteration of the project finishes, they can wave their deposit and keep the bicycle for themselves at no additional cost. If someone decides to keep the bicycle, it means the project is achieving its purpose: democratize the use of bicycles as a regular means of transport.
 
The SELIM website features videos instructing people on how to perform simple mechanic repairs and adjustments, as well as a map with the location of other bicycle workshops in Lisbon. It also allows registration by those who want a bicycle and those who wish to donate one.

Little by Little, a Cultural and Urban Change

Cicloficina hopes that, as people use the bicycles, they realise that pedaling is a real alternative to commuting. The group believes that it is essential to challenge the view that, due to the city’s steep hills , cars are the only viable way to get around in Lisbon. The bicycle, however, demands another form of mobility, one that does not follow the regular paths made for cars. “Sometimes, on a very steep climb, we have to find an alternative route. It may take longer, but getting to your destination is always possible,” says Nuno.

“The thing I find most special about this project is the happy expression in people’s faces when they get their bike. It really makes a huge difference in their lives.”

Nuno Pinhal

The demand for bicycles demonstrates that a service like this is greatly needed. However, due to the lack of large-scale donations and the lengthy repair time, the small staff at Cicloficina (with four full-time and one part-time staffers) prioritize those who really need these bikes.
 
“Our challenge is to try our best to identify the priority requests,” explains Nuno. For those who think about starting a similar project in their city, it is important to understand what communication channels, such as social media pages, radio programs, podcasts or news outlets, actually make it possible to reach those in need. He points out that their target audience, which is made of, for example, people who lost their jobs because of the pandemy, don't really follow Timeout Magazine or Lisbon's City Council Facebook page. Despite that fact, by february 2021, SELIM had already delivered 120 bikes, and collected over 240 donations, which are being refurbished. The requests have exceeded 780.

Bikes Taking over Cities

Other “Cicloficinas” already exist in several cities, launched by local cycling communities. Cicloficina dos Anjos itself was inspired by similar projects around the world. Among them are Mão na Roda in São Paulo, PedalPower in Vancouver, and the  Bikekitchen in Munich, where you can learn how to repair your bicycle.
 
SELIM is part of a constellation of interesting projects that encourage bicycles as a form of active mobility in the city. This includes the Support Program for the Purchase of Bicycles in the Municipality of Lisbon (Programa de Apoio à Aquisição de Bicicleta do Município de Lisboa), which subsidizes the purchase of bicycles, and the Municipal Program for Bicycle Convoys in Lisbon (Programa Municipal de Comboios de Bicicletas de Lisboa), a program through which children go to school by bicycle accompanied by adult monitors.
 
More than just a bicycle repair program, SELIM proposes a different view of the city. It proposes that the different resources and skills of city dwellers be shared. While riding around Lisbon on a donated bicycle, restored and lent by others, you may notice a change beginning to happen.
 

What Is This Series About?

The “Inspirador for Possible Cities” project is a collaborative creation by Laura Sobral and Jonaya de Castro aiming to identify experiences among initiatives,academic content, and public policies that work towards more sustainable, cooperative cities. If we assume that our lifestyle gives rise to the factors behind the climate crisis, we have to admit our co-responsibiltiy. Green planned cities with food autonomy and sanitation based on natural infrastructures can be a starting point for the construction of the new imaginary needed for a transition. The project presents public policies and group initiatives from many parts of the world that point to other possible ways of life, categorized into the following hashtags:
  
#redefine_development, #democratize_space, 
#(re)generate_resources, #intensify_collaboration,  
#political_imagination