Digital activism in the urban cycling movement

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In my previous blog post, I talked about the power of digital media to get relevant audiences to listen, interact and get involved in a new social movement. Today I will dig into the potential of new digital platforms, such as Chat Apps, when talking about social activism and urban cycling.

Within new social movements, communication approaches and goals may differ significantly depending on the contextualization and actors involved. In particular, the urban cycling movement uses frequently different social networking platforms, such as instant messages digital applications, to communicate their social practices.

Simultaneously, there are multiple networks inside the international movement of pro-cycling such as The Critical Bike or self-repair workshops. Let´s explore first what do they consist of and how mediatized communication influence on this type of activism.

The Critical Bike and Recicletos

Critical Bike movement in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Cerro Garabitas

The Critical Bike, Bici Critica in Spanish, is a pro-cycling social initiative that is celebrated once a month in the historical centre of Madrid, Spain. On this cycling activism, collective actions aim at improving the environmental, social and economic conditions of the society by promoting the use of the bicycle as an alternative means of transport. In addition, cycling is claimed as a transport that adapts easily to the urbanization and mobilization of the cities.

The social initiative follows the principles of Critical Mass, which originated in California in 1992. And, through The Critical Bike, the international movement aims at raising awareness and demanding safety conditions for urban cycling.

Recicletos Madrid
Ruth Cunningham and Miguel López, members of Recicletos team at the workshop. Photo by Celia Sánchez-Valladares

On the other hand, self-repair workshops are organized as cooperative and original alternatives of self-employment where communitarian work gathers to emphasize the importance of this ancient vehicle as an alternative to pollution and an indispensable seed for environmental welfare.

One example of these workshops is Recicletos, which is being developed for eight years in La Tabacalera, Madrid. The initiative was created by lots of cyclers who wanted to promote the use of bikes and bicycle mechanics.

The bike workshop offers a physical space for enthusiastic cyclists and activists who are committed to empowering cycling and learning how to fix their own bikes. Recicletos is a “teaching space” project based on the principles of self-sufficiency, self-consciousness and sustainability as well as the philosophy of “Do it by yourself: if you know how to fix your bike, you can solve your mobility problems and you can empower yourself”.

Recicletos workshop
A participant fixing his own bicycle at Recicletos workshop. Photo by Celia Sánchez-Valladares

Although there is not an identifiable network between all these workshops, there are other initiatives such as el Taller de la Guindalera, el Taller de la Prospe, La Dragona, Esta es una Plaza  that are connected to each other throughout social media platforms and Chat Apps.

Mediatised communication through new digital platforms

The cyclists that participate in this initiative rely on the usage of NICTs to organize, network and communicate within the virtual sphere through new digital media. Parallelly, most of its members participate in similar initiatives promoting the use of the bicycle in the city via offline. Some examples are El Nodo workshop and non-profit organizations like ConBici or Paideia in Madrid.

For all these urban cycling initiatives, mediatised communication has an impact on urban mobility and public sphere. Here, digital tools act as a support for pro-cycling initiatives to develop further, thread its global reach and promote a higher engagement from other actors in the civil society.

Throughout the digitalization of the cycling movement, activist groups across the globe are using mediatized digital communication to build new and shared spaces in a Glocal scope. In a pragmatic way, social media campaigns such as #BikeInstead, #WalkInstead or #StopKillingCyclists have encouraged citizens around the world to promote a more mindful mobility.

At the same time, members of the social movement use social media platforms to create and organize events, indicating a time and place proposal for different social mobilizations. Social media platforms such as Facebook are used henceforth as a facilitator to organize collective meeting spaces, events and physical gatherings.

Critical Bike Facebook
Facebook event by The Critical Bike, Madrid.

New digital activism through mediated interaction and Chat apps

In addition to social media platforms, urban cycling activists are also part of forums and Chat Apps such as Whatsapp, Telegram or BikePrints where they share information, interact and converge informally.

Hence, the use of Chat Apps also creates a new type of digital activism and social mobilization characterized by immediacy where information is disseminated in an informal, delocalized and decentralized way.

Consequently, the digital spaces created as part of this social movement represents a diversified community that shares common spaces where they interact, communicate and represent new ways of living. On these new platforms, pro-cycling activists express different activities and events using the digital network to define their communication goals, engagement and organization.

For urban cycling initiatives, NICTs aren’t just innovative means of communication but also organizational tools and social spaces.

Watch the following video to meet Kerstin Emma, cycling activist in Berlin:

If you are interested in this topic or you would like to discover digital applications that give visibility to global challenges and social movements on a worldwide scale, click on “Making of a Century” app.

To learn more about similar initiatives, read the article “5 best Apps for activism in 2020”.

3 thoughts on “Digital activism in the urban cycling movement”

  1. Thanks for the great reading! I live in Bristol and there we also have a growing community of cyclists and cycling promoting projects. An example is the Bristol Bike Project where one can have their bike fixed, buy a second hand bike or donate an old bike which will be used in the Earn-a-bike scheme. In the later people in need can work in the shop for a few hours as payment for a bike. They also offer DIY workshops where people help each other fixing their bikes under the supervision of an mechanic and only paying a small fee. There is even a session for women only.

    1. Thank you for sharing information about the Bristol Bike Project Andrea, I am happy you like the blog post! I didn´t know about Bristol Bike before, but I will definitely have a look at it since it sounds very interesting!

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