CycleHack / ‘saik(ə)l hæk/ n. & v. – n. 1 “a tangible prototype that addresses a barrier to cycling.” – v. 1 ”to retrospectively modify current infrastructure and/or cycling products & services using a cyclist’s intuition.”
CycleHack, an organization based in Glasgow, Scotland, and Vancouver, Canada, is initiating a global movement, one that will make the world healthier, more active and sustainable by reducing barriers to cycling. Through annual events, an online innovation catalogue and year-round design support, CycleHack is empowering and preparing citizens to take a DIY, pro-active approach to solving their own cycling problems.
Anyone who has ever cycled in an urban environment is aware of at least one accompanying challenge. From dangerous intersections to pants catching in the gears, cycling is far from perfectly integrated into cities and there are many elements that can dissuade citizens from picking up a bike. But on the other side, ideas for change are abundant. Cameron McNeish, a broadcaster, mountaineer and cyclist, says, “almost every cyclist … has his or her own ideas as to how we can improve relationships between cyclists and drivers and make the roads safer for all of us.” CycleHack brings together these individuals and offers an opportunity to brainstorm, collaborate and prototype.
The main component of CycleHack is their annual event. Taking place over 48 hours, the event is run by international partners over a set weekend – any city, village or town is free to register and host their own event. Participants are provided with the tools and space to combine their skills and expertise and go directly from brainstorming to prototyping their hacks. Says Mark Irwin of Open Glasgow and Glasgow Future Cities, “Over the weekend it felt like I was witnessing a new form of activism, one that is not merely confrontational and critical, but at its heart collaborative and inclusive.” This is the intent behind CycleHack. With a collaborative, holistic approach that focuses on design and user needs, CycleHack is promoting positive change and showing the design’s capability to shape how individuals feel about and interact with their cities.
There are several categories of cycling barriers and hacks. Hacks range from the physical (printable mudguards to DIY indicator lights), to the digital (Facebook groups for building community to digital apps with real-time cycling data), to policy (crowdsourcing information to present to local leaders). Barriers, or anything that stops someone from getting on their bike, range from the micro (making a skirt bikable to cycling with a handbag) to the macro (approaching bigger questions of “how do we encourage people to cycle” or “how can we better communicate cycling benefits”) to the geographic (improving a problematic intersection to increasing cycling infrastructure). Collectively, these individual hacks can make a big difference and get more people out on bikes.
The movement started with a conversation. Johanna Holton and Sarah Drummond were seeking a mechanism to bring people together to positively address cycling issues. Joined by Matthew Lowell, CycleHack went from three cities in 2014 – Glasgow, Melbourne and Beirut – to 25 cities in 2015, with 70 cities already set for 2016. Their organization has quickly gained international renown, winning the 2015 Core77 Design for Impact Award and catching worldwide attention through their “Penny in Yo Pants” campaign, which uses a puck and a penny to make your skirt bikable.
Beyond the annual events, it is CycleHack’s hope that individuals worldwide will access their online, open-source catalogue and trial urban prototypes. The catalogue includes the barriers, solutions and supporting links for each hack conceived at their events. Urban prototyping allows citizens to try out potential solutions and to incorporate their own insights and observations. It is also a highly cost-effective approach, which allows the organization to de-risk solutions before they are scale up and implemented. A worldwide network of CycleHack associates, with key skills, are available to provide expertise and can be contracted out to assist with projects. The organization also offers a wide variety of education and training workshops, from 3D modelling to civic hacking to the use of fabrication machines.
What remains to be seen is the amount of strength this movement will command in the future. There is high potential for CycleHack to be an international cyclist heaven and to have tangible impacts on policy and infrastructure, if they reach into the mainstream.