We’ve written before about the wonders of bike technology. So, you may already know that the bicycle is the most energy-efficient form of travel ever devised. Bikes are pretty good work horses too, though we don’t use them as such in North America to the extent others do around the world. Or at least not yet!

To illustrate just what bikes (and trikes) are capable of when put to the test, some neighbors of mine have been kind enough to share their photo essay on “working bikes” from a recent trip to India.

It should be noted that bike transportation around the world is often a necessity rather than a choice, but scarcity of resources can serve not only to show us how good, old, time-tested technology still works, but also drive innovation and creative new solutions efficient and effective enough to inspire copycats in any socio-economic context.

And we’ve seen “cargo bike technology” budding here in the Northwest as well. (We tend to favor flashy, hi-tech gear over the Indian-style, DIY working bikes, but I guess that’s just how we roll in this affluent seedbed of software, jets, and outdoor recreation equipment.)

Nonetheless, as Alan Durning wrote a while back, “The ingenuity evident across the Northwest and the world in finding practical, nonmotorized solutions to the daily challenges of urban mobility is heartening, even inspiring.”

And it does make you think: As fuel prices rise and western cities get smarter about bike infrastructure, will we take a cue from cities like Varanasi and Jaipur and take cycling beyond recreation, and even plain old commuting, here at home?

  • Working Bike, III. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Working Bike. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Big Bike Load. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Long Haul Bike. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Don't Try This At Home. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Working Bike, II. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Another Working Bike. Udaipur, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Working Bike IV. Jaipur, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Working Bikes. Jaipur, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    Roadside Bike Repair. Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy: S. Todd Lee.

    What will get us hauling more people and stuff by bike? Fuel prices inching up and up may ultimately tip the scales. But, it’ll take a mix of prices and a recognition of the true costs of carbon pollution, as well as policies that grow healthy, compact communities, and adequate investment in bike-friendly streets and pathways, to really see more two- and three-wheeled “work horses” on the road.

    (Thanks so much for these fabulous photos!)