UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The underground bicycle economy : An exploration of social supports and economic resources that Vancouver’s homeless cyclists utilize Steinmann, Jeanette; Wilson, Brian, 1969-


Many people living in poverty ride bicycles and many also participate in informal work such as recycling. A small number of studies have begun to explore homeless cyclists’ experiences with and perspectives on bicycles and recycling. In the current study we seek to contribute to this emerging area of study, focusing in this case on the social support and informal and formal resources homeless and variably-housed cyclists use in Vancouver. Interviews, including go-along mobile methods, were conducted with five men living in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver who use bicycles. Findings show that the cyclists, especially recyclers, navigated an ‘underground economy’ of bike-related spaces that allowed them to make money, keep their bicycles in working condition, and cultivate social connections. In particular, a few highly valuable sources and spaces of support existed for participants within a landscape where barriers of many sorts were encountered regularly. These findings bring attention to the needs of and resources considered to be most valuable for some cyclists living in poverty, to the creativity and resilience of an often stigmatised group, and to ways that more inclusive cycling policy might support the efforts of a marginalised group to live a healthy life.

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