Bicycle graveyards: why do so many bikes end up underwater?

Every year, thousands of bikes are tossed into rivers, ponds, lakes and canals. What’s behind this mass drowning?

Every decade or so, the city of Paris drains the Canal Saint-Martin. The nearly three-mile-long waterway, which runs south across a swathe of the Right Bank, was originally constructed to keep Paris clean, supplying fresh water to a city plagued by cholera and dysentery. But for the two centuries of the canal’s existence, it has often served a different – in fact, opposite – function. It is a dumping ground, a big liquid trash can. The periodic draining is therefore also an unveiling. The water recedes, and the stuff kicked or heaved or furtively dropped into the canal over the preceding few thousand nights is revealed.

When the canal was emptied in 2016, crowds gathered on footbridges and along the quais to watch cleaning crews trudge through the mud and clear out the junk. There was lots of it. Mattresses, suitcases, street signs, traffic cones. A washer-dryer, a tailor’s mannequin, tables and chairs, baths, toilets, old radios, personal computers. A number of vehicles, none of them designed to travel on water, were pulled from the mire. There were baby strollers, shopping carts, at least one wheelchair and several mopeds.

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