Photo by Maxfoot on Pixabay
A small but shining silver lining: The coronavirus has accelerated the shift to pedal power in Europe and the United States. The German Cycling Association (ADFC) reports that Germans across the country are spending twice as much time biking as they were before the pandemic. There is surging demand for bikes and shared-bike subscriptions, and now even shortages throughout bicycle supply chain. For bike shops it’s an unprecedented boom. So much so that it requires cities to improve their biking infrastructure.
In unimagined numbers, bikes are starting to squeeze out cars in our cities. This uptick in cycling has spurred 930 miles of new bike lanes in Europe, “muscling aside cars on Europe’s city streets,” according to European Cyclists Federation. Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands are pioneering fast lanes for commuters. “Pop-up lanes” are being used for bikes in Berlin and Paris; Rome has painted new bike lanes, in each case taking away lanes from cars.
Germany is the largest bicycle market in Europe with 1.36 million bikes sold in 2019 and now a surge in demand. That compares with 3.6 million cars sold last year. According to Bloomberg Energy News, that volume tumbled 35% in the first half of 2020.
Electric Bicycles and Other Trends
Women riders are reportedly a big factor in the biking revolution. E-bikes are, too. E-bikes use an onboard battery to boost power to the drive train when the rider is going up a hill, or just needs a rest. E-bikes have removed “the sweat factor.” Who wants to show up to work or a party sweaty? Many Europeans that use E-bikes see them as substitutes for their cars. They are switching to bikes and E-bikes for their commutes to improve health and fitness, save money, because they enjoy riding, and for the sake of the environment. Nine in ten Danes own a bike; only four in ten own a car.
The European Cyclists’ Federation states that bikes are strongly supported by European governments to cut carbon and increase the quality of their cities. European countries provide direct financial incentives for cyclists.
At the end of April, France announced a 20 million Euro plan to promote cycling after the end of the lockdown. The plan includes 50 Euro vouchers for the repair of a bike. Italy worked on a decree for Covid recovery whereby 120 million Euro was set aside for purchase subsidies covering 70% and up to 500 Euro of the price of conventional, muscle-powered and electric bikes.
U.S. Bicycle Industry Booming
Not to be outdone, go USA! Our country’s bike shops are booming too. There have been record online bike sales. One survey found that nationwide bike sales have doubled, leisure bikes up 121%, commuter bikes up 66%, E-bikes up 85%. A bike shop in Brooklyn, New York, claims sales 600% of that a year ago. Hard to find “sub-$1,000 bikes” in Chicago. For Richards Bike Mart in North Texas, sales are up 30%. It’s hiring new staff for repair services. Many shops have long wait lists for bikes. A D.C. retailer noted its largest sales volume in 50 years of operating the shop.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are “flocking to one of the most basic forms of mobility: the bike.” Many are taking up cycling for the first time in 10, 20, 30 years. It’s a good form of socially distanced exercise, especially now with gyms closed. Trek Magazine reports that its survey of adult bikers found that 21% plan to ride more during the pandemic, and 50% say they keep it up post pandemic.
The pandemic will likely permanently transform society in many ways, and biking is one of them. This dramatic uptick is and will be changing the urban infrastructure. In April, New York City temporarily opened 100 miles of roads to pedestrians and cyclists. Oakland shut down 10% of its streets during the pandemic for cars.
There’s now even a bike shortage – lagging behind the PPE shortage — due to tariffs on bikes from China, lower production, and fewer imports. As the benefits of biking become ingrained in our lives, our urban infrastructures will change too… with less focus on cars and more on the cycling form of “active transportation.”
Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, listen to The NetPositive Podcast, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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