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#1 from 2015: Cycling is everyone’s business

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on February 4, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for February 2015.

This post is also available in Français and Español.

“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.” 
- F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief

The rainbow jersey, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, or Vuelta a Espana—that’s what usually comes to mind when we think of cycling. However, elite cycling is only one small spoke of a much larger wheel.
By some estimates, there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it’s 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It’s known as the “City of Cyclists,” where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.
Due to the size of China’s population, and the need for bicycle transportation, statistics on the country’s bikeshare program are staggering. In a database maintained by Russell Neddin and Paul DeMaio, more than 400,000 bikeshare bikes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland, and the vast majority of those bikes have been in operation since 2012.  There are an estimated 822,000 bikeshare bikes in operation around the world. China, therefore, has more bikeshare bikes than all other countries combined. The country with the next-highest number of bikes is France, which has just 45,000.

For many years, the world has produced over 100 million bicycles per year. In comparison, car production oscillates at around 60 million units per year. Bikes are used every day and on every inhabited continent, in the most affluent nations as well as developing and the least developed countries. This makes sense; cycling is often the fastest, most flexible, and reliable way of getting around cities.

In Europe alone, 655,000 people are directly employed in cycling production, services, tourism, and other facets of the industry—more jobs than in mining and quarrying and almost twice as many that work in the steel industry. The European Cyclists' Federation has a very simple message for governments and local authorities: “You know that investing in cycling is justified from your transport, climate change, and health budgets.  Now we can show clearly that every cycle lane you build and every new cyclist you create is contributing to job growth. Investing in cycling provides a better economic return than almost any other transport option. This should be your first choice every time.”
According to the European Trade Union Confederation, the cycling industry is another example of the way that, with the appropriate investment, a transformation to a green, low-carbon economy can create jobs. Growth in the cycling economy should, thus, have a higher job creation potential than, for example, in the automotive industry, which employs three times fewer people per million euros of turnover.​
The bicycling industry not only providse economic benefits, but shifting trips from cars to bicycles helps reduce congestion, air pollution and CO2 emissions as well as improve riders' health. The value of the contribution of cycle use in Europe has been estimated at between €143-155 billion annually, with 80 percent of those benefits arising from reductions in mortality alone. Danish research found that the risk of death for daily cycle commuters is almost 40 percent lower than for non-cycle commuters, even after taking into account leisure transport and other physical activity (Andersen et al, 2000).
Should we who work in development pay attention to the immense popularity of cycling and the prevalence of bicycles? Does bicycle ownership offer the potential to enhance lives for people in need? Below is an example that the World Bank Group community might want to look at as we ask those questions.
World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a nonprofit organization whose motto is, “Mobilizing People through the Power of Bicycles.”  Since 2005, WBR has distributed more than 200,000 specially designed, locally assembled bicycles to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs across Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. They also have trained more than 1,000 local candidates as field mechanics to ensure that bicycle owners have access to qualified maintenance.
According to the WBR, compared to walking, children and adults with bicycles are able to reduce their commute times by up to 75 percent. As a result, they have more time to study, are more productive, and experience less fatigue. With a bicycle, entrepreneurs can now travel four times further, carry more goods (load capacity is increased five-fold), and increase profits up to 50 percent. In schools where students were given bikes, attendance rates rose by an average of 27 percent and academic performance improved by up to 59 percent. Healthcare workers on bikes have also been able to visit more than twice the number of patients per day.

In South Africa, where there are 16 million schoolchildren, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than one hour each way, spending two or more hours getting to and from school each day. Undeniably, giving these children bicycles would have a positive impact.
And global leaders are taking note. Just last week at one of the world’s most exclusive gatherings, a challenge was issued: Bring the barrier of distance to the forefront of global development, presenting the bicycle as a solution. World Bicycle Relief, together with UBS, The UBS Optimus Foundation and the World Economic Forum, hosted The Davos Challenge: Walk for Education. Industry and political leaders were challenged to walk the same distance as a typical child walks to school each day in rural South Africa. For every six kilometers walked, UBS and UBS Optimus Foundation agreed to donate a bicycle through World Bicycle Relief to a young student in South Africa. Global leaders walked 15,000 kilometers and, as a result, WBR will distribute more than 2,500 bicycles. The impact for these students, their families and the surrounding community will be powerful and long lasting.
When the people of Copenhagen were asked why they choose to ride their bikes rather than ride in a car or on public transportation they answered simply “because it’s the fastest way of getting around in the city.” The bicycle offers an economic, comfortable, easy, and sustainable way of human mobility— for the rich, and the poor. It’s still a major mode of transport for many cities in emerging countries and could continue to be if encouraged as an alternative to the car. Walking and cycling represent up to 90 percent of trips in these cities, yet facilities for these modes constitute "less than one percent of the project expenditures" on transport at World Bank Group (Gakenheimer and Dimitriou, 2011, p 205).
Problems related to congestion in the cities of the emerging world continue to grow and will grow faster than any investment in new roads could match. India’s motor vehicle fleet is forecast to grow from 73 million in 2005 to 364 million by 2025 (Gakenheimer and Dimitriou, 2011, p 207. Investing in facilities for cycling as a clean, healthy alternative to motorbikes and cars will help reduce congestion and pollution.  It will also provide access to cheap transportation in countries where up to a quarter of a person’s income is currently spent on mobility.
The Sustainable Development Goals include sustainable transport, but presently the main focus is on public transport. With careful investment—including making sure there is a provision for bikes in every major transport project—the high levels of cycling in the developing world can be fostered and maintained. This offers huge potential for cost savings and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The World Bank Group already recommends the development of better infrastructure for cyclists, but too many schemes still only deal with increased motor traffic or public transport that is beyond the financial means of the poorest.
Bicycles for all? Certainly it is an idea worth considering. According to Tim Blumenthal of People for Bikes: “When people cycle, great things happen.”  Wouldn’t you agree?
Why don’t we at the World Bank Group start to consider finding a way to help people out of extreme poverty and into shared prosperity… by rolling on two wheels?

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Photographs courtesy of World Bicycle Relief


Submitted by Aliyah on

I believe that the use of more bicycles is very important. It's not only good for the community and soceity as a whole, but it also benefits poor countries because some may not have enough money to pay to take public transportation. And having a bike they won't have to worry about cost. Also like stated in the article, it's s healthy alternative to cars, and will lesson air pollution.

Submitted by Sam Rosin on

Rather than using our governments limited budget for construsting new roads and infrastructure, putting us further in debt, and taking money that could be going towards other necessities our country needs. Bicycles offer an economic, comfortable, easy, sustainable and healthier way for mobility that can be used in any part of the world, rich or poor. Most of us grew up learning how to ride a bike, so why not stick to our roots if there's nothing but benefit that'll come from it?

Submitted by Andrea Hidalgo on

Bicycle transportation is very good for the environment and can help everyone in lots of ways. In the article, according to the WBR bicycles are able to reduce their commute times by 75%. It is also much healthier for you and can help decrease poverty. With all the information that was being said in the article, more people should know what the benefits are and why more people all around the world should use bicycle transportations, rather than using a motor vehicle. Statistics also helps with my point. "Attendance rates rose by an average of 27 percent and academic performance improved by up to 59 percent." The more people use bicycles, the better the environment would be everywhere.

Submitted by Kimberly Fourney on

Bicycling globally is an affordable and highly effective mode of transportation. I agree in your mission that providing bicycles to everyone can be an exceptional improvement to society. "Investing in cycling provides a better economic return than almost any other transportation". It will minimize pollution and positively improve health. I think that the biggest underlying challenge we face here in the US will be convincing others that rely solely on their cars for transportation of this. People in developing countries who are walking miles daily can surely benefit from this form of transportation. As stated above, those who have already received bicycles across the globe are seeing an increase in test scores, time, and are ultimately less tired. The least we can do is join in the help to provide them with sufficient transportation to fit their daily needs.

Submitted by Quynh Nguyen on

I think this is a well written article and I completely agree! Cycling has lots of benefits which includes: reducing air pollution and CO2 emission, increasing the rider's health and providing a cheaper mode of transportation. Let's talk about the health side of it since I'm a student studying to be a nurse. I was taught that diet and exercise are the two most important modifiable risk factor for most illnesses/diseases. One of which includes cardiovascular diseases (the number one cause of death in the world). Cycling is a great form of cardio exercise that you don't need to invest a fortune on and it can be done almost anywhere and anytime. Everyone can start at their own pace and began to formulate the exercise program that works for them. It is also known to improve mental health by reducing stress and elevating mood which can help with people who have depression.

Submitted by Guerline Jean Pierre on

This is very refreshing to read this article about a simple way to go to our destination while exercising. Riding bicycle is way better than riding in a car for bicycles offer the benefits of exercising while protecting the environment and the community from harmful products such as carbon dioxide of cars.

Submitted by Timothy Palmer on

Providing the world with bicycles is a wonderful means to create a healthier people, and healthier planet. I believe providing bicycles to people such as the South African children mentioned in the article is an absolutely brilliant means to a more effective education for them. As stated in the article it shortens the travel time by around 75%. The time saved by a faster transportation method can be used by these children to study more, thus making their education more effective and potentially creating better opportunities for their future. While cycling is a wonderful change from vehicle transportation, I am concerned that if bicycles are in fact provided for all, that there will be over congestion of sidewalks and cycling lanes in major cities such as New York. Total elimination of motorized vehicles is not going to be possible. With only one cycling lane and sidewalks and the new increased number of cyclists over congestion seems imminent. However over congestion in certain cases seems trivial if it means creating a healthier planet and people. I believe that the idea to provide more bicycles to the people of the world is very important, and that it is a goal worth striving to achieve.

Submitted by Mirna Haddadin on

The increase in bikes around the world has led to better formation in society. The increase in bikes made it easier for students, adults, and workers get to places faster. It's an easy, free, and faster way of using public transportation instead of cars. Doesn't matter what background you come from, rich or poor, using a bike is a beneficial way for people to get around. If we all join together to help other countries in need of bicycles there will be a decrease in pollution and overcrowding in cities around the world.

Submitted by Keila Aguilar on

I love the idea of riding more bicycles and for free bicycles for people who can't afford transportation. Bicycles are a great way to stay in shape. People who tend to stay active are more engaged in socializating which is also healthy for human beings. Also, unlike automobiles, it helps the environment be reduced from air pollution. In my perspective, this is amazing an amazing idea we can put to action. I believe we should all try to bike more often to stay active for our own health, rather than always taking the car even down the street. And also, always extend a hand to those in need. We have a voice, we have an impact to the world we live in. It's up to us if we want to make a difference for ourselves and others.

Submitted by Souleymane Toure on

Riding bicycles has enormous benefits for this modern world in almost every level of our society. First, we ought to seriously consider our health because with these congestion, pollution air, and CO2 produced by motor vehicles damaged our health gradually. Another point to think about is the economics level. In fact, you can see different numbers mentioned by the author that are impressive in terms of creating jobs for people especially the youth. Finally, considering this initiative of making bicycles your number one buddy or tool to move from one place to another will help our world, society community, neighborhood and environment to a better and brighter place to live in.

Submitted by Fred Vuitton on

This comment covers 2 crucial hot topics of the modern society which are the current health issues we are facing due to pollution and secondly the unemployment affecting our youth. The point of view of Souleymane Toure helps us to easily understand how beneficial it can be to promote cycling in our every day life.

Submitted by Eric Harris on

I think that bikes will be phased out eventually. All the countries used in this study would be considered third-world by western standards. When they eventually evolve socially and politically, cars and motorcycles will be the main source of transportation. They use bikes because, for the most part, their infrastructure hasn't caught up to the rest of the world's.

Submitted by Kimberly Fourney on

That is definitely an interesting take on this article. Although I think that providing bikes for people in need in third world countries could make positive changes, I see what you're saying that their infrastructure has not caught up with where we are in America. This could definitely set back the project as they may eventually get to the same place that our economy is at currently. In this case, they would rely more on cars.

Submitted by Alondra Perez on

Many individuals think that transporting in a car is better than transporting with a bicycle, because cars are more high tech. But this article brings to us much more benifits of riding a bicycle than riding a car. It allows us to see how much more benificial bicycles are. Riding a bicycle could actually be a faster way of transportation than driving a car through traffic. Having a bicycle also keeps people healthier by getting some exercise as mentioned in the article. I also think that having a bicycle is much more cost worthy than owning a car. Monthly payments aren't needed for a bicycle. Bicycle are also easier to fix than cars and much easier. The increase of cycling has created easier and better living for many countries outside of the US. It has created easier, better, and healthier lives for students, adults, and employees. Cycling should be more considered in America to format better lives within American society.

Submitted by Mahla Nazarian on

From my perspective, riding bicycle save money, time, and it preserves people health and the environment. The concept of using bike for transportation also help people to forget about the stress of finding a parking. In America, In 2016, National Bike to work day will be on May 20th, and the second week of May will be National Bike to school day. Therefore, these days have caused to increase the number of bicycle communities in the U.S.

Submitted by Marelize on

My very first foray into development was to manage a 'small' project to distribute 100 bicycles from China to a rural area in South Africa. Although the project was small in scale, I learnt so much about equity (who should get the bikes), to skills development (teaching kids how to fix flat bicycle tires), to economic and market development (establishing a reliable supply chain for the tools and consumables with which to repair bicycles), to innovation (seeing how the local basket weavers adapted to make baskets that could be hung on the front of the bikes as storage for books and school bags), to behavior change (teaching kids road safety principles so that they would be safe on the roads), to crime prevention (ensuring that the bikes had locks so that they would stay secure), to name but a few. And then there's the pure joy of seeing a child learn how to balance on a bicycle, and the early childhood development lessons one learns through that.

This story reminded me of my roots in development, and of the complexity that there already exists in all development that we do: harnassing that complexity for better development has to be the major challenge of the SDGs.

Thanks for initiating my unplanned walk down memory lane, Leszek!

Submitted by David Fourney on

The idea that “bicycles are for everybody” cannot mean much as a transportation solution in the U.S. Sure, bicycles have been used successfully in Europe, and in a qualified degree in China. However, there is a reason why there is no mention in the article about the benefits and practicality of bicycle ownership in the U.S, except for perhaps limited leisure activities. Try selling the advantages of bicycle travel for residents of Los Angeles, Dallas, or Washington, D.C. For example, I commute 23 miles to my place of employment, and riding a bicycle to make the trip would be extremely unsafe, very unpleasant, and a very long ride. The chance of injuring myself on a bicycle on American streets is more than 30 times more likely to occur than if riding in Amsterdam or in Copenhagen. The investment to create a workable cycling infrastructure in most U.S. cities would be prohibitive, no matter how much pollution could be minimized or how much energy savings could result by using more bikes. Unfortunately, cycling as a transportation alternative in the U.S. is the “last choice” every time.

Submitted by Bruce Lierman on

First, one has to ask, why are you commuting 23 miles a day (one way, I assume) to work? I suggest it’s because you can when gas is 2.00 a gallon. And your employer knows you can, and thus can externalize the cost of your being available in the workplace, to you.
Public transportation will probably never come within a walkable quarter mile of your house, but what if you could ride a bike 3 miles to a transit hub, then ride to your work? When Freeways cost conservatively a million dollars a mile, how many miles of bicycle infrastructure could be built for that mile of freeway, especially if it were spent on making existing roads safer for bicycling?
And finally, the rest of the world commuting as the US does, is the path to climate death for us all. The US is not the leader here - it is a badly disorganized follower behind almost all the countries of Europe. There will never again be the combination of economical fossil fuels, vehicle production capacity, and government funding of highway infrastructure as has been available in the US since World War II. US transportation is a relic of the past, not a model for the future.
A study done several years ago showed that, in terms of ton-miles per calorie, there is no more efficient form of motion on the planet than a person on a bicycle; not arctic plovers, not salmon, not dolphins, not cheetahs, not any other organism. Eventually that efficiency, free of the externalized costs of health and environmental impacts, will make bicycles the dominant form of transportation for most local (less than five miles) travel.

Submitted by Renee Rankine on

I can certainly agree that cycling brings great benefits to our communities. Bike riding is a skill that most learn from tender ages because it teaches some critical lessons. Just the very idea of learning how to ride a bike brings about lessons in motor skills, determination, and patience. Skills that then reflect into adulthood and much like the articles explains into our adult lives. Those who own a bike and choose to use it as their main source of transportation are taking the same small yet life changing steps that it took to learn to first ride that bike.

Submitted by Guerline Jean Pierre on

In today's busy world, everybody is in a rush to go somewhere. Driving cars seems to be their preferred method of transport while riding bicycles could help them to exercise their body and to avoid rush hour traffic. I think that bicycles should be their preferred method of transport. I also wish that they could park their car for at least one day a week and ride their bicycles instead. Reading this article give me the assurance that there is hope for our citizens to realize the importance of bicycles and use it as their favorite means of transport.

Submitted by Angelyne Peterson on

In my opinion, bicycles should be use more frequently than cars. There is much more fun riding bicycles than driving cars. The bicycles allow people to breath fresh air and be in direct contact with mother nature than cars. In addition, someone has to be at least sixteen years old to be permitted to drive a car, but there is no age limit to start riding a bicycles.
I hope that this article on bicycle will help the general public understand the importance of bicycles, and the necessity to ride them more often than cars that are more expensive and are way more adequate for people's health.

Submitted by Yarie Daramy on

I totally agree with this article and I am happy knowing how long children walk to school from their houses in remote villages. Bicycles provided to these kids will not only create a means of transportation but also keep them very happy. There is nothing as feeling comfortable in all u do. These bicycles will inspire them and keep them working hard. It will improve produce sales of farmers, since they can easily travel to neighboring villages on their bicycles to sell their farm produces. This will greatly improve a family's economy and will increase help in sustaining their families. This is a great way to improve economy and stability.

Submitted by Abdella Abdelkadir on

With all the benefits of a conversion scheme from motors to bicycles, I still feel that on a larger scale, cars and public transportation, especially in the US, have too much momentum in business and personal interest along with views on status and wealth. But the initiative would be successful by individuals who leave these standards and focus on the bettering of families and areas one by one. This is what may facilitate the spread of this way of life that has so much potential.

Submitted by Denia Nunez on

I can agree that this is a great idea for everyone in need specially for those who live far away from school like these kids. It wouldn't be a bad idea if people all around the world started to ride bikes as their transportation I mean imagine how much money people would save. No more gas, no more car notes, and no more car insurance! But let's be honest that would never happen here in the US people are more worried about their image then the world. If everyone were to be more humble maybe it would work!

Submitted by Bob Beers on

Very informative and positive article. In the Greater Seattle WA area there are many, many, many more commuters on bicycles than there were just a few years ago. The community puts a lot of effort into providing bicycling and walking infrastructure. I see in the future fewer cars on the road due to these infrastructure plans and more housing near the business community so the travel distance is shorter.

Submitted by Mikaela on

I totally agree,bikes might take a while for you to get from point A to point B but you won't be wasting money.You also don't have to stress about finding a parking spot,being towed,or getting a ticket trying to look for a space.Could you imagine how much we'd be saved from global warming..we might even get actual snow during the right season you know.But we know that wouldn't happen but it would be a nice change to see

Submitted by Jasmine Nguyen on

I think bikes are a great mode of transportion for underdeveloped countries but not as practical in the US where everything is further away

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