The original green machine! Commuter bikes are easy, inexpensive transportation, great exercise and a way of life for over a billion people around the world! Sadly, we in the United States lag behind the rest of the world in the love of these ancient inventions. We start young on three wheels, feel excitement and accomplishment when we learn to ride on two and all too soon abandon the bike for the four-wheeled gas-guzzler. Commuter bikes become the “Sunday ride in the park” if we’re truly lucky. To some, even in the U.S., the bicycle is a way of life – the only mode of transportation. The nations that lean heavily on commuter bikes for everyday life, have a populace that is healthier, lives longer and is generally happier. Must be the cute little bells on the handlebars or perhaps it’s just life on a bike.
China, with a population of 1.4 billion people, has 500 million bicycles. Cyclists make up over 37% of the population. With the increase of cars and trucks quickly replacing bikes, the pollution problem is climbing at an alarming rate. China’s most populated city, Shanghai has almost 20 million people and over 9.4 million bicycles. 60% of those with bicycles ride to work every day.
Belgium, with a population of almost 11 million, boasts over 5.2 million bikes. Cyclists make up 48% of the population and figures say that 8% of all trips are made via bicycles.
Belgians are safety conscious as well. Bikes are an important, well-thought out purchase and always well maintained. You will find most riders wear helmets and bright yellow vests. We have also learned they have really delicious waffles, well worth the kilometer ride, which is the average trip for the average Belgian.
Throughout Europe, countries like Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have always had a strong attachment to bikes. Cyclists in these nations constitute from 48% to 99.1% of the population. Our beloved Cycle Chic highlights the bicycle’s role in daily life around the globe.
One reason these countries have such a love of commuter bikes and an ability to incorporate them into their daily lives is less vehicular traffic, of course, but also special bike lanes. Amsterdam, the capital and largest city in the Netherlands, has 400 kilometers of bike lanes and it’s estimated that 40% of all daily work commutes are done on bicycles.
Japan has a surprising rate of 57% cyclists. With 128 million residents, there is an estimated 73 million bicycles with an estimated bike sales figure of 10 million new bikes per year. 15% of commutes are made via commuter bikes and many Japanese workers will use bikes to ride to the train stations for lengthier commutes. A surprising fact is that bicycles are not locked up in Japan. It’s a cultural nicety that no other country seems to enjoy.
The Japanese, as a culture, has also adopted bike riding not only for health reasons but also for green concerns as the nation strives to cut energy consumption. The recent tragedy at nuclear power plants was met with quick action and societal change. It’s a lesson every nation should follow. We also understand there has been an even stronger interest in cycling since the tragedy.
The United States falls far behind nearly every other industrialized nation when it comes to bikes. Less than one in three people own a bike and many are likely used as towel racks at home. Less than 1% of all trips are made by bike and the average distance cycled per person is .01 kilometer.
Big cities have long talked about bike lanes, turning main avenues into “bike only” streets and making life easier for those who choose a greener mode of transportation. It hasn’t happened fast enough and although New York City has long lead the fight for bike lanes and cycle-friendly commuting, residents are still fighting the expansion of New York City Bike lanes as well as the thought of commuting from the four boroughs into Manhattan.
Biking in NYC can be dangerous but as gas prices continue to rise, people are slowly abandoning their cars and trucks and finding the old adage is actually true:
It’s like riding a bike – you never forget!