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It might have been an absolutely pretty rubbish year with regards to pretty much everything else, but it’s hard to look past the idea that, because of COVID-19, 2020 has been a pretty successful year in the cycling world, at least.
The global cycling booms.
The sprouting up of pop-up bike lanes.
The news that bike shops have simply run out of bicycles.
The encouragement from Boris Johnson to walk or cycle to work (but only if you can, or if absolutely necessary, or if you can’t work from home, or something along those lines)…
If you’ve not been cycling away your pandemic worries, what have you been doing?
But by just how much did cycling increase in 2020, both in the UK and further afield, and why? And will this resurgence in cycling extend past the merciful arrival of a vaccine for COVID?
Has Cycling Increased in the UK?
Massively. From early April to mid-May, during the beginning of the UK’s first national lockdown, as much as 16 per cent of the England’s population (8.9 million) had been cycling each week during the pandemic (Sport England).
Even when restrictions were loosened in June, bicycle traffic in London was estimated to be up 90% based on Google Maps data (ECF).
And in Scotland, it was reported in late April that journeys made by bike had risen by 120 per cent since the pandemic, while bus, rail, ferry, plane and car journeys had fallen by as much as 95 per cent.
Transport Scotland also found that the average number of trips per person per day fell from 2.7 in March to 0.9 by June.
In fact, in early June, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that cycling levels in Britain has surged by as much as 200 per cent on weekends and 100 per cent on weekdays.
“Despite fewer people travelling over the last few weeks during this crisis, we’ve actually seen around a 100 per cent increase in weekday cycling and at weekends that increase has been up to 200 per cent, compared to the pre COVID-19 levels,” he said.
“We want to use this recovery to permanently change the way we travel, with huge levels of investment.”
Has Cycling Increased in London?
Of course – during the pandemic, certain parts of London were even to bikes, public transport and emergency vehicles only, with temporary cycle lanes fitted on some of the English capital’s busiest roads.
Indeed, cycling levels in London rose by up 120 per cent compared to before lockdown, thanks in no small part to these temporary lanes which began on Park Lane in Westminster in early May.
The switch towards public transport is reflected quite aptly by this graph from Moovit, which shows that passenger numbers in London fell by as much as 80 per cent in mid-April, the height of the pandemic so far:
Meanwhile, London-based bike subscription company Buzzbike announced a 121 per cent rise in sales during the first of Britain’s second national lockdown at the start of November. Cycling luggage company Restrap also doubled its staff following an enormous 270 per cent increase in orders.
Bike Boom Statistics
Unaware of just how seismic the surge in cycling has been this year? Here are some bike boom numbers to sink your teeth into:
- In the last week, Halfords have announced a £56 million pre-tax profit for the first half of this financial year (April – October 2020), a 116 per cent increase on last year.
- Halfords also saw a 54 per cent growth in cycling revenues during the first UK lockdown, while e-bikes and scooter sales shot up by 184 per cent.
- Between February and June, Google found a global increase of 69 per cent in requests for cycling directions on Google Maps.
- According to Eco-Counter, who have tracked monthly cycling levels globally in 2020 and comparing them to last year’s figures, these were up in September 2020 by 27.5 per cent in Italy, 25.3 per cent in Portugal, 24.5 per cent in France and 20 per cent in the UK and Germany respectively compared to September 2019.
- Cycling trips clocked into Strava increased by 56 per cent in Berlin in April 2020 compared to April 2019, by 82 per cent in Barcelona between June 2019 and June 2020, by 119 per cent in London between May 2019 and May 2020, and by 222 per cent in Liverpool during the same period.
- In France, overall cycling levels have increased by 27 per cent between the end of their lockdown and now, compared to the same period in 2019.
- In this year’s edition of the ‘Mobility Monitor’, an annual nationwide survey in Germany, 32 per cent of respondents said that they are cycling more during the pandemic, 29 per cent said they are driving less, 27 per cent said that they want to keep cycling once the pandemic ends, and 14 per cent said they will use their car less in the future, too.
- Cycling in Polish cities has increased by 50 per cent according to the draft national Recovery and Resilience Plan. This has caused the government to feature cycling projects prominently in their plans – 14 of the 16 Polish regions have submitted cycling-related proposals, as such.
- According to Jay Townley, who analyses cycling industry trends at Human Powered Solutions, bike sales between April and June saw their biggest spike in the US since the 1970s oil crisis.
- Adult leisure bike sales trebled in the US in April, while overall US bike sales, doubled from the year before (per NPD Group, who track retail bike sales).
- VanMoof, a Dutch e-bike maker, saw ‘unlimited demand’ in the early months of the pandemic, causing a ten-week order backlog for its commuter electric bikes, compared with typical one-day delivery time, said its co-founder Taco Carlier.
- Indeed, their sales grew by 138 per cent in the US and by 184 per cent in Britain between February and April 2020.
- Cycling levels in western America grew by 253 per cent in late April 2020 (per Eco-Counter).
Why Has Cycling Become So Popular?
Essentially, it’s coronavirus. Whether it’s because people have more free time due to being furloughed or made redundant, afraid to use public transport for obvious reasons, or simply putting this time to good use by improving fitness, a cycling boom might just be the single bit of good COVID has done for the world.
Plus, at the end of April, Sky found that congestion levels had fallen on average by 57 per cent in the UK’s 25 biggest cities. Whether this is people avoid public transport or just staying at home and following government guidelines, more deserted roads will no doubts have allayed potential fears some may have had about safety while cycling.
And the constant emergence of more and more temporary bike lanes will only have helped further in this regard – the better the cycling provision, the more inclined people will be to ride their bikes.
What will also have doubtless helped is the government initiatives brought in to incentivise people to cycle more – the British government began offering £50 bike repair vouchers in late July, for instance, while the Italian government included a €500 ‘bici bonus’ rebate for up to 60 per cent of the cost of your bike.
Can the ‘Bike Boom’ Keep Going?
Well, nobody wants coronavirus to continue any longer, so perhaps the real acid test of this bike boom’s longevity will be how these hugely encouraging figures change once we are through this desperately difficult period.
But certainly, there are worse habits to get addicted to than a healthy dose of regular cycling, and of course, the more that cycling infrastructure improves across various cities, the likelier people will be to continue riding long after COVID-19 is consigned to history.
At least one person – Graham Stapleton, CEO of Halfords – doesn’t see why the bike boom can’t keep going, though.
Stapleton told the London Evening Standard in November: “There is absolutely no sign of any slowdown in growth [of bike sales] that we are seeing – if anything, more recently, it accelerated again.
“And for the mid-to-long-term, the government are investing enormous amounts in cycling… there are so many reasons for the bike growth to continue, I can’t see it stopping.
“It might slow a little from the huge growth we are seeing now, but I think there will still be growth going forward.”
Will Cycling Continue in the UK?
Given such enormous growth during the pandemic, as shown by those cycling boom statistics, it would be a shame, and feel rather like a missed opportunity, should cycling in the UK droop again after COVID-19.
Still, the early signs are positive. Aside from simply introducing temporary bike lanes all over the place recently, more concrete plans are afoot to improve cycling provision across the UK.
In May, Liverpool announced a £2 million scheme for another 100 km of bike lanes, while Manchester’s £1.5 billion plans for new ‘Beeline’ cycling and walking paths remains in the works.
Elsewhere, in October, Scotland announced an £8 million fund to improve their own cycling facilities nationwide, while earlier in November, Shapps awarded English councils a further £175 million to create safe space for cycling and walking, including ‘School Streets’ and segregated cycle lanes.