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There are approximately 1 billion bicycles in the world, with the Netherlands having the highest number per capita. China is the largest bicycle manufacturer but has relatively low cycling rates. Beijing has around 13 million bicycles, and cycling popularity is influenced by factors like infrastructure and cultural preferences.
Cycling is extremely popular around the world, and that popularity is only going to grow as we move towards a fully green economy. Cycling is great for you, for the environment, and it’s a convenient way to cut through traffic on a busy commute.
Just how popular is it, though, and how many bicycles are owned around the world? Read on as we break it down…
Which Country Has the Most Bicycles? [Per Capita]
The Netherlands lives up to its cyclist-friendly reputation and has the most bicycles per capita of any country in the world. Flat, central European countries dominate the list, along with Scandinavia. Despite being the biggest producer of bicycles (by a considerable distance), China only comes in at number 10.
Here’s how the figures break down.
Most Bicycles Per Capita
|#||Country||Population||Bicycles||Bikes per Person|
How Many Bicycles Are There in the World?
Although this question is difficult to answer exactly, there were roughly 1 billion bicycles in the world in 2019. That was before the pandemic-cycling boom, so the number is likely to have increased dramatically as people took to the cycle paths for exercise, freedom and wellbeing.
China remains the biggest manufacturer of bicycles in the world. It produces around 60% of all bicycles, but cycling rates are comparatively low. Many of those vehicles are exported, particularly to the USA. Copenhagen is the most cyclist-friendly city in the world. It was the first city to see the number of cyclists overtake motorists in 2016.
Bicycles Usage Statistics by Country
As the list shows, bicycles are most popular in central European countries with mostly flat terrain (The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium) and Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Finland). There are only three countries that don’t fit this template (these being Japan, China and Switzerland).
The Dutch made 4.8 billion bicycle trips in 2019, covering a distance of 17.6 billion kilometres. That averages out at around 3km per person every day. Around 16% of all trips are made by bicycle in Denmark, although many of these are short: 24% are under 5km. 36% of adults use their bicycles to commute. Despite being third on the list of bikes owned, only 9.1% of Germans use their bicycles daily, and only 17.1% several times per week. The Swedes cycle roughly 5.3km per day, although this number is down from what it was in the 1990s. This decline was spread across all ages, demographics and municipalities. By comparison, around 20% of people in England cycle once per week.
Bicycles Per Capita by Country
The Netherlands wins the race for most bicycles per capita, with 16,500,000 between 16,652,800 people. Although this would suggest that 99.1% of the population are cyclists, the figure is a little misleading. An individual might own multiple bikes, for example.
Despite having a colossal number of bicycles (over half a million) China’s per capita ratio isn’t as impressive as the numbers imply – with around 37.2% coverage. Denmark and Germany aren’t far behind the Netherlands, with 80.1% and 75.8% respectively. Sweden and Norway clock in at 63.% and 60.7%.
Per capita is the most effective way to gauge bicycle usage but it still isn’t perfect. The figure doesn’t take into account individuals who own multiple bikes or even bikes that they no longer use but haven’t scrapped. Still, it’s a useful way to get a picture of how widespread cycling is and where it’s become a way of life.
It’s also worth noting that the countries (and cities) with the highest per capita rate have undertaken huge infrastructure developments to become more cycle friendly. Cycle paths, lanes and traffic rules make these cities exceptionally friendly to cyclists, which explains the high rate. Countries that lag in this area don’t make the list.
How Popular is Cycling in China
China’s relationship with cycling is complex. Although it produces a vast number of bicycles (and the government is keen to stress how popular cycling is) only 37% of the population actually uses a bicycle.
That’s enough to get China on the list, but hardly inspiring for a country that produces 60% of all bikes. Cycling used to be much more popular than it is now. Back in the 1980s, owning a bicycle was considered a sign of financial progress and celebrated. Cyclists were a common sight across the country, especially in Beijing.
All that changed in the early 2000s. As incomes rose and the car boom took over, many people simply exchanged their bicycles for automobiles. China has at least 300 million registered cars and is now considered the “Automobile Kingdom.” State officials even heralded the downturn in cycling as a signal that the country was entering “car society.”
That said, China is nowadays making attempts to restart cycling culture as a greener, healthier alternative to the car (and the traffic jams it causes). More cycling infrastructure, events and organisations are turning the tide back from four wheels to two. Cycling is becoming extremely popular again, especially in big cities like Beijing where the bicycle is a common – even iconic – sight.
How Many Bicycles Are ACTUALLY in Beijing?
You might have heard that there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing, but that isn’t quite a fact! There are actually several million more – with estimates putting the number at around 13 million. Around 12% of people cycle.
The cycling boom of the 1980s – 1990s has passed but might now be on its way back around again. Beijing is extremely cyclist-friendly, as are many of the big cities including Shanghai and Chengdu. Katie Melua might not have got her figures quite right but her point still stands – if you visit Beijing you can expect to see a lot of bicycles. Cyclists will feel right at home.