Sep 15, 2020 - Sports

COVID-19 brings boom for bicycles

an illustration of a bike and a city

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A cycling boom has materialized as a result of the pandemic, with people around the globe taking part in the two-wheel revolution at unprecedented levels.

Why it matters: This has not only been a boon to the biking industry, but it also has the chance to permanently alter cities as bike-friendly changes to urban infrastructure got fast-tracked when the pandemic refused to relent.

  • "The fact that in the space of a few weeks we're radically changing public space to take room away from cars and give it to bikes is quite stunning," says Christophe Najdovski, Paris' deputy transportation mayor, via the Wall Street Journal.

Sales spike: Early shelter-in-place orders effectively locked down the world, but it didn't take long for cabin fever to set in, making socially distant outdoor activities all the rage.

  • In April, bikes sales grew 75% year over year; in June, 63%. Those numbers were even greater in categories like inexpensive leisure bikes (203%) and mountain bikes (150%), as those represent the styles most used by those driving the boom.
  • A result of the sales spike was demand far outpacing supply, succinctly summed up by this NYT headline from August: "Sorry, the world's biggest bike maker can't help you buy a bike right now."

Urban planning: Cities jumped at the opportunity to facilitate the resurgent, socially distant hobby, understanding that public transportation would be either unsafe or undesirable until the curve flattened.

  • Infrastructure: Paris began adding 400 miles of bike lanes in May; Oakland and New York each designated various streets "car-free"; the U.K. fast-tracked a $315 million bike infrastructure project.
  • Incentives: France is providing a $59 rebate for riders looking for a tune-up; Italy is offering a far more generous 60% reimbursement (up to $593) on any bicycle purchase.
  • It worked: Over a 24-hour period in late May, 13,678 cyclists traveled Paris' famed Rue de Rivoli — more than twice as many as a comparable day the previous fall. "We've never seen this kind of bike use," said Najdovski.

The big picture: No major metropolitan transformation is universally beloved by its residents.

  • Those against cities' added bike infrastructure hope these "pop-up" lanes don't become permanent. They argue it makes driving and parking more difficult, and that increased bike traffic is dangerous for pedestrians.
  • Those in favor argue it's good for the environment (fewer cars) and safer for cyclists, who frequently dart between cars.

The bottom line: Like so many other aspects of our lives this year, it remains to be seen whether the biking boom is merely a response to the pandemic or a long-term change that will outlive the virus itself.

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