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Blog post of the month: Cycling is everyone’s business

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

This post is also available in French and Spanish .
“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.

From one billion cars to one billion bicycles

Sintana Vergara's picture

Bike path in New York City

In 1993, when I was 10 years old, my family took a trip to Beijing, where the large boulevards provided us with an image that seemed reversed: bicycles everywhere, punctuated by the occasional car. The young and old rode nearly identical two-wheeled machines to get where they needed to, and the internal combustion engines were sidelined, weaving their way through an army of peddlers. At that time, writes Kristof in 1988, 76% of road space in China’s capital was taken up by bicycles – and one in every two people owned a bicycle (that’s 5.6 million bikes for 10 million people).

Fast forward 20 years: Beijing’s traffic patterns are impressive for a very different reason. Cars now clog the streets, slowing down rush hour traffic to 9 miles per hour, and bicycles have all but disappeared. Chinese consumers have overwhelmingly embraced the car - from 1990 to 2000, their number increased from 1.1 to 6 million (a 445% leap). The hunger for cars is growing; China is now home to over 78 million cars, of which 6.5 million are in Beijing alone.

Is the bicycle one of our best and oldest transport innovations yet?

Julie Babinard's picture

I was recently invited to a panel discussion to comment on the movie ‘With My Own Two Wheels’  ( which illustrates how bicycles can serve as a missing link to development.  It follows the transformation taking place in the lives of 5 individuals.

Bike Local, Think Global and What to Do When the Car is Unavoidable

Julie Babinard's picture

A few years ago I proudly put a sticker on my bicycle that claimed one should ‘bike local’ in order to ‘think global.’  These days, it seems that the car is unavoidable in the majority of growing cities and that instead of biking local one should avoid commuting at all.