“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.” - Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered what happened to once commonplace items such as the abacus, the slide rule, the hourglass, or the quill; not to mention, VHS recorders, CD cassette players, and more recently, address and telephone books? They all met the same fate: they were replaced by modern technological innovations such as calculators, electronic watches, ballpoint pens, and computers. And what happened to the bicycle? It has been with us for over 200 years, and by some estimates, there are more than two billion bikes in use around the world and by 2050 this number could reach five billion. Over fifty percent of the human population can ride a bike. The bicycle is a veteran and mainstay of human mobility. Even competitive riders pay respect to the utility of bicycles outside grand tours. One of them, Ted King predicted: “Bicycles have the potential to save the world. There’s so much that a bicycle can do, from an environmental standpoint, from a health standpoint, and their social impact.”
Amid the recent surge in global popularity of cycling - in sport, in leisure and in urban commuting - two presenters of Italian RAI2 radio believe that the Nobel Peace Prize should go to the bicycle. The presenters of the popular Caterpillar program describe bikes as an "instrument of peace". They say the bike "is the most democratic means of transport available to humanity". Proponents have also used the example of Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali, who during World War II ferried counterfeit documents by bike to save Jews, as an example of how the cycle has aided in "liberation and resistance". Additionally, 118 Italian Members of Parliament have also officially nominated the Afghan Cycling Federation women's team for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. They hail the bicycle as environmental, economic, and democratic.
In November 2015, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), in collaboration with the World Cycling Alliance (WCA), announced their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to the UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who called for voluntary commitments from civil society to tackle climate change. In “Cycling Delivers on the Global Goals” the direct impact of cycling can be demonstrated on at least 11 of the 17 Global Goals. Recent research presented in “A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario” by UC Davis firmly concludes: “The results show that a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save society $24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11% in 2050 compared to a ‘High Shift’ scenario without a strong cycling emphasis.”
The global community of cycling enthusiasts celebrates, even worships, the loyalty of the freedom machine to humanity by organizing events all over the world. However, well- intentioned or -organized, all these remain out of sync with very diversified agendas. After over two centuries of stellar service to humankind, we, the people, believe that the bicycle deserves an official annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations, and preceded by the International Year of Bicycle Awareness and Education of Cycling for All.
In developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, a bicycle can cause a revolution in a family’s livelihood. Georgina Stimbeko, a widow and small scale farmer in Zambia, used to make only one milk delivery per day because she lived 12 kilometers from the local dairy cooperative and had no good transportation options. Now she uses her bicycle to reliably and efficiently deliver milk twice a day. Her increased income has helped her support her family’s health, nutrition, education, and quality of life. Bernhard Ensink, Secretary General of the ECF foresees: “We expect to see goods delivered by cycle far beyond the cities where bikes are already part of the logistics system, in cities and municipalities all across the European Union.”
The current reawakening of cycling has also had a very new and rejuvenating component. Women are now becoming majority riders. In the US alone, approximately one-third (28%) of cyclists, 7.8 million adults, participate in biking as a family activity. Of those 7.8 million, over half (58%) are women. The history of emancipation shows that the bicycle has always been a faithful mobility tool for females.
By 2050, cities are projected to house around 70% of the world’s population. As urban commuters find it increasingly difficult to get to work by car or public transport due to cost and congestion, they are turning progressively to two-wheelers. A thoughtful and well-designed synergy between bicycle users and smart cities is the only viable solution. For example, the City Council of Oslo has recently announced that the City Center will be car-free by 2019. This represents a massive step forward for reducing the nation's carbon footprint and air pollution. For the Mayor of Bristol, England, George Ferguson, cycling is an inevitable part of the near future: “When it comes to improving our environment and protecting our health, cycling is a win-win option, which is why I want to see the number of Bristol bike users double again over the next ten years.”
When four Israeli cyclists suggested to the Tel Aviv City Council in 1994 that it should promote the bicycle as a new mode of transport, they were met with laughter: “They were told that cycling was something for third world nations.” One council official said: “Tel Aviv is a modern city. We only promote sophisticated transport solutions. Very soon we will have a light rail system.” More than twenty years later, realization of the Tel Aviv light rail system is still a very long way off, but cycling became the new mode of transport in the city. About 15% of the inhabitants of central Tel Aviv cycle to work or school.
On New Year’s Day 2014, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, a leader known to lead by example, took time for a bike-sharing ride in Tel Aviv while on a State visit to Israel. What a way to start the new year!
Recently, the newly appointed Polish Top Diplomat, told German tabloid Bild that he believes that there is no place for cyclists and vegetarians in Poland: “Under the previous government a specific left-wing policy concept was followed with which the world must move in only one direction, the Marxist model – to a new mix of cultures and races, a world of cyclists and vegetarians who only focus on renewable energies and fight against any form of religion. This has nothing to do with traditional Polish values.” As a result of this statement the community of disheartened cycling enthusiasts protested by using the bicycle as the symbol of disagreement.
Leveraging one’s network - cycling is becoming the new golf. It used to be customary to build your professional and social networks over a round of golf in a country club, but this is not a norm anymore as cycling is less competitive then golf. “When you play golf with somebody you have to decide if you’re going to beat them, or let them beat you,” says Peter Murray, a former architect, journalist and chairman of the NLA center dedicated to London’s built environment. “If they’re a client and you don’t want to beat them you have to sort of cheat in order to lose. That seems to me not a good way of doing things.”
This clear renaissance of the bicycle created powerful momentum that should be seized and sealed in the form of an annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations. Mayors of smart cities should play a key role in crafting such an event with support from the Olympic Movement. Participation of multilateral institutions and civil society organizations is required to make it happen. One of the crucial first steps will be identifying countries to spearhead the introduction to the proper UN forums. The first upcoming opportunity to discuss the strategy will occur in Taipei at the colloquium of Scientists for Cycling hosted by the National Taiwan University followed by the 2016 Velo-City Global under the theme of Evolution of Cycling. It seems that Taipei’s international cycling summit has the potential to generate enough energy and enthusiasm to put this into full-speed wheeling motion for once and ever. Before this coalition of cycling lovers will knock on the door of the United Nations with a petition to organize World Bicycle Day, it would be constructive to soul search why the other fifty percent of the global population doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle. Perhaps the primary goal for World Bicycle Day should be how to achieve global cycling literacy?
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Photograph of Georgina Stimbeko courtesy of World Bicycle Relief
Second photograph by Agnieszka Sadowska/Agencja Gazeta
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