In present-day German there is much talk of hysteria: topics, questions, problems and dangers suddenly appear, escalate in the social public eye only to soon become forgotten again. If one looks at the current bicycle boom from this angle, it hardly does it justice. So much lifestyle and image on the surface, so much substance in its foundation – that’s worth taking a closer look. COMPASS FOKUS took a look behind the scenes.
When the bicycle celebrates its 200th anniversary next year , its inventor Baron von Drais can proudly look back. The bicycle has been a major contributor to the growth of modernity; it was the first mass transit vehicle, brought comfortable clothing to the female portion of humanity and is still considered the most effective form of human transportation. In addition, even after 200 years, its entertainment value has even increased: cycling is simply fun, regardless of whether cleverly in daily life, enjoyably in leisure or athletically in competition. Nevertheless, the bicycle´s career hasn´t followed straight-line development.
Uphill with corners
With the growing prosperity of the post-war years, an association chain emerged in which the bike was linearly in front of the car: in the family, bicycles were exchanged for a first car and later even for a second car, the policy formulated growth targets based on car ownership and aligned traffic planning to this development. Eventually, this train of thought developed a momentum which finally acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For a long time, this worked very well: the economy prospered, prosperity grew, society and the population developed.
The roots of the current bicycle boom date back to the 1970s. It is by no means a coincidence that a fuel crisis and the beginning of a broad ecological movement occurred at that time. In addition to this rather European view of the bicycle boom, a look at the USA should not be forgotten. After all, the mountain bike was invented in the 1970s. Although the MTB stood and stands for sport and fun and less for everyday mobility, the mountain bike set a wave of innovation in motion that quickly reached the daily commuter bike and sustainably improved it. It was the MTB that fostered functional gears, effective brakes and lightweight components with simultaneously stable construction. First this technical basis enabled the construction of good and stable everyday bikes in the form of trekking bikes.
This update of the bicycle´s mechanical components was the harbinger for the electrical and electronic development of the bicycle. At the turn of the millennium, the universal installation of hub dynamos and the introduction of the LED also brought bicycle lighting to a modern level. Furthermore, the use of the electric motor to assist the rider has opened up cycling to a whole new populace: sweating and effort are now no longer an inevitable part of cycling, but an option. Cyclists can use the “tailwind from the power outlet” even in mountainous regions or against strong headwind without overexertion – or exhaust oneself just as without a motor and be correspondingly faster. On the bike, the electric motor is an advantage that enhances the possibilities and enjoyment – unlike the car, where the current state of technology, infrastructure and costs of the “electro car” are associated with substantial compromises. No wonder that the barely 25,000 registered electric cars mirror over two million e-bikes on German roads.
Smarter through the city
The bicycle boom is not alone an electric one. It explains itself almost soberly from individual cost-benefit calculations: the bicycle is simply faster in the city than the car. One rolls quickly past the traffic jam on cycle paths and the search for a parking space is much easier. This urban flexibility is increasingly being recognised by retailers: cyclists spend more money in the city centre than motorists. Gradually, there is a growing realisation that promoting conditions for cyclists will not lead to a loss of sales, but will increase sales. Here, it is worth taking a look at the world of leisure: cycling tours are a booming sector in tourism. Studies show that cycle tourists leave more money in the region than automobile travelers. In some Alpine regions the turnover from mountain bikers in summer now exceeds that of winter sportspeople. In the region’s competition for the bikers´ favour, bike-friendly service architecture has long been standard and infrastructure in the form of bike parks or route signage is becoming a decisive factor. This, too, can be anticipated: the growth of cycling depends largely on infrastructure. This applies to both flowing and stationary traffic.
Setting the course for the future
The fact that people want this can be seen in the demographics of particularly bike-friendly cities. You will never find these in the lower table ranks in terms of population growth. What’s more, if politics and administration lag far behind the realities of their citizens’ usage, pedal protest is already lurking in the air: so-called critical mass rides and the Berlin referendum on bicycles are good examples of this. It can be shown that the bicycle can be used to “maximise votes” and that under positive auspices. Chancellor Merkel’s campaign appearance on the occasion of the Eurobike bicycle trade fair shortly before the last general elections can hardly be explained otherwise.
Logically, cyclists should be happy as their conditions improve in the city. However, the overall social component is often overseen in the individual consideration. Cycling produces hardly any noise, next to no particulate matter and requires little surface area, both flowing and standing. Cycling by individuals makes a significant contribution to the urban quality of life for all. In addition, promoting cycling is comparatively cheap, which in the tight financial situation of many municipalities gives an impulse to cycling. The bicycle is much lighter and it has a lower differential speed in relation to pedestrian traffic, which leads to a lower risk potential for other road users. These local benefits also have global ones: bicycles are resource-saving in production and, for fuel, make do with a hearty breakfast for the rider or, in the case of an e-bike, with a little green electricity.
Last but not least, a reference to the national economy: cyclists are less often sick, happier and are more mentally alert after cycling to the office. Drastically falling health costs make them ideal employees from the point of view of many company doctors. It is not surprising that more and more employers want to create ideal conditions for them (showers, bicycle parking, work bikes, etc.).