Bike Republic Germany

There is a lot of talk about hysteria in contemporary Germany: Topics, questions, problems and dangers suddenly emerge, escalate in the social public sphere, only to be forgotten again soon after. Anyone who looks at the current bicycle boom from this angle is hardly doing it justice. So much lifestyle on the surface, so much substance underneath – it’s worth taking a closer look.

Next year, when the bicycle celebrates its 200th birthday. As it celebrates its 50th birthday, its inventor Freiherr von Drais can look back with pride. The bicycle has played a considerable part in the flourishing of modernity; it was the first means of mass individual transportation, provided the female part of humanity with comfortable clothing, and is still considered the most effective form of human locomotion. What’s more, even after 200 years, it has even tended to gain in entertainment value: Cycling is simply fun, regardless of whether it is clever in everyday life, enjoyable in leisure time or sporty in competition. Nevertheless, the career of the wheel is not a straightforward development.

Uphill with curves

With the growing prosperity of the post-war years, a chain of associations emerged in which the bicycle came linearly before the car: In the family, bicycles were exchanged for a first car and later even for a second car; politicians formulated growth targets based on car ownership and geared transport planning to this. Eventually, a momentum of its own emerged from this train of thought, which ultimately acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For a long time, this worked very well: the economy prospered, prosperity grew, society and population developed.

The roots of the current bicycle boom go back to the 1970s. It is by no means a coincidence that that period also saw the oil crisis and the beginning of a broad ecological movement. In addition to this rather European view of the bicycle boom, a look at the USA should not be forgotten. Because in the 1970s was also invented the mountain bike. Although the MTB stood and still stands for sport and fun and less for everyday mobility, the mountain bike set in motion a wave of innovation that quickly reached and sustainably improved the everyday bike as well. Only the MTB brought functional circuits, effective brakes and lightweight components with yet stable construction. Only this technical basis allows the construction of the stable and good everyday bikes in the form of trekking bikes.

This update of the mechanical components of the bike was the harbinger of the electric and electronic development of the bicycle. At the turn of the millennium, the widespread installation of hub dynamos and the introduction of LEDs would also bring bicycle lights up to modern standards. And the use of the electric motor to assist the rider has taken the suffering out of the passion of cycling: Sweating and exertion are now no longer an inevitable part of cycling, but an option: Cyclists can ride with “tailwind from the socket” even in mountainous regions or with a strong headwind without overexertion – or power out just as much as without a motor and be correspondingly faster. On the bicycle, the motor is an asset that increases the possibilities and enjoyment value – quite different from the car, where at the current state of the art, the infrastructure and cost of the “E” come with plenty of compromises. No wonder that the barely 25,000 registered e-cars are matched by over two million e-bikes on German roads.

Smarter through the city

But the bicycle boom is not an electric one alone. It can be explained almost matter-of-factly by individual cost-benefit calculations: The bicycle is simply faster in the city than the car. On bike paths, it rolls swiftly past the traffic jam and the search for a parking space is much easier. This urban flexibility is also increasingly recognized by retailers: Cyclists spend more money in the city center than car drivers. Gradually, the realization is gaining ground that promoting conditions for bicyclists leads to increased sales, not decreased sales. Here, it’s worth taking a look at the leisure world: bike tours are a boom sector in tourism. Studies show that bicycle tourists leave more money in the region than automobile travelers. In some Alpine regions, the turnover from mountain biking in summer now exceeds that of winter sports. In the competition between regions for the favor of bikers, a 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 can also be anticipated: The prosperity of cycling depends largely on infrastructure. This applies to both moving and stationary traffic.

Setting the course for the future

The fact that people want this can be seen in the population development of designated bicycle-friendly cities. They are never found in the lower ranks of the table in terms of population growth. What’s more, when politics and administration lag too far behind the reality of their citizens’ use, the pedal protest sometimes breaks out loudly: so-called critical mass rides and the Berlin referendum on bicycles are good examples of this. It can be concluded that bicycles can be used to “maximize votes.” And under positive signs. There is hardly any other explanation for Chancellor Merkel’s campaign appearance at the Eurobike bicycle trade show shortly before the last federal elections.

Logically, cyclists should be happy to see their conditions improve in the city. However, the individual view often fails to take into account the societal component as a whole. Cycling produces hardly any noise, virtually no particulate matter, and has a small land footprint, both flowing and standing. Thus, individual bicycling makes a significant contribution to the urban quality of life for all. Also, cycling funding is comparatively inexpensive, which gives impetus to cycling in the tight financial situation of many municipalities. The bicycle is much lighter and it has a lower differential speed compared to pedestrian traffic, from this derives a lower potential danger for other road users. In addition to these local benefits, there are also global ones: the bicycle is resource-friendly in production and gets by on a hearty breakfast of the rider’s fuel or, in the case of an e-bike, a little green electricity.

Last but not least, a reference to the national economy: cyclists are less often ill, happier and are mentally more alert after cycling to the office. Drastically reduced follow-up health costs make them ideal employees in the view of many company physicians. So it’s no surprise that more and more employers want to provide them with the most ideal conditions possible (showers, bike parking, company bikes, etc.).