Bike sales around the world have suddenly skyrocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving bike retailers struggling to keep up with this unprecedented demand. Most people feel unsafe using public transport and cycling is a way of getting around that enables physical distancing during the pandemic. In addition, with gyms, cinemas and galleries closed, many view cycling as both exercise and recreation. Furthermore, the quieter roads make cycling more appealing now than when the roads were busier pre the pandemic.
Dutch bike brand VanMoof, which sells e-bikes all around the world, suddenly saw a surge in online pre-orders for their two-wheelers.They were then able to secure 12.5 million euros of venture capital funding and team up with Taiwan-based manufacturer Sinbon Electronics to scale up production to more than triple their previous output.
Many cities around the world, wanting to relieve the pressure on public transport, are responding to this upsurge with initiatives such as adding extra bike lanes while closing off entire streets to cars to make the cities more cycle friendly. In May, the UK government announced a 2 billion pound investment “to create a new era for cycling and walking.” In Northern Ireland, new legislation has been proposed to encourage the use of e-bikes by allowing them to be used on public roads without the need for registration or licensing. In early June, the South African government announced a draft law that classifies e-bikes as bicycles provided that their speed does not exceed 25kph. Thirty-two kilometres (20 miles) of streets in Seattle will be permanently closed to traffic. “[The pedestrianised streets] are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
With social distancing still a requirement, cities built for public transport commuter traffic will not be able to cope if citizens opt to drive cars as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Roads would become gridlocked, impeding emergency vehicles and carbon emissions would escalate. “If just a fraction switch to cars, London will grind to a halt, choking our economic recovery,” says Will Norman, the city’s first Walking and Cycling Commissioner.
Locally, Andrew Mclean of Cycle Lab Megastores headquartered in Johannesburg said in an interview with Flux Trends that people now view their “health as their wealth”, and his company has seen a boom in bike sales as a consequence of COVID-19. The two main growth areas are newcomers to cycling and the e-bike market. He says that in spite of South Africa not being a commuter cycling market, it has a thriving cycling industry with top notch bike parks and world-class cycling events.
At the same time, more civilians are cycling while cities are being transformed into bike-friendly spaces. This suggests that this may be a lifestyle change that will persist beyond COVID-19.
By Faeeza Khan
Image credit: Nick Page