Cycling in Autumn 2020
Scarcely had the ink dried on the Government’s call back to the office when it was retracted last week, but such is life in times of Covid-19. For the cycling industry, its boost over the past months has been one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, but the news is still of an ambiguous note.
On the one hand, delaying the return to offices will stymie those who were contemplating commuting to work by bike. But on the other, working from home again gives people more free time, as was had over lockdown, to explore and potentially reinvigorate a lost passion for cycling.
Indeed, as the public health crisis rumbles on, taking up cycling remains a cornerstone of leading a healthier lifestyle. However, with winter now looming comes the seasonal threat of people foregoing their bike for other forms of transport.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented rise in bike sales seen in the first half of this year continues to be resilient. With a general increase of 60% on 2019 in bikes purchases, the phenomenon has been felt nationwide, and has partly spurred the government cycling infrastructure measures we mentioned several weeks ago. And recent data from the British Department for Transport indicates cycling activity continues to remain over 100% higher than the rate recorded in March (the start of lockdown), even peaking at 300% on the weekends in some areas.
In particular, it is e-bikes and e-scooters which have been the darling of the summer. Having been quite rare, they are now a visible presence on urban streets, with sales of electric bikes and scooters having tripled over the year before.
There are several reasons for this. As alternative transport, e-bike usage is linked to the wider societal shift toward improving general health and reducing our carbon footprint. They have also featured prominently in the news recently and, having previously been something of a niche/cottage industry, are now becoming more mainstream in the cycle community.
Additionally conducive to increased sales has been the wider availability of insurance for e-bikes. Indeed, traditionally seen as a risky purchase (with bicycle theft plaguing the mind of any cyclist) interesting research has found that theft is relatively low amongst e-bike owners. Often it is accidental damage that is claimed, and very rarely, despite a perception that e-bikes are dangerous to other road-users, is it for damages against a third-party. In general, legal e-bikes do not pose any greater risk to pedestrians than already low-risk normal bikes.
Furthermore, as lithium batteries continue to decline in price, it is likely that e-bikes will only become a more frequent sight on British streets; with this also driving innovation. Indeed, market trends indicate that more expensive and luxurious e-bikes are being increasingly sought after, and will spur growth in the e-bike market in the years to come.
With this potentially promoting even greater interest in cycling, there is good grounds on which to be positive for the future. Already cities are being transformed; like Glasgow, which, thanks to its new cycling measures, has seen almost a 200% increase in monthly riders compared to same month last year. European cities, already with their cycling heritage, seem to be going even further- Paris, for example, has seen its cycling levels remain consistently high even after restrictions lifted.
With colder weather and cars back on the streets in droves, there are certainly obstacles for maintaining cycling’s momentum since the pandemic. Nevertheless, with data showing that cyclists spend longer in city centres than other town-goers, potentially providing an important demographic for small businesses at this critical juncture, it is hoped that national and local government will continue to help encourage cycling in Britain.
Photo credits: Richard Peace