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Home » Biking

Bikes Outselling Cars? The Return of the Bicycle

Last updated by on 7 Comments

So here is some geeky exciting news from good ole’ NPR that shows new bicycle sales are now far outpacing new car sales in Europe.

For a guy who bike commutes most of the year (and bus commutes the rest), that just warms my heart.

In economically depressed or emerging economy countries, the ratio of bike to car sales is actually quite dramatic:

  • Lithuania: new bike sales – 115,000; new car sales – 12,000
  • Greece: new bike sales – 320,000; new car sales – 58,000
  • Romania: new bike sales – 380,000; new car sales – 72,000
  • Slovenia: new bike sales – 250,000; new car sales – 50,000
  • Hungary: new bike sales – 232,000; new car sales – 53,000

That may not come as much of a surprise. Sadly, the purchase of 4,000 lbs. of steel to move 100-300 lbs. of flesh and bone is seen as a sign of economic progress. Human progress? That’s an entirely different story.

But even in the largest and most industrialized countries, bicycles are now outselling cars:

  • bike vs car salesGermany: new bike sales – 3,966,000; new car sales – 3,083,000
  • Britain: new bike sales – 3,600,000; new car sales – 2,045,000
  • France: new bike sales – 2,835,000; new car sales – 1,899,000
  • Italy: new bike sales – 1,606,000; new car sales – 1,402,000
  • Spain: new bike sales – 780,000; new car sales – 700,000

This may not be noteworthy, but for the fact that this hasn’t become a trend until recently. For example, it’s the first time it’s happened since World War II (1945) in Italy.

The questions you may have are “why?” and “so what?”.

Why?

On the surface, this trend coincides with the worldwide recession. Europe was hit just as hard as the U.S., but the economic recovery has been slower – believe it or not.

Whether due to less actual disposable income or perhaps simply fears of less future disposable income – people are seemingly turning in their cars for a cheaper form of transportation in bikes.

Now, it would be a little naive to assume that all of those folks buying bicycles are turning in cars for bikes. But it would be at least equally naive to assume that very few of them are doing so, or aren’t at least making a major shift to using a bike for transportation.

So what?

My hope is that this is not just a short-term trend that will disappear once the economy rebounds more fully. Using a bicycle for transportation is intensely satisfying, great for your health, results in a HUGE impact reduction vs. using a vehicle, and for the purposes of this blog – can result in massive cost savings.

My longer term hope is that this is a trend we will begin seeing more and more in the United States as well, given the increased infrastructure to do so. For those wonder, automakers sold 14.5 million cars in the U.S. in 2012. Meanwhile, there were 13 million adult bikes sold in the U.S. last year (throw in children’s bikes and it’s 18.7 million). Not the best year in recent history, but up 20% y/y.

The average transportation costs in the United States per 2-person household is $9,211 per year. $8,582 (93.2%) of those transportation costs comes from the cost of vehicle ownership – the cost of owning/leasing, insurance, financing, maintenance, fuel, and other related expenses.

Getting rid of a vehicle can cut those costs almost in half. And replacing casual driving with biking can cut them even further. That’s $4-5K in savings alone. And what monetary value can you place on the happiness gains?

As bicycling continues its return to popularity, you will see more and more urban and rural infrastructure to accommodate. Taxpayers will demand so. Homebuyers will buy accordingly. And we’ll all be better off for it. Lets just hope that economic “improvements” don’t make us forget that.

Bike Sales Discussion:

  • Have you made the move from a car to a bike? How much do you estimate you have saved?
  • What is your favorite bicycle?
  • What trends do you hope to see with bicycling?

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7 Comments »
  • Steve says:

    I don’t think this will happen on a wide scale in the US. We’re a very spread-out society where commutes of 30+ miles aren’t uncommon. I don’t see a large number of people moving their homes or getting new jobs just to make biking to work easier. And unfortunately, we’re such a physically unfit group of people that if the commute is more than I don’t know, 10(?) miles each way, most wouldn’t even attempt it.

  • Melissa says:

    I got rid of my car exactly 3 months ago today, and I haven’t regretted it since! I work about 20 miles from my condo and I’m able to take the train to work and bike the 2 miles from there. I had planned on buying another car before winter hit but we’re doing okay as a one car family and I LOVE not having a car or insurance payment (and not spending money on gas for that matter). This situation definitely wouldn’t work for everyone (I live in a downtown urban area with adequate public transportation and I don’t have kiddos) but for now, I’m loving it!

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I agree w/ Steve. This would never work here. Most of us are very reliant on our cars. Also our homes tend to be in residential areas where it is separated from commercial ones so it is tough to bike those kinds of distances and time seems to be on short demand these days.

  • This is actually super exciting! I would love to live in a city that encouraged cycling all year round. Unfortunately due to our climate it’s not really possible, but I just purchased my first real bike this year and I’m hoping to use it instead of the car for at least a few months of the year!

    • Garrett says:

      Your site says you’re Canadian but it doesn’t say where you live…but it may be more possible than you think.

      A couple years ago, Minneapolis was rated the best cycling town in the US by a cycling magazine. I read that a pretty good number of people there cycle year round despite the cold.

      I’ve also heard of a number of Alaskans that cycle year round using studded bike tires. And Mr. Money Mustache (another financial blogger) cycles year round in Colorado.

      I live in the mountains of California. It’s not super cold here but we average 400-500 inches of snow a year and the city doesn’t maintain the cycle paths and lanes. But despite those challenges, I know several people that are able to cycle to work. Some of them use fat tire bikes to “float” over the snow.

      I don’t cycle to work but I do walk, snowshoe or XC ski. Everyone looks at you like you’re a total badass if you walk into work carrying XC skis :-)

      So, maybe it’s more possible than you might think.

  • Now this is good news. The recession is turning out to be a blessing in disguise for some folks and a big win for the planet!
    Am yet to buy a bike (its in the plans). I live in an area where I can easily walk to work – its a concious choice. That way I get to save on time and expenses on commuting.

    The weather alas might deter most folks in Northern America from adopting bikes not to mention the bike unfriendly city designs.

  • Michelle says:

    I don’t have a car-I ride my Cruiser! They have been reporting that Millenials and to some degree GenXers are ditching cars in cities WHERE THEY CAN (being the key). Also, people are using car services such as-Occassional Car to supplement their car needs without all of the commitment.

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