Bikes Outselling Cars? The Return of the Bicycle

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?”.


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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