With electric cars silently zooming around and ride hailing apps a staple of modern society, you would’ve thought that by now the humble bicycle would’ve been banished to the confines of pelotons of Sunday riding enthusiasts and small children learning to balance on two wheels. Somehow, however, in 2021, cycling is not only still lingering around as a mode of transport for the general masses, but arguably in its strongest phase of popularity since the widespread arrival of production vehicles. But why? Well, a number of factors really, pertaining to changing attitudes around our environmental footprint, personal finance and transport as a whole but, at least last year, largely in part due to a certain global pandemic. The rise in popularity of cycling over the past 12 months was so significant that it’s been referred to as the “bike boom” of 2020. The question is, why did the pandemic help out bikes so much, and will we continue to see the industry thrive as we return to normality?
The great boom of 2020
Cycling was by no means dead in the water pre-pandemic. Far from it, in fact as millions of bikes were already in use in the UK for anything from the daily commute through to weekend sporting pursuits. COVID-19, though, was undoubtedly the spark that lit the bonfire to get cycling the level where it is now. The vast change in living circumstances, the need to exercise with limited resources around, the anxiety in relation to public transport – all of these were key factors in encouraging people to head into their sheds for the first time in years and dust off their old bike. We had more time on our hands, more disposable income to spend on repairs or a new bike, and governments around Europe were offering state sponsored programs encouraging people to start cycling. By summer 2020, the numbers relating to those cycling in the UK had as much as tripled, while suppliers couldn’t keep up with demand and auxiliary industries such as the cycling insurance sector grew. 2020 represents a true renaissance for cycling, the main point of interest now is to see whether that extends into later 2021 and beyond.
Reasons to keep riding
As we’ve already established, there were already plenty of reasons why getting on your bike was a good idea before the world shutdown. Thus, there are still many positives to remain part of the cycling crowd as we reach the conclusion of lockdown restrictions. Sustainability will remain the the dominant theme behind any cycling renaissance beyond lockdown. As we collectively become increasingly aware of our environmental impact, cycling provides a practical avenue for people to take short journeys or take on their daily commute with zero emissions to their name. Even for those more concerned with themselves, the cost benefits of riding to work everyday are substantial enough to warrant giving it a try. Especially in the newly projected working world ahead of us, where remote working arrangements are set to be the norm, ownership and use of a car will represent much worse value to many and become financially unviable for some. Then there is the health factor, with cycling being one of the most popular choices to stay fit over lockdown while gyms and other sporting facilities were closed down. The success of homemade workouts and exercise plans will likely see many people abandon the gym permanently, in which case owning and operating a bike could become a fundamental part of many peoples’ fitness routines.
Is cycling here to stay?
While nobody can say for sure, it is reasonable to suggest that the success the cycling industry has enjoyed recently is not a flash in the pan. Coming into 2021, sales and activity data for the industry remained high, while governments worldwide have made fundamental changes to their transport systems to accommodate more cyclists. Perhaps most notably, the pandemic lasted long enough for cycling to become a habit for many newcomers – with riders having enough time on their bikes to see the environmental, economical and health related benefits from their new or rediscovered hobby. Just as the pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions have shifted attitudes and behaviours in areas like our way of work and ways we communicate, seemingly for good, it’s fair to suggest the same for how it’s impacted our perspective on cycling. So, don’t expect to see cycling disappear into the background again, at least for the foreseeable future.