Issue Of The Day: Saddling Up

With roads near-deserted during the ghostly early weeks of lockdown, cyclists found their normally traffic-choked commutes to be less stress-inducing and far more enjoyable than usual – and they weren’t the only ones to notice the change in habits.

Two wheels good, four wheels bad?

Even the most devoted petrolhead would have to agree that there’s a health benefit to cycling, but with cars mostly off the road and public transport offering a reduced service it was a no-brainer that cycling was the best, easiest and cheapest way to navigate cities and large towns.

Where’s the proof?

Figures released by Cycling Scotland, Scotland’s national cycling association, showed that in the weeks following lockdown a counter in Dunfermline had recorded an increase in cyclists there of 215 per cent and a near doubling of cyclists in Dundee. The number of cyclists in Livingston, Denny and Kirkcaldy increased by 66, 53 and 30 per cent respectively in the same period. A further study released to mark last month’s Bike Week showed a 77 per cent year-on-year increase in cycling across the country.

Wait, there’s more …

Bicycle shops, which were classed as essential services at the start of lockdown and therefore allowed to stay open, have been doing a roaring trade. People have been queuing out of the door (at the prescribed two metre interval, of course) in order to either buy a new ride or have their old one looked over and spruced up. Retailer Evans Cycles has spoken of “unprecedented demand” for its products and there have been reports of smaller companies working round-the-clock to cope with their waiting lists. In some areas you could have added new bikes to toilet rolls, pasta, flour and hand-sanitiser in the list of products people were desperate to get their hands on but couldn’t.

And yet more …

With many British cities offering bicycle hire schemes, free use of the rides was offered to key workers. Other organisations such as Sustrans, a campaigning cycling charity, have facilitated these projects and at a local level bikes (and even e-bikes) have been made available for NHS workers travelling to and from hospitals.

Is it just us?

Pas du tout, as they say in France. There the government is providing a 50 euro grant for anybody wanting to fix up an old bike. As in the UK bike stores and repair shops are reportedly unable to keep up with demand and sales of bikes have trebled. In Paris, where 650 kilometre of so-called “corona cycleways” were rolled out to help key workers move around the city, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised a further 50 kilometres post-lockdown. The plan is for these to follow closely the busiest Metro routes. And from Aalborg in Denmark to Zebbug in Malta, town and cities have been introducing similar measures, among them Beirut, Quito, Guadalajara and Erbil in Kurdistan. The new normal has two wheels and a saddle.