A bike is a bike is a bike
All over the world most people use one to overcome distances, just for fun, sports or business mobility.
Biking to work can be a highly rewarding experience: propelling yourself along on a modernized version of a two-hundred-year-old vehicle does not only accelerate your blood circulation and put fire in your neurons. It also stimulates your imagination and helps you hit on the very idea you were looking for when you mounted the bike. So when you arrive at your desk, you feel swell and a bit sweaty, a minor drawback, admittedly. Nevertheless, riding a bike is not just a reasonable option for business mobility but also a cool and sensuous activity. And a cheap and increasingly safe one, too.
Safe biking in cities
Whereas in Asian mega-cities bikers have been outnumbered by a dazzling car boom and literally chased off the streets, Western towns and cities have got hooked on biking. For obvious reasons bikers are cosseted by city administrations, as they help reduce nasty traffic jams and lower carbon footprints. Berlin and Munich, for example, are so proud of their bicycle commissioners, who work hard on adding new bike lanes to the existing networks and improving their safety. The main target, however, is, convincing car drivers to dump their car and take to the bike. Likewise, New York City has added 280 miles of bike lanes and paths since 2007.
Bike sharing systems have also been installed in almost all European and major US cities to lure people away from dirty means of transport. Paris is providing 20,000 bikes for a quick ride and higher mobility. So it has become trendy to bike to work dressed elegantly instead of wearing casual or gaudy coloured outfits. In the Berlin morning traffic you may see many cyclists in fine suits riding to work or in Milan high-heeled women in silk dresses pedalling their way through heavy traffic.
A success story
Along with the bike a whole industry has evolved: Shockproof helmets, elegant rainwear, stylish shopping baskets and, of course, the most technically advanced bicycles. If you look at the eccentric range of bikes on offer, the bike has become a real success story: from the wooden two-wheeler to the folding bike, which you can easily take on the tube for an inevitable ride. As a newcomer the electric bike is gaining ground among senior citizens and elderly CEOs who wish to get around without beads of sweat on their foreheads. But the electric bike is still in its infancy due to high prices and some technological flaws that producers are working on. Unfortunately, Asian mega-cities, once a paradise for cyclists, have turned almost into a cyclist’s hell since the rising middle classes enjoy affordable cars as a status symbol. In Beijing, Shanghai or Bangkok, for instance, where business mobility regularly comes to a standstill at peak hours, cyclists have become almost an endangered species. Instead of providing more safety, China is readily satisfying African demands for bikes at affordable prices. A robust bike for 30 euros is a bargain a growing number of Africans can save up for, enabling them to reach their workplace a lot more easily than walking. So the number of cyclists in African cities has increased considerably. Their bikes - made in China!
Returning to Europe again, we found biking in the Netherlands an exhilarating adventure. Apart from constant headwinds and moody weather everything is perfect: bike lanes lead to the remotest hamlet, no hill hampers visibility, and careful car drivers mind cyclists as if their own grandmother was coming along. There we felt we were not a nuisance for motorists but definitely belonged to a welcome majority. Small wonder that the Dutch use their “fiets” to commute to their workplace even if it’s 20 km away. As regards cycling, and some other things as well, the Netherlands could be a genuine role model. It has succeeded in making the bike the most popular means of transport.