Since COVID-19 hit the U.S. early this year and was soon declared a global pandemic, the ramifications on our daily lives have been far-reaching. We’ve been forced to take a step back to analyze new alternatives in a world filled with chaos and limited options. One of those alternatives becoming mainstream is biking — whether as a means of transportation or a form of exercise.
When all but essential businesses were closed, the bicycle shop remained open — and since then, business started to boom. America’s bike shops have seen a resurgence. In fact, Trek Bicycles and Engine Insights conducted a survey in April on cycling behavior during the pandemic to determine why more people seem to be riding bikes.
“We’re curious to pull back the curtain to see how Americans are adapting to the new normal, and if their attitudes and behaviors around cycling have shifted given that people are under more stress than ever before, feeling cooped up and seeking alternate modes of essential transportation in line with social distancing,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles.
One of the more interesting findings of the study showed that of the people who already own a bike, 21% are riding their bikes more often during the pandemic. Though the increase is significant, one of the more revealing statistics is that 50% of Americans are planning to continue riding their bikes more often once COVID-19 is over.
THE BENEFITS OF CYCLING
Let’s take a look at some of the other results of this study to determine what it could mean for cycling in the future.
IT HELPS LOWER ANXIETY
Of those in the survey, 63% said they feel bike riding helped to relieve stress and anxiety during the pandemic, and 27% said they often turn to cycling as a way to deal with mental health or to destress.
It makes sense running and cycling outside would be on the rise since getting outside has its own inherent health benefits. Plus cycling has been shown to be good for mental health by lowering cortisol and increasing blood flow to the brain, among other things.
Of those surveyed, 41% were motivated to ride their bike to stay fit, and 38% used cycling as a primary source of exercise during the pandemic.
They say once you learn to ride a bike, you can ride for life. Getting back into cycling after 40 or beyond is absolutely possible. While running can take a long time to build fitness and walking may not be strenuous enough for everyone, the low-impact nature of cycling makes it an easy sport to get into with minimal injury risk. Plus, adding more low-impact movement to our day can help combat high obesity rates.
We all know cycling is a cheaper alternative to cars — and way more environmentally friendly. And now with social distancing making public transportation less ideal, the bike has become a great way to run errands and get around town. Not to mention that in just a short few months of fewer cars and more bikes on the road, we’ve helped reverse some of the pollution that plagues most major cities.
In the survey, 85% of Americans see cycling as being safer and easier to social distance than other methods of public transportation. Those who have already started to use cycling to replace public transportation completely represented 14% of the total.
PROMOTING CYCLING IN THE FUTURE
Cycling isn’t just something we should do when there’s no other alternative. Road closures in many downtown cities have made others more aware that fewer cars equal a less chaotic and stressful environment that just so happens to be safer for pedestrians, too.
As American cities open, we should take a page out of what some European countries are doing to make cycling a part of the long-term transportation solution to congestion, pollution and public health. Two examples of this can be seen in France and Italy — two countries with a rich history in putting on the biggest professional cycling races in the world that ironically have lacked infrastructure in the past. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised 870 miles of bike lanes in her Plan Velo to transform the city and has increased bike use in the city by 54% in just one year.
Likewise in Italy, the Strade Aparte is a new plan in Milan to convert 22 miles of city streets into bike and pedestrian-only lanes. This effort to make cyclists feel safer without having to battle traffic is one sure-fire way to increase bike usage while lowering city congestion. While cycling and commuting by bike is already popular in other cities across the U.K., the transportation secretary recently announced a $2.46-billion plan to improve cycling and walking infrastructure.
The good news is, other countries around the world — like Colombia and Mexico — are shifting their urban plans. In Bogota, an additional 47 miles of temporary bike lanes were opened to reduce crowd size on public transportation when the spread of coronavirus began, and the city quickly designated 13 miles of new bike lanes in addition to the 340 miles that already existed. Mexico City, with its more than 20 million citizens who have an average 2-hour commute, recently announced its plans to implement bike-sharing programs and build almost 200 miles of bike lanes with an ultimate goal of creating an atmosphere of cycling mirroring Copenhagen — focusing its attention on making citizens feeling safer, healthier and more equal in a bustling city environment.
If similar infrastructure is going to happen in the U.S., advocates of cycling need to find ways to get their message across. Here are a few things you can do:
- Contact your mayor, congressman or transportation officials in your city to let them know of the need to build safer roads and more bike routes for cyclists. Making cycling safer helps get new cyclists on the road.
- Find out what’s happening in your area by getting involved with people for bikes to keep track of the initiatives underway to promote cycling.
- Educate and talk to others about the importance of cycling. Try to spark conversations and talk to groups of people who don’t normally consider themselves cyclists. If you only speak with members of cycling clubs or other activists, chances are you’re speaking with people who feel the same way you do.
- Be a spokesperson for cycling by riding your bike. Others see you as an inspiration to make cycling a transportation solution of their own.
- If you have neighbors or friends who don’t ride, get them out on the road! The more people who want to use their bikes and are seen outdoors riding the more our state and local leaders will have to listen to our needs as a community.