China and India don't roll
Over the last few weeks there's been lots of media stories on biking around the world. In Malaysia, Sun2Surf reports the bad news and the good. Bike ownership and use are declining in China and India, while Australia and Europe are at the forefront of bike promotion.
Annual bike sales in China have fallen from 40 million in the 1990s to 20 million. Bike ownership in India is down from about 45 million in 1995 to 31 million. The proportion of trips undertaken by bike in India is between 15% and 35%, but biking is popular mostly in rural areas. The absence of safe bike paths and parking facilities are the major obstacles.
Sixty percent of the workforce in China's capital Beijing biked to work in 1998; that is down to less than 20% now. Hundreds of bike lanes in Beijing have been converted for use by cars.
Ironically, China and India are the world's largest producers of bikes. China manufactured about 80 million bikes in 2005, accounting for about 60% of global production while India's share was around 11%. The export of cheap Chinese and Indian bikes means that are some 1.6 billion in the world.
This global industry, including bikes, parts and accessories, is estimated to have total retail sales in excess of $20 billion. In China, Xinhua reports that as result bike sales have hit annual records around the world. For example, Australians bought nearly 1.3 million bikes last year, outpacing car purchases. This includes everything from recreational bikes and children's bikes right through to high-end road and competition bikes.
Over in Europe there are 250 million bikes for a total population of 462 million. Basically that's one bike for every two people. The phenomenal popularity of biking is driven both by government policy and simple economics.
Last year, the EU included bike promotion in its comprehensive transportation plan for the first time. The UK has followed this up with plan to quadruple bike use by the year 2012. The Danish capital Copenhagen provides 3,000 bikes free for short-term use. One-third of commuters bike to work. And in Germany there are more than 40,000km of bike paths. The city of Muenster allows bikes to use bus lanes but not cars. Special lanes near intersections feed cyclists to a stop area ahead of cars.