In Almost Every European Country, Bikes Are Outselling New Cars

by KRISHNADEV CALAMUR
October 24, 2013 1:36 PM

Source: NPR

A mechanic repairs a bike at Calmera bike shop in Madrid in September. As car sales slump across Europe, bicycle sales in Spain are outpacing cars — a trend seen across much of the Continent. © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A mechanic repairs a bike at Calmera bike shop in Madrid in September. As car sales slump across Europe, bicycle sales in Spain are outpacing cars — a trend seen across much of the Continent.
© Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

new-passenger-car-and-bicycle-sales-2012-_chartbuilder_custom-52ce0e51cc669b1c7267930f2f65dda1c5ceb3ba-s3-c85ACEA, COLIPED

We know that Europeans love their bicycles — think Amsterdam or Paris. Denmark even has highways specifically for cyclists.

Indeed, earlier this month, NPR’s Lauren Frayer reported that Spain, which has long had a love affair with cars, is embracing the bicycle: For the first time on record, Lauren noted, bicycles outsold cars in the country.

But it’s becoming a Continent-wide phenomenon. More bikes were sold inItaly than cars — for the first time since World War II.

This prompted us to look at the figures across the 27 member states of the European Union for both cars and bicycles. New-car registrations for Cyprus and Malta weren’t available, so we took them out of the comparison.

Here’s what we found: Bicycle sales outpaced new-car sales last year in every one of those countries, except Belgium and Luxembourg. The top five countries by bicycle sales can be seen in the top chart.

where-bikes-outsold-cars-the-most-in-2012_chartbuilder_custom-a15dd9600ccb70ba6a2fd894c74f28ae95e0ab39-s3-c85ACEA, COLIPED

We decided to delve a little deeper into the figures and see which of these countries had the highest rates of bicycle-to-car ownership. Those states can be seen in the second chart.

So, what explains the numbers?

Parts of the data can be explained by the slump in car sales across Europe. Car sales reached a 20-year low earlier this year. More recent figures showed they were recovering.

This decline coincided with the worldwide recession, which hit European economies particularly hard, though there are signs they may be recovering).

The U.S. has fared much better. Last month, car sales jumped to pre-recession levels. But U.S. automakers face another problem: Millennials aren’t interested in buying cars. Bike sales, on the other hand, are solid.


TakeAways

Just a hunch but the downturn in the worldwide economy has a great deal to do with these figures. For instance in emerging markets like China the sales of upscale automobiles is on the ride. Here in the United States the number of miles driven per household is down. And of course the real giveaway is the fact that Spain is leading the way in bicycle sales. It is also true that countries like Spain, Greece and Italy have suffered most from the economic downturn amongst Western European nations.

This is not to put a damper on the celebration of the emergence of the bicycle as a transportation solution. It is simply to explain that the Spaniards have not suddenly become Greenies, just are having a harder time making ends meet.