UK cycling growth risks being left behind by Europe, experts warn

The UK risks being left behind in Europe when it comes to cycling growth, experts have warned, as cycle sales are down a quarter from pre-pandemic levels and e-bike sales are plateauing after a boom in 2020.

Although cycling levels have increased significantly since the pandemic – up 33% on the year to July 30, according to figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) – sales of new bikes are not keeping pace.

Industry players say more needs to be done to boost cycling uptake, including investing in infrastructure, secure bike parking, subsidies for e-bikes and charging networks.

According to the Bicycle Association’s latest market report, cycle sales were down more than a quarter from pre-Covid levels from January to June. Sales of hybrid and children’s bikes, considered the two most “common” categories, are the most affected, while the “enthusiast” categories of road and gravel bikes have increased. Cycle sales are usually tied to cycling levels.

“Things are very difficult right now,” said Steve Garidis, executive director of the Bicycle Association. “Since May 2021, sales have been below pre-Covid levels, and if you take out the 2020 mega boom in cycling and sales, we are now doing worse than before Covid hit.

“When I look at the comparison between the UK and what’s happening in Europe, it’s just a bit depressing, it’s quite brutal. There’s a definite feeling that we’re being left behind, in terms of size and value of the bicycle market, but also in terms of the way people travel, both for leisure and for everyday life. [cycling trips].

The association says the cost of living crisis is being met with falling demand for bikes, while prices have risen and the pound weakens against the dollar.

The charity Cycling UK believes that part of the growth in cycling, which it says accelerated in March, is due to rising fuel prices, encouraging more people to switch to cycling for certain journeys , but warns that growth could be undone if fuel prices fall unless cycling infrastructure improves.

Garidis added, “Even the growth of e-bikes, which had been quite stratospheric and boosted the overall market, has stalled and is flat. It’s clear that e-bikes have massive application for getting people to ride bikes…and we’re missing something.

E-bikes are the most natural ‘car replacement’ and account for 9% of UK bike purchases. However, in Europe, e-bikes account for 23% of sales. The UK and German markets are of similar size, but only 165,000 e-bikes are sold per year in the UK compared to 2 million in Germany.

The government has set a target that half of all short journeys will be made on foot or by bike by 2030 in England. In 2019, more than 60% of trips between one and two miles were made by car. Research shows that most people want to cycle more and support investment in cycling, but fear of car traffic is the main obstacle.

In May, Cycling UK was selected to run a nationwide e-bike support scheme, including short- and long-term e-bike loans and trials. However, the scheme appears to have stalled and neither Cycling UK nor the Department for Transport could discuss its status or when it would restart.

Around 190,000 e-cars were registered in the UK in 2021, just 15,000 more than e-bikes, but there are over 30,000 e-car charging points and just 16 e-bike charging points.

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Garidis said: “I think if you had partnerships, collaborations with national coffee or hotel chains or other types of convenient everyday destinations, where there could be a mutual benefit in attracting new customers coming on two wheels instead of four, people [may] take note and think “I could do that”.

However, he added, there are other pressing issues. “There is just a huge lack of infrastructure in terms of parking at the moment. Obviously, there is a great concentration [on] bike lanes which is great but you need somewhere to lock the bike up when you get to the other end.”

Garidis urged the government to introduce subsidies for e-bikes: “It’s the big difference between what the UK has done to promote adoption and what Europe has done, and you can see the results .”

A DfT spokesperson said: “E-bikes are a key part of our ambitious drive to increase active travel, and we are investing in a wide range of measures to help more people use them and reduce emissions. This includes the £42m commitment to improve bike storage at stations and cycle routes to stations, £8m for a national e-bike pilot to drive uptake and implementation place of tax advantages for the purchase of electric bicycles through the Cycle to Work program. .”

UK cycling growth risks being left behind by Europe, experts warn

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