• Bicycle sales in the US were up 65% between 2019 and 2020, with pandemic lockdowns a key driver of that surge.
  • Electric bike sales grew by 145% in the same period.
  • In Europe, it’s predicted that twice as many bikes as cars will be bought each year by 2030.
  • Bike infrastructure now needs to catch up, say industry experts.

Sales of bicycles have taken off in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic – they were up 65% between 2019 and 2020, according to a report in the New York Times.

The ability to get around while remaining socially distanced from other people could be one reason for bikes’ booming popularity. And with more people working from home, fewer cars on the road will make some cyclists feel safer. Plus, there are the obvious health benefits from the additional exercise.

Let the pedal take the strain

Not everyone relishes getting out of breath though, as sales of electric bikes have exploded by 145% during the same period, leaving sales-growth of regular bikes trailing far behind.

Unlike larger, more powerful two-wheelers, such as motorcycles or scooters, e-bikes are essentially regular looking bicycles that have a battery and motor built in. Although heavier than a traditional bicycle, e-bikes are easier to get around on, as the motor helps power the rider along.

There has been an uptick in the use of e-bikes by cycle-share schemes, too. “COVID was able to highlight micro mobility as an essential transportation service, filling in where transit service stopped or where gaps existed and helping essential workers get to work,” said Samantha Herr, Executive Director of the North American Bikeshare Association, in the New York Times.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Bikes to out-sell cars in Europe

Sales of e-bikes are also on the up in Europe. By 2030, annual bicycle sales are likely to be 47% greater than they were in 2019, according to European cycling organizations quoted by Forbes.

Growth forecasts indicate the number of e-bikes sold each year in Europe could go from 3.7 million in 2019 to 17 million by 2030. If those predictions are accurate, twice as many bikes as cars will be registered per year in the European Union, the Forbes article suggests.

a graph showing that the sales of electric bikes are increasing
Sales of electric bikes are increasing.
Image: Heinrich Böll Stiftung

However, it also highlights a potential bump in the road for cyclists and e-cyclists alike. “Growth will be possible only with the right regulatory environment and a clear industrial strategy across the EU and beyond,” says Manuel Marsilio, General Manager of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI).

CONEBI is lobbying for more support for cycling across Europe and warns that the patchwork of cycle lanes and other bike-friendly infrastructure is a problem. Cities like Copenhagen have become famous as pro-cycle locations, due to limits on where cars can go, dedicated cycle lanes and financial incentives, such as tax breaks, for cyclists.

With e-bike sales on the rise, there may need to be greater public-private collaboration on regulations to create safer cycling environments, enable cycle-share schemes and also to ensure access to charging points where necessary.