On April 12th, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that declares June 3rd to be World Bicycle Day. From 2018 onward, this day is dedicated to spreading awareness of the bicycle’s two centuries long success story, educating about its possibilities and benefits, and promoting its usage around the world.
A bicycle doesn’t need gas, produces no emissions, and doesn’t require a huge parking space. It is affordable, reliable, clean, and environmentally friendly, and it can get its rider almost anywhere with decent speed and no cost.
Riding a bike is not only beneficial to the environment, it also provides plenty of direct benefits to the cyclist. These benefits are strongly corroborated by research and include stress reduction as well as a lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
Cycling is a highly effective form of exercise to stay in shape or lose weight. A UK study with almost 150,000 participants consistently found that those who cycle to work have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who walk, drive by car, or use public transport. Compared to running or weightlifting, cycling goes easy on the joints, and it burns calories as well as builds muscles and endurance, providing a well-rounded and healthy aerobic workout for cyclists.
Hundreds of millions of people ride to work on a bicycle every day, and there are over one billion bicycles world-wide, more than double the number of cars. The percentage of bicycle use varies greatly from country to country, as does the available infrastructure and road safety.
The Netherlands has roughly as many bicycles as it has people, and China alone has more than 500 million bicycles, many of which are used daily and for work (but numbers are plummeting in many Chinese cities). Countries like Denmark, Germany or Sweden have high percentages of bike riders, and most major cities have done a lot to accommodate them: there are bike lanes, bike racks, bike-sharing and rental services or even separate traffic signs and signals available for cyclists.
Not all places have this kind of infrastructure, however, and in many parts of the world, cycling can be quite dangerous. In New Delhi, for example, almost eighty cyclists died in road accidents in 2012 alone, and severe air pollution is likely to negate most of cycling’s health benefits. It is important to keep in mind that this is not a flaw in bicycles but a problem with urban infrastructure, environmental pollution, and driving culture. If the political will is there, cycling can easily be made safe and promoted across any country, and there are plenty of positive role models to look at, from Europe to Japan or South Korea.
The bicycle is an invention with great benefits and opportunities for individuals, society, and the entire planet. From a healthier lifestyle to freedom of movement, from emission reduction to cleaner and more liveable cities: riding the bike offers a lot of advantages and directly furthers several Sustainable Development Goals, for example Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3) and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11).
As the UN resolution acknowledges, the bicycle can also be a tool for development that provides mobility in underdeveloped regions and grants their people access to access to education, health care, and sport, as well as economic opportunities.
Dennis Mombauer currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer and researcher on climate change and education. He focuses on ecosystem-based adaptation and sustainable urban development as well as on autism spectrum disorder in the field of education. Besides articles and research, he has published numerous works of fiction in German and English.