Cycling’s technological transformation. Making bicycling faster, easier, and safer

THE BOTTOM LINE

As of 2020, there is a base of 2 billion bikes in the world, most of which are however unused.


According to recent study by Deloitte, one of the largest consulting firms in the world.


The technology industry has a large role to play in encouraging greater bicycle use—a goal that can help society address many challenges arising from continuing global urbanization. Improving the technology itself—better data analytics to support urban planning, or faster battery recharge times, or apps that help people integrate bicycling into their commutes—is only part of the picture. The other, equally important part is to support policies and programs that promote bicycling.


The tech industry can’t do it alone, however. Many vertical sectors should be involved for cycling to make a dent in certain entrenched challenges. For example, consider public health and the related issue of health care costs. Standing at an estimated US $8.9 trillion in 2020, health care is one of the developed world’s biggest expenses.


The adoption of healthier lifestyles could help lower these costs in some markets. To this end, instead of prescribing pills, doctors could offer programs designed to change behavior, such as encouraging exercise. This is actually already happening to a limited extent: In the United Kingdom, some doctors are referring patients to a 12-week bicycling course with the aim of making them more confident about being on a bike—and, hopefully, to make bicycling a habit.


The health benefits of bicycling and other forms of exercise have been proven many times over. As just one example, one major study that followed 236,450 participants for five years found that bicycling to work was associated with a 41 percent lower risk of dying compared with commuting by car or public transport. Cyclists also had a 52 percent lower risk of succumbing to heart disease than noncyclists, and a 40 percent lower chance of dying from cancer.


Even riding an electric bike can improve a person’s health; an e-bike may require less effort, but less effort does not mean effortless. One US study found that people who rode e-bikes for 40 minutes each week for a month improved in cardiovascular health, aerobic capacity, and blood sugar control, while also losing body fat. In association with national and local governments, health care systems could use data models to predict the long-term financial benefits of health improvements driven by behavioral modification programs. These analyses could then be fed into cost models for the redesign of cities and towns to encourage more bicycling.


Employers, too, should be involved in shaping healthier commuter habits. Many companies already invest heavily in a range of worker well-being initiatives. Businesses can encourage people to bike to work in many ways, such as converting existing car parking space to space for bikes (10 bikes can fit into a single standard car parking space). New buildings could plan to build in ample space for bikes from the beginning; Zurich’s AXA Winterhur office, which was designed with 1,000 bike parking spaces, is one example. Office entrances could include a dedicated ramp for bicyclists. Calendar apps can add further incentive by encouraging workers to bicycle to their next meeting rather than drive or take a cab.


The app could show projected travel time for a range of options, including for mechanical and e-bikes; as observed previously, cycling in major cities is likely to be faster than driving or taking public transportation, and e-cycling faster still. In terms of usage, bicycling still makes up only a small fraction of urban transportation modes.


In terms of impact, however, bicycling can be immensely important—and the more people who bicycle, the greater the likely societal benefits. As technologies continue to improve, bicycling will most likely continue to become easier, faster, and safer. That’s good news for cities worldwide as they search for more economical and more sustainable ways to move people and things around.


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