2 June 2021

The global bicycle market is booming. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic it was going strong, but now more than ever, people are coming to understand the true power of bicycles. On World Bicycle Day 2021, we are celebrating this increased bicycle use and the idea that people on two wheels can change the world. 

Data from Strava Metro and Google show an inflation in bicycle activity in almost every corner of the world. The number of requests for cycling directions on Google increased globally by 69 per cent between February and June 2020. Planned and already-implemented cycling measures are changing our environments, as many individuals, as well as national and regional authorities, have turned to cycling as the safest mobility solution during the pandemic. Cycling is the healthiest and most environmentally friendly, inclusive and cost-efficient mode of transportation. 

While bicycle suppliers are struggling to keep up with the demand, cities are redesigning their streets and economists are calculating potential market shares, we at World Bicycle Relief have found further validation of our mission: empowering people and entire communities with bicycle mobility to disrupt chronic generational poverty in rural areas in a scalable and sustainable manner. 

We believe that large-scale bicycle programmes within supportive ecosystems have the potential to generate positive changes and significantly contribute to the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This requires recognizing the key role of sustainable transportation solutions in improving inclusive growth, expanding access to essential services, increasing gender equality and combating climate change. 

Bicycles as a transportation solution

In rural developing regions, where a majority of people lack access to safe, affordable and reliable transport options, and are mainly dependent on walking or paying for crowded minibuses, bicycles can change everything. World Bicycle Relief provides bicycles and supportive programming specifically designed for rural developing areas. Locally assembled Buffalo Bicycles are robust and have a transport capacity of 100kg. They are cost-effective and easy to maintain. Community-managed bicycle mobility ecosystems ensure the availability of spare parts, trained mechanics, and the skills and knowledge to repair bikes and sustain users. 

Over the last year, in the countries we serve in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Colombia, the demand for bicycles grew just like it did everywhere else. Bus fares increased as fewer people took public transport and government regulations limited available options. Large markets closed, forcing entrepreneurs to adapt by making door-to-door sales. People in remote areas were especially hampered in securing food and had to travel to distant markets as supply chains were interrupted. Where people were already struggling before the pandemic, the increased transportation gap has only exacerbated the situation. The value of the bicycle has never been so apparent, as illustrated by bicycle businesses having quickly obtained “essential service” status in most countries.

The impact of a bicycle
Before the pandemic, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimated that about 132 million girls worldwide were already out of school. Now, another 11 million are at risk of not returning to schools as they reopen. Bicycle mobility is expanding access to education and can be key to keeping girls in school, as shown in a 2019 randomized, controlled trial study by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The study of World Bicycle Relief’s “Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program” (BEEP) revealed that bicycle access improves the educational and empowerment outcomes of girls in rural Zambia. Girls with bicycles missed 28 per cent fewer days of school compared to those without. After two years of bicycle use, girls with bicycles were 19 per cent less likely to drop out of school than girls without bicycles.

An impact assessment of dairy farmers in rural Zambia found that reliable bicycles helped farmers deliver more and better quality milk to the collection centres. They were able to increase their monthly productivity and income by 23 per cent compared to delivering on foot. This means better food security and improved livelihoods for entire families.

Bicycles could help nearly a billion people living in rural areas at risk of being left behind because education, health care, markets, and other critical services are simply out of reach.

World Bicycle Relief is powered by an innovative hybrid of for-profit and non-profit models. Revenue from our wholly owned for-profit Buffalo Bicycles Ltd. social enterprise, which sells purpose-designed Buffalo Bicycles and spare parts to partners and individuals, helps support World Bicycle Relief’s community-driven programming for people who cannot afford to buy bicycles. Evidence of success generated from these programmes influences and inspires others to incorporate rural mobility into their policies, programmes and budgets. 

As of early 2021, we have delivered more than 550,000 bicycles, trained more than 2,500 bicycle mechanics and established 35 bicycle retail outlets to create jobs, and make maintenance knowledge and spare parts available.

No one left behind

World Bicycle Relief envisions a world where the private sector, governments, non-governmental organizations and funders are committed to building systems, programmes, and policies that are inclusive. Rural access is the necessary spark for a dynamic chain reaction that will power our global goals to achieve a more just and sustainable world. When everyone living in rural communities, including women and children, have opportunities, they can join and support thriving economies and spur inclusive economic growth.

To achieve this vision, we are igniting a global conversation and working to address root issues in solving the challenge of rural access. As a cross-cutting tool, the bicycle has the potential to provide an affordable and equitable solution, following the leading SDG principle of “Leave no one behind.” 

Between the world we live in and the world we want are countless miles of unpaved roads. Cycling and the systems that support it will help bridge this gap. World Bicycle Day offers the opportunity to celebrate the bicycle as a tool for development and as a means not just of transportation but also of access. 

The current bicycle boom should be no surprise. Two wheels have been propelling humanity forward for more than two centuries, and will provide the power to do so for generations to come!


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