Livable cities story: Cycling Industries Europe
A conversation with Kevin Mayne,
Chief Executive Officer of Cycling Industries Europe
City dwellers and
embrace the bicycle
Since the pandemic disrupted our daily lives, many of us crave a “new normality”. It’s highly likely that the bicycle will play a prominent role in that concept. Bike demand increased among urban dwellers in 2021, and city officials invested in infrastructure and modified traffic rules to give bikes more room for manoeuvre. How can bicycle manufacturers contribute to this “green mobility wave”? Is there an explanation for the great attraction which bikes have suddenly gained? And which obstacles can cities remove in order to stimulate bicycle use? Kevin Mayne, Chief Executive Officer of Cycling Industries Europe, the advocacy group for European bicycle manufacturers, looks back at an extraordinary year.
Change layout to 2 columns
Mayne’s responsibilities include monitoring European urban developments in terms of opportunities for bicycle manufacturers. How can the cycling industry, including Accell Group, better support cities in order to stimulate cycling?
“I see three key issues. First, we only see a limited amount of relevant contact between bicycle manufacturers and local governments. We do not seem to be able to get a foot in the door at city authorities in contrast to environmental organizations and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for example. That’s unfortunate, because bicycle companies are very interesting partners for local government. On the one hand, their factories and warehouses represent an economic interest, on the other they have social and political value because they play an important role in sustainable mobility for cities, towns and villages. Cycling Industries Europe does a lot of “connecting” in Brussels, and companies could initiate more intensively this type of contact within their own local networks.
“Second, manufacturers could draw more attention to the benefits of cycling among city residents. Despite the fact that the products have developed at a high pace, with e-bikes and cargo bikes being notable examples, the perception of the bicycle is little changed for a lot of people. In many European cities, excluding the Netherlands and Denmark which are traditional cycling countries, people see cycling as primarily a leisure and sport activity. There are tens of millions of potential new “slow cyclists” in Europe who don’t know about the new possibilities. These people still can’t believe that cycling is now a serious option for them. We have to do our best to convince them it really is. Our sector, together with dealers and retailers, has the noble task of taking the general public by the hand during this transition. There are already encouraging first signs of a broadening of bike usage in a several cities in Southern and Eastern Europe, for example.
“And thirdly, walk the talk. Be a cycling-friendly employer and stimulate cycling among your employees, who can be your best ambassadors. This doesn’t happen enough at the moment. Employees who are cycling advocates experience more pleasure in their work, and they also wholeheartedly promote the product which they create. That helps develop a local community of bike-lovers which spreads the use and positive experience of the bicycle like wildfire."
Kevin Mayne: “Cycling plays an important role in this livable city transition.”
Why are European cities now prepared to stimulate bicycle use on a large scale?
“To be honest, I don’t see any other solution. After 50 years of air pollution from fossil fuels we are burdened by an immense climate problem. In addition, the number of traffic accident fatalities which regrettably occur every year, particularly among older adults and young children, is simply unacceptable. Congestion, road safety, air quality: cities can no longer delay, they must intervene. And the great thing is that the measures which they have to take have a positive effect on many inhabitants. The city becomes cleaner, less busy and therefore more livable. This creates more space and more social interaction. In short, cities improve thanks to bikes, and cycling plays an important role in this livable city transition. An increasing number of city officials see that they can have a social and environmental impact by stimulating cycling.”
Which barriers need to be overcome in order to persuade more people to ride bikes?
“Our research shows that safety is the biggest obstacle. There are cyclists who have the guts to mix with the raw urban traffic, where the only the law of the metal jungle rules: that of motorized vehicles. But a large group of potential new slow bikers which is perhaps considering getting on a bicycle, has a big problem with that.
CITIES CAN NO
E-bikes are a partial solution to another problem: that of unfit citizens, but they certainly don’t reduce the fear of accidents. People need to be stimulated by improvements to cycling traffic infrastructure, among other things.
“The perception of vulnerability is incidentally less easy to remove than it might seem, especially if you look at it through the lens of Dutch cycling DNA. The less experience and trust a cyclist has, the higher the chance that something will go wrong. It is a question of slowly building experience and allowing people to gain the trust that they can rely on a safe, bike-friendly infrastructure. If we want to emulate the example of the Netherlands, where there are cycle lanes alongside every main road, it could take years. A faster alternative is to change traffic rules, such as creating cycling-only streets or traffic-restricted city centres. During the pandemic, streets in cities such as Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Athens and Brussels were closed to motorized traffic, and space was given to cyclists without major interventions and investments. The pandemic has in that sense unleashed a minor revolution: city officials dare to take more initiative, supported by a growing constituency.
“In addition to safety and physical fitness, there are other smaller barriers which prevent city dwellers from buying bikes. In many instances there are no facilities to store bikes securely and out of the rain. The chance of theft also prevents people from buying a bike. Bike-sharing can serve as a good alternative to ownership. But traffic safety is right at the top of the list of priorities, the rest follows afterwards.”
Finally, a last tip for the industry?
“Naturally, manufacturers do this already, but I would like to emphasize it once more: look more explicitly from the perception of a new customer. It’s easy to make a bike for a customer you already have. You know what they want. But the real challenge is to convince and attract new bike riders. What are the obstacles which keep them from walking into a bike store? Why might they buy a bike: to go to school, to work, as a leisure pursuit or to go shopping in the city centre? The momentum is here right now: we have massive opportunities to persuade people to jump on a bike."