The Joy of Cycling

There are countless arguments in favour of cycling: cycling is healthy, keeps us fit and slim, it’s fast and flexible for short distances, environmentally friendly, space saving, energy efficient, economically profitable for cities, regions and local retailers, and the costs of purchasing and maintaining a bike are comparatively low. Simply put, bicycles offer a simple solution to (almost) all the problems associated with cars as a form of individual urban transport.

Next to these arguments is probably an even more forward-looking and important one: cycling’s image undergoing a major shift. Last century the bicycle was still the means of transportation for ‘environmental do-gooders’, but in recent years it has become a lifestyle object. Bikes are now part of the urban lifestyle and are an expression of taste, status and individuality – thereby playing a cultural role which has long been the traditional domain of the car.

The move towards more sustainable urban mobility coincides with the increasing conviction among planners, politicians, civil society and the media about the value of cycling as a sustainable means of urban transport. The old arguments in favor of cars – freedom, prosperity and modernity – are becoming less and less meaningful, as drivers find themselves constantly stuck in traffic and struggling to find parking spaces. These days cars can be more restrictive than liberating and their negative environmental impact and increasing occupation of precious urban space is becoming harder to overlook. Now when young people choose to use privately owned cars for short distances in the inner city, it seems somewhat unusual and regressive.

So why does cycling gain so little political support? Citizens clearly support cycling (see the tremendous support for the Volksentscheid Fahrrad initiative in Berlin). One reason is that historic power structures and mechanisms of oppression can still be felt today. The car-oriented city of the 1960s has been replicated across almost the entire world. The car (and its interest groups) has been given a large part of the inner city and a place in our cultural conscious. People have become used to traveling everywhere by car, being provided with parking lots for the convenient storage of their vehicles, and not having to pay for the external costs (environmental pollution, etc.) of such choices. This is the old mentality that works hard to protect itself against cultural change.

If we, as a society, have decided that we want to give up at least part of our previous notions of mobility and traffic, then it is only consistent and correct that this decision is manifested physically. Intellectually, the ruling mobility culture is currently undergoing a process of transformation. We still need the appropriate infrastructure for cyclists, as well as a place that celebrates cycling and affords it its rightful position in society. A bike path so impressive that it simply “cannot be missed” is the best motivation for many to get their old, dusty bikes out of the cellar, pump up the tires and experience the joy of cycling again!

lower stress levels are recorded among cyclists compared to people who use other means of transport .*

*The Telegraph (2015): Cyclists are 40 per cent less stressed than other commuters. The Telegraph. 14.05.2015.

13% Car commuters say they felt constantly stressed and had trouble concentrating 13% more often than cyclists and pedestrians.*

*Herrmann, S. (2014): Psyche der Pendler, Glück der Radler, Frust der Autofahrer. Süddeutsche Zeitung. 16.09.2014.