By: Michael Lander
|Data from surveys indicate that more Europeans ride a bike, like these in|
Freiburg, Germany, than Americans ride and they do so more frequently.
Europe has had a very long history with the bicycle. It was first introduced to the world almost 200 years ago (around 1817), in 19th Century Europe, and, soon, it will be celebrating its bicentennial birthday.
The first archetype of the bicycle, (that provided a means of human-powered transport on two wheels, with one in front of the other), was the German draisine and the word “bicycle,” itself was conceived by the French in the 1860’s.
Today, the bicycle is a common sight along the urban and rural landscape throughout Europe.
For many Europeans, the bicycle is simply a part of their everyday life. They can be seen on city or village streets or on country roads and they are very much an accepted presence in a part of the world where they got their start.
As popular as it may be in many places around the world, Europeans have seemed to embrace cycling and Europe has become a cycling culture like no other.
|Cyclists can be found in many scenic cities throughout Europe and the|
British Isles like this one in Edinburgh, Scotland.
From commuting to just riding for fun, the bicycle has earned a spot of affection in the psyche of Europeans and, for more than century now, they have been a dominant force in competitive cycling. Collectively, they have won more Tour de Frances than anyone else.
Many countries throughout Europe also currently lead the world in being some of the most bike-friendly places to ride a bike. Here is a current list of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world and it really should come as no surprise that most of these are located in Europe.
For now, the United States is not quite where Europe is when it comes to cycling, but there are some signs that things are clearly heading in the right direction. Over the last couple of decades, many U.S. cities like Memphis have begun to promote cycling and have strived to make it a much safer activity and a more viable means of commuting.
When it comes to cycling, the U.S. Department of Transportation has even begun to see the light as evidenced by their description of bicycles and pedestrians as “equals” to trains, planes and automobiles. In recent years, they have begun to encourage further development of a cycling infrastructure at the state and federal level.
|Amsterdam, Holland is one of many cities across Europe that is known for|
having a long history and tradition of cycling and for being cyclist-friendly.
Even with all of the progress that has been made across the U.S., America still has a way to go to be where Europe is today. The first step to getting there, though, will begin with not only more Americans riding bicycles, but being more receptive to others who do.
According to conservative estimates in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, as of 2008, Europeans rode about 5 times more than Americans did each year. Europeans, on average, rode about 116 miles (or 188.68 km) per year while those in the United States only rode about 25 miles (or 40.234 km) each year.
Americans, it would seem, not only ride less than those in Europe, but they also ride less than those who have recently immigrated to the U.S. In an article by Michael Smart, entitled US immigrants and biking: Two-wheeled in Autopia, Smart compares Americans with those who immigrate to the U.S. and he found that new immigrants to the U.S. are much more likely to travel by bicycle than native-born Americans.
In an article entitled, “On Biking, Why Can’t the U.S. Learn Lessons from Europe?” Elizabeth Rosenthal addresses America’s need to emulate Europeans and not to focus as much on bike trails and other such amenities, but instead, she said that we should be look at cycling as a serious form of mass urban transportation.
|Europeans are accustomed to seeing cyclists on the roads, even in large|
metropolitan cities like London in the United Kingdom.
More than anything, Rosenthal sees America as needing to adopt a new attitude regarding cycling. She believes Americans still view bicycling as a form of exercise or recreation, but in Europe, cycling is more than just that.
In many parts of Europe, she says, people now view cycling as a way to commute and that, she contends, is the main lesson that Americans can learn from Europeans.
For nearly a century, Americans have had a deep and abiding love affair with the automobile. Over time, as automobiles grew in immense popularity, cycling seems to have simultaneously experienced a precipitous decline, and cyclists subsequently became more of an obstacle or an annoyance for motorists.
The automobile further established its dominance in a post WWII America when the economy exploded and the country prospered and many Americans moved to many newly created suburbs. None of this could have happened without the automobile and it quickly became the primary means of transportation for most Americans.
Since distances between home and work, in many cases, increased significantly, it made traveling and commuting by bicycle extremely impractical, if not impossible, for most people.
In contrast to the diminished role that bicycles have held in a car-centric America, they have remained steadily popular in Europe and they have continued to serve a utilitarian purpose across much of the continent.
|Commuting by bicycle, such as this cyclist at Fairford RAF in the |
United Kingdom, is a much more common phenomenon in
America not only needs to invest the money and resources to develop an adequate cycling infrastructure across the country, like what can be found in various locations throughout Europe, but it also needs to have a shift in how Americans view cycling and those who do ride.
Much of what is needed will not happen overnight, but it can happen through a concerted effort of local municipalities, states, and the federal government working together.
More importantly, it can all come about if Americans can see the true value and benefits of riding a bicycle that is integrated into a comprehensive network of alternative modes of mass transit.
Europeans have enjoyed a long history and a deep appreciation for the bicycle that we in America could and should have ourselves.
For a nation that has long prided itself in its many accomplishments, this is something that we, as Americans, should not allow ourselves to fail at.
We should be able to succeed at this if we would simply follow the lead of our European friends and adopt the same mindset as they have. If we were to do this, we should be able to reap the same benefits as they have and we'd all certainly be better off for it if we did.