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New cycle path in Milan
New cycle path in Milan

Across the globe, the coronavirus crisis has forced people to change not only the ways they work and interact with each other, but also how they travel. And in several countries, one of the unexpected consequences of all this has been a renewed interest in transportation of the pedal-powered, two-wheeled variety.

In some places — the Netherlands comes to mind — bicycles were popular even before the pandemic. But elsewhere, people are rediscovering them as a good alternative to public transport, where commuters are more at risk of catching the virus. Bikes, in contrast, are great for keeping physical distance. Riders can also cover quite a bit of ground, and get some exercise while they're at it.

Little wonder that in some countries, bicycle sales are booming — to the point that stores can't keep up with the high demand. "We're the new toilet paper and everyone wants a piece," a bike-store manager in Sydney, Australia told The Guardian.

Interestingly, the bicycle bump is also, in some cases, the product of public policy, as governments on both the national and local level are encouraging the use two-wheelers with concrete actions and incentives:

  • In France, that means tapping into an existing but neglected resource: the approximately 9 million "dormant" bikes ​thought to be collecting dust and rust and garages or sheds. To get all those bicycle back on the streets, the government has introduced a 50-euro voucher that people can claim and use for repairs. The voucher system is part of a global 20 million-euro package called "Coup de pouce vélo" to encourage more people to bike, with temporary bike parking and free educational sessions. And it seems to already be bearing fruit: More than 4,300 people living in the Ile-de-France region have already used the voucher, the daily Le Parisien reports.

Riding a bicycle on the famous Rue de Rivoli in Paris — Photo: Aurelien MorissardXinhua/ZUMA

  • Authorities in Italy are dangling money incentives as well — to the tune of 500 euros! — which residents in cities of at least 50,000 can use to buy a bicycle, Segway or even a scooter, Il Messaggero reports. This is part of a "Relaunch Decree" announced on May 14 that also promises to extend cycle lanes. The city of Milan had already released an ambitious plan called "Strade Aperte" to transform 35 km of city streets to make them more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians with new bike lanes, widened pavements and reduced speed limits.

  • In Colombia, authorities in the capital city, Bogota, are also offering bike riders extra accommodations. The city already has an extensive cycling network with 550 km of bike routes as well as "La Ciclovia," a program that involves closing main roads to cars every Sunday for cyclists and pedestrians. But in March, Mayor Claudia Lopez extended the program, closing more than 76 km to add new temporary bike routes during weekdays. The authorities are now considering making these changes permanent, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, adding that this has facilitated the circulation of around 922,000 cyclists so far. The mayor also insisted that bike shops be included on the list of essential services, thus allowing them to remain open during the lockdown.

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