In the first week of June two important and linked International days are observed. On the third of June falls the World Bicycle Day, and it is followed by the World Environment Day on the fifth of June. It was in April 2018 that the UN designated June 3 as the World Bicycle Day mainly due to the untiring efforts of Leszek Sibilisky, a Polish American sociologist and track cyclist.
The common cycle has indeed come a long way. From a means of transport for those who could not afford four wheelers, it now occupies a prime place, with an International Day to its name! The first version of the cycle is credited to a German baron named Karl von Drais in 1817. Thereafter, many versions making a more stable and safe ride were created. By the 1890s a bike craze hit both Europe and USA and since then the cycle never looked back.
Two centuries passed before the UN recognized the cycle for its simplicity, affordability, environment friendly usage, health benefits and of course the engagement that cycles provide the persons riding with the local area.
For most of us from urban areas learning to ride a cycle is a cherished memory of childhood. I did my entire schooling cycling to and fro from school. Like most things of childhood it somehow receded into the background in adulthood. However, since last year hordes of cyclists can be seen on the streets of New Delhi on a regular basis
Around the globe, Netherlands has the highest cycles per capita, while Copenhagen the capital of Denmark is the world’s most bicycle friendly city. 52% of its people cycle to work daily. Japan, Finland and China are also major cycle users.
The corona pandemic has brought cycles back into the public eye across the planet. With lesser traffic due to lockdowns, social distancing and the focus on fitness and health cycles came into prominence again. In Paris, the mayor is transforming the city into a cycling hub. In New Delhi cycling lanes have been carved out in busy main streets. All over the world demand for cycles is booming.
As per estimates there are two billion cycles in the world. In India alone last year nearly 1.45 crore bicycles were produced, 80% of these were made in Punjab. India is number two in the world in cycle production, after China.
Cycles have played a great role in the movement for women’s empowerment too. As bicycles spread in the late 19th century, parallel movements for women’s equality were spreading across the Western world. Both movements drew from each other, and a woman on a cycle symbolized the new woman. Bicycles provided women with a cheap and safe way to increase their mobility. Even today, bicycles provide girls better access to school, health services and sports activities.
The cycle can be used by everyone – it provides individual benefits and societal gains. Infrastructure for safe cycling is critical to encourage bicycles as a mobility solution that would improve air quality in urban areas. Cycle friendly cities are now a work in progress in many places. Celebrating World Bicycle Day makes us focus on this simple yet efficient partner of human life.
Published in Hindi in the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper on 9-6-2021