Yes, Americans are beginning to embrace urban bike sharing, and we’re fighting to make our cities friendlier to cyclists. But the Europeans have us beat, hands down. National Public Radio reports that bicycles are outselling new cars in all 27 member states of the European Union (except Belgium and Luxembourg).
In many countries, it wasn’t even close. In Greece, 320,000 bikes were sold in 2012, but only 58,000 cars. In Lithuania, it was 115,000 bikes and 12,000 cars. In Romania, 380,000 bikes and 72,000 cars. In Hungary, 232,000 and 53,000. I knew that the European car industry was in a slump — its problems are dragging down the bottom line at global automakers such as Nissan/Renault, General Motors and Ford — but this is amazing. I’m sure some of the stats reflect economic reality, not choice — cars are expensive and bikes cheap in eastern Europe, for instance. But still — look how happy those two Copenhagen bikers look below.
In some countries, bikes and cars were neck and neck in 2012. France, which loves commercial bikes for pizza and postal delivery, bought 2.8 million bikes and 1.89 million cars. Germany, a major carmaking country, sold 3 million cars — but 4 million bikes. In Italy, another carmaker, bikes had a 200,000-unit edge.
The European Cyclists’ Federation has crunched another set of numbers, and the results were very interesting — and highly complimentary to bike ownership. It seems that the countries with the highest scores in the new United Nations’ “World Happiness Report” are virtually all top scores on the federation's cycling barometer.
Number one on the happiness list, Denmark, is also tops in EU cycling on the barometer, which measures daily cycling levels, cycle tourism, advocacy activity, bicycle sales and cyclists’ safety. In fact, the rankings exactly correlate for the top four scorers — The Netherlands is ranked second on both lists, Sweden third on both, and Finland fourth on both. Germany’s fifth on the barometer, but 11th for happiness. Belgium is sixth for cycling, eighth in happiness.
And the countries that rated poorly for biking aren’t nearly as happy. Malta, for instance, is rated 27th in Europe for cycling, and 18th for happiness.
Americans would undoubtedly fare poorly if we were ranked by these measures. According to the American Heart Foundation, 32 percent of adults don’t engage in any leisure-time physical activity and up to 68 percent don’t meet exercise targets. A 10-year-old federal survey shows that only 27.3 percent of the population (16 or older) rode a bike at least once during the summer of 2002. A later study found only 5 percent of bike riders were using their cycles for commuting — a habit that’s ubiquitous in cities like Copenhagen (where people are really happy!)
So how happy are Americans? Well, we're 17th on this year's UN happiness list (Togo is the unhappiest country!) And according to a Harris poll of 2,345 adults from last spring, “only a third of Americans (33 percent) are very happy.” In 2011, 35 percent of us met the happiness standard. Note that the percentage of the population with smiles on their faces is fairly close to the percentage of bike riders. It looks like we need to get out on those two-wheelers, doesn’t it?