Pedal power: how cycling is saving the world

Kate Dobinson
Kate Dobinson

More people than ever are saddling up – not only for fitness but economic and environmental benefits. Vision rounds up the best schemes taking climate change, health and unemployment by the handlebars…

It would seem that everyone is now a cycling enthusiast. Lycra, cleats and sprockets – they’ve trickled down in to mainstream vocabulary post Olympics, and with the advent of such popular events as the up-and-coming Dubai Tour, a four-stage race built of impressive UCI World Tour teams that takes place from January 31-February 4 and is just as thrilling for novice spectators as seasoned elites.

For many people, bikes are a no-brainer – accessible, affordable and alternative means of cleaning streets, creating jobs and supplying clean energy in the following cases, they not only to whip the legs but the world’s humanitarian challenges in shape.

As Marrakech becomes Africa’s first city to introduce a bike-share scheme, Vision rounds up the top five in the peloton.

Climate change

In 2015 the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy published the report ‘A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario’ and calculated that society would save $24 trillion between 2015 and 2050 and cut C02 emissions from urban passenger transport by 11 per cent  (which is about 300 megatons), if just 23 per cent of world commutes were pedaled.

Medina was launched in the Moroccan city to coincide with the COP22 climate summit in November 2016. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization asked companies to bid to run the bike-share, which French firm Smoove won. The scheme – which features a fleet of 300 bicycles across 10 docking stations – is just one of several measures that Marrakech has adopted to improve the city and battle climate change, including a ban on plastic bags and the introduction of electric buses.

Mobility

Imagine trekking miles to the nearest well for water and carrying it back in the scorching heat, barefoot and on your head. Or walking miles as a student, healthcare worker or small business owner to get to and from your destination in the fading daylight.

B4H Chapters has raised funds, collected bicycles and shipped over 125,000 of them to community-based organisations in developing countries. Bicycles are delivered in shipping containers that remain in the country and become community bicycle workshops called Bicycle Empowerment Centres, aiming to create jobs servicing and supporting the bicycles and creating micro-economies around mobility.

Equality

In 2009, Shannon Galpin became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan, and using her single speed as a way to explore the country off-road, and to explore the gender barriers that prevented women from riding bikes. She found the bike to be an incredible icebreaker with the men she met which led to open conversations about women, sports, education and bikes.

Bikes are literally vehicles for social justice, Shannon believes, stating that throughout Asia and Africa bikes are used as tools for empowerment and have been proven to reduce gender violence in rural areas. Most uniquely the bike is also directly tied to America’s women’s rights movement – where Shannon is based. American women who rode bikes at the turn of the century were branded immoral and promiscuous because they rode a bike, she says. ‘The controversy of riding bikes isn’t limited to Afghanistan, every country has gone through its own gender revolution on two wheels – because giving a girl a bike is giving her freedom.

Air pollution

In 1980, almost 63 per cent of commuters cycled to work, according to government data. By 2000 that number plummeted to 38 per cent and today is less than 12 per cent. Meanwhile in 2010 China overtook the US to become the world’s largest car market which has led to a pollution crisis. 

However, Peking University PhD student Dai Wei’s bike-sharing scheme, Ofo, has 3m users in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou and recently won US$100m backing from investors including tech giant Didi Chuxing, the world’s largest ride-sharing company. The bright yellow bikes target students and rent for just one yuan an hour.

Commuters

The Roads & Transport Authority in Dubai announced a revised Dubai Bicycle Master Plan in 2013, with over 850km of bikeways due to be completed by 2020 to shape the city by easing congestion and improving health levels.

German-operated firm NextBike, in conjunction with Dubai-based ByKy was the first scheme of its kind in the Middle East when it launched in 2013. Smart phone users can book bikes and pick them up across Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina for up to 24 hours from docking 10 stations.

Alternatively, Smart Bike UAE offers two different options for commuters to get around the Business Bay area - either as a passenger or cyclist, with bikes available for hire at kiosks at three different locations at Business Bay Metro Station, Bay Square and Bay Avenue.