An online clean technology database

Supporting Cycling

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Cycling is a cheap, healthy, efficient form of transport that only produces greenhouse gases in the production and distribution of bicycles, and it is very well suited to short to medium travel distances. It is also very inexpensive for cities and other localities to develop cycling routes, relative to the cost of other transport infrastructure. If measures are taken to provide this infrastructure, and to address issues of urban density, bicycle affordability, access to servicing, security, and the status of cycling, it is likely to increase in popularity as an important part of low-carbon transport systems in developing countries.

More general information on non-motorized transport can also be found in the technology description 'Non-motorized Transport'.

Introduction top

There are more bicycles in the world than cars, and the manufacture of bicycles continues to outstrip car production. In 2009, 59 million cars were produced, down from 69 million in 2007, but in 2007 130 million bicycles were manufactured. Bicycles are a practical, zero-carbon transport solution the world over (Gardner, 2008).

In order to increase the level of cycling it is necessary to address the barriers to it, barriers like:

  • a lack of safe and interconnected cycle routes
  • the cost of bikes
  • shortages of mechanics and spare parts
  • concerns about bicycle security
  • perceptions that cycling is unsafe, unsuitable in certain weather conditions or terrains, low status, culturally inappropriate or impractical.

And while some see a high level of bicycle use as a sign of low economic development, in fact many of the world’s wealthiest cities have a relatively low mode share for private cars (motorised personal transport), whilst public transport, walking and cycling play a far greater role, as the Figure 1 shows. (Note: the City of Copenhagen lies on the ‘most efficient pattern’ although ‘Greater Copenhagen is in the ‘European pattern’.)

The relationship between GDP and motorised personal transport

Figure 1: The relationship between GDP and motorised personal transport. (Source: UITP 2006)

This technology description outlines how cycling can play a much more significant part in meeting transport needs in the developing world, as part of a mix of low or no carbon transport modes for the twenty-first century. This can be achieved through measures to:

  • provide safe cycling routes
  • address other urban planning issues
  • make bicycles more affordable
  • enable access to servicing and parts
  • increase bicycle security
  • educate the public and raise the status of cycling.
Feasibility of technology and operational necessities top

The benefits of cycling can only be realised if cycling is supported through appropriate measures that are implemented by all spheres of government, in pursuit of the following goals:

Better and safer cycling routes

The biggest barrier to cycling in urban areas is the lack of safe cycling routes. Off-road cycle paths can provide a safer and less stressful environment for cyclists, but such paths are not without their problems. For example, they can become unusable if they attract too many pedestrians, and they can be dangerous where they cross streets or driveways and bring cyclists into contact with motorised traffic. One solution to the latter problem is to make these crossings more noticeable through on-road painting, as occurs in Copenhagen where the blue colour of cycleways crossing a road is very distinctive. However, in many places road use is the only option for cycling and, where this is the case, roads should provide cycling facilities that are safe, pleasant and appropriate.

Some key principles for the planning and design of cycle networks are as follows:

    • Coherence and directness: Cycling routes should take people as directly as possible from their point of origin to their destination. However, constructing a network of cycling routes that allows this to occur takes time to achieve. It can be built incrementally by prioritising those routes or sections of routes that have the greatest potential for cycling, or involve the greatest risks to cyclists. Over time existing routes can be linked to create a continuous and interconnected network of routes that provides coherent connections between the places where people live, work, shop and play. And, as is the case with the road network, signage on the cycle network can increase coherence for users.
    • Safety: Busy arterial roads are often the main impediment to cycling. Removing safety risks to cyclists within the road corridor, or providing high standard alternative routes can greatly increase levels of cycling. Cyclists need to be protected from other vehicles travelling on the same road, and from other vehicles at intersections.
      In Bogotá, Columbia, bicycles were allowed on all urban streets. These streets were however hazardous for cyclists and in 1998 bicycle trips were less than 1% of total trips. By 2001, after 250 km of new bicycle facilities were constructed ridership had increased to 4% of total trips. In the same period, traffic fatalities in Bogota fell from 2-3 a day to 1-2 a day, largely as a result of dramatic improvements in cycling and walking facilities (Hook, 2003). In Bangalore the new 88 km long BRT ‘Janmarg’ was opened with cycling and pedestrian facilities all the way along it. Although there are some issues with the number of cross streets the system seems to be working well and has given a big boost to cyclists, who are a vanishing group in most Indian cities (Ramesh, 2011).
      Cycle lanes should be clearly distinguishable, perhaps in a different colour and using a different road material. In some countries cycling lanes are placed between parked cars and the footpath. Whichever side of parked cars a bike lane is located on, there should be a space between these cars and the lane that is wide enough for a car door to open without colliding with cyclists or forcing them into traffic. Cyclists should be protected at major intersections, preferably with traffic lights, which may have ‘bicycle-jumps’ to allow cyclists to take off first. Two (or more) lane roundabouts are not safe for cyclists because changing lanes in the roundabout in order to turn can be dangerous.
      Unsafe cycling infrastructure has been identified as a particular barrier for women, who tend to be more risk averse than men and have greater responsibility for transporting children. Women also tend to carry a higher load of domestic tasks than men and therefore planning safe cycling routes should include connections between residential areas and places for shopping and education (Garrard et al., 2008). In cities with good cycling facilities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen women of all ages are regular cyclists.
    • Comfort and attractiveness: Cycle facilities, whether on-road or off-road, need to have a smooth riding surface, as few as possible steep inclines, and little or no need for cyclists to stop and dismount. This can be achieved through good engineering design, appropriate materials, quality construction and ongoing maintenance. To be attractive, cycle routes do not necessarily have to go through scenic areas, but it helps if unattractive routes are avoided. Cycle routes are unattractive where users’ personal safety may be threatened, such as isolated and badly lit routes. Community safety through environmental design (CPTED) principles should be applied to planning and designing cycle facilities, and more information about this can be found at Busy pedestrian pathways are also unattractive for cyclists, and thus cycle and pedestrian routes should only be combined if there is light use by both modes, and clearly separated if there is potential for heavier use.

Appropriate land use, development planning and regulation

Integrated land use and transport planning are essential if sustainable transport is to be achieved. Planning and regulation can help to ensure that walking and cycling are supported by the following conditions recommended by the International Bicycle Fund (

    • safe and convenient access to education, recreation, shopping, services and other facilities
    • secure parking areas for bicycles, [including at public transport stations], and encouragement of workplaces to provide changing rooms, showers and lockers for cycling employees
    • mixed-use, higher-density urban development well served by public transport
    • integrated public transport and cycling networks and facilities so that cycling can be a feeder mode for public transport, [and bikes can be carried on public transport]
    • avoidance of massive parking lots that separate urban areas and the provision of public access routes through major developments to increase their ‘permeability’.

More affordable bicycles

In many countries, bicycles are classified as luxuries and subject to high taxes and import duties, resulting in bicycles and spare parts becoming unaffordable for many potential owners. In 2002 Kenya scrapped import duties on bicycles and components to make them more affordable to those most vulnerable to rising fuel prices (ITDP News, 2002).

Moreover, in many countries the cheapest bicycle is not always the most appropriate one. Mountain bikes with multiple gears and off-road tyres – often the cheapest bikes available – are meant for infrequent, recreational cyclists. Their over-complicated components are not of sufficient quality or toughness for more regular use, and cyclists may not know how to repair them. More sturdy and appropriate bicycles are often much more expensive and spare parts may not be readily available. Thus, durable bikes for everyday use are often not accessible or affordable, unless they are made locally, as they are in India and China.

In response to this, in 2003 the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) designed the California Bike, an affordable, rugged bicycle designed for African conditions. The bicycle uses good quality mountain bike components, thus reducing later maintenance costs. A rugged design that can carry heavy loads is produced in a six-speed and single-speed model, the latter specifically aimed at rural areas. The ITDP works with a network of small bicycle distributors, and has partnered with the South African Department of Transport to make these bicycles available to urban and rural communities most in need. South Africa’s Shova Kalula (Ride Easy) program has distributed thousands of subsidised California Bikes in poor rural and outer-urban communities to address high levels of transport disadvantage in these communities (see picture at the top).

Developing countries should also consider the setting up of local bicycle assembly and/or manufacturing businesses, perhaps initially with the help of government and/or cycling support organisations. In this way bikes can be designed to suit local conditions and the budgets of local people. Such an appropriate  technology could be a realistic CDM project. As of 2006, twothirds of the world’s bikes were being made in China (Gardner, 2008).

Many people cannot save to buy a bicycle because they have little or no income, or a significant portion of their income is spent on transport. This issue can be addressed through the provision of low-interest micro-loans or through income generating projects. For example, a South African NGO, Qhubeka, has established small agri-business ventures to create income generating opportunities for subsistence farmers (Qhubeka). A bicycle is one of the first purchases for most participants in the program.

In Bogotá, Fundación Ciudad Humana, a local organisation, arranges for people participating in cycling education programs and city bike tours to get discounts on bicycles purchases from local vendors (Rogat, 2010).

Load-carrying bicycles or bicycle trailers, as illustrated below, can make a bicycle into a freight vehicle, allowing small farmers or traders to cart their produce to market at a fraction of the cost of motorised transport. Bicycles that can comfortably carry small loads and/or children (Figure 2) can increase the viability of cycling for trips to take children to school and do shopping, which are predominantly made by women (Emond et al., 2009). These bicycles may however not be affordable for many who might benefit from them, and so here too low-interest small loans and income generating projects can promote employment and assist micro-businesses in transport disadvantaged communities.

Cycles as a practical solution for small cargo loads

Figure 2: Cycles are a practical solution for small cargo loads in local areas as well as carrying people. (Picture credit:

Good access to servicing and parts

A major impediment to cycling, especially in rural and outer-urban areas, is the difficulty of access to servicing and parts. Urban residents may be able to walk to a shop to get spare parts, whereas more isolated cyclists may need to make a long trip on foot or by public transport. Even in urban areas there may not be anyone to fix the bicycle, or to do so at an affordable price. If cycling is to be a viable mode of transport for both rural and urban communities it is vital that they have access to affordable bicycle parts and maintenance.

The South African Department of Transport’s Shova Kalula (Ride Easy) (World Bank, 2002) program establishes bicycle sales and servicing micro-businesses in transport disadvantaged areas, in partnership with the local community. The program establishes each micro-business in a recycled shipping container, trains a bicycle mechanic and shop manager/owner, provides start-up capital in the form of bicycles, and works with bicycle importers and distributors to ensure a sustainable supply chain. By creating a network of these micro-businesses throughout the country, cycling becomes far more accessible in small rural communities. The benefits to these communities include improved access to education, employment and markets.

Better security

Bicycle theft and vandalism are major disincentives for cycling, so there needs to be safe parking for bicycles. New commercial and residential developments can be required to provide secure bicycle parking for employees, customers, residents and visitors, and government should work with local businesses to improve the security and quality of bicycle parking. Security in informal settlements is often difficult and a bicycle can be especially vulnerable to theft. One strategy to reduce the risk of bicycle theft is to reduce the value of the commodity by making cheap bicycles readily available. The Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) in South Africa has partnered with non-government organisations in developed countries to recycle donated and discarded bicycles, and it sells or donates these iimpoverished urban communities in the Western Cape (Bicycling Empowerment Network).

Changing attitudes towards cycling (based on Rogat, 2010)

Among the biggest barriers to increases in numbers of people cycling are public attitudes towards it. The following are some attitudes, and some strategies for addressing these:

Individuals or cultural groups may believe any of the following, e.g. that cycling is just for poor people who can’t afford motorised vehicles, that it for children, for men only, or for sports or recreation purposes only. Ways to address this include: 

  • Promotional campaigns showing males and females of all ages and socio-economic groups cycling to work or for other practical purposes in ordinary clothes and on ‘city cycles’ (that is, not sports or mountain-bike types). As part of this, people can be made aware of cycling’s popularity as a mode of transport for males and females of all ages and classes in Northern Europe and elsewhere.
  • Having political and community leaders and other high-profile people cycle themselves.
  • Guided city bike tours and ride-to-work days.
  • Being persistent and recognising that cultural attitudes rarely change overnight. But each person won over to cycling becomes, by their very example, a cycling campaigner with the potential to win over others.

People may believe that cycling is impractical because of the weather (too hot, too cold, too rainy), the terrain (too hilly), the exertion (it makes the rider sweaty), or the time it takes. Strategies for addressing these beliefs include:

  • Citing the experience of other countries in which people cycle in warm, cool or rainy weather, including those of northern Europe where it sometimes snows.
  • Identifying the proportion of days when the weather is actually unsuitable for cycling, as people may tend to exaggerate this. Many parts of developing countries have temperatures quite suitable for cycling. Cyclists can also check weather forecasts and use alternative transport on unsuitable days.
  • Promoting geared or electric bikes in hilly areas. This was an approach taken in Valparaiso, Chile, given its hilly terrain.
  • Provision of showers in workplaces.
  • Provision of information about the actual time required for trips by bicycle and alternative modes.
  • Encouraging people to try cycling out, individually or in organised cycling events.

People may see cycling as unsafe. Strategies for addressing this concert include:

  • All the measures already described to actually make it more safe.
  • Provision of information about the safest bicycle routes.
  • Education about its actual level of safety, and about benefits to health and well-being.

Measures like these to try and change attitudes to cycling should incorporate the following features:

    • Blending different methods: the affective (portraying cyclists as happy, free, modern, stylish, etc); the rational (presenting evidence-based arguments about cost, health, safety, the environment, etc); the practical (taking people on bike tours or showing them how to do basic repairs) and the social (doing things in groups, which reinforces the normality of cycling and makes it more fun).
    • Organising events that address the situation of particular groups of cyclists or promote cycling in particular ways. For women, recent studies have shown that group cycling and cycling events also provide an important socially supportive environment that can encourage more women to start and continue to ride bicycles for transport (Garrard et al, 2008). In Bogota, Lima and Quito, Sunday cycling events and festivals are organised. Bogota’s event, known as Sunday Ciclovia, involves the closing of 120 kms of city streets to other traffic.
    • Getting the media on-side, as well as other sectors of society, such as businesses, academics and community organisations. Cycling organisations can be encouraged to form and given support. Corporate sponsorship of cycling events can be arranged.
    • Educating motorists to respect cyclists and watch out for them.
    • Educating children. Positive attitudes to cycling can be instilled at an early age by by including cycling and road safety education in the school curriculum and ensuring the provision of safe cycling routes to schools.

Other ways of improving the accessibility of cycling

  • Improvements to bicycle taxis: Bicycle taxis have tended to be old, uncomfortable and seen as old fashioned. In some cities they are being phased out, supposedly for humanitarian reasons. The Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) has been working in India and Indonesia to improve the design, reputation and regulation of bicycle taxis, and to build their image as an efficient, environmentally friendly and equitable means of transport (Hook, 2003).
    In cities such as Barcelona, Brisbane, New York, and hundreds more in Europe, America and elsewhere, bicycle taxis or pedi-cabs are a small but popular, environmentally friendly way of getting around. If well-regulated to ensure safety and order and avoid an over-supply of them, they can improve the image of cycling.
  • Bike share schemes: Bicycle sharing or hire schemes are very popular in European cities and are gaining popularity worldwide, with Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago implementing them (The Bike Sharing Blog). Most modern schemes require expensive infrastructure and extensive support but the cost of this can be partly met by membership fees and advertising on the bikes. If supported by a network of safe cycling routes they can raise the image of cycling and act as an extension to the public transport system. They are not as expensive as most urban road expansion programs and do offer considerable reductions in car use as has happened with Paris’s Velib scheme (Mairie de Paris).
  • Electric bicycles: As well as being useful for hilly terrain (as just noted), these are useful when there are heavy loads to be carried or when riders are not very fit. These may be more expensive than regular bikes, but they are less expensive than cars, motorcycles and motor scooters and so on balance are relatively cheap. In China the cost of an electric bicycle is 2,000 Renminbi ($290 US), which is cheaper than the cost of a scooter and faster than a peddle bicycle, at 20kph (Ramzy, 2009). They still provide exercise, and are relatively quiet and able to tap into renewable energy. Chinese cities have very large numbers of electric bicycles. In 2008, customers in China bought approximately 90% of the 23 million electric bicycles sold worldwide, and even though there are 25 million cars on their roads, they have four times as many electric bicycles (Ramzy, 2009).
Status of the technology and its future market potential top

Since the 1960s and 1970s many European countries and cities have decided to support more sustainable transport modes - public transport, walking and cycling - to address the multiple problems of car use. In the area of cycling, supportive policies and infrastructure that followed have now reversed the rapid decline in cycling in many localities. For example, Amsterdam and Copenhagen started supporting cycling in the 1960s and have seen continual growth in cycling ever since (Servaas, 2000)

In Germany, supportive planning and policy ensure that only 15% of trips between 1 and 3 km in length are made by car, bus, train or taxi (Hook, 2003). The rest are made by walking (55%) or cycling (30%) despite highlevels of car ownership and wealth. By comparison, in Surabaya, Indonesia, 60% of trips between 1 and 3 km are motorised, while walking (30%) and cycling (10%, including becak trips) play a smaller role due to unsupportive infrastructure and policies (Hook, 2003). 

A number of developed countries have realised that cycling is a very efficient and feasible form of transport for short to medium distances. Where supported by governments and non-government organisations, cycling’s popularity and its contribution to the overall transport system have greatly increased. For example London has seen a 91% increase in cycling over nine years (Road Network Performance and Research, 2009) and New York has doubled the number of people cycling to work in four years, thanks to supportive policies, programs and infrastructure (New York City Department of Transportation).

In Latin America too there have also been concerted efforts to increase the popularity of cycling, for example, in Bogota, Colombia, in Concepción, Chile, in Lima, Peru, and in Quito, Ecuador. In Bogota 4% of travel is now by bicycle, compared with 0.58% in 1998 (Rogat, 2010).

Contribution of the technology to social development top

Cycling can make an important contribution, not only to the transport system, but also to the environment, the economy and the social fabric of communities.

Social benefits include:

  • Affordability: A bicycle provides high levels of personal mobility at very low cost. In Chile, the cost of a bicycle is the same as the cost of transport tickets for two months (Rogat, 2010). As well, there are no fuel or parking costs and no taxes. This gives individuals more disposable income to spend on other things.
  • Equity across localities: Cycling can provide high levels of personal mobility for negligible cost in dispersed settlements, including rural or peri-urban areas, where population densities make public transport economically less viable.
  • Health: Physical inactivity results in increased health problems such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stress and high blood pressure. Cycling increases physical activity levels and reduces the economic cost of health problems. A study in Australia found that physical inactivity cost the healthcare system $1.5 billion per annum (Medibank. 2007). Traffic pollution also affects health. In Europe 310,000 people die annually from respiratory and circulatory disease caused by vehicle emissions (Rogat, 2010).
  • Education: in many rural areas children walk long distances to school as public transport is either an early age. A bicycle can significantly improve a child’s access to education opportunities.
Contribution of the technology to economic development (including energy market support) top

Economic benefits include:

  • Transport efficiency: cycling and walking are the most space efficient transport modes for short trips. Bicycles need less than a third of the space cars need to transport the same number of people (Hook, 2003).
  • High benefit to cost ratio from investment in facilities: the cost of building facilities for cyclists is small, compared to those for cars, but the economic benefit can be significant. Benefits include reduced road infrastructure, congestion and pollution; improved road safety for pedestrians and cyclists; and savings in private and public transport running costs. In Chile the cost of bicycle infrastructure is one tenth the cost of roads ($US 180,000 compared with $US 1.8 million per kilometre). Sao Paulo, with little cycling, loses 7% of its GDP as a result of traffic congestion (Rogat, 2010). Economic studies in four South American cities found that constructing cycleways had a benefit to cost ratio of 7.3:1 over a ten year period (VNG/I-ce, 2000)
  • Access to markets: Bicycles can transport small freight loads over short distances at little or no cost, allowing small subsistence farmers and traders to access markets and customers affordably.
  • Reduced reliance on fossil fuel: Increased use of bicycles reduces reliance on crude oil, which most countries must import.
  • Higher worker productivity: It has been demonstrated that cycling to work leads to better attention levels, higher productivity and reduced absenteeism (Rogat, 2010).
  • Greater economic inclusion: Because of its affordability, cycling gives more people access to jobs, education and services (Rogat, 2010).
  • Improved safety: Increased cycling reduces traffic fatalities and serious injuries because it reduces the number of car trips (which cause fatalities) and because – as experience in Copenhagen demonstrates – significant increases in cycling, along with better cycling infrastructure, can sharply reduce the absolute number of serious injuries to cyclists. Between 1996 and 2006 bicycle paths there increased by 20% and the number of cyclists increased by 25%, while in the same period serious cycling injuries were reduced by 62% (Gehl, 2010). Thus increased cycling reduces a significant economic and social burden (WHO, 2009).
Contribution of the technology to protection of the environment top

Environmental benefits include:

  • Emissions: a bicycle emits no greenhouse gases or local air pollution when operated and far less than a car when manufactured.
  • Noise and congestion: bicycles are far quieter than motor vehicles and take up less space. Electric bikes have similar advantages.
  • Sprawl: By requiring less road space and by reducing the average length of trips, cycling contributes to urban consolidation.
Climate top

A two kilometre bicycle trip saves 419 grams of CO2, if it replaces a car trip, although there are some emissions generated in the production and distribution of bicycles.

Financial requirements and costs top

Bicycling is an inexpensive and efficient form of transport compared with most other modes, particularly car use. As already noted, the cost of constructing cycle paths or lanes is about one-tenth of the cost of constructing roads. If included as part of the design for a new or upgraded roadway the cost will be a small fraction of the total cost of the roadway. Providing cycling lanes on existing roads can be cheaply done when resealing or restriping roads as part of regular maintenance. Building and maintaining cycling paths are ideally suited for labour–intensive methods and can be part of a job creation program with tangible transport benefits to communities. A number of foreign and local non-government organisations assist people to meet the costs of buying bicycles, through low-interests loans. The development of cycling infrastructure can be financed from a range of sources. Concepcion, Chile, for example, obtained finance from the Global Environment Fund and the Chilean Government (Rogat, 2010).

References top

Bonham, J. & B. Koth (2010). ‘Universities and the Cycling Culture’, In Transportation Research - Part D, 15(2), 2010, pp 94-102

CROW (1993) Sign Up for the Bike: Design Manual for a Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure, The Centre for Research and Contract Standardisation in Civil and Traffic Engineering , The Netherlands, 1993.

Bicycling Empowerment Network:, viewed 24 Feb 2011

The Bike Sharing Blog:, viewed 24 Feb 2011.

Emond, C., W Tang, & S Handy (2009). Explaining Gender Difference in Bicycling Behaviour. In Transportation Research Record, 2125, pp 16-25, 2009.

Gardner, G. (2008). ‘Bicycle Production Reaches 130 Million Units’, Vital Signs: Global trends that shape our future, Worldwatch Institute, 12 Nov 2008, Viewed 5 Dec 2010.

Garrard, G., G. Rose & S K Lo (2008). Promoting transport cycling for women: The role of bicycle infrastructure. In Preventive Medicine, 46(1), 2008, pp 55–59.

Gehl, J. (2010). Cities for People, Island Press, Washington DC, Linking cycling into urban design.

GIZ and I-CE (various authors), ‘Cycling Inclusive Policy Development: A Handbook’, Sustainable Transport: A Sourcebook for Policy-makers in Developing Countries, GIZ,, viewed 1 March 2011.

Hook, W. (2003), ‘Preserving and Expanding the Role of Non-Motorised Transport’, 2003, Sustainable Transport: A Sourcebook for Policy-makers in Developing Countries, GIZ,, viewed 23 Feb 2011.

ITDP News (2002). Basic Mobility Now Costs Less: Kenya and Tanzania Reduce Bike Tariffs, 1 Sept 2002, available at, viewed 24 Feb 2011.

Langen, M. de & R. Tembele (2001). Productive and Livable Cities: Guidelines for Pedestrian and Bicycle Traffic in African Cities, IHE Delft University, 2001.

Mairie de Paris. Velib:, viewed 24 Feb 2011.

Medibank, (2007). The Cost of Physical Inactivity’, available at, viewed 24 Feb 2011.

New York City Department of Transportation, ‘Bicyclists: Bicycle Statistics and Reports’, available at, viewed 24 Feb 2011.

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