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SUSTAINABILITY| 2021.06.03

Sustainability and health: Bicycles lead the way

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A most prized possession for children everywhere. A mode of healthy and clean exercise. The humble bicycle is first and foremost a means of transport but—as if that weren’t enough—according to the United Nations, bikes are also key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that safer infrastructure for cycling would ensure health equity, among other things. In short, cycling helps to promote greater physical, mental and social well-being as well as protecting the environment. MAPFRE, with its commitment to sustainability and people, wholeheartedly supports this highly valued activity that is becoming ever more popular.

The shutdown caused by COVID-19 has had one notable exception: the bicycle, “bike”, “cycle”, or “pedal bike”, a human-propelled form of personal transport that symbolizes, now more than ever, the route toward the new normality and mobility marked by the three priorities of safety, health and sustainability.

The relationship between bicycle and rider is usually a lifelong and enthusiastic alliance. The bike’s benefits for our health, the environment and our own entertainment, combined with its uniqueness, its versatility and its longevity throughout history (they’ve been used for two centuries) easily justify its booming value. They’re flying off the shelves in stores around the world, whether we’re talking about mountain, road, urban, folding, static or electric bikes — and the latter have been wholeheartedly embraced by countries such as Finland, Lithuania and France.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, the French Ministry of the Ecological Transition’s aim was for bikes to lead the way on the road out of lockdown. A year later, and some companies have begun renting bicycles for their employees for three years and paying 70 percent of the total cost. The other 30 percent is taken from the employee’s payroll, at a minimum of 15 euros per month.

A European passion

According to a global ranking[i], nine of the ten most cycling-friendly cities are in Europe, with the only exception being Hangzhou (China). The ranking was topped by Utrecht (Netherlands) and Münster (Germany).

Germany, where Baron Karl von Drais invented the bicycle in 1817, has several cycling-mad cities: Bremen, Hannover, Hamburg, Leipzig, Nüremberg and Berlin all featured in the top 20.

The old continent has turned cycle lanes into a long path to recovery, with 1,000 kilometers of new lanes created and up to 48 percent more use recorded in 2020. According to the European Cycling Federation (ECF), 1 billion euros have been invested in cycling initiatives since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Finland, Italy and France are the countries that have increased their investment the most, with Portugal and Spain also listed in the Top 10. In addition, cities like Bremen, Vancouver and Bogotá are gradually showing how urban centers can pave the way for cycling enthusiasts.

In the case of Bogotá, in March 2020 Claudia López, mayor of the Colombian capital city and cycling enthusiast, launched one of the first major plans to encourage bicycle use by creating a temporary, ad-hoc 76-km cycling lane using traffic cones.

[i] According to the Bicycle Cities Index 2019.

Bicivilization

Fundación MAPFRE advocates this sustainable mode of transport, while urging cyclists to be cautious given that, in a fall or crash, the cyclist will come off worse. MAPFRE is providing a cyclist’s guide available with recommendations such as always wearing a helmet, even if this is not mandatory. According to one study, the incidence of head injuries among cyclists leading to severe and very severe consequences is an important consideration, wherever they may be cycling.

Low impact cardiovascular exercise

Cycling every day brings a multitude of health benefits. It tones your leg muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings), strengthens the lumbar area, reduces the risk of hernias and back pain, and improves lung capacity, cardiovascular fitness and circulation. Moreover, cycling strengthens the immune system, and recent studies suggest it boosts the production of irisin which can help to combat Alzheimer’s.

Thanks to all of the above, cycling is an ideal complement to many professional athletes’ routines. For example for Alpine F1 Team driver Fernando Alonso, his love of cycling is widely known, and he cycles regularly as part of his training.  

For the rest of us mere mortals, the bicycle offers the possibility to experience true freedom. For those who aspire to a more solvent ride, electric beauties are available such as those recommended by Wired.

What’s more, bikes are no longer just for the summer. Although in many countries it is not mandatory, protection is recommended in case of accidents, theft, third-party liability or travel assistance, the latter especially if the bicycle is used for that purpose. MAPFRE has specific solutions that are easy to compare.