The future for cycling after the Pandemic

By Roger Symonds

As we gradually emerge from this latest lockdown, we are seeing Oxford’s roads getting much busier. But they are busy not only with motor traffic, but also with people on bikes.   

Since March 2020 when the first lockdown started Oxford and Oxfordshire saw a huge increase in people riding bikes because motor traffic was greatly reduced and  roads became safer for bike riders. People realised that crowded public transport was too risky and stopped travelling by bus. Indeed one of the many sadnesses of the pandemic has been to see buses almost empty of people travelling around the city and county roads. 

By contrast one of the few positives of the pandemic has been that riding bikes became more and more popular, with many people riding for exercise and to get to work. Cyclox’s own Bikes for Key Workers project, where 350 bikes were donated and refurbished and given free to keyworkers showed just how valuable cycling was perceived to be.

During the lockdowns bike shops were amongst those businesses that were classified as essential and most Oxford bike shops stayed open. Such was the demand for new bikes the shops rapidly sold out. Bike manufacturers, mostly in the Far East, were not able to increase production fast enough. There was also a demand for spare parts with many bikes being brought out of sheds and garages and given a new lease of life. 

With the advent of Brexit, bikes can move tariff-free between the EU and UK only if the value of components from outside the EU or UK amount to less than 45% of the total value. If the value exceeds 45%, bikes attract a 14% tariff. Most bikes would not make this cut, given that many components originate in the Far East. With the changes in trading relationships with Europe post Brexit, and with the pandemic leading to shortages in supplies because of its impact on manufacture it has looked like the “perfect storm” for the cycle industry.

The verdict from the bike industry in the short term is that there will be difficulties with cost and supply, but in the longer term there is optimism, given the ongoing demand for bikes for exercise, commuting and leisure. 

Now that the vaccination scheme is in full swing we are gradually being able to be in contact with friends and family. Whether we want to get “back to normal” or whether we want to “build forward better” is a crucial question. To get more people on bikes the key issue is to make roads quieter. We hope that our new county administration will support the creation of more low traffic neighbourhoods, where through traffic is restricted, and the implementation of Connecting Oxford aimed at reducing traffic volumes across the city. 

Many people who have been able to work from home are likely to continue to do so after the pandemic, at least for part of their working week. If this does happen and cycling becomes safer with a reduction in motor vehicles, encouraging more people to cycle, then the outlook is good for the bike industry and for us all.  

For more of Roger’s writing, check out his blog: Two Wheels Good.

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