Italy: Bikes outsell cars in 2011 for first time since World War II

News comes ahead of major conference on cycling in Reggio Emilia this weekend

by Simon_MacMichael   October 1, 2012  

Cyclist passing parked cars in Milan (copyright Simon MacMichael)

Sales of bicycles in Italy last year surpassed those of cars for the first time since World War II, it has been revealed. The news comes ahead of a conference on cycling and sustainable transport in Reggio Emilia this weekend that Italy's head of state hopes will lead to improvement in the lives of those living in Italy's major cities.

During 2011, some 1,750,000 bicycles were sold in the country, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year, while 1,748,143 million new cars were registered, down 20 per cent year on year and the lowest level since 1964, the sales figures reported ny a number of media outlets including the website, Today.

The ability of ordinary families to afford cars such as the Fiat 500 was one of the most tangible aspects of the years of Italy's postwar miracolo economico [economic miracle], which eventually led to what economists refer to as il sorpasso - the moment in 1987 when Italy's economic output became larger than that of the UK.

Very different economic factors are partly behind this latest sorpasso, one that not so long ago would have been unthinkable in the land of Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.

Austerity measures introduced by Mario Monti's government are biting, while the price of petrol continues to head skywards, but according to newspapers such as La Repubblica that have reported the statistics, there's another reason too - Italians, it seems, have rediscovered the simple joy of cycling whether for getting to and from work or leisure purposes.

The news comes ahead of the launch of an initiative this weekend in Reggio Emilia of the Stati Generali della Bicicletta e della Mobilità Nuova [the Estates-General of the Bicycle and New Mobility].

The campaign is backed by Anci, the association that unites Italy's local councils, Fiab, the Italian association of frieds of the bicycle, the environmental group Lega Ambiente, and cycle campaigners united under the #salvaiciclisti banner, launched earlier this year and taking its inspiration from The Times Cities Fit For Cycling initiative.

Today, La Repubblica reported that a statement welcoming the initiative was issued on behalf of Italy's head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano, who expressed the hope that that this weekend's event would lead to measures "capable of significantly improvingthe lives of everyone in Italy's large cities."

Reggio Emilia, the city chosen to host the launch of the initiative and associated conference, which is expected to draw hundreds of people from around the country, has some of the highest levels of cycling in the country.

While other cities in Italy also have people cycling in numbers that outstrip those anywhere in Britain other than perhaps Cambridge, the existence of #salvaiciclisti shows that elsewhere there are concerns about the safety of cyclists similar to those in the UK, as outlined at a cycle safety debate hosted by La Gazzetta dello Sport in Milan in March.

Italy isn't the only major European country to have seen a collapse in car sales - a separate article from Today highlights that during the first eight months of 2012 they have also fallen in France, Germany and Spain.

Only the UK, with 3.3 per cent year-on-year rise in new car registrations of 3.3 per cent, bucks the trend, with EU-wide figures down 7.1 per cent during the same period.


10 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Maybe a naive question but, the statistics used are only for sales of new cars and bikes with the economy the way it is most people will not be buying new but holding on to old etc. Are there any figures for total number of cars owned/on the road versus bikes?


posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [698 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 9:30


Having spent a lot of time in Rome i can see why more people by bikes. The roads system in and around Rome is a nightmare and you hardly see a car that isnt damaged by some sort of bump.

Plus the Italian economy is in massive decline with the euro problems so buying a bike is the more sensible arrangement. Big Grin

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

posted by stumps [3112 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 9:36


I'm sure ISTAT, Italy's national statistics agency, would have figures on the total car parc, but there'd be no chance of getting similar figures for bikes simply because unlike cars, they don't need to be registered.

The fact more bikes are being sold than cars in Italy of all places is huge news though.

It's a valid point that given the current economic situation some people may be making do and mending rather than buying new cars.

But one of the sources I used in researching this article said that many cyclists were doing that too, learning maintenance skills so they could get old bikes back on the road, so it cuts both ways.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9231 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 9:39


If only citizens of Britain were as open minded to the bicycle being a legitimate choice as the Italians. Sadly, having read the Halfords report saying 80% of drivers see their car as 'essential' to daily life I think we're a long way from that kind of maturity.

posted by Velo_Alex [71 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 9:43


I believe bikes have been outselling cars in Australia since about 2004. Must be the weather as the drivers are as bad as the UK.

posted by bigant [41 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 10:23


bigant wrote:
I believe bikes have been outselling cars in Australia since about 2004. Must be the weather as the drivers are as bad as the UK.

What helmet laws? Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9231 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 11:49


Spent the weekend in Milan. Quite a surprise - many cyclists on the roads and the hire bike system looks like it's succesful. Their 'Boris Bikes' have a drive shaft rather than a chain.

I think the Aussies must be buying bikes to hang on their walls judging by the huge drop in journeys by bike since the introduction of mandatory helmet laws.

posted by Coleman [330 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 13:00


I'm not sure this is correct- the figure quoted for bikes seems to have been rounded up, whereas the figure for cars is precise- and could possibly be rounded to the same figure. Have the stats been manipulated to get a headline?

posted by wild man [291 posts]
2nd October 2012 - 20:34


Yep, here in Oz this has happened every year for the past eight years. It is amazing how many more bikes you see on the road, although from my observations it is mostly recreational / competition cyclists rather than commuters. Now all we need is for the governments to catch up with cycling infrastructure - but that can be said about many aspects of the country. Dare I say it, but even the motorists are improving in their behaviour around cyclists.

Well, I'll be...

posted by Zebra [31 posts]
3rd October 2012 - 22:02


Bikes nowadays are becoming popular and popular, especially with the rising costs of gas, parking, toll fees, and even the lack of parking spaces and traffic. Given these kinds of problems that entail of having a car, it would be more attractive for people to buy bicycles, and can even be healthier of them. But what I am worried is that the current population of drivers and motorists are not used to having more and more cyclists on the road; therefore, more accidents would happen. I recall seeing one BMW car that almost got hit a cyclist. Good thing that the cyclist managed to swirl and throw himself to a nearby garden. It was a close call, but rather dangerous. I just hope that an increase in the number of cyclists, motorists will be more cautious and aware of these cyclists.

Peter Mould -

posted by Peter_Mould [17 posts]
21st March 2013 - 6:32