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Bikes outsell cars across Europe

But is it because bike sales are up or car sales down?

Bikes outsold cars in most European countries last year, with even car-mad Italy seeing pedal power overtake engines for the first time since the second world war.

Figures compiled by National Public Radio in the US show the UK in second place behind Germany in the volume of bikes sold last year, although the difference between car and bike sales is smaller in Germany.

Only Belgium and Luxembourg bucked the trend, with more cars sold than bikes.

Germans bought 3,966,000 bikes last year, but only 3,083,000 cars. The numbers for the UK were 3,600,000 bikes versus 2,045,000 cars. With about the same population as the UK, Italians bought 1,606,000 bikes and just 1,402,000 cars.

Bikes usually outsell cars in Germany, the UK and France, but last year pedals beat engines for the first time since WWII in Italy and Spain. (Image ©NPR) 

While this looks like good news for bikes and the bike industry, those 2012 figures are all slightly down on 2011 bike sales (Germany: 4,010,000, UK: 3,640,000, Italy: 1,771,000). Italian car sales have been hit very hard by the state of the Italian economy, as have bike sales.

In fact car sales hit a 20-year low earlier this year, though there were signs of an upturn late in the summer.

NPR picked out the five nations with the largest relative gap between car and bike sales as Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Hungary and Greece.

(Image ©NPR)

The Wiggins effect or the economy?

While some commentators have turned to the ‘Wiggins effect’ to explain the relative strength of the UK bike business compared to the car trade, an AA spokesman who spoke to the Telegraph put it down to economics.

He said that travelling by bike, “makes sense especially for people travelling short distances to the shops, pick up a paper or go with their children to school because of the high cost of fuel.

“Last year unleaded reached 142.48 pence a litre in the spring, which was a 10 pence spike over the average.

“It coincided the impact of the Olympics on people, which reflected the impact of Bradley and Victorian Pendleton.

”The trend was reflected in the Government’s National Travel Survey which showed people were trying to cut the cost of short journeys.

“Also the soaring cost of parking saw many commuters buy bikes, which are far cheaper to leave at the station than a car.”

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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