Is cycling just for the affluent?

What most Aucklanders think of when they hear the word "cyclist"
What most Aucklanders think of when they hear the word “cyclist”

One of the stances taken by people who are anti-cycling and/or anti-public transport is that these means of transport are only for the affluent and that cars are the vehicle of the working class. This may at least partly be because the most visible people on bicycles (until the cycling boom of the last 5-10 years) have been on expensive carbon fibre racing bikes.

Now for anyone from, or who has lived in, Continental Europe/South America/Asia this is an insane idea. In those places commuting by public transport and/or cycling are for the average person while the affluent commute by car – especially where congestion charging is used (London, Stockholm, Singapore). Of course, motor vehicle travel is nowhere near as subsidised in those places as it is in NZ (or Australia/US). However, the fact these arguments resonate with some people in Australasia shows just how far down the auto dependent road these countries are.

The "curse" of Olympic cycling success
The curse of Olympic success

However, new research in the US has disputed this perception. As you can see from the charts, this appears to be more true for lower income cyclists in predominantly rural states (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska) and states that are cycle friendly (Colorado, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Utah). It is less true in the South, where auto dependence is unchallenged.

So, unsurprisingly, if you make cycling safer and more attractive, everyone cycles more, not just the wealthy.

The cartoons below (from the famous French cartoonist Sempe) illustrate really well how cycling has come full circle in the last 100 years (you can see the full series here). If history repeats itself, cycling is well on its way to becoming the vehicle of the masses again.

Sempe1962-firstSempe1962 - last

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