Bikes still outsell Cars in US

A recent meme was going around Twitter noting that in Europe, bikes were outselling cars (NPR report) (Part of the problem is the misleading headline in this Time Magazine rehash of the NPR report). This seemed obvious to me, and I am surprised it was news, since it is true in the US as well. I tweeted to the effect:

  • US Bikes: 18.7 Million NBDA
  • US Car sales 8 million, US light truck ~ 8 million  … WSJ

This was widely retweeted. CelloMom commented:

“Even if are children’s bikes, still at parity.
So where ARE all these bikes, why don’t we see them on the roads?”

Bill responded:

“gathering dust in garages”

The meaning of this statistic is clear. Americans like to buy bikes. Just ask Kevin Krizek, who was rumored at one point to have a quantity of bicycles running into the double digits.

Of course many of the bikes are kids bikes (5.7 million of the 18.7 million are below 20 inches wheel), but even so, 13 million are 20 inch and above wheel size, and 13 million is still much bigger than 8 million cars (and near 16 million light vehicles, note also many light vehicles are not for personal use). Even if we just look at specialty bike shops, which sell at the higher end, that’s nearly 3.1 million bikes per year, which while less than cars, is still a pretty big number.

Yet, the number of trips by bike and certainly miles by bike are much lower than by car and are not poised to overtake in the US. We don’t even see 3.1 million bike commutes daily in the US (ACS reports 865,000), so these are more likely for recreational than utilitarian purposes.

Another reason for this statistic is that bikes don’t last as long as cars (The average US car on the road is 11.4
years; I could not find similar data for bicycles, but am sure it is lower, especially given the higher sales — at 18.7 million bikes per year there would be 1 bicycle for every person in the US every 16.7 years, so the average age would be about 8.4 years IF everyone had a bike and there were no losses, and surely that isn’t true). This again is in large part due to the growing up of kids. Reasoning from anecdote and personal experience, (always a bad idea) our garage has 1 “light truck”, 2 striders, and 2 bikes. By next year there will be at least 3 bikes (and maybe 2 more if the adults get them again).