Saddling up in a downturn
Whether it's cycling to work or public biking, this old pastime has become part of our culture. By Joyce Fegan
Cycling is having its own Celtic Tiger moment right now, except this boomer's growth is sustainable, widespread and showing no signs of stopping.
Over the last 10 years cycling in Ireland has grown by a whopping 620pc, multi-million euro cycleways are currently being built across the capital and tens of thousands of people are using public bike schemes in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick every single day.
The figures are blinding - a total of 9.5m journeys have been taken on the Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes to date. The scheme was launched in 2009.
And in Cork, the same scheme, which only opened at the beginning of March, of this year, has seen 11,700 trips made so far.
But back to that 620pc, which comes from Irish people signing up as members to Cycling Ireland. From 2004 to 2014, the body's membership has climbed from 3,000 to 23,423, and according to Cycling Ireland that growth is only the tip of the iceberg.
"Cycling Ireland's 23,000 members only reflects the percentage of the country who treat cycling as a sport, there are hundreds of thousands more people out there who enjoy their bike on a regular basis," said Heather Boyle, the body's spokeswoman.
For example, last year Dublin City Council (DCC) said that the number of people commuting into the capital by bike had jumped by 15pc between 2012 and 2013.
In terms of a headcount this represents about 10,000 people cycling to work in Dublin every day. This is the biggest figure on record since DCC started measuring commuter travel 35 years ago.
While the official figures have not yet come in for 2014, the growth is estimated at another 15pc.
This nationwide cycling growth spurt and major behavioural change can be linked to a number of things - the bank guarantee being one of them.
In September 2008, the Irish Government made an overnight decision to guarantee the national banking system, to the tune of €440bn.
In November 2008, as the country's economy plunged headfirst into recession and the first of many austerity budgets was announced, so too was the Cycle to Work scheme.
The launch of this scheme coincided with nationwide prudence and frugality. Saving bus fares, Luas fares and train fares was on-trend. So far more than 100,000 bikes have been bought through the programme.
Then in September 2009, dublinbikes was launched.
"There are many things contributing to the rise in cycling, some note that the last time there was a peak in cycling was during the last recession, and people are choosing the bike as a means of commuting rather than driving, and most people attribute it to the Cycle to Work Scheme which was introduced, making the purchase of high quality bikes more affordable," stated Ms Boyle.
When dublinbikes was launched there were lots of naysayers saying the capital did not lend itself to safe cycling and that Dublin was no Amsterdam. Motorists reigned supreme. Where are all the cycle-paths? Things have since changed.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) is working on rolling out several cycleways across Ireland.
While the obvious ones include the new Liffey Cycle Route and the Dublin Bay Cycle Path, the NTA's spokeswoman explained that the expansion is not just defined to the capital.
"There are, in addition, a range of cycle projects in separate counties that are at various stages of completion (design, planning, construction, etc.), and there are also strategic routes in development that cross county boundaries, e.g. Royal Canal, Dodder and East Coast routes," said the spokeswoman.
Like the cycleway expansion nationwide, Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes has spread around the country too.
As already stated the Cork bikes came on stream in March with 31 stations opening and so far 2,500 people have signed up. In Limerick, the scheme opened last December and 1,850 people have registered to use the bikes. And in Galway the roll-out of the public bikes started last November and 1,750 people have signed up.
Despite the uptake though, "there are no immediate plans to expand the schemes in any of the cities," said the NTA spokeswoman.
This spurt in growth does not come without a negative spin-off however. An Garda Síochána have said that 6,000 bikes were stolen in Ireland last year and 75pc were robbed in Dublin. Aside from crime, the gender gap is also present in cycling. According to Cycling Ireland, of their 23,000 or so members, only 18pc are female.
Green Party councillor Ciara Cuffe says the surge in cycling overall is great, but that safety is also an issue.
"The increase in cycling in Dublin in the last few years is hugely positive. It's good for people's health, good for the planet and reduces the amount of traffic on our roads.
"We need to make it easier and safer for children to cycle. That means lower speed limits, dedicated cycling facilities, and cycle training for young people on our roads," he said.
As the country recovers from the economic crash, the rise in cycling is not retracting like it did in the last recession. Instead it has now become part of our culture and if Government predictions are to be believed there will 75,000 of us on our bikes commuting to work in Dublin by 2021.
On your marks... the numbers
The greatest number of journeys made on any public bike scheme in a single day (October 2, 2014, dublinbikes)
The number of cycling clubs in Ireland
The increase in Irish people taking up cycling since 2004
The approximate number of bikes purchased through the Cycle to Work scheme so far
Cycling Ireland's 2014 membership figures
The number of people registered to bike schemes in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick
The number of journeys taken on dublinbikes since September 2009
The combined length of cycle paths in the greater Dublin region by 2021