Jesús Freire: “All cities must offer safe bicycle parking options to their citizens”

Interview with Jesús Freire, General Secretary of AMBE (Association of Bicycle Brands of Spain)

Question: After the cycling boom in the wake of the pandemic, how long do you think this growth can continue?

Answer: According to data from the bicycle sector report published by AMBE since 2013, the industry has recorded a sustained growth trend in turnover, employment and bicycle, components and accessories sales over the last 8 years.

2020 was undoubtedly an exceptional year, but rather reflects the acceleration of a trend change over the past decade: there is an increasing social demand for more sustainable and healthy mobility, as well as sport and leisure outdoors.

We therefore expect this growth trend to continue in line with changing habits offering a huge potential for the sector.

P: What are the main challenges for the bicycle industry due to the increasing demand?

R: Faced with a growing demand, in an unstable global situation and in an interconnected world, this undoubtedly leads to huge planning and anticipation efforts in possible scenario changes.

Likewise, many companies choose to produce and source closer to the final consumer, strengthening the sector in Spain and increasing business and employment opportunities.

P: What value can companies in the cycling sector contribute to cities?

R: The cycling sector offers huge opportunities for high-quality employment, business creation and growth, not only for cities, but for the whole territory. In fact, one of the characteristics of the sector is its implementation not only in urban areas, but also in emptied rural Spain.

The cycling sector offers huge opportunities for high-quality employment, business creation and growth.

P: What role do you think safe bicycle parking in cities plays in the growth of new bicycle purchases?

R: All cities should offer safe bicycle parking options to their citizens. Just as there is parking for other vehicles on almost every street, parking on public roads for bicycle users must be guaranteed.

Initiatives to provide cities, neighborhood communities and companies with safe and secure parking facilities are also key to the development of sustainable urban mobility. An example is Don Cicleto, offering solutions of this type and already implemented throughout the territory.

P: More and more institutions are putting cycling at the heart of their mobility policies. Do you think positive steps are being taken and how can they be further improved?

R: Positive steps are certainly being taken, but much remains to be done. For the first time in history, the EU has made cycling and walking the priority elements of public urban mobility policies. So we are talking about a different scenario, we are no longer talking about giving space to bicycles and pedestrians, European policy proposes to prioritize the two modes of transport that are not only sustainable but also healthy, due to their component of physical activity.

P: How do you think the perfect balance between car and bicycle can be found in cities?

R: We are still a long way from that balance, but with the emphasis on equality, the balance is at the point where anyone, of any physical condition, age, etc., feels safe to cycle regularly in their city. To do so, we need cycling infrastructure, pedestrian priority and low emission zones, speed limits according to the city and public policies to promote cycling.

Almost all European governments have established aids for the purchase of conventional, electric and cargo bikes.

P: One of the requests recently being made was to reduce VAT on bicycles, accessories, components and services. Do you think the price of bicycles discourages purchase from users?

R: Unlike other vehicles, bicycles are much more affordable to the general population. However, e-bikes have led to an increase in the average price of a bicycle across Europe. In view of this situation, almost all European governments have established aids for the purchase of conventional, electric and cargo bikes. Spain continues to be an exception due to the lack of aids at state level.

On the other hand, we continue to ask the government to introduce reduced VAT for the sector in Spain, following the European agreement that allows governments to apply this measure.

P: What do you think is the ceiling of the e-bike in urban mobility? Do you think it will end up outselling the conventional bicycle?

R: With the current trend, we foresee that more e-bikes than conventional bicycles will be sold in Spain in this decade. E-bikes bring many more people of different ages and physical conditions closer to the bicycle, both for longer journeys and more complicated orographies. In addition, the data shows that users of e-bikes use them more often. The potential is undoubtedly huge.

P: A recent study suggested that the e-bike was helping to break the gender gap in cycling, as it was found that women were purchasing proportionally more e-bikes than conventional bicycles. Do you agree with that statement? What can be done to further narrow the gender gap in cycling?

R: All studies show that infrastructure is the main barrier for women and other population groups who use the bicycle less for commuting. Cities need safe infrastructure (segregated cycle lanes) to attract more diverse users. The e-bike also contributes to this task.

Companies are key to promoting more sustainable daily mobility.

P: Earlier we mentioned the institutions and their importance in valuing cycling as a mode of transport, but what do you think companies can do to encourage its use among employees?

R: Companies are key to promoting more sustainable daily mobility. In this sense, “Bike to work” schemes such as the one implemented by Bikefriendly in Spain through the European consortium of Cycling Friendly Employers (CFE) are essential: adapting workspaces with safe parking facilities, incentive campaigns, changing areas, etc.

P: Let’s talk a bit about EuroVelo. Do you think it is the most ambitious cycling promotion project in Europe so far?

R: EuroVelo has a continental dimension that other cycling projects do not have and that undoubtedly makes it a special initiative. 17 long-distance cycling routes connecting the entire continent so that both visitors and locals alike can enjoy cycle tourism and safe travel, is something unknown.

P: What examples should Spain be inspired by when it comes to continuing to promote the bicycle boom?

R: Not to go far, France: aids for the purchase of bicycles and bicycle repairs, formal training in bicycle mechanics, commitment to cycle tourism, multimillion-dollar state budgets for cycling, support for its industry and the transformation of Paris into a cycling city. In just a few years, our neighbors have opted for bicycles and are leading the way in Europe.


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