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Baby Boomer generation couple living abroad and riding bikes.
Baby Boomer generation couple living abroad and riding bikes.

You're Never Going to Believe Who's Seriously Into Cycling!

It turns out that the growth of cycling between 1995 and 2009 is less about Hipsters and their 'Fixies' and more about 'Boomers' and their arthritic hips.

All this time we thought it was Gen Y 'Millennials,' with their preference for city living and spreading distain for automobiles, who were driving the growth of bicycling in America. It turns out, as Michael Andersen so succinctly phrases it on the USA Streetblog:

"The national surge in bicycling since 1995 may have more to do with healthy hips than with hipsters."

Check out this graph from his article showing the growth of cycling by age group between 1995 and 2009, the latest numbers available to us just now.

Michael notes that "As recently as the Clinton administration, biking was for the young. Riding a bicycle over the age of 55 was very rare; riding over the age of 75 was almost unheard of."

Something's going on here and as amember of the earliest wave of baby boomers (I was born in 1947, the second year of the 1946-1964 time period used to bracket the 'Baby Boom' generation) I think I have an inkling why, at least from my perspective.

Now, right up front ,I have to admit to bias: I am, after all, the founder of both EV World and ePEDALER. I've been around the e-bike scene for getting close to 20 years. In fact, it was an early electric bicycle, co-developed by the two 'Malcolms': Malcolm Currie and Malcolm Bricklin, that inspired the creation of EV World in the summer of 1997.

I've literally been pedaling and metaphorically peddling the idea of electric bicycles ever since.

But beyond my mercantile aspirations, there is also the physiological and psychological aspects of cycling - both electric-assisted and manual - that I appreciate, not to mention the economic and environmental ones.

It's estimated that on average, 10,000 'boomers' reach official retirement age of 65 every day in the United States. How many of them elect to work beyond that date, either out of economic necessity or choice, I can't say. But what a growing percentage of my generation appear to now recognize is that riding a bicycle for pleasure, or exercise, or as a substitute for the automobile, at least some of the time, is good for us. Whether consciously or not, we seem to understand intuitively, that for our own physical well-being, we need to move: move our legs, our knees, our hips, our heads.

This is where e-bikes come in. It may seem counter-intuitive that riding a bicycle that does some of the work for you can be all that beneficial. Surprisingly, studies in Australia, Netherlands and Switzerland all confirm that you do get measurable physiological benefits from e-bikes. The Swiss "concluded that pedelec (pedal-assisted electric bike) use helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type II diabetes and colon cancer” [Sowter]

Perhaps of more concern to my generation than being immobilized by arthritic knees and painful hip joints, is the fear of the onset of a loss of mental capacity. Dr. John R. Ratey notes in his best-seller, Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain that exercise can also slow the deteriorating mental processes associated with aging like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There's also a clear economic benefit of riding a bicycle past retirement age: you can reduce the costs of car ownership, estimated to be in excess of $9K annually for the first 5 years on a national average. You might still need a car for longer trips, but you won't need to drive it everyday, and depending on where you live, you might be able to substitute the bike for shorter trips.

Case in point. Yesterday, I needed to buy replacement filters for our water purifier. It's just over mile to Lowes: 1.20 miles exactly, according to Google Earth. Instead of driving the car, I threw my messenger bag over shoulder and rode my e-bke there and back. It's a bit hilly, so having that electric-assist made the ride enjoyable. Home Depot, Target, and the Post Office are in the opposite direction, but again enjoyable rides through our subdivision on quiet, tree-lined streets. Our banks are equally accessible by bike, so there's a lot of errand running for small items I can do and never have to fire up the car. I also use my e-bike to visit my own elderly parents who live a few blocks away to help them with minor chores and emergencies. And I foresee a time, when we can probably sell one of our two vehicles, reducing expenses even more.

My point is this: that for me personally, my e-bike is more than just a recreational toy. It's a part of my transportation 'stable.' It's also the cheapest of operate and does me the most good. I am not the only one discovering this. Check out the next graph showing who is riding the most number of new bike trips.

Amazing, no?

Finally, consider this last graph from Michael's blog. It shows the growth in the share of all trips by bicycle, again by age group. While Millennials astride their 'Fixies' showed a respectable 40-50% increase in trips by bicycle, both the 40-59 and 60-79 age groups have started taking up riding bicycles with a vengeance.

And bear in mind that this is largely based on a population of riders who are likely unfamiliar with electric bicycles, which were only starting to catch on in Europe in 2008. It's my contention - and my business model - that once more Boomers discover e-bikes, this number is going to go ballistic. That will be good for them, their communities and, ultimately, I hope, for ePEDALER.

Posted By: Bill Moore [22-Jun-2014]