BIKES are clearly in fashion in Spain and it's a trend that's here to stay – over 1.1 million bicycles were bought by ordinary residents in 2015 alone, outnumbering cars by 70,000.
Figures for 2016 are not yet available, but expected to be similar or higher as residents take advantage of mild winters in the south and Mediterranean to get about without needing to be inside a heated car, and those in the colder north enjoy cool enough summers that they do not need to hang up their two-wheeled transport because it is too hot.
Although mountain bikes continue to be market leaders, cycles designed for urban transport are becoming more and more popular by the year, says the Association of Bicycle Brands for Spain (AMBE).
A positive correlation has been seen between bicycle sales and 'cyclist-friendly' urban policies, AMBE reveals – which means Valencia and Sevilla, already reported at Easter to be Spain's best biking cities, lead the field.
As revealed in our report of Saturday, April 15 this year, Sevilla is credited with the best cycle-path network and in Valencia, 12% of residents use a bike as their main mode of transport, including mayor Joan Ribó (Compromís), but Madrid is the worst-rated due to traffic, accident risk and pollution.
But a complete State policy in favour of cyclists, covering infrastructure, accident prevention and air quality, is still at the draft phase, despite The Netherlands and the UK having had such programmes in place since 1990 and 1996 respectively, says Manuel Martín of the Bike Protection Coordinator (ConBici).
“Social demand is moving faster than political reaction,” Martín laments.
Among ConBici's pro-cycling campaign measures is a cut in IVA on bike sales and related services to encourage more users, which would not lead to a reduction in government income from cyclists, but actually increase its spending power, Martín explains.
Healthcare costs would come down, as cycling improves circulation, metabolism and muscle mass, leading to a lesser incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, Type II diabetes, joint pain, osteoporosis, obesity and many other medical problems which can be prevented with exercise and fresh air.
It would also cut air pollution, reducing these illnesses even further, and lower Spain's dependency upon fossil fuel, ConBici argues.
Traffic, lack of cycle paths, accident risk, and the impossibility in some areas of taking a bike on public transport such as buses and trains are the main obstacles to those who would prefer to travel around by bike, says consumer organisation OCU.
Cyclists in Madrid, the country's least-favoured biking city, say the 'relationship between cars nd bikes has improved' recently in the metropolitan area, but complain that there are still no dedicated lanes on the busiest road – the M-30 ringroad and the main business boulevard, the Paseo de la Castellana.
Elsewhere in the country, the death and injury toll of cyclists puts many residents off – despite Spain having some of the most restrictive drink-driving laws in Europe, weekend mornings are said to be the most dangerous time to go cycling because of tanked-up revellers returning from partying the night before.
Two cyclists from Jávea (Alicante province) were killed outright by a drunk and drug-fuelled driver in Oliva (Valencia province) on Sunday morning, whilst two others fight for their lives in hospital and a third fatal victim, aged just 23, lost his battle on Thursday morning.
And in the next three days in the province of Valencia, another cyclist was injured by a driver's dangerous manoeuvre, and two drunken motorists – one who had also taken cocaine and both between four and six times over the alcohol limit – were caught.
One of the latter two had been driving the wrong way down the AP-7 motorway, forcing dozens of other cars to swerve and brake sharply to avoid a head-on smash at 120 kilometres per hour.