The study by John Hopkins University finds that 42 per cent of households own at least one bicycle, a drop from a global average of around 80 per cent 30 years ago. By ‘mining’ data from 1.25 billion households across 148 countries, they estimate that there are 580 million bikes in private household ownership. ‘In this case mined refers first to the process of searching through various databases and extracting bicycle ownership data,’ says Olufolajimi Oke, lead author of the study. The data was then clustered into different groups of ascending bike ownership and mapped. This makes it possible to compare countries .
Many countries have similar bicycle ownership as their neighbours, however, even within the same region there can be differences. For example, Uganda had a bike ownership 37 percent – 12 times greater than neighbouring Ethiopia’s 2.3 per cent. The study also demonstrates how bike ownership does not always increase with wealth. For example, Burkina Faso, shown in red, has very high rates of bicycle ownership compared to the rest of sub-saharan Africa. Although one of the poorest nations in the world, this could be because Burkina Faso has invested in cycling infrastructure and bikes are celebrated culturally. The UK, though it has one of the highest per capita GDP, sits in group 3.
The study acknowledges that ownership does not necessarily imply usage, more of the population may have owned unused bikes 30 years ago. However, Oke says ‘we have found that four-tenths of households around the world have within arm’s reach a powerful tool for low-carbon transportation and healthy physical activity.’ He also hopes it could help policy makers identify reasons for higher bike ownership in other countries. ‘Everyone is focused on what’s happening now, but looking to the past can really help policy makers – it can show them what worked and what didn't and give them ideas,’ he says, ‘by pulling together and analysing many sources of data, we have produced a database that we hope will give policy makers the information they need to take action.’