Reuters

And that might not be just a blip.

Bicycle sales outpaced new-car sales last year in all of the 27 member countries of the European Union, except Belgium and Luxembourg, NPR reported on October 24. One reason is that car sales have slumped in the midst of the euro-zone crisis, NPR points out. But there are signs that this slump isn't temporary. It's a reflection, perhaps, of a larger change in how people are traveling.

In developed economies, the numbers of cars owned and miles traveled have increased most years since the 1950s. Even before the financial crisis, that started to change. In the U.S., total miles traveled per person plateaued in 2000 and started falling in 2004. (Measured in miles per vehicle, that rate flattened in 2004 and started declining in 2007.) Today, young Americans are less interested in getting their licenses as early as possible or even at all. Meanwhile, global bicycle production has been growing faster than car production since the late 1970s:

World car and bicycle production

There are a couple of reasons for the shift. The cost of fuel and insurance in many countries has gone up. And perhaps more importantly, cars have become less of a badge of prestige or money—at least in developed markets.

In Europe, predictably, countries hit by the economic slowdown have been the first to jump on their bikes. In Italy, in both 2011 and 2012, more bikes were sold than cars. In Spain, last year marked the first time the two-wheeled vehicles had ever outpaced cars since the country started compiling the related data.

However, not all the countries where bikes outsold cars were in economic dire straits. (See NPR’s chart below.) For instance, Lithuania, where bicycles outsold cars a little over nine times, saw its economy grow a healthy 3.6 percent last year. (That’s despite a slowdown in trade with the rest of the EU countries.) Even as economies recover in Europe and the U.S., people might be sticking to their bicycles.

x

Here’s NPR’s chart on sales of new cars versus bicycles in the larger economies of the EU.

x

This post originally appeared on Quartz. More from our partner:

About the Author

Lily Kuo

Lily Kuo is a reporter at Quartz covering emerging markets.

Most Popular

  1. Homeless individuals inside a shelter in Vienna in 2010
    Equity

    How Vienna Solved Homelessness

    What lessons could Seattle draw from their success?

  2. Two New York City subway cars derailed on the A line in Harlem Tuesday, another reminder of the MTA's many problems.
    Transportation

    Overcrowding Is Not the New York Subway's Problem

    Yes, the trains are packed. But don’t blame the victims of the city’s transit meltdown.

  3. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  4. Life

    Why a City Block Can Be One of the Loneliest Places on Earth

    Feelings of isolation are common in cities. Let’s take a look at how the built environment plays into that.

  5. A row of Victorian homes in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
    Equity

    San Francisco's Civil War Over Affordable Housing

    The country’s most expensive rental market grapples with high rents, homelessness, and the politics of Bay Area tenant activism.