Euro Exim Bank

The rise of pedal power

Man holding a bicycleAnyone who's spent time in one of the major cities in northern Europe will be familiar with the variety of municipal bike schemes on offer.  For years, community groups have promoted bicycle sharing as an easily accessible alternative to motorised travel, a way to reduce the environmental impact of commuting as well as enable residents to become healthier through exercise.  Recently, governments and public bodies have taken up the mantle, promoting bike sharing systems as part of 'intermodal transportation', allowing people to shift easily from other forms of transport to bicycle and back again. 


The earliest attempt at a community bicycle program, or at least the most legendary, was launched in the 1960s by Luud Schimmelpenninck, in association with the counterculture movement Provo, based in the Netherlands.  Although their proposal for a state-sponsored scheme was rejected by the city authorities, this radical political movement took to leaving bikes, painted white, on the streets of Amsterdam for anyone to use.

Things have changed a lot since then.  Bike sharing systems are no longer a fringe or marginalised proposal, with schemes evolving to reduce the operating overheads, often involving a coalition of funding sources, and utilising the latest technology. The first system of this 'generation' was Copenhagen's ByCyklen (City Bikes) launched in 1995. The programme was the first large-scale urban bike share to feature specially-designed bicycles, using parts that could not be used on other bikes.  More recently, in 2000, Deutsche Bahn launched 'Call a Bike' in several German cities, an up-to-the-minute system incorporating touch screen LCD displays and electronic wheel locking.

The latest city to jump on the bike bandwagon is London.  When Boris Johnson won the 2008 Mayoral election, it seemed inevitable that a bike sharing programme would get the go ahead.  An avid cyclist, Johnson can be seen most days of the week riding his bicycle into the Mayor's office, and as of this summer, Barclays Cycle Hire, in conjunction with Transport for London (TfL), was launched, with docking stations appearing across central London and 6,000 bikes available for rent. The scheme is modelled on the Bixi project that became a huge success in the Canadian city of Montreal and even uses similar bikes. 

As expected, the scheme has been a resounding success, with more than 12,000 people signing up, far outstripping the 6,000 bicycles which will be available.  The cost of using the cycles varies from £1 for an hour to £50 for 24 hours.  Once you've paid a £1-a-day access charge, the first half an hour's bike rental is free, and you can make as many 30-minute trips in the day as you like without paying a penny more. The sturdy 23kg bikes come with three gears, but no lock – TfL has said this was done to deter people from keeping the cycles for long periods.  Although at the moment the scheme requires users to sign up for membership, in order to obtain a key to unlock a bike from a docking station, a 'casual use' system will soon be in operation, which doesn't require membership and will suit tourists and occasional cyclists far better.

As expected, the scheme has been a resounding success, with more than 12,000 people signing up, far outstripping the 6,000 bicycles which will be available.

Like many of the other European schemes, the project is designed to resolve a number of issues for Londoners.  It's believed the bikes will take some of the strain off public transport at peak times, as people use the bikes to make thousands of short journeys, freeing up tube and bus networks. The scheme also hopes to reduce pollution and congestion on the roads by encouraging car and motorbike users to leave their vehicles at home.  Public health campaigners also welcome the project as another incentive to get people taking the crucial 20 minutes exercise a day.  In his public promotion of the bikes, Boris Johnson cannily chimed with the times when he pointed to the £25 million that Barclays Bank had invested in the scheme, saying "this is a brilliant way of getting the banks to do something for wider society". 

Meanwhile, London isn't the only UK city to take up a bike sharing scheme.  A company called OYBike already operates similar systems in Cardiff and Reading, and is planning a third in Farnborough. Rival hire firm HourBike operates hire services in Blackpool and Dublin, and is opening another in Dumfries soon. It seems the UK has gone into bike overdrive.

Cinelli Bikes
Top of the range Italian bike manufacturer, Cinelli, was formed in 1948 by a professional racer, Cino Cinelli.

The company assumes new ownership in 1978 and begins to use advanced technology and materials.

Still manufactured near Milan, Cinelli bikes are used by the worlds top riders, such as Lance Armstrong and Mario Cipollini, and have won more than 28 gold medals in various Olympic games and World Championships.

Coveted by bike enthusiasts the world over, a top Cinelli frame in its stock configuration – with no other components – can cost in the range of £3000 to £4000. A craze for fixed gear bikes and their move from sub cultural icons to mainstream cool means a customised frame can now cost upwards of £5000.

Cinelli is now mentioned in the Dictionary of Italian Design and in the ADI Design Index. The Corriere della Sera newspaper calls it a cult object in the USA similar to Ferrari, Vespa or Lavazza.

Look out on the streets of Europe's major cities and your sure to see this uber-cool name fly past your eyes.