Can bikes save us?

So you want to help end poverty, increase equality, protect the environment and make our cities safer, all while improving your own health and finances?

You can do all these – and more – all at the same time by simply riding a bike or being supportive of those that do.

June 3 is the official United Nations World Bicycle Day. Haven’t heard of it? That’s probably because it was approved only in April and this year is its inaugural ride.

Yes, it seems there’s a day for everything, but the UN’s declaration is an acknowledgement from the highest of cycling’s contribution to achieving the organisation’s 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). New Zealand signed up to these in 2015.

June 3 is now a shout-out, a call-up, for the world to “devote particular attention to the bicycle” in development strategies, and improve road safety and sustainable mobility.

We New Zealanders care about the environment and the 2017 Colmar Brunton Better Futures Report shows we’re concerned. Plastic bags are being banned, our waterways are being cleaned up (slowly), and while the “100% Pure” marketing moniker may attract some scrutiny, we’re sticking to it. We also care about a “fair go” and want to reduce poverty and improve the health and prospects of our tamariki.

These are all massive goals and they tie neatly into the UN’s 17 SDGs. And getting out of our cars and riding a bike can help – in fact, cycling delivers on 11 of those 17 SDGs.

Here’s how.

UN Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Let’s talk about transport poverty first. It’s when we spend a disproportionate amount of our income on transport – for most of us our transport costs (cars, mostly) are our third biggest expense, after housing and food. Speaking of housing, if you don’t have much money you need to live further out of the city, with less access to public transport. This probably means you have less access to essential services such as healthcare and education. You also probably drive an older, less efficient car. And of course, spending on transport means you have less to meet food and medical costs. Here are some facts about poverty in New Zealand.

UN Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Related to the above, if you can’t travel you don’t have a choice about where you buy your food. And if you’re paying off a car or car repair, you may not even have enough money to buy the food you need to stay healthy.

UN Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. The news is constantly full of world-wide healthcare challenges around chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and our aging population. Cycling is proven to improve health. The British Medical Journal recently published a study finding that cycling reduced a person’s chances of getting cancer by 45%, heart disease by 46%, and death from such diseases by 41%.

UN Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls. More women bike when they know it’s safe. If we improve our infrastructure and acceptance of cycling, more women and girls will take it up, increasing their ability to achieve the goals above

UN Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. A bike is a sustainable, clean-energy transport choice. Enough said.

UN Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all: Cycling creates jobs. Our blossoming cycle tourism industry has created jobs and opportunities, especially in areas struggling to to find economic opportunities away from farming. Think about the communities along the NZ Cycle Trail, and the boon in Central Otago along its rail trail.

UN Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. Investing in cycling pays off. Victoria University recently released a study showing a 10:1 cost benefit from investing in walking and cycling in New Plymouth and Hastings. New Zealand scores well on cycling innovation as well – local company SmartMotion designs great electric bikes.

UN Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Cities where people walk and cycle are safer and happier places to live. And, as our cities fill up, getting people on two wheels is much better than trying to squeeze in more traffic and car parking.

UN Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. This is a big one, and one where we can collectively make a big impact. Taking a bike instead of acar means you’re taking immediate climate action. When we get in our cars in the cities, 43% of the time we’re travelling less than 5 km and 17% of the time we’re going less than 2 km. Taking a bike just 5% of the time would reduce emissions by up to 8%.

So that’s how we can save the world – we can get on our bikes. And, importantly, if we don’t cycle ourselves we can support others who do. It’s one easy way to take collective action that will have an immediate impact on our health and wellbeing, our wallets, and the world we live in.

As well as getting on your bike, you can support council and government initiatives that enable biking in your community, or lobby to get some underway. If you’re in business, provide bike parking for your customers and employees. It’s not hard and your business can only benefit.

Bikes Welcome is a charity on a mission to get bike parking everywhere, so people everywhere can bike everywhere. This isn’t about cars versus bikes – it’s about takingcollective action, partnering together to save our planet, and ourselves.

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Image Credits: European Cyclist Federation and Bikes Welcome.

Words by Lee-Anne Duncan

Local Information

Think global, bike local.  We can help you connect with your local council or local biking group.

Bike Friendly Business

Find out how you can make your business bike friendly for customers and staff, and use bikes in your operations.


Benefits of Biking

Find out all the ways biking can benefit people, communities and the economy.

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