Bike Sharing Schemes Mark the Best Expat Destinations

22 May 2017

Last month we released our new report, the Global Bike Sharing Survey 2017, in which we studied the availability and pricing of over 700 public bike sharing schemes across the globe. Focusing on the number of bike sharing systems and how the various pricing models make them ideal for commuters, we discovered that China is currently the global leader, with 174 schemes across 30 of its 34 divisions.

With China’s population now standing at just under 1.4 billion, accounting for nearly 18.5% of the world’s people, we were interested in looking at how this country and others compare when this is taken into consideration. Although China is the world leader in bike sharing schemes, is it really the leader when adjusting the figures for its huge population and landmass? It could be that in terms of their size; a much smaller country is actually leading the way forward for this modern twist on a classic form of transport.

“Definitely, jump on a bike and cycle around the city. It is the best way to get around and you are never more Dutch than when you ride a bike. It is a thing of beauty to see how they navigate through sleet and snow, with kids and groceries dangling off the front and back, all while holding an umbrella and using a phone!”

Teresa – American expat in the Netherlands

Europe Wears the Yellow Jersey

By looking at the population and area that are serviced by the many bike sharing schemes around the (see the map below), we can see that although it still fairs extremely well as is certainly towards the top of the rankings, it is by no means the country with the highest relative score. In fact, when studying the relative numbers of bike sharing schemes by population and area, China comes in at 46th and 36th, respectively.

Curiously, India has relatively few bike sharing schemes for its size, especially when compared to China, its closest companion regarding population size. Although striving towards their goal of ‘moving people, not vehicles’, the development of the large schemes for megacities such as the ones seen in China and Japan, has been exceptionally slow in India. Some have criticised the Indian government for being too sluggish at bringing in large-scale initiatives to get people cycling, as, without these, a culture of cycling is not going to appear spontaneously. Currently, we estimate India has a total of around 300 public hire bicycles, a stark contrast to China’s figure of somewhere over a million.

“I was recently in Shanghai on business and could not help but notice the number of bicycles available and the considerable number of people making use to them, even in the very late hours of the evening. The concept seems to have really taken hold.”

Clint – Canadian expat in China

When looking at the top five countries for bike sharing when adjusted for population and landmass, one thing becomes apparent; Europe is the real leader. Out of the eight countries features across these two lists, Singapore is the only country not in Europe. This could be seen as a no-brainer, as with its relatively small size of 794 km2, Singapore would come second on our list if it only had one scheme. For those wanting to move somewhere cycle friendly in Asia though, apart from China, Singapore is the clear choice with its compact size and significant adoption of bike sharing schemes, not to mention all of the other benefits the Lion City can offer.

Riding Towards a Better Life

Another significant point touched upon in the original report was the enormous health benefits that can be gained from moving your commute from a sedentary mode of travel, such as sitting on a train or bus, to an active one, such as riding a bicycle for 30 minutes. Specifically, a study published in 2010 showed that regular cycling, even in a busy city, has a net increase in your lifespan, as opposed to the early death that many of us imagine. The scientists found that the risk of an accident would remove around seven days from an average person’s life, and 21 days due to the intake of air pollution due to an increased breathing rate, but the introduction of extra physical activity would add an average of 240 days onto a person’s life. This improvement would also be compounded further for someone who leads a more sedentary lifestyle.

The simple comparison of calories burned by different methods of commuting (see above), taken from our Global Bike Sharing Survey 2017 infographic, shows just how much better cycling is for your health than the more common modes of transport. Cycling through rush hour speed traffic can burn around four times more calories than taking the car, bus or train. When compared to spending 30 minutes on the treadmill in the gym, cycling to work seems like a much better use of time.

“Before I moved to the Netherlands I had not been on a bike since I was 13. Now it is a part of my everyday life.”

Stuart – British expat in the Netherlands

“The best way to explore Copenhagen is by bike...”

Phillip – British expat in Denmark

Further analysis of the population and area per bike sharing scheme data, alongside life expectancy statistics, shows striking and significant correlations between the metrics. As can be seen in the charts below, life expectancy correlates extremely significantly with the numbers for population per bike sharing scheme and area per bike sharing scheme. Although it would be nice to think, it is extremely unlikely that in the relatively short period that bike sharing schemes have existed they have made any real impact on a country’s health as a whole, especially as even in Switzerland which comes top for schemes per population, there is still only one scheme for every 315,875 people.

With this fact in mind, it becomes clear that it is the countries which are healthiest overall that have placed the most effort into the procurement and distribution of bike sharing schemes to their population. What this does mean however is that the presence and availability of bike sharing schemes can be used as a good proxy for nations healthy lifestyles and communities. With a significant correlation between bike sharing scheme availability and life expectancy, you should see the availability of public bicycles as an extremely positive sign, and not as a nuisance like many currently do.

More Bikes Means More Money

When you’re looking to move abroad and have relative control over your destination, one of the most important aspects to consider is the cost of living in your chosen destination. After all, if you move to another country with twice the cost of living, but remain on a similar salary, you’re not going to be enjoying that expat lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of. Taking a look at the relative cost of living in the countries included in our Global Bike Sharing Survey 2017 (see the map below), we can see that the most expensive destinations are clustered around Europe, North America and Oceania.

“In relation to prices, bike share is cheap for the end user. The reason people use bike share is because it makes their travel experience more convenient. It transforms a 20-minute walk into a 5-minute bike trip. When this occurs twice a day, 5 days per week, it adds up to a lot (a travel time saving of about 130 hours a year).”

Dr Elliot Fishman – Director of the Institute for Sensible Transport, Australia

Although the high cost of living in these areas might be regarded as a problem and a real turn-off for some potential expats, it really shouldn’t. In fact, these countries with the highest cost of living also have some of the highest pay for the lowest hours worked in the world, as highlighted in our article from the beginning of April. In that investigation of the OECD data, we highlighted Switzerland as the star attraction for globally mobile talents, with high wages, low working hours, minimal taxation, and top rates of employment. Now we find that the Central-European powerhouse has the most bike sharing schemes for its population size in the world with 24 for its 3.8 million inhabitants.

“Switzerland has long been one of the premier destinations within Western Europe for expat workers looking to relocate globally due to its open society, generous wages and low taxation. The Recent OECD report has once again shone a light on exactly why around 25% of the population is made up of foreigners who have decided to call Switzerland their home.”

Pierre Jéronimo, CEO Geneva Relocation

When looking at the prevalence of bike sharing schemes alongside the relative cost of living in the various countries (see above), we again see a strong and significant correlation between the two, when looking by population or landmass. Together these results show that the strong presence of bike sharing schemes in a country should be seen not only as a convenient tool for commuting but as an indicator of a great lifestyle and ideal expat destination. Wherever you’re currently planning to make your next global destination, take a look at our long list of bike sharing schemes by country below and gain a deeper insight into your potential life in your chosen nation, all through the power of bike sharing.

Data of the average life expectancy at birth was taken from the CIA World Factbook.
Data on the relative cost of living was taken from Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index 2017. All countries are calculated relative to New York City, NY, USA which has a score of 100.
Data on bike sharing schemes around the world was collected from the relevant company websites in March 2017.
Calories burnt were calculated for a 130lb female.
Information on lifetime gained from cycling to work was taken from: Johan de Hartog D, Boogaard H, Nijland H, Hoek G. (2010) Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Environ Health Perspect. 118(8): 1109-1116.