US bike sales higher than car sales in 2009

2006 Chapel Hill/Carrboro Blue Bikes Launch

2006 Chapel Hill/Carrboro Blue Bikes Launch

During the first quarter of 2009, more bicycles were sold in the US than cars and trucks. While the Great Recession is hurting bike sales, they didn’t fall as fast as automobiles. Over 2.55 million bicycle purchases were made, compared to less than 2.4 million cars and trucks that left our nation’s lots.

Bicycle Sales Still Hurt by Recession

I don’t mean to say that bicycle sales are unfazed by the recession. Their proxy for data, imports (imports make up more than 90% of the US market), are actually down more than 30% from the first quarter of 2008. But that percentage drop is slower than the 35+% drop in sales for cars and trucks. Since nationwide gasoline prices are now rising above $2.40 per gallon at the pump, we may see another wave of US residents shifting to bicycles for their everyday trips. The large savings from riding a bike over short distances rather than driving can help consumer confidence and support economic recovery.

Even Long Trips Can be by Bike

Visionary activists are creating opportunities for cyclists to safely travel longer distances as well. For instance, the East Coast Greenway Alliance aims to connect greenways from Key West, FL, to Calais, ME, on a 3,000-mile long paved trail. For me, it’s an exciting potential to visit family and friends in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island (or even the longer trip to my native state of North Carolina!) via bicycle. So far, many corridors of the East Coast Greenway (ECG) are built. But gaps in the trail exist that we all can chip-in to connect. One important current opportunity is for us to show our elected leaders that we support the completion of the ECG and other trails throughout our country as part of the federal transportation bill to be deliberated this summer.

Climate Benefits of Bicycling

Not only are there cost savings from such local and intercity rides, but there are environmental benefits too — especially in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. While an average solo car trip or airplane ride emits more than 1 pound of CO2 per mile, bicycling or walking emits close to zero. If we need to travel hundreds of miles, there are great low-carbon strategies for travel that include mass transit and carpooling, keeping our average emissions less than 1/2 a pound of CO2 per mile.

Infrastructure Development Crucial

For Americans to put these millions of new bicycles to use, government leaders from the federal to the local level need to give more support to the construction and maintenance of safe bike lanes and greenways. Such work can be a much-needed source of job growth. From neighborhood paths to an urban counterpart of the Appalachian Trail, bicycling has great growth potential.

Let’s make it happen!

8 thoughts on “US bike sales higher than car sales in 2009

  1. Dave

    i would very much like to believe more bikes were sold, but according to NADA about 4.2 million cars and light trucks were sold in the first three months of 2009.

    january: 0.7 million
    february: 1.3 million
    march: 2.2 million

  2. Dennis M. Post author


    More bikes were sold.
    Take another look at the data: the total is ~2.2 M cars sold by end of March (Jan-Mar) vs. almost 2.6 M bikes. Those monthly numbers are cumulative. The annual rate of sales was below 9.8 M (*.25, since its a quarter of the yr = <2.45 M). I was conservative, as the total number looks to be lower by NADA data. For comparison, car and truck sales averaged 13.2 M in 2008 and over 16 M in 2007.

    Thanks for checking-in to make sure the numbers are correct though.


  3. Dennis M. Post author


    I love the ECG idea too! Where do you live? I can connect you to ECGA staff and other volunteers to help make the dream a reality. Feel free to email me your info via dennis at setenergy dot org


  4. Todd Scott

    No, bikes imports exceeded light vehicle sales. Apples and oranges.

    It looks like the bike sales article references an article on bike imports — and gets the terms confused.

  5. Dennis M. Post author


    Yes, the article does report imports. Thank you for clarifying. But since over 90% of the US bicycle market is imports (mostly from China), isn’t that the best proxy. Since domestics should also be included, bicycle purchases are likely above 2.6 M. Do you have any data that shows bicycle purchases were below 2.2 M (the approximate number for light vehicle sales)?


  6. Todd Scott

    No, it’s not a good proxy given the highly seasonal nature of bicycle ordering and sales. Imports within a given quarter are not the same as bicycle sales within the same quarter. One might correlate first quarter imports with second and third quarter sales, but that’s not what you did.

  7. Dennis M. Post author


    Thank you for your feedback. I hear you. I’ll definitely try to do a followup piece with more detail on bicycle sales as they are reported for the first quarter and the rest of 2009. Bicycle sales have been higher than car & truck sales for a while now – especially when all wheel sizes are concerned. Even just larger wheel bicycles outsold cars & trucks in 2008: 13.4 M vs. 13.2 M (all wheel sizes hit 18.5 M). But I’ll try to get more access to the most precise data and the best channels to find 2009 info for future posts. Let me and others know if you have some good sources for accurate updated bicycle sales numbers that you recommend.
    Onwards to climate progress-

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