The scenes of people cramming onto a London Underground train on Monday were enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone who has been keeping half an eye on the coronavirus crisis.
U.K. Health Minister Matt Hancock urged the public to try to get to work by bicycle Tuesday after being challenged about the issue by ITV show "This Morning."
"People should avoid public transport unless they absolutely have to use it, because it is safer when there is fewer people on it," Hancock said.
"You say not everybody can cycle, that's true, but lots more people can than do and now is actually a good time to start cycling to work because there is hardly any traffic on the roads so it's much more pleasant to cycle than in normal times."
Last week, the U.K. government announced a £2 billion package "to create a new era for cycling and walking." That includes £250 million to establish new bike lanes and safer junctions in England. Similar initiatives are being announced in other countries: German cities are re-marking roads to create "pop-up" cycles lanes, for example.
At the same time, the government said it plans to fast-track trials of e-scooters, which are technically still illegal in the U.K. Trials are to be brought forward from next year to next month and they're going to be nationwide instead of in just four parts of the U.K.
The move will be music to the ears of U.S. e-scooter rental start-ups Lime and Bird, as well as European rivals Tier, Bolt, Voi and Wind.
Travis VanderZanden, CEO of Bird, said in a statement: "With public transport capacity constrained due to the pandemic e-scooters will provide people with a sustainable and socially responsible transportation option. Congestion and air quality has improved dramatically in towns and cities throughout the U.K. in recent weeks, and we're pleased to see the Government is committed to keeping it this way as part of their green transport revolution."
All this is also good news for companies who sell e-bikes and e-scooters.
Indeed, business is booming for e-bike entrepreneur Taco Carlier, who just so happens to be based in the world cycling capital, Amsterdam. VanMoof, the Dutch start-up that he founded in 2009 with his brother Ties (who now lives in Taiwan), has seen a surge in demand for its e-bikes with the arrival of Covid-19.
"Two months ago, everything changed due to the virus and everything started growing even faster," said Carlier on a call with CNBC, adding that global sales are up around 48% compared to the same period last year, and U.K. sales are up 184%.
The company, which employs 250 people, has sold around 120,000 of its trendy e-bikes, which are made in either The Netherlands or Taiwan. The two latest models (the S3 and the X3) cost 1,998 euros ($2,170) but the unprecedented demand means they're not shipping until the end of July as it stands. VanMoof is far from the only bike retailer struggling to keep up with demand.
In 2019, VanMoof's revenues came in at nearly $40 million. That figure is expected to double to $80 million in 2020, Carlier said. The fast-growing revenues have attracted the deep pockets of venture capital investors at Balderton Capital in London, which led a 12.5 million euro funding round into the company Wednesday as they look to capitalize on VanMoof's success. Carlier described Balderton as the perfect partner to help VanMoof to globalize and scale.
"The mission is to get as many bikes in San Francisco, New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, as we have in Amsterdam," said Carlier.
VanMoof's bikes — sold in VanMoof stores in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Taipei and Tokyo — are equipped with anti-theft technology.
A bike's location can be tracked on the company's smartphone app and if a bike does go missing, the company's "bike hunters" will go and retrieve it for them. Other e-bike options include the fold-up GoCycle, which was founded by McLaren automotive engineer Richard Thorpe, and Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, which is the bike manufacturer's first pedal-assisted mountain bike.
"Many have taken a short term view and pulled out their old bike from the shed only to find that it is as tiresome and in-convenient as they had remembered," said Thorpe. "Smart commuters are going for e-bikes and we have seen sales of our fast-folding GX range rocket upwards within the last few weeks – literally at a rate 4x in urban areas compared with this time last year. Covid is pulling the adoption curve forward."