The bicycle manufacturing market may have had a scarce outlook. But recent ecological concerns suggest otherwise. Overlooking the fact that the bicycle is the most sustainable vehicle, meaning “perfect carbon 0”; successful projects developed by NGOs, local authorities, and companies bring forward the idea of “green collar jobs”, of domestic green production. For an ecologist, these concepts go beyond a stale analysis of the Romanian or any other Eastern-European market by proposing a new approach to business. Programs related to bike charity or bike schemes carried out by NGOs sufficiently sustain the economy for green collar jobs, shows Raul Cazan.
Bicycle, the absolute solution
Beginning with the scientific definition of efficiency or output, the human machine isn’t more efficient than a combustion engine. Neither the human body nor the Otto or Diesel engines transform more than 25% of their energetic input into movement. Despite the low output engines, the binomial man-bicycle couple is by far the efficiency start among all of today’s means of transport.
The fuel used in cycling is derived from animal and plant matter, evidently, depending on the cycler’s diet. Compared to a sedentary person, a cycler needs just a little more of the above mentioned fuel. On the other hand, the fuel a car uses stems from the same animal and plant matter, only in a different form. Petrol energy is overly-concentrated compared to the energy obtained by refining nutrients in the stomach. However, both types of energy can be measured in the same units. A litre of gasoline equals to about 8.000 kilocalories. What distance can a cyclist cover by burning 8.000 kilocalories? A lot more than a car could, that’s for sure. Even Prius, the great saviour, would use twenty times more energy than a cyclist to cover the same distance at the same speed.
The Car – “weighty” consumption
The auto vehicle’s greatest energy flaw is its own weight. Every morning when Joe hops in his car to go to work his dear automobile has to carry him, its own metallic body, the motor, plus the inside furnishing. On the other hand, if the car’s motor had to carry only Joe, then it would use an insignificant amount of energy. But sadly, the motor has to carry another ton on metal along for the ride. Even an electric car would consume more energy compared to riding a bike. The man-bicycle couple amplifies the power of the motor using only gears and cables or properly inflated wheels adding up to fifteen kilograms on average.
The pedestrian doesn’t consume that much energy either. However, he can’t benefit from the advantages of plain mechanics – he doesn’t have any wheels. The poor pedestrian consumes roughly the same amount of energy as the cyclist but moves five times slower. The metro, the busses, the eco-friendly trolleys, the Prius, the pedestrian; none of these can match the energy efficiency of the bicycle. Despite the facts, we fervently promote the first four means of transport and ardently emphasize the critical importance of increasing energy efficiency. From the perspective of air pollution, never has a cyclist sweated carbon monoxide or heavy metal particles.
A green collar job is a form of employment that can sustain a family, and a career path; a job which directly contributes to the improvement or preservation of the surrounding natural environment. This is the van Jones’s definition in his book “The Green Collar Economy”.
The same as the traditional blue collar jobs, green collar jobs range from “entry level” positions up to qualified well paid jobs. Jobs which include advancement opportunities in terms of casting and professional development.
“Think of them [green collar jobs] as the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the environmental challenges of today.” Van Jones writes.
“Bicycles productions implies “green jobs”. And it is occurring in Romania. If it offers something that does not pollute, and gives decent and qualified work places, working at a bicycle plant is a green job,” says Lucian Contras, sales manager of DHS. At the same time production is doubled by activism.
For an ecologist, the idea of “green collar jobs” and domestic green production goes beyond the problem of synchronic analysis or the evolution of bicycle production on the Romanian market. Instead the idea proposes a new perspective of the business’s profile. Project’s like “La Pedale” (At the Pedals), organized by Green Revolution in Bucharest, “Verde pentru Biciclete” (Green for Bicycles), in Timisoara, or “Ride Across” in the mountains of Romania, all help in sustaining a clean environment and also green collar economy.
Gain = money plus environmental protection
The bicycle is a need of the green economy’s man. The programs sustained by ecologist organizations give complexity to their action and sustain a small eco-friendly manufacturing business. The locals, as a general rule and as anywhere else in the world, should use bicycles manufactured in their area (i.e. their country). This state of affairs, which overcomes the narrow-minded consumer vision, ends up generating a small local economic system that functions on the basis of interdependence, thus on the basis of ecology. The goal is represented by development and gain. However, the grand finale is called “Carbon 0”.
A source for jobs
The organizations encourage local industry. “Why bring bicycles straight from Asia and place a gigantic carbon footprint when we can manufacture them here. And the people doing the job are Romanians from around here,” says Contras DHS sales manager. “We have approximately 200 employees. Work gets done according to the season because during winter sales drop a little.” There are public policies everywhere in occidental Europe which sustain this kind of solution.
Of course, business is business. Without a profit you can’t stay on the market. “We don’t use any polluting machinery. For all tools we use compressed air made by one single compressor. The sad thing is that in Romania there’s no difference: there’s no classification between companies that are harmful to the environment, or even friendly, in the case of the bicycle industry. A differentiation strategy from the government on the basis of eco-friendliness would be welcome. Those who are the best, as anywhere else in this world, need to be encouraged or to benefit by some degree.” Contras finishes.
Bike scheme or how to motivate your employee
An initiative of occidental governments, the bicycle acquisition scheme, encourages commute to and from work by bicycle. Calin Gruia, a Romanian cyclist based in Great Britain relates the benefits of taking part in such a scheme.
“The government allows you to buy a bicycle tax free. That also means no value added tax; basically you’re getting the bike for its fabrication price. For instance, I paid 690 pounds out of a total of 1000, it’s a great deal.”
You can also pay in installments. And you don’t have to deal with the government. You deal with a third party. Businesses bring partnering shops into this scheme. The company becomes part of the game – there are several companies which offer tax reduction on bicycles – and its employees can log on to the bicycles scheme web site. Through the site employees can order a bicycle; the employer gets notified; and the money gets subtracted from the purchasing employee’s wage.
“Evidently, something like this can also work in Romania. If the government has the initiative, that is. You also need an intermediary – the company that comes up with the bike scheme. Many retail shops would pay to be part of the scheme – at least at the level of bicycle culture here in England. They would have enormous sales. I don’t know how great a concern this is in Romania, but I’m guessing the government has different priorities. Maybe that’s why I left,” Calin sighs.
The state doesn’t get anything here. But it pollutes less, and manages for a less congested traffic. Ultimately, the government can be proud of having implemented eco-friendly policies. However, with a tax devouring government to which the notion of “long-term” is a blur, nothing can be done in the sense of tax free acquirement of bicycles.
“But there’s no harm in trying. Setting up a scheme like this is costly, a law needs to get passed, you need a committee, and a very responsible government.”
Graduates and students for “La Pedale” Centres
Green jobs aren’t solely created by the bicycle industry. Certain projects of environmental NGOs encourage sustainable urban transport. An example; the “La Pedale” (At the Pedals) centres open by Green Revolution Association in several parks in Bucharest’s sector 1. After last year’s great success, Green Revolution supplied another one hundred bikes this year, having a number of 250 bicycles. After the opening of the “La Pedale” centres on the 12th of April, Green Revolution launched the extended “iVelo” project encompassing the entire capital. They provided 750 bicycles for all the major parks in Bucharest – Herastrau, Tineretului, Carol, and IOR.
“For the <<La Pedale>> project we’ll have 12 people, mostly students and graduates. For the <<iVelo>> project we’ll have 32 work places. Together with the maintenance and coordination team the two projects will create 50 green jobs,” states Corneliu Belciug, project manager for Green Revolution Association.
“Beyond the educational and ecological aspects of the projects, I’m glad that in the second year of the financial crisis we managed to offer more jobs than in 2009. Indirectly, our projects encourage the bicycle business; thus, we do our part in the industry’s development and help increase the number of jobs,” Belciug explains.
The project will be brought to fruition with the support of Raiffeisen Bank. In Belciug’s opinion this demonstrates how easy it is to create jobs when you have a vision; when social responsibility isn’t just an exercise of the imagination, but a real idea that translates into projects and tangible results.
The two-wheeled jalopy
“Riding a bike is the best means of practicing ecology”, states Fabrice Beschu, manager for the Decathlon retailer in Romania. “Recycling and bartering is in equal measure a second means of practicing ecology.” Decathlon had over 3.000 participants at TROCATHLON, their own “Rabla” (Jalopy) program for sports wares.
The old bicycles get a voucher and the buyer can purchase products for their reconsidered prices. In previous editions over 500 bicycles were sold. Many companies and retailers propose similar solutions.
Romanian premiere – bicycle tracks between towns
“There isn’t a refined bicycle culture”, Contras adds. “There isn’t a serious infrastructure for bicycles. But recent developments lead us to believe that there is room for development due to investment in infrastructure: we have the Cluj model, and the model in Timisoara, and the one in Bucharest with Green Revolution. Beyond the fact that there are bicycle tracks in cities now, there are tracks linking towns. I saw a bike track linking two small towns somewhere in Prahova county from Ploiesti to Buzau. It was a seven kilometre track linking to towns. It’s unbelievable and it’s a premiere considering it was running parallel to a national road.
Eastern Europe – two wheeled torment
Bicycle markets in Eastern Europe have been gravely affected by economy’s state. Alongside the financial crisis problems with currency fluctuation have slowed down bicycle sales. For instance, a European bike study shows that the decline of the Polish zloty compared to the euro or the American dollar has had a noticeable effect on bicycle sales. Importers have increased bicycle prices by 20%, and component prices by 30%. In Slovakia and Romania the increases have not been so spectacular. On the contrary, older bicycle models registered a decrease in price. Alongside Bulgaria, the bicycle “consumers” from the two countries purchase products for a relatively small price.
In 2009 the bicycle market has severely declined in the Czech Republic. Exports dropped by 23.5% while imports declined by 21.5%. Bicycle sales dropped by a quarter compared to 2008. The Polish case is symptomatic. The Polish bicycle industry sold 541.000 units in the first trimesters of last year. In the last months of 2009 the turnover dropped by a staggering 21%. The ones most affected by this change were purchasers of lower end bicycles. Even though Slovenia doesn’t produce any bikes its bicycle market suffered greatly. Retail shops across the country reported sales declining by of over 20%
Regardless of their size, the Baltic States have a long tradition of bicycle riding. Lithuania has one of the largest plants in Europe: a gigantic plant, Baltik Vairas is the Baltic “Tohan” currently controlled by the German giant Panther International GmbH. According to Eurostat Lithuanian bicycle exports have fallen from 387.000 units in 2007, to 237.000 units by 2009. In 2009 sales did not break the 100.000 figure.
With a population of 1.3 million, Estonia imports bicycles from Taiwan and Cambodia. 30.000 to 40.000 units are retailed, but the average purchase price isn’t greater than 200 euro. Latvia’s bicycle economy is in bankruptcy, annual sales barely reaching 30.000 units.
What’s the feel of the autochthonous market?
In Romania 250.000 units are sold annually. Compared to western countries, or closer states like Hungary, in Romania 1,2-1,3 bicycles get purchased by one consumer out of a hundred. In Hungary the ratio is somewhere around 3-4 units per hundred people. Consequently, scaling the facts to Hungary’s population of 10 million means that the bicycle market in Hungary sells around 400.000 units per year.
In Germany the market is noticeably more developed. There are approximately 5 bicycles per hundred people; consequently sales are at 4.5 million units in all lands. The most developed country from this point of view is Holland, with an annual consumption of 10 bicycles per hundred people. At population 14 million, Holland sells 1.4 million units annually.
“These indexes show that Romania can evolve on the bicycle market; a market which has not yet reached maturity that has great potential for growth despite current financial difficulties of the economic crisis,” Lucian Contras, sales manager of Eurosport DHS states.
Romania, unequal production
DHS dominates the Romanian bicycle market by a stifling market share. “We currently have 65-70% of the market. And there are two reasons for it. First – we have great technical and logistical power; second – what I believe to be most important is that we offer the entire bicycle range demanded, starting with the budget bicycles to the more expensive ones. We’ve split the product range according to certain categories: Creativ – the inexpensive version; DHS – the intermediate version; the premium version, which we sell under the Impulse brand; and for the professional category we import GT,” Contras explains. DHS also produces bicycles for export covering almost all the European markets.
Rich Bikes is a company based in Bucharest that centres its business on bicycle assembly. They enjoy a 30% market share working with Chinese human capital, and hiring 120 people. Rich Bikes produces only for the domestic market. They sell to major retailers like Carrefour, Kaufland, Metro, or Cora.
The industry lacks the associative phenomenon
In Romania there is no industrial association of the bicycle producers. At the beginning of this year Polish bicycle producers founded their own association. While in Bulgaria this has been present for quite some years. “In 2007, when we were admitted to the EU, we’ve filed a request to Brussels for an antidumping tax waiver on components we bought from Asia, mostly China,” Contras recalls. Bulgarian producers solved their problem through their organization which affiliated itself with the European structure. “Instead we had to do it by ourselves, and it was pretty hard. Luckily our German partners were able to offer us vital information. They had more experience having gone through the process of obtaining their wavier some time ago. If we hadn’t had our partners our business would have been in serious trouble. The Bulgarians on the other hand acted as a collective, which was fast and efficient.”
Not having a producer’s association on a local scale, Romanians can’t defend themselves from Asian imports that are most of the times at dumping prices. Since Romania’s adherence to the EU, policies and regulations have been in order, including the anti-dumping tax, which facilitate a healthier market environment. Moreover, there are certain safety standards that bicycles must meet. These European Norms are compulsory across the entire territory of the EU. Romania adopted the terms, and some plans even have certification. However, you can find places here and there among the member countries where the norms are not being respected leading to unfair competition.
In Romania things start from the bottom up. Things get changed by applying pressure or by setting examples. Never have the authorities decided to construct a bicycle track without major exterior pressure. Only after extensive media coverage of promoting the bicycle as an ecologic means of transport have the authorities take necessary measures. Only through permanent pressure from public opinion, activism organizations, and the act of cycling will consumption and the production market be brought into shape. Apart from the somewhat flabbergasting considerations pitched in this text we have to follow the main thread: the market will grow, there will be more and more cyclists and they will ask for their rights because they are healthier and more consistent in their cause. However, their counterpart is redoubtable in its persistence in error. They are many, they are mesmerized by random ads and publicity, their cholesterol clogged veins scream with fat. They are always angry, locked in their shiny tin boxes, chocked on the congested streets, and suffocated by exhaust gasses.