Bitumen and cycling

With the 2017 Tour de France starting in Düsseldorf on 1st July and ending on the Champs Elysées in Paris on 23rd July, we explore the key role that bitumen plays in cycling: an increasingly popular, healthy and environmentally-friendly means of commuting to and from work, a competitive, multi-disciplinary sport, and a growing leisure and recreational activity that also helps improve fitness and health.

Bitumen is important for cycling. It is one of the core materials used in the construction of the asphalt roads, cycle-paths and cycle routes that an estimated 250 million people throughout the European Union ride upon.

The Nordic countries were among the first to introduce dedicated cycle routes, with many others since following suit. Across Europe, the EuroVelo network comprises 16 long-distance cycle routes, approximately 80,000 kilometres in length, running north to south and west to east, connecting and uniting the whole European continent. Meanwhile, at a local level cycle routes are becoming more commonplace within regions as well as major European cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, London and Paris.

As well as the health benefits associated with cycling, Governments also recognise the importance of cycling from an economic and a sustainability targets perspective. Many governments and authorities are now investing in cycle routes because cycling helps lower healthcare costs, as it improves health and fitness; because cycle routes can help boost tourism, and so increase the amount of money spent in a country by tourists; and because cycling is a zero emissions mode of transport it can help cities, regions and countries meet pollution, CO2 emissions and other sustainability targets.

Whether cycling on a regular road, along a street with a separately marked out (and possibly also differently-coloured) cycle lane, or on a stand-alone cycle-path or tourist cycle trail, bitumen makes an important, sustainable contribution to your comfort and safety.

Bitumen, cycling and comfort

Cycling is a low-impact activity that is good for exercising muscles while not causing undue stress to backs or joints.

Cyclists like well-maintained, joint-free asphalt roads or cycle-paths because of their smooth ride, which is not only good for the rider but also for their bike. Indeed, as bicycles typically do not have the same advanced suspensions as motor vehicles, the comfort advantages from riding on a smooth surface are even more important to cyclists of all types – from leisure cyclists and cycling tourists, to bicycle couriers and cycling commuters.

As well as reducing the amount of energy a rider needs to expend to get to their desired location, a smooth, low rolling resistance asphalt road also reduces ‘wear and tear’ upon the bicycle – not just on the tyres and wheels, but also upon the frame itself.

Bitumen, cycling and safety

As well as the obvious safety benefits of smooth, well-maintained asphalt roads, which don’t have potholes or loose stones that cyclists need to avoid, the surface of asphalt roads has good skid resistance properties. This is particularly important to cyclists when it is wet, as it is much easier to control a bike on a wet, skid-resistant asphalt road than it is on wet, slippery cobblestones. Also, because special asphalt types allow rain water to drain through it this minimises the amount of standing water likely to build up on a road or cycle path surface.

Clearly cyclists’ safety is improved by the provision of separate cycle-paths and the clear identification of specific parts of the road for cyclists. Here too the bitumen industry has played an important role, by developing differently coloured asphalt mixes, enabling sections of the road specifically meant for cyclists to be made clearly visible to all road users, while on the other hand not hindering the use of the road in emergencies.

The industry continues to undertake further research and development to aid cyclists’ safety. An excellent example currently being trialed in Poland for its effectiveness and durability is the introduction of luminophore particles into the asphalt mix, to create luminescent asphalt cycle paths. The particles store energy from the sun during the day and then emit it - in the form of a glowing blue light - in the dark, thus helping improve the safety of cyclists at night.

Bitumen, cycling and sustainability

Cycling is an environmentally-friendly mode of transport. Bicycles do not require any fuel to be burnt to move, and the carbon emissions associated with the creation of asphalt cycle paths, routes and lanes are low – and indeed can be reduced even further if they are built using reclaimed asphalt or at reduced temperatures, a technique the bitumen industry helped to develop.

Bicycle travel is a sustainable form of transportation and forms a key element within the sustainability strategies of many governments and local authorities. The development of cycling-friendly policies, even including taxation-positive incentives to encourage cycling to work elements, and investment in additional cycle routes and paths which encourage more people to travel by bike, rather than in greenhouse gas-generating motorized vehicles.

Co-funded by the Intelligent Energy Programme of the European Union and lead by the European Cyclists' Federation, the Bike2Work project actively promotes a significant energy-efficient modal shift from motorised transport to cycling throughout Europe to help reduce CO2 emissions – while also having significant potential to improve employees personal health and reduce the overall amount of money spent on transport. To achieve this, Bike2Work uses a two-fold approach: inspiring employees to adopt a more sustainable form of commuting, and encouraging employers to meet the needs of cyclists.

And asphalt is the cycling lane construction material of choice for Sustrans, a charitable organisation in the UK dedicated to helping develop and promote cycling and walking.

Bitumen, cycling and economics

Because high quality asphalt roads and cycle paths can be laid and marked up for cyclists’ use quickly and easily, even in restricted areas, the time costs and efficiency savings associated with constructing an asphalt cycle path or marking up a cycle lane an asphalt road are reduced.

In addition, as asphalt pavements have a long service life and cycle paths are easy to maintain – only needing limited, lower-level maintenance – they also offer authorities valuable mid- and long-term economic benefits.

As mentioned previously, increased levels of cycling benefit the economy as a whole and bring economic benefits at a local level. Improved health and fitness levels associated with cycling reduce demand on the healthcare sector nationally, while in 2016, Advocacy and EuroVelo Director Adam Bodor stated that the total economic impact of cycling tourism in Europe was worth € 44 billion annually – to local SMEs, in local employment and in local tax incomes – generating an economic benefit of more than € 100 per year, per inhabitant, for a number of European countries including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.

Bitumen and cycling: a positive combination

Cycling is an increasingly popular, healthy and environmentally-friendly form of transport; an energy-efficient way to commute to and from work; a competitive, multi-disciplinary sport; and a growing leisure and recreational activity that also helps improve fitness and health.

So go, get on your bike and enjoy the benefits that bitumen makes possible!


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