Which country is suddenly crazy for bicycles?

CC BY 2.0 ...some guy

If you hadn't already guessed from the photo, it isn't any of the places we generally think of as bike-friendliest - the Netherlands or Denmark. It isn't China, which has the fastest growth in bike sharing but is also embracing the automobile in massive proportions.

It's Italy, that boot-shaped nation that brought to us pasta, pizza, the movie The Bicycle Thief, and a big bunch of bike culture.

By the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, Italy was already crazy about biking, with well-known brands - Bianchi and Olympia - and lots of popularity, especially in the Northern areas of the country. Italy copied France's success with the Tour de France and created its own Giro d'Italia. A number of Italian champions have dominated the sport side of cycling, and many of the most famous racing bikes are Italian.

Italy's cycling glory years, says Ellee Thalheimer in her book Cycling in Italy, were the time of fascist rule and the period immediately after WWII. Eventually, city dwellers rejected urban cycling - just 90,000 Italian secondary kids under the age of 10 ride their bikes to school, in a nation of 60 million.

But now, for the first time in nearly 50 years, Italians have purchased more bikes in a year than cars. In 2012, 1.65 million bikes found new Italian owners versus 1.2 million new cars.

Italy has suffered economically since 2008, and more Italians have bought bikes to deal with high gas prices and less disposable income. Fiat's chairman Sergio Marchionne called the drop in car sales "Carmaggedon."

Commuter bikes are now Bianchi's fastest-selling segment, and the company is branching into e-bikes.

But bikes are not universally embraced - in Milan a bike sharing scheme is popular, but in traffic-clogged Rome bike sharing failed completely.

Which country is suddenly crazy for bicycles?
No, New York City is not a country. But there's a place where bikes outsold cars last year, and a return to roots means a big boost in bike sales.

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