With its ‘green waves’ and elevated bike paths, Copenhagen is the world’s most cycle-friendly city. In 2015, after two years lagging behind Amsterdam, the Danish capital reestablished itself rightly, many would argue, at the head of the peloton.

But it might not keep its lead position for long, as cities all over the world, from Seville to Vancouver, are jostling for recognition of the ways in which they’re helping people discover the greenest, cheapest and most efficient way to get around: pedal-power.

There are over one billion bicycles in the world, which is twice the number of cars. It’s a gap that’s only increasing, as pollution-pumping traffic jams and expensive, crowded and chronically delayed public transport options push city commuters towards cycling. As the founder and CEO of the leading cycling strategy firm Copenhagenize Design Company, Mikael Colville-Andersen said, “we’re showing how a 19th Century invention solves a 21st Century problem.” 

Image from Sustainia

So it was only a matter of time before those one billion bikes found their way into the sharing economy too, just like our cars and our homes. Spinlister is one such platform – a peer-to-peer site that allows users to list and rent bikes in over 65 countries. A quick mooch through the website throws up a range of options in any number of cities, from a hulking great Dutch cruiser to a nippy little Fixie. And in a city filled with bicycles, it’s delightful to see a listing for a unicycle in central Copenhagen – a steal at just $3 a day, if you’ve got the skills (and the guts) to mount it.

The success of this bike-sharing model points to the statistics, which show that whilst we might have more bikes than cars in the world, we’re not using them anywhere near as much as we could be. In the UK, 43 per cent of people over the age of five own, or have access to a bicycle – but 65 per cent of the population cycle less than once a year. When all those trips are mapped out, cycling accounts for just under two per cent of all journeys. That’s a rather strong indicator that there are a lot of lonely bicycles rusting away in gardens and garages, crying out to be used. 

Last year, Spinlister grew by 400 per cent and they’ve already been joined by a cluster of competitive bike-share initiatives such as AirDonkey. A key differentiator for Spinlister’s model compared to existing city-run cycle programmes – such as London’s notorious ‘Boris Bikes’ or the Parisian Vélib' (the largest in the world) – is that it recirculates existing bikes without any of the costly lock-up and maintenance a centrally-managed initiative requires.

Image from Sustainia

At the risk of stating the obvious, the environmental benefits of a bike-sharing scheme are numerous.

Primarily, it helps shift people’s transport options away from CO2-emitting cars, buses and trains, but the nudge to share rather than own is also a significant factor – making greener, more sustainable, use of existing bikes rather than using more energy to produce new ones.

Over the past century, bikes have wheeled their ways into the hearts and lives of people all over the world.

Taking to the road by pedal-power is a great leveler for us all, regardless of background, race, wealth or religion. For some, cycling is not just a way of life but the very meaning of it. The bicycle speaks of innate goodness in the world, and a path to a greener, cleaner future.

As HG Wells said, “whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”

Image from Sustainia

This innovation is part of Sustainia100; a study of 100 leading sustainability solutions from around the world. The study is conducted annually by Scandinavian think tank Sustainia that works to secure deployment of sustainable solutions in communities around the world. This year’s Sustainia100 study is freely available at www.sustainia.me – Discover more solutions at @sustainia and #100solutions

Read more from our climate change content series as we explore everything you need to know in the run up to Paris 2015.

​– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.