Over recent years, there has been a boom in people getting back on their bikes, with the British Social Attitudes survey finding that 14 per cent of UK residents are cycling at least once a week. But where has this rise in popularity come from?
Unsuburbia has investigated where the concept of our newfound cycling culture has come from, and whether it is a sustainable movement.
An adopted Danish mindset
In Denmark, a country renowned for its two-wheeled transport, cycling accounts for 26 per cent off all trips under 5km and 16 per cent of all journeys made. The road networks and infrastructure within Denmark are built with cycling in mind. Cycle routes are sizeable and easy to access, and in many cases, cyclists are given the right-of-way ahead of cars and other vehicles.
According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, nine out of ten Danes own a bike, whilst only four out of ten own a car – it’s a country geared towards to cycling. Ironically, the figures for bicycle owners in the UK and car owners in Denmark are extremely similar, highlighting how we as a country still need to embrace the ethos of two-wheeled travel.
Yet inroads are already being made to follow the Danes’ example. A report of traffic counts from 2016 found that the number of miles cycled that year had risen by almost a quarter compared to a decade earlier to 3.5 billion miles. More interestingly, the year-on-year increase from 2015 was 6.3 per cent – substantial proof that there is a want for a Danish cycling mentality within the UK.
A step away from cars
With this cycling culture comes the movement of people opting for alternatives to four-wheeled transportation. Cars, in particular, are now part of the wider transport sector that is causing the most greenhouse gases in the UK, so as a society we are opting to use our cars less for everyday commutes.
According to an industry report, CO2 emissions from the average new car sold in the UK rose last year for the first time this millennium, with those consumers purchasing larger non-diesel vehicles. This trend has led to many believe the country will fail to meet the climate change targets set in place. Plus, with petrol vehicles currently emitting 125g CO2 equivalent per km driven, commuters are becoming far more aware of the last impacting on the environment that cars are having.
Action needs to be taken, and by choosing to make everyday trips by bicycle, the steps are going in the right direction.
Cycle routes and eco-friendly commuters
The emphasis on improving the UK’s cycling routes is a key initiative needed to further drive two-wheeled habits. A major reason why people are put off cycling – be it for commuting or leisure – is due to the safety concerns of being on the roads next to motor vehicles, something which it may be difficult to disagree with.
But there have been recent improvements in cycling lane access in and around city centres, thanks to investment by the government. And these positive changes are set to continue, with the news of a £1.2bn fund to help rebuild Britain’s infrastructure into a bike-friendly network.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling commented on the ambitious investment plans: “We have already tripled spending on cycling since 2010 and we are now publishing a long-term investment plan because we are absolutely committed to increasing levels of cycling.”
But it isn’t just the city centre routes which have improved to aid this cycling culture. The resurfacing of canal towpaths has enabled commuters to take new routes into city centres, avoiding the often-intimidating cycle lanes. A report found that although only six per cent of commuters are cyclists, 75 per cent of all commuters felt an improvement in cycle lanes would encourage them to consider cycling. This is clear indication that the cycling culture is becoming ingrained within the UK, and as a nation we want to be involved in this transportation movement – build the safer routes, and people will come.
With this further investment, this six per cent for cycling commuters will undoubtedly rise and we’ll see a new wave of the two-wheel movement.
A new form of socialising – cycling clubs
The days of heading down the pub are dwindling – people of today want a new way to socialise and interact with one another, a way that isn’t confined to the four walls of a local watering hole. The rise in fitness initiatives (take Park Run as an example) has steered people in the direction of a new form of socialising – something cycling has benefited from hugely.
In the four years following the highly-successful London 2012 Olympics, British Cycling saw its membership count increase by 75,000, taking the overall figure to 125,000 members.
The idea of combining a social event with exercise is one that has whet the appetite of 21st-century living – it’s become a lifestyle choice, heading out on your bike in a social group for a ride and a natter. Society has never been more health conscious – both physically and mentally – so through exercising the mind and the body, cycling has become a go-to hobby. It’s a club culture that only benefits its members.
But is it just the latest sports fad?
Team GB and Team Sky have both achieved unheralded success in cycling events over the last 10 years, so can that be a contributing factor? The likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and most recently Geraint Thomas have picked up the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, whilst Sir Chris Hoy and Laura Kenny have been marvels in the velodrome. These successes can inspire on-lookers to get out on their own bikes – it has made cycling ‘cool’ again.
But, if one thing can be said, cool doesn’t stay cool forever.
The British Social Attitudes 2016 survey found that over two-thirds (69 per cent) of British adults never cycle at all – that, at the time, would have been a huge 35 million people. The sheer number of people who haven’t been tempted to try the newfound cycling culture highlights how the many still aren’t bought into the idea suggests that it could be just another passing fad.
Bike Europe also reported that in the first two-quarters of 2017, bicycle sales in the UK were down by a third compared to the previous period, suggested that this decline has been progressing over recent years. A case of “tennis is only popular when Wimbledon is on” perhaps – cycling is only booming due to the success of the British athletes.
As a nation, we are following the lead of a Danish counterparts when it comes to cycling. Figures of those taking to the road have risen dramatically over the last decade, with the health and social benefits being more apparent than ever. But, has this level of popularity plateaued or can it continue to rise and reach the levels of Danes? Only time will tell.