Young and middle aged men show the biggest increase
Young and middle aged men show the biggest increase

Surge in cycle use in 2011

Cycle use increased by 15% in 2011, according to new data from the Department for Transport. This contradicts earlier figures that had seemed to suggest static cycling levels last year. Growth was particularly strong among young and middle-aged men.

The data, published as part of the National Travel Survey, show that Britons now cycle 49 miles per person, per year, more than at any time in the last 20 years. 

The increase is particularly marked because the Survey had shown a slight drop in 2010, possibly due to seasonal factors - there were two months of snow cover over much of the UK in 2010. 

However, the data aren't entirely reliable. Earlier in the year a different dataset on cycle use from the Department's traffic census showed only a small increase in cycling levels. It is not known exactly which set of data are accurate, however, the huge increase in cycle casualties in 2011 suggests that there was a much bigger increase in cycling than the earlier figures had led us to believe.

Data quality

National Travel Survey data differs from the traffic census data because it is collected in a very different way. The latter consists of counts of vehicles on selected sections of the road or street network, which are then extrapolated to give an overall figure.

The surge in cycle use that occurred in 2011 is welcome news, but it seems to have been mostly linked to men cycling more. If we don't improve conditions on the roads for all, we'll be left with these huge disparities in cycle use between genders."

Chris Peck, Policy Coordinator

The Survey, on the other hand, sends a week-long travel diary to over 15,000 people and then calculates totals based on a weighted population response. Unfortunately short trips - like walking or cycling - are only recorded on one day of the diary, so the numbers are often small and likely to result in changes that are less likely to be statistically significant.

It's a man's world

The growth in cycling has been strongest amongst men, particularly those in their 20s, 40s and 60s, who are most likely to be the sort of people who take part in sportive rides and commute longer distances by bike.

Survey numbers are quite small and variation between the years often huge, so these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the increases from 2010 are quite marked:

  • Men aged 20-29 increased from 65 to 113 miles cycled (+74%)
  • Men aged 40-49 increased from 111 to 154 miles cycled (+38%)
  • Men aged 60-69 increased from 41 to 87 miles (+71%)

The differences between male and female cycling levels are extreme amongst these age groups - 40-49 year-old men cycle 6 times further than their female age group; 60-69 year-olds 8 times. 

This isn't good news - in countries like the Netherlands, more women cycle than men, and research (see below) has previously shown that places where cycle use is highest in Britain, the gender differences in cycle use tend to disappear. The reasons are pretty obvious: busy roads with high speed traffic may be tolerated by young or fast men, but the conditions are less acceptable to women.

If we don't improve conditions on the roads for all, we'll be left with these huge disparities in cycle use between genders.

Chris Peck