It’s a simple fact that most people don’t ride bicycles.

Census data shows that about one per cent of all travel to work trips in Australia are made by bicycle. The British Social Attitudes Survey 2015 found that 69 per cent of over-18-year-olds never ride a bicycle. The 2015 American Community Survey showed a slight decline in commuter cycling.

Around the world studies show that men are more likely to cycle to work than women. Transport for London’s report Travel in London found that the London cycle hire is primarily used by white men from higher-income households, thus coined by the tabloid press as “Boris’ Posh Boys Toys.” A UCLA study from August 2014 suggested that women don’t bike because they need their cars to handle childcare responsibilities.

Other research suggests that women are worried about being hit by a car when cycling and are more concerned about personal safety than men. According to City of Sydney research (quoted at the 2010 Bicycle Victoria conference) 41 per cent of the Australian population are ‘potential’ cyclists; people who want to cycle but are concerned.

In some cities around the world, the bicycle is a central part of life for most men and women.

In Copenhagen, a city of 560,000 bicycles, 521,000 people and 35,000 cycle parking spaces, 85 per cent of residents own a bike, 70 per cent cycle all year around and 60 per cent use their bike every day. A huge 37 per cent of commuter trips are by bike (that’s more than 150,000 people cycling to work every day!) and a quarter of all families with two children own a cargo bike.

In Denmark, cycling is chic, stylish, and sophisticated. But Copenhagenites don’t only cycle because it’s good for their health or their environment, they cycle because it’s the fastest, safest, easiest and most convenient mode of transport, and because their city has a network of dedicated bikeways.

So what can Governments and Councils do when most American, British and Australian people don’t ride bicycles?

Make it normal

Cycling is not an elite extreme sport. You don’t need to wear a special Lycra outfits to ride a bicycle. You don’t need to ride your pushbike 200 kilometres before you eat your breakfast. You certainly don’t need to spend $15,000 on a carbon fibre all-singing-all- dancing bicycle to be able to cycle to work. When my mum was a kid, she rode her rusty old bike to the school bus stop – as did everyone else. It was the normal thing to do.

Make it hassle-free

Cycling should not be a high-stress, anxiety creating, and fretful activity. We don’t ask car drivers to get out of their cars and push their car through every intersection they need to travel through. But we think it’s perfectly acceptable for a person on a bicycle to dismount at every side road, street corner, intersection and pot-hole! I’d ride my bicycle to work if there weren’t so many “Cyclists Must Dismount” signs.

Make it safe

Cycling should not be unsafe. A 2010 study suggests that 46 per cent of regular cyclists think Sydney roads are ‘unsafe’ but 84 per cent of non-regular bike riders in Sydney say they would start riding a bike if they could use separated cycleways. People want separation from parked and moving cars. They don’t want skinny, unprotected on-road ‘painted’ cycle lanes.

When the Los Angeles Department of Transport said “for the bike to catch on we need a revolution in our bicycle infrastructure” they were right. If we really want cycling to be a central part of our lifestyle, our transport system and our cities we need riding a bike to be normal, hassle-free and safe.

  • I note you focus on riding to work. Not all journeys are to work. Much cycle riding goes on at weekends. Time-strapped parents taking their kids to and from activities after school and at weekends make up a lot of trips, dropping the kids at school and child care, getting the meat and vegies for dinner – very little of this can be done on a bike – or public transport for that matter. Older people who have never ridden a bike won't likely start now – and safety is even more an issue for them. When looking at population statistics you have to drill down to the actual prospective candidates – those who are't in the above categories and then count the numbers – I doubt it will be 41%. Encourage cycling where you can, but it isn't for everyone especially in hilly areas. (PS: I was terrified of crossing the road in Amsterdam – cyclists have no regard for pedestrians.)

    • People in other countries, where riding a bicycle for transport is normal, do transport their children around using a bicycle, and do get the groceries using a bicycle as well. While I lived in Brisbane, I very rarely used a car to get shopping. I towed a trailer behind my bicycle to carry the shopping. We have gears to help us go up hills. The modern bicycle can have extremely low gears. Electric assist bicycles also can help in hilly terrain. There are fewer excuses that people think.

    • I'm a huge advocate for recreational cycling Jane. I love that people (who drive everywhere and rarely walk or cycle) go to Centre Parcs in the UK, park the car and ride bicycles all week. I love that people love leisure cycling… and then hopefully they might cycle at weekends when they get back home! Thanks for reading. Rachel

    • James lots of people have replied to me on other social media saying that they think e-bikes might be the bike that changes behaviour. Will be interesting to see. Thanks Rachel

  • Don't forget that (a) half of Australia's active cyclists are aged under 15, and (b) most of them give up cycling as soon as they are able to drive, presumably because of their their experiences of cycling.
    To make cycling hassle-free, change the design of "normal" bicycles to:
    * allow riders to wear normal clothes
    * have tyres that survive more than 1,000 km between punctures (cars typically survive 80,000 km between punctures)
    * include locks for use when parked
    * provide secure storage for helmets when they are not in use (as motorcycle manufacturers do)
    * include mudguards so that riders don't get sprayed whenever they ride on wet roads
    * include lights so that they can be ridden at night
    * provide practical amounts of luggage space
    * have reliable gears that can be operated efficiently without a degree in mathematics
    * offer fairings for weather protection and aerodynamic efficiency (less effort/more speed)

    • Great list Leon
      I always wear normal clothes (!!) but I like the other things on the list especially about the locks provided at the bicycle parking

  • Hi Leon

    There is a bike manufacturer in WA who ticks all your boxes; you can even recharge your phone whilst riding!.

  • Driver attitude is the biggest problem IMO. Both riders and drivers need to spend time looking at it from the other's perspective.

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