British Cycling has received much public recognition over the past decade. Great Britain achieved 14 medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 12 medals at London 2012 and 12 at Rio 2016. Three British cyclists have won 6 Tour de France titles between them since 2012. The Tour de Yorkshire and the Cambridge – London leg of the Tour de France in 2014, as well as the rise in popularity of professional cyclists, have all contributed to the increased popularity of cycling as a spectator and participation sport in the UK.
Cycling Trends in the UK
Cycle usage in the UK has increased almost every year since 2008 (TRA: 0401); this trend seems to match the rise of cycling in the media. However, in Scotland, the trend extends to before the Beijing Olympics. The percentage of people who cycle as their main mode of travel increased from 0.8% in 2004 to 1.2% in 2015 (Cycling Scotland). Similarly, the number of bicycles used per day in London has been increasing at a similar rate since 2000 (TFL).
With competitive success comes increased funding and investment. For over 20 years, Cycle to Work schemes have supported employees in making healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. However, localised rental schemes have recently increased in popularity, reducing the need for many to buy their own bike.
The latest generation of Transport for London’s hire bikes, Santander Cycles are built by England’s longest established cycle manufacturer, Pashley. Pashley manufactures their bikes from their base in Stratford-upon-Avon. Since the scheme began in 2010, over 80 million cycles have been hired. Tourists and commuters alike benefit from the benefits of exercise and the convenience of cycling in the city. TFL’s choice to support a UK-based manufacturer reflects a significant investment into UK manufacturing, as well as confidence in UK-made products being able to compete with those produced abroad.
Interest in UK cycling brands has also been bolstered by cycling professionals collaborating with bike and accessory producers. The inspiration behind Bradley Wiggins‘ range at Halfords is to inspire every child to get into cycling. Similarly, Victoria Pendelton uses her position as an Olympic gold medallist to influence female cycling. She has also worked with Halfords to design the Pendleton range of classic bikes, designed specifically for women and girls.
Cycling Accessibility and Safety
Increasing cycling’s accessibility to women has been a strong focus over the past few years. In Cardiff and Manchester, only 35% and 33% of reported bike riders are female (Sustrans, 2017). The HSBC Breeze Network is a British Cycling initiative which offers free, recreational bike rides for women of all ages, fitness levels and cycling abilities. The network allows riders to gain confidence, make friends and cycle in a safe, supportive environment. There is also an increasing number of brands developing accessories exclusively for female riders; Bike Nicks design cycling underwear for women, hoping to encourage everyone to be comfortable and confident whilst cycling.
Cycling is an accessible sport; to start it requires minimal levels of fitness and no specific skill set to start. However, one of the main concerns for riders, women in particular, is safety. Surveys by Sustrans revealed that only 27%, 29% and 34% of people think cycling safety in Greater Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff is good. UK-based companies have reacted to the need for cyclings to feel safe on their bikes by developing innovative safety solutions.
- Trigger Bell produce cycling bells situated under the handlebar for quicker, easier and safer access.
- Dashel makes lightweight helmets from sustainable materials by hand.
- Exposure Lights‘ durable bicycle lights make cycling in the dark safer and more comfortable
In a survey of 7 cities across the UK, Sustrans also found that 76% of women who cycle or would like to start, would find cycle routes along the road (but physically separated from traffic) very useful to begin cycling or cycle more. Sustran, a charity with over 3,200 volunteers, aims to make cycling and walking in the UK more accessible. Sustrans manages The National Cycle Network which is is a network of paths and routes for walking and cycling. It offers 16,575 miles of traffic-free paths across the UK, from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles.
Over 4 million people use this network annually and 4% of bicycle users are new or returning to cycling. According to Sustrans, “over half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route”. If you’re looking for a safe place to get started, the network offers everything from family rides and art trails to EuroVelo Routes!
Regardless of the cause of the rise in cycling over the last decade, investment in infrastructure has significantly increased cycling access schemes, community cycling groups and traffic-free paths, as well as new, innovative cycling businesses popping up throughout the UK. The cycling industry in the UK seems to be booming and we hope it continues to grow in the future!