‘A million more cyclists’

Some news that may or may not excite you –

British Cycling and Sky are thrilled to announce that 1 million more people are now cycling regularly than were in 2008.

Obviously more people cycling is good news; British Cycling are providing plenty of opportunities for people to experience – albeit intermittently – pleasant conditions for cycling, which should be applauded, as far as it goes.

But how exactly has this headline figure of ‘a million more cyclists’ been arrived at?

The independent annual survey was conducted by GFK NOP and looked at people’s current cycling behaviour versus their riding in the previous year.  The survey measured cycling behaviour over a 12 month period and asked about the number of times a person cycled. A ‘regular cyclist’ is a cyclist who has cycled at least 12 times in the past year.

Of course the definition of ‘regular’ is open to question, but using a bike just 12 times a year doesn’t strike me as being particularly ‘regular’, at least if we are taking the word to mean ‘happening frequently’, rather than just ‘at consistent intervals’. (If I walked to the shops just twelve times a year, and drove on every other occasion, I doubt you would say I was a ‘regular’ walker.)

The story gets shakier still –

Since 2009, we have influenced one million more people to cycle at least 12 times a year. Some of these people will not have cycled before and will be new cyclists, while others are occasional or lapsed cyclists who have increased their cycling frequency.

In other words, a proportion of these ‘new’ cyclists are people who were already ‘occasionally’ cycling. The exact proportion isn’t given, and nor is a definition of ‘occasional’; the research, or at least what little of it has been released, is unhelpfully vague.

At a reasonable guess, out of this quoted figure of a million, many hundreds of thousands of people who were already cycling perhaps 5-10 times a year are now cycling 12 or more times a year. These ‘occasional’ cyclists are now magically transformed into a million new ‘regular’ cyclists, by means of a slight increase in the number of times they hop on a bike every year.

We might even suppose that a very high proportion of these million new ‘regular’ cyclists are actually people who were cycling occasionally already (that is, less than 12 times a year), and have merely used a bicycle a handful more times.

This is hardly secure evidence of any transformation in the amount of cycling in Britain, and is probably best dismissed as some clever marketing, to be added to the collection of premature and misjudged announcements of a ‘boom’ in cycling.

Graph by Joe Dunckley

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8 Responses to ‘A million more cyclists’

  1. Wyadvd says:

    Anyone familiar with Elliott wave theory? Bob Prechter is today’s biggest proponent of the theory which he has incorporated into a theory he calls socionomics. On tennant is that the bottom trough of a downward trend is marked by an absolute peak in pessimism. A crash is preceded by a peak in optimism. He measures these peaks in optimism and pessimism in part using press commentary tone. ( but principally the stock market). Where is this trend on this basis?

  2. Pete A says:

    Thanks for an interesting blog post.

    One small comment on your text ..”(I won’t take issue with how British Cycling know that is their influence that has led to these people cycling more)”

    Other readers may be interested to note that one answer to your question was included a little further down the news release that you quoted in your blog!

    “GSK has only counted regular cyclists who have said that they have been influenced by Sky / British Cycling initiatives, or those that have stated that Sky / British Cycling was the main reason for them taking up cycling regularly. The survey has also only counted cyclists that have taken up cycling regularly over the past year.”



  3. It is interesting to find how Sky Ride estimate the numbers at their events. I have been told this is done by taking the number of pre-registrations for the event and trebling it…

  4. Paul M says:

    Mark – I recall you tweeted links to various DfT stats on cycle usage, notably one which showed by local authority the percentages of a survey sample who responded that they cycled once a month, once a week, 3x a week and 5x a week.

    I also have a vague recollection that this is the first time they have collected such statistics. If my memory fails me, presumably British Cycling’s assertion could be tested?

    Otherwise, the BC statement sounds rather too much like that yachting type who apparently stands around on street corners and counts 500 cyclists going past, and concludes from this that they all jump the lights, ride on the pavement, mow down grannies etc.

  5. Wyadvd says:

    Here is dr hutch on Dutch cycling. The conclusions may surprise you!


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