Could you be persuaded to start cycling?
Updated: May 10
Despite cycling being one of the healthiest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly forms of transport available, the UK lags way behind many other countries when it comes to cycling levels.
The latest Department for Transport National Travel Survey found that in Britain only 2% of journeys and 1% of miles travelled are by bike. A study by the European Commission in 2010 found that just 2% of people aged 15 and over in the UK use a bicycle as their main form of transport – the seventh lowest level in Europe.
Cycle to Work Day's long-term aim is to see one million people regularly commuting by bike by 2021.
The coronavirus lockdown has led to a boom in bicycle sales that appears set to accelerate as the government encourages people to cycle to work after easing restrictions.
Cycle-to-work schemes that give tax benefits to employees to buy a new bike from official stores have reported a doubling in sales – a figure that is expected to rise even further as workers realise they can get a new bike without an upfront payment.
“There has been a huge increase in cycling during the lockdown, but even so there are millions of people in our towns and cities who have bikes they never or seldom use,” said Graham Stapleton, the chief executive of Halfords. “For the good of our health, the environment and the NHS, now is the time for commuters to change their habits and start cycling to work.”
The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, set out an ambitious £2bn programme to expand cycling and walking, including an immediate £250m fund for infrastructure improvements and a voucher scheme for cycle repairs.
A lack of safe cycling routes may be a key reason for the lack of cycling in the UK. A survey of UK drivers by Brake and Direct Line indicated that almost four in 10 (39%) non-cyclists could be persuaded to cycle if there were more cycle routes and trails connecting their home to local facilities.
Brake is urging the government to invest more money into making cycling safer to encourage more people to get about by bike – not just once a year, but regularly. This would not only benefit individuals financially but improve the environment and our communities, by reducing the number of cars and harmful vehicle emissions. Transport accounts for a fifth (21%) of UK greenhouse gas emissions, with road transport making up the most significant proportion of this.
Increased cycling can also significantly improve people’s health. Currently, physical inactivity accounts for one in six deaths in the UK, with half of women and a third of men damaging their health due to lack of physical activity. Office workers are particularly at risk: sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day increases your risk of an early death by 60%. The good news is that one hour’s activity a day is enough to reverse this damage.
Regular cycling is suggested by the NHS as a means to lose weight, reduce stress, reduce the likelihood of depression and improve fitness: an 80kg (12st 9lb) person will burn more than 650 calories with an hour’s riding. Improved health from cycling would also benefit the economy; deaths due to physical inactivity are believed to cost the wider economy £7.4 billion.
Encouraging more people to cycle could also improve safety further due to fewer motor vehicles. Almost all road deaths and serious injuries are caused at least in part by the actions of drivers, so if individuals drive less or not at all, it means they pose less danger to others.