British Cycling has received much public recognition for its successes over the past decade. The GB team achieved 14 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 12 medals at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 and three British cyclists have won 6 Tour de France titles between them since 2012. The press coverage of these events, the Yorkshire and Cambridge to London legs of the 2014 Tour de France, as well as the rise in popularity of professional cyclists have been believed to have led to a revival of the sport’s popularity in the UK.

Cycle usage in the UK has increased almost every year since 2008 (TRA: 0401). Whilst this trend may appear to cycle use match the rise of cycling in the media, in Scotland, the trend extends to before the Beijing Olympics, with the percentage of people who cycle as their main mode of travel increasing from 0.8% in 2004 to 1.2% in 2015 (Cycling Scotland). Similarly, the number of bicycles used per day in London has actually been increasing at a similar rate since 2000 (TFL). It is difficult to create a direct link between competitive success and national participation, however, it is interesting to look at the impact of the rise in cycling’s popularity for the UK’s cycling communities, as well as what is still being done to encourage participation in the sport.

UK cycling popularity

Source: TFL

With competitive success comes increased funding and investment. Cycle to work schemes have existed for approximately 20 years, the aim of which is to support employees in making healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. However, localised rental schemes have also increased in popularity over the last few years, reducing the need for many to buy their own bike. The latest generation of Transport for London’s hire bikes, Santander Cycles have been built by England’s longest established cycle manufacturer, Pashley Cycles in Stratford-upon-Avon. Since the scheme began in 2010, over 80 million cycles have been hired, enabling tourists and commuters alike to benefit from the convenience of cycling in the city. TFL’s choice of a UK-based manufacturer not only reflects a significant investment into UK manufacturing but also confidence in UK-made products being able to compete with those produced abroad.

Pashley London Hire Bike UK made

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, also having worked with Halfords to design the Pendleton range of classic and sophisticated bikes, designed specifically for women and girls.

Ensuring that cycling is accessible 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 has been devised by British Cycling to offer free, recreational bike rides to women of all ages, fitness levels and cycling abilities. Its aim is to allow 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.

Whilst cycling is an accessible sport, being low-impact, requiring low levels of fitness and no specific skill set to get started, one of the main concerns for riders, women in particular, is safety. Local surveys by Sustrans revealed that only 27%, 29% and 34% of people think cycling safety in Greater Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff is good. From Trigger Bell developing cycling bells placed under the handlebar for safer access to Dashel hand-making lightweight helmets from sustainable materials and durable Exposure Lights whose ingenious bicycle lights make cycling in the dark safer and more comfortable, UK-based companies have reacted to the need for cyclings to feel safe on their bikes by developing innovative safety solutions.

UK Cycling routes
David Marcu: Unsplash

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. One of the bodies working to achieve this is Sustrans, a charity with over 3,200 volunteers who aim 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. The network is used by over 4 million people annually and 4% of bicycle users using the network 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, we have seen the benefits of increased participation and significant investment in infrastructure realised in 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!