Cycling in the UK

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 22.

Never mind pictures – sometimes a statistic can be worth a thousand words, for example, in letters to local newspapers. At a recent monthly meeting, there was a suggestion we might publish some numbers for general use. Several organisations have collected useful facts and figures.

  • The Slower Speeds Initiative leaflet is packed with useful figures and accurate references. Contact Clare (see Elected Officers) for a copy of this excellent publication.
  • The Bicycle Association’s Britain By Cycle contains useful statistics, together with other contact details. The Bicycle Association, Starley House, Eaton Road, Coventry CV1 2FH phone (01203) 553838
  • The CTC’s Cycling Factsheet also contains useful information. CTC, Cotterell House, 69 Meadrow, Godalming, Surrey GU7 3HS phone (01483) 417217

The CTC press and publicity material for the 1998 National Bike Week also contained useful statistics on ‘Cycling in the UK’ which we’ve reproduced here.

Cycle use

  • Six million people are bicycle users and there are more than 1.1 million daily cycle commuters (Department of Transport National Travel Survey 1993)
  • Only 1.9% of journeys in the UK are made by bicycle. This compares with 9.8% in Germany, 18.4% in Denmark and 27.3% in the Netherlands
  • 66% of junior school children cycled on local roads in 1971. By 1990 this had declined to 25% (Policy Studies Unit One False Move 1992)

Cycle ownership

  • There are around 20 million bicycles in Britain (Bicycle Association)
  • One in three adults owns a bicycle (Minter Market Intelligence 1991)
  • Half of all households possess a bicycle (Minter Market Intelligence 1991)
  • Between 1975 and 1991 the number of cycles owned in the UK doubled (Department of Transport National Travel Survey 1993)

Travel patterns

  • 72% of all journeys made in the UK are under five miles; 50% are less than two miles; 61% of car journeys are less than five miles (Department of Transport National Travel Survey 1993)
  • The majority of journeys between one and two miles are car trips (Department of Transport)
  • The volume of road traffic is predicted to rise by between 83% and 142% by 2025 (Department of Transport National Travel Survey 1993)
  • Between 1975 and 1985 the number of journeys made remained static. The amount of time spent travelling increased by 10%, though, and the distance travelled went up by one-third (Potter and Hughes Vital Travel Statistics 1990)

The community

  • In 1970, 80% of seven- and eight-year-olds travelled to school on their own. By 1990 this figure had fallen to 9%. According to parents the main reason is ‘traffic danger’ (Policy Studies Institute One False Move 1990)
  • Cycling and walking facilitate social interaction, while motor vehicles degrade the physical and psychological environment in urban areas in terms of noise, vibration and visual intrusion (Hillman 1992)

The environment and the economy

  • In 1991 traffic congestion lost London business £15 billion, costing each London household £20 a week (CBI London)
  • Motor vehicles produce 90% of the carbon monoxide, 51% of the nitrogen oxides, 4% of the volatile organic compounds, and 19% of the carbon dioxide released into the air over Britain each year (CTC Bikes Not Fumes 1992)
  • In 1960, 17% of the UK’s energy consumption was on transport. By 1990 this figure rose to 30% (Potter and Hughes Vital Travel Statistics 1990)
  • For one person travelling in a town, a large car uses 85 times more energy than a bicycle (Potter and Hughes Vital Travel Statistics 1990)

Cycling and health

  • Cycling at least 20 miles a week reduces the risk of heart disease to less than half that for non-cyclists who take no other exercise (Morris, British Heart Foundation)
  • Regular cyclists enjoy a fitness level equal to that of a person ten years younger (Sharp National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Prevention)
  • If one third of all short car journeys were made by bike, national heart disease rates would fall by between 5% and 10% (CTC Bikes Not Fumes 1992)
  • For every extra 10% of the adult population cycling regularly, three million people would move from the ‘unfit’ to the ‘fit’ classification (CTC Costing the Benefits 1993)
  • In the United States vehicle pollution causes an estimated 30,000 premature deaths a year (American Lung Association CTC Cycle Digest, Jan-March 1992)

Land take

  • Cyclists require far less space to get about than car-borne travellers. For example, a four metre wide cycle path can carry five times the number of people catered for in cars on a road twice as wide (Clarke, Pro-Bike: A Cycling Policy for the 1990s,Friends of the Earth)


  • 49% of women hold a driving licence compared with 80% of men (Department of Transport National Travel Survey 1993)
  • One-third of all households don’t own a car (Association of County Councils, Towards Sustainable Transport Policy 1991)
  • One person in two believes that political decision-makers assume support for the private car is higher than it actually is (Friends of the Earth Less Traffic Better Towns 1992)

Clare Macrae