Insights News

Here’s what stops people in the UK from cycling

For many of us, cycling is not only a popular leisure activity but also a primary mode of transportation. But we know that for a lot of people in the UK, there are barriers that get in the way of a desire to get out and about by bike. With the government recently announcing cuts to the Active Travel Budget, which includes cycling infrastructure investment, we decided the time was right to look at what’s already influencing cycling rates across the country – and who may therefore be impacted the most by cuts.

Key facts and figures

Having surveyed around 1,000 adults from all over the UK, we discovered a number of similarities and differences in what stops people cycling, and how people feel about a number of given statements.

  • Women are nearly twice as likely as men to say that concerns about safety prevent them from cycling.
    • 44% of women stated that safety concerns stop them cycling, compared to 23% of men.
    • 23% of women named it as their number one barrier, compared to 14% of men.
  • 62% of UK adults disagree with the statement “other road users treat cyclists respectfully in the UK”.
    • Less than 5% of respondents from Yorkshire & The Humber believe that other road users treat cyclists with respect.
  • There is no region anywhere in England where 30% or more of respondents felt that cycling on the road in their area “is safe”.
    • 52% of respondents in the North East don’t feel that cycling on the road in their area is safe, and 28% said that safety concerns are their biggest barrier to cycling.
    • Across the UK as a whole, just 24% said that their area is safe for road cyclists.
  • Better infrastructure, from improved road quality to more segregated cycle lanes, is critical in encouraging more people to take to Britain’s roads by bike.
    • 72% of women and 50% of men say lack of cycle lanes and/or poor road quality prevent them from cycling.

Differences by age group

One of the first areas we wanted to look at was how different age groups perceive cycling, as well as any differences in reasoning why one age group may cycle more than another.

Age Group Biggest Barrier to Cycling – Other than Weather Other Top Issues
Under 25 Safety concerns, costs, practicality (tie) Road quality, confidence
25-34 Lack of segregated cycle lanes Safety concerns
35-44 Lack of free time Safety concerns
45-54 Lack of free time Safety concerns
55-64 Road quality Safety concerns
65-74 Safety concerns Health complaints, free time
75+ Safety concerns, lack of segregated cycle lanes (tie) Lack of motivation, lack of people to cycle with

The biggest barrier cited by most groups was actually the weather, which no amount of investment is likely to fix any time soon! However, when discounting the British climate, key themes across every single age group were concerns around safety and around the lack of sufficient infrastructure for cycling, including segregated cycle lanes and road quality. These reasons very likely factor into each other – an abundance of potholes or sharing lanes with cars during rush hour can make even seasoned cyclists feel unsure! 

There are some variations between different age groups. For example, road quality is the most frequently given barrier to cycling named by 55-64 year olds (31%), whereas 36% of 25-34 year olds named a lack of segregated cycle lanes as a barrier, with 16% stating it as their biggest obstacle. However, these differences just further highlight the interlocking relationship between obstacles, and how important the overall level of cycling infrastructure is for making cycling more age-inclusive.

Why do men cycle more often, and for longer distances, than women?

Government data notes that men cycle further and more often than women in every age bracket. Diving deeper into gender-specific differences reveals a significant disparity between men and women’s cycling concerns. Safety emerges as a standout factor, with far more women than men citing it as a reason for not cycling more.

44.1% of women report safety concerns compared to just 23.2% of men. This disparity suggests that perceived safety while cycling varies substantially between genders, likely due to broader societal attitudes and experiences.

These safety concerns among women are rooted in multiple factors. A perceived lack of respect from other road users is marginally more prevalent among female cyclists, with 67% of women disagreeing with the statement “Other road users treat cyclists respectfully in the UK” compared to 62% of men.

Q: What prevents you from cycling more? (select all that apply)

Bar graph chart displaying responses to surveyed question: What prevents respondents from cycling more in the UK? Across all barriers to cycling frequency, summarising according to respondents gender.

 ‘Prefer not to say’ replies and those from non-binary survey respondents are not included here due to the limited data available.

The lack of segregated cycle lanes also appears to disproportionately affect women’s cycling habits. 36.6% of women identify the lack of segregated cycle lanes as a barrier to cycling more frequently, compared to 21.5% of men. Women’s heightened concern about the lack of such infrastructure underscores the importance of ensuring a safe and secure environment to encourage more women to cycle.

Looking at what the single biggest barrier each person has shows a very stark contrast. Whereas weather is the biggest barrier for men, for women it’s their safety! Within ‘Other’ answers, 9% of men and 9% of women stated that a lack of free time was their biggest challenge.

Q: Of these reasons, what is the biggest barrier to you cycling more (if any)?

‘Prefer not to say’ replies and those from non-binary survey respondents are not included here due to the limited data available.

Interestingly, views on the recent changes to the highway code also show a gender divide. Only 7.5% of women, in comparison to 14.9% of men, said that they feel these changes have made cyclists safer. 

One key note is that while 24.7% of women agree that the roads in their area are safe for cycling, which is similar to the 24.8% of men who agree, a higher percentage of women strongly disagree with this statement (17.2% of women compared to 8.3% of men). This result indicates a stronger negative sentiment among women regarding the safety of roads for cycling. Although not as start a difference as seen in previous questions, this still represents a notable difference about perceptions of safety by gender.

Q: “Cycling on the road in my area is safe”. How do you feel about this statement?

 ‘Prefer not to say’ replies and those from non-binary survey respondents are not included here due to the limited data available.

Encouraging women to cycle

It’s clear that investing into physical infrastructure like segregated cycle lanes should be a core method for improving cycling rates among women. However, there may also be additional ways to reduce gender disparities such as through education and awareness campaigns, focusing on promoting respect among different road users.

Some of these initiatives could extend to community-building efforts such as women’s cycling clubs, which can provide a supportive and fun environment for women to enjoy cycling. Equally, better representation of women in cycling-related media and advertising could help to encourage female participation in cycling. 

Geographical differences in cycling concerns

Concerns about cycling also vary regionally. One of the biggest differences is between how different countries within the UK feel about how other road users treat them. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘other road users treat cyclists respectfully in the UK’, Scottish respondents were the most likely to agree (with 23% doing so) while Northern Irish respondents were the most likely to disagree (with 85% doing so). 

Q9. “Other road users treat cyclists respectfully in the UK”. How do you feel about this statement?

Remaining respondents answered ‘neither agree nor disagree’

There are also some key differences between regions in England. When examining what respondents felt was the single biggest barrier to cycling, people from the North East and the West Midlands were most likely to say safety concerns, at 27.7% and 20% respectively. Respondents from these areas also commonly cite other issues with infrastructure. In fact, over half of respondents from the West Midlands give either safety, cycle lanes, or road quality as their biggest barrier, indicating a significant lack of cycling infrastructure development! This is a big contrast with respondents from areas such as East Anglia, of which only 9.6% of respondents gave safety as their concern, and who instead cite ‘practicality’ more frequently than other regions.

Every region is united in their belief, however, that cycling in their area is not as safe as it could be. In fact, not a single region had 30% or more respondents who agree with the statement “cycling on the road in my area is safe”, which is quite a damning statistic.

Regional differences are explored more in our ‘Cities which cycle the least’ piece, which aims to explore further the reasoning for varying cycling rates across England.

Safety cycling is important for everyone

When looking at safety holistically, irrespective of age or gender, it is evident that it forms a critical component of the decision to cycle. Only 24.4% of respondents feel that their area is safe for cycling, and a majority, 61.8% of respondents, disagree with the statement that “other road users treat cyclists respectfully in the UK”. 40% of respondents with a disability, who might be seen as a proxy for a more vulnerable demographic, cite safety concerns as a reason for not cycling more.  

These concerns are further exacerbated by the changes to the highway code, with 44.1% of respondents feeling they’ve had no effect on cycling safety, and a small but significant number, 11.3%, feeling they’ve made cycling more dangerous. It is no surprise that the changes haven’t had as positive an impact as intended, with data suggesting that more than 50% of drivers are not aware of the changes to the highway code.

These findings, taken together, show that safety is a decisive factor affecting cycling rates across all demographics. Enhancing safety can therefore act as a major catalyst for boosting the rates of cycling, benefiting public health, and contributing to environmental sustainability. The strategies to achieve this must be multifaceted and targeted, addressing the specific concerns of different groups while also ensuring a safer cycling environment for all.

The impact of infrastructure on cycling rates

One of the key takeaways from our survey is the unequivocal demand for improved cycling infrastructure. Across all demographic groups, concerns around infrastructure dominate the reasons cited for not cycling more frequently. Such shared concern is telling and urges us to question the adequacy of existing cycling provisions.

Road quality

Road quality is a recurrent complaint, with 29.7% of respondents indicating it as a deterrent to more frequent cycling. This includes issues like potholes, inadequate road maintenance, and poor road design. Poor road conditions not only make for a less pleasant ride but also present safety risks – cyclists may need to swerve suddenly to avoid hazards, increasing the risk of collisions with motor vehicles. This is especially relevant when considering how over 42% of cyclist road casualties in recent years were due to being hit by a car.

Cycle lanes

The lack of segregated cycle lanes is another pressing concern, with 23.3% of respondents mentioning it as a reason for not cycling more. Segregated lanes separate cyclists from both motorised traffic and from pedestrians, providing a safer and more comfortable environment, especially for less experienced cyclists or those nervous about sharing the road with cars and trucks. They also help to reduce the risk of collisions with pedestrians. NHS data tells us that 16,489 cyclists were admitted to hospital after collisions with pedestrians, vehicles, and other objects

Despite these apparent needs, a concerning 68.7% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that there is enough cycling infrastructure in their local area. This figure rises even higher among older age groups, reaching a peak of 81.8% among those aged 65-74 and 81.4% among respondents aged 75 and over. It seems clear that there is a shared perception across a significant cross-section of the population that more must be done to improve cycling infrastructure.

Addressing these concerns is not only a matter of building more bike lanes or repaving roads. It also calls for thoughtful planning to ensure infrastructure serves the cyclists’ needs effectively. For instance, segregated cycle lanes should connect residential areas with city centres, schools, parks, and other key destinations.

Clearly, investment into cycling infrastructure is an avenue into improving cycling rates across all demographics. Aside from the obvious health and environmental benefits (regular cycling has been linked to having a level of fitness equivalent to the average of someone 10 years younger), reducing traffic congestion can lead to a range of economic gains which can benefit everyone, not just the cyclists themselves.

Quality bikes for everyone

At Paul’s Cycles, we boast an extensive selection of affordable bicycles tailored to various cycling disciplines and preferences. Whether you’re keen to navigate the city’s bike lanes or venture into countryside terrain, we’ve got you covered. Our diverse collection of road bikes caters to both the experienced cyclist and the absolute beginner, ensuring the ideal ride for everyone. For those looking for off-road excitement, our array of mountain bikes will have what you need to journey beyond the pavement.

As avid cyclists ourselves, we aspire to inspire confidence in individuals considering cycling, and we firmly believe that this thrilling sport can cater to all walks of life. It’s with this inclusive vision that we, at Paul’s Cycles, provide complimentary expert guidance to help you find the perfect bike that matches your specific needs.

Data & Methodology

Sources cited here are linked where mentioned, but include:

Adam Cross is the Customer Care Manager at Pauls Cycles and specialises in all things related to cycling lifestyle, gravel/off-road riding & road cycling. In his role, he leads advice and support for cyclists of all levels, being well versed in the sport of cycling. Riding and racing bicycles for 15 years, Adam has competed in everything from short distance time trials to ultra distance gravel and 24 hour mountain bike races. When not at work, Adam will most likely be found on the sandy tracks and trails of Thetford Forest - Follow Adam on Instagram @ay_sea_