News just in from the world of academia: cycling is no longer considered the preserve of the sort of hippies historically associated with this newspaper. It is even widely thought of as “cool”. A professor told me so, and he has the stats to prove it.
Prof Alan Tapp and a team of researchers from the University of the West of England have carried out a big piece of research asking 3,855 people for their opinions on bicycles and the people who ride them.
What makes this survey worth listening to is that the vast majority of those who took part don’t actually cycle much, if at all. Of course we think we’re hip, but to hear non cyclists (and therefore likely motorists) say so is just not just a novelty but also very encouraging for the future of cycling.
The results make fascinating reading – if you’re into that sort of thing, and I know you are. Most respondents consider bike riding as normal (65%) and only 7% reckon cyclists are strange. Amusingly, those who cycle the most are disproportionately likely to think others consider them weird – 24% of those who use their bike at least once a week said they believed most normal people think cyclists were “a bit odd”. Which does explain the proliferation of “I’m mad, me” types one occasionally encounters in the bike lane.
Just 10% of UWE respondents agreed that “urban cyclists are just left-wing hippies”, which surprised Tapp, who told me, “I expected there to be quite a high proportion of the total who still had the negative view of cyclists as weirdy beardy Guardian readers.”
And only 10% thought that most cyclists are middle aged men, which rather contradicts that Mintel report from the other week which claimed that most people who cycle are middle-aged men who read broadsheets.
While more people in the survey said cycling was “cool” than “uncool”, cyclists themselves are not quite as trendy as they think – 59% of regular cyclists agree that cycling has become cool nowadays, compared to 37% of lapsed cyclists.
A heartening 69% of those questioned overall said cyclists should be taken seriously, and many admitted that when they are stuck in traffic jams they sometimes wish they were cycling (43% compared to 29% who disagreed). Fifty percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement that “Roads are for cars not bikes” (compared to 28% who agreed).
At the same time, though, more people than not said they would be unwilling to drive more slowly if it encouraged more people to get on their bikes. And 54% do not want to see pro-bike measures that penalises car drivers.
But as someone who genuinely believes that cycling makes me more cheerful, I was pleased to see that when the researchers asked people whether they were happy, current cyclists said were far more likely than lapsed ones did (39% compared to 18%).
Regular pedallers were also more likely to describe themselves as independent, confident, free-spirited and rebellious than those who no longer saddle up. But then we would say that, wouldn’t we?
Despite the general approval of cycling, Britain’s top riders are far less well known than celebrities who cycle. When shown a list of people who ride bikes, far more people recognised David Cameron as a cyclist than the Olympic gold medal winner Victoria Pendleton (59% compared to 27%).
Those surveyed were a random selection of society who seem fairly representative in terms of their cycling habits: just 6% said they cycled “very often” (ie at least once a week), 5% “often”, 28% “sometimes or occasionally nowadays” and 46% were lapsed cyclists. Half were men; half were women. Fifty-five percent were in the social class ABC1 and 45% were C2DE. Just over half said they owned a bicycle. YouGov did the polling.
The research has not yet been published, so I can’t give you a link, apologies. But does this make you feel hopeful about the future of cycling in the UK?