A new study published in the journal Transport Reviews has carefully assessed a decade of travel survey data to better understand bike riding habits across 17 countries and six continents.
So what can 10 years of bike data from all around the world tell us about riding behaviours? Quite a lot actually…
Key findings from the study
Countries with high levels of bike riding have higher representation of female riders
In almost all geographies with bike mode shares greater than 7 per cent, females make as many cycle trips as males. In Osaka females make up a whopping 64.2 per cent of bike riders. In Australia, we still have some work to do: our proportion of female riders typically sits between 25-35 per cent.
The study also showed that as bike riding mode share increases, representation of females improves across all the age groups, and most significantly among children and older adults.
This may suggest that when governments and communities make transport choices that successfully encourage and empower females to ride, people of all ages and genders are encouraged to get on their bikes and join them.
The Netherlands, Japan and Germany have the highest bike mode shares
It's no surprise that The Netherlands has the highest bike riding patronage in the world, with around 26 per cent of all trips involving a bike. Japan ranks in second place with 11.5 per cent, followed closely by Germany with 9.3 per cent. Australia took eighth place with a measly 1.8 per cent. Brazil and the US have the lowest levels of riding, both under 1 per cent.
The three cities with highest bike riding patronage are Amsterdam, Osaka and Tokyo. Melbourne also made it onto the charts, ranking 25th amongst the cities analysed.
In countries with high bike riding rates, commuting and recreational trips tend to be more equal
In The Netherlands, Japan and Germany just as many people ride a bike for work purposes as those who ride for fun. The opposite is true for countries with generally lower riding rates: riding to work is disproportionately higher than recreational riding. In Delhi, for instance, more than four times as many people ride a bike for commuting purposes than those who ride for recreation.
Older adults (>60 years) remain underrepresented in all geographies
Older adults across the globe generally do not engage in bike riding, compared to other age groups. A great shame really, as numerous studies have demonstrated a range of health benefits for older people when they ride a bike regularly.
On average, people in Indian cities tend to travel longer distances by bike
A surprise finding in the study was that riders in Delhi and Bangalore tend to favour longer trip distances, compared to other cities. Given that most people riding bikes do so for work purposes, this finding may be associated with bike-based goods delivery.
Some of the key questions the study explored were:
- What is the mode share of cycling across different countries and cities?
- What is the difference between work and non-work (i.e. recreational) trips?
- How does average trip distance vary across countries?
- How does ridership vary for different ages and genders?
These sorts of questions are crucial for understanding why some countries are pedaling out in front, and others can barely get out of first gear.
Far from just comparing bike riding numbers, the sophisticated study had to take into account a lot of factors to level the playing field before far comparisons can be made, such as population size, median age and local and regional geography.
While there's a lot to take out of this new study, the consistent message is that countries with high bike riding levels also have high representation of females and good representations of all age groups, although relatively less older adults. For countries with low riding levels, the opposite is true.
The authors of the study recommend that future evaluations of bike policies should include gender and age representation benchmarks. Safe routes to schools and other key destinations should also be prioritised.
Bicycle Network continues to advocate for more separated and protected places for people to ride as well as policies and programs that address barriers and support accessibility to bike riding.
This includes making our local neighbourhoods more bike-friendly through separated infrastructure, slower speeds and our Ride2School program.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.