Promising findings from national cycling survey

The National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey (NWCPS) has been released, and the results paint a promising picture of bike riding across Australia.

The NWCPS replaces the Australian Cycling Participation Survey that ran biennially between 2011-2019, and uses data collected from telephone interviews across the states. These nationally run surveys are one of Australia’s leading methods for gathering national insights on current walking and bike riding levels.

The key bike findings from the 2021 survey include:

Riding a bike has increased by up to 5 per cent across Australia

Following a unfortunate downward trend, bike activity across Australia has bounced back since 2019

The survey asked participants if they have ridden a bike in: (i) the last week; (ii) the last month; and (iii) the last year.

In all three scenarios, the survey results suggest bike riding has grown by around 4−5 per cent compared to the 2019 survey.

As the survey points out, this new finding “arrest[s] an otherwise fairly steady downward trend observed between 2011 and 2019”.

This increased bike activity is likely due to new riders

There are subtle clues in the data that suggest new riders are the primary reason for increased bike use, rather than existing riders simply getting out more. The authors make this suggestion because:

  • 42 per cent of people said they were riding less often than prior to COVID.
  • There has been an increase in the number of respondents who started riding in the last year.

Most of the new riders are children, which carries a promising implication that newer generations are keen to hop on their bikes.

COVID-19 boosted enthusiasm for riding, particularly among children and adults

In 2020, Bicycle Network reported a surge in bike riding on our major trails. The NWCPS confirms that this enthusiasm has continued into 2021.

Lockdown restrictions may have elicited some encouragement to escape the house and ride a bike. However, it is likely that there is a bit more to it. When riding growth is compared with each state’s corresponding lockdown restrictions, it appears that some of highest growth was in states with less days in lockdown.

Interestingly, the cities with less days spent in lockdown are showing the highest amounts growth in bike activity (dashed box)

It is likely that COVID-related factors laid some seeds of inspiration, but ultimately population growth, climate, topography, existing infrastructure and numerous other factors may have also influenced people’s decision to get out on their bikes.

NT, WA, and ACT lead the country when it comes to bike riding

It is the states with comparatively smaller populations that have the richest bike riding cultures. Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Western Australia all have markedly higher participation rates than the national average.

For NT and ACT, the rate of bike riding activity has been consistently high over the survey years, so there has been less of a ‘bike boom’, compared to other states. In WA, however, the recent growths in bike riding have pushed the state up the leader board.

About 1.5 per cent of people use an electrically assisted rideable

The survey estimates that 1.5 per cent of the Australian population rides an electrically assisted rideable such as an e-scooter, e-skateboard or Segway each week, and that most riders are likely to be males.

This finding is reasonably consistent with a previous Bicycle Network survey of Melbourne’s electrically assisted rideables. It is a low figure but is likely to rise into the future as the market grows in Australia.

Most bike trips continue to be for recreational or exercise purposes

Around 82 per cent of respondents’ bike trips were for recreation or exercise, rather than for transport purposes. This figure has been reasonably consistent over the last ten years and suggests that there are additional steps we need to take to better encourage bike-based commuting.

Unfortunately, some of the findings are less positive. The number of older adults riding a bike remains low, and drastically disproportionate compared to other age groups. Some researchers suggest that e-bikes may be a rewarding option for older adults.

The number of women riding a biking also remains low and, while there has been a modest increase as a result of COVID, the participation rate has been reasonably similar over the last five years.

Despite these less favourable findings, the NWCPS paints a promising picture about our current bike riding behaviours.

You can read the national and state reports on the CWANZ site here.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.