Cycling cities league table sparks controversy

Our sister mag Cycling Plus makes the headlines

When our sister publication Cycling Plus ran an article ranking Britain’s 20 biggest cities for cycle-friendliness we knew it would get people talking, but we weren’t expecting it to make headlines across the UK.


The story was picked up by the BBC, The Guardian, Daily Mirror, Belfast Telegraph, Yorkshire Evening Post and Bradford Telegraph Argus, as well as countless online bloggers and forum posters.

To compile the league table, the UK’s 20 biggest cities were judged against several criteria, including:

  • Number of cycling club members (British Cycling or CTC affiliated)
  • Percentage of cycle commuters
  • Number of Cyclescheme (biggest providers of tax-free bikes through the Government’s Cycle to Work scheme) members
  • Levels of asthma-causing PM10 diesel fumes
  • Likelihood of rain/snow/sleet
  • Extent of traffic-free greenways and National Cycle Network routes
  • Number of independent bike shops
  • Annual cycling casualties
  • Bicycle theft levels
  • Road quality

Bristol, the country’s first official Cycling City, came out on top, largely because its residents are more likely to be found riding bikes than in any other major urban area in the UK. It has a dedicated population of sportive riders, club members (one in every 267 residents has joined CTC – a total of 1,426) and cycle commuters (4.94 percent of Bristolians get to work by bike, and one in 86 has got a subsidised bike through Cyclescheme). Good weather was also in the city’s favour.

However, the news wasn’t all good, with concerns over traffic and unspent central government funding, and high levels of bike theft a particular problem. Andrew Piper of Bristol cycle shop Psyclewerx said: “People get followed back from cycle tracks and even the main roads. I tell customers to drive in a loop a few times before heading home if they’ve got their bikes in the back of their cars, and to stop and look around them at a quiet junction as they’re approaching their street to see if they’re being followed.”

The final ranking was:

  1. Bristol
  2. Nottingham
  3. Leicester
  4. Manchester
  5. Edinburgh
  6. Newcastle
  7. Stoke-On-Trent
  8. Cardiff
  9. Swansea
  10. Plymouth
  11. Coventry
  12. Belfast
  13. Liverpool
  14. Hull
  15. Leeds
  16. Sheffield
  17. London
  18. Glasgow
  19. Birmingham
  20. Bradford

Comments on internet forums ranged from “Bristol? They must not have stayed overnight or they wouldn’t have had a bike come morning” – to “Deciding which UK city is best for cycling is a bit like deciding which one of Jedward is the more talented”.

Bristol topped the poll: bristol topped the poll
Paul Smith

Cycling Plus have hailed Bristol as Britain’s best cycling city

An article about the league table in The Guardian had prompted 85 comments at time of writing, ranging from agreement to incredulity. At the more extreme end of the scale, a poster going by the name angusbrown said: “This must be a joke. Having lived here for 28 years I have witnessed nothing short of a war going on between cyclists … and the local population who largely drive or use buses …”

He continued: “When several cyclists were attacked and beaten up on the dedicated Bristol to Bath cyclepath the [local] paper pulled the comments section as it was simply overwhelmed with comments congratulating the muggers. Violence between motorists and cyclists is commonplace and when a cyclist is badly injured or killed their [sic] are literally hundreds of comments in the local papers saying that ‘they got what they deserved’. Saying Bristol is the most cycle friendly city is like saying that Nazi Germany was a great place to be Jewish. PS. I am a cyclist!”

A more common opinion was voiced by Coconut Joe, who said: “I live in Bristol and if Bristol’s the best cycling city, then no UK city is anywhere near adequate. I’ve cycled less and less over the last few years because of the number of near misses I’ve had … If we want to learn how it’s done we have to look at European cities. Cities in Denmark and Holland lead the way, but other cities in Germany, Belgium and France (I’m sure there are more too) are still far more focussed on providing safe user-friendly cycle routes than the UK.”

However, some people agreed with the finding, including RedChelt, who said: “My initial reaction was WTF? We have ridiculously narrow roads in Bristol, often with cars parked on both sides, and drivers can be inconsiderate (particularly in Clifton/Whiteladies). But then I remembered my commute to work of five miles is approximately half on off-road cycle tracks and is quite peaceful. Guess it depends where you live. And whether you have to cycle up St Michael’s Hill every day like I used to.”

Meanwhile, msonea suggested that the only way to make Bristol cycle-friendly would be to “invent funicular cycleways” to get up the hills.

Bradford came last in the league table. Local CTC cycling development officer Ginny Leonard told the Bradford Telegraph Argus: “Saying Bradford is the worst based on numbers is not really fair – when we started working in Bradford we found there is a lot of activity going on but it’s not joined up – that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s a great interest in riding in the city.”

But Pam Ashton, of Bradford Cycle Action Group, told the newspaper: “I totally agree with [the article]. I cycle all the time. I think there’s been a combination of neglect to allow Bradford to become the worst for cycling …  Cycle lanes help but there is not enough respect for cyclists – we are put in danger every day.”


What do you think about the Cycling Plus league table? Have your say in the comments box below.