A three-year study funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council suggests people are put off cycling by the perception of it being an “abnormal” thing to do.
Some of the people interviewed for the Understanding Walking and Cycling study, led by the universities of Lancaster, Leeds and Oxford, said they viewed cycling as unusual and weird. Asked why they were reluctant to ride, they cited factors such as arriving sweaty to morning meetings and having squashed hair from wearing a cycle helmet. Some even said they felt like second class citizens in comparison to those in motor vehicles.
Researchers studied 1,417 questionaires and 80 interviews with a cross-section of society in Leeds, Leicester, Worcester and Lancaster. While many respondents had a positive or neutral attitude towards cycling, the above factors, plus concerns about safety and the difficulty of fitting cycling into busy lifestyles, held many back from riding more.
Lancaster University’s Professor Colin Pooley, who led the study, said: “Most people prefer not to stand out as different and tend to adopt norms of behaviour that fit in and reflect the majority experience. In Britain, travelling by car is the default position for most people – over 60 percent of all trips are by car – and car ownership and use is seen as normal.”
Prof Pooley added that policy makers shouldn’t base policies about cycling on the views and experiences of committed cyclists but should instead talk to non-cyclists to determine what would encourage them to get on their bikes more.
The study suggests several changes to boost cycling uptake. These include cycle routes fully segregated from traffic, 20mph speed limits in residential areas, changes to the law to give more protection to vulnerable road users and more flexibility in working times (to allow people to ride in daylight on their work commutes). The researchers suggest that the more people are seen on bikes, the more cycling will be accepted as normal.