London has most bike commuters, study finds — or does it?

It depends how you count them

by John Stevenson   August 18, 2014  

London cycling (CC BY-NC 2.0 licensed by the DCMS:Flickr)

Which areas of England and Wales have the most cycle commuters? A home insurance company has added up the numbers and found that unsurprisingly it's Greater London. But when you take populations into account things get a bit more interesting.

It's no surprise that with its vast population Greater London also has the largest raw number of cycle commuters with 155,289 people riding to work, according to the figures from Privilege Home Insurance.

In second place comes much humbler Cambridgeshire with 29,689 cycle commuters; Greater Manchester is third with 25,161.

But when you take the populations of the areas into account, Cambridgeshire is a clear winner with almost five percent of its population commuting by bike.

Greater London comes in just under two percent and Greater Manchester can't even muster a paltry one percent.

In the tables below, you can see the 'raw' ranking by number of bike commuters, and the ranking by percentage of population.

Top ten UK cycle commuting districts

District Cycle commuters
Greater London 155,289
Cambridgeshire 29,689
Greater Manchester (Met County) 25,161
Oxfordshire 23,101
Hampshire 20,658
West Midlands (Met County) 19,029
Norfolk 17,332
Bristol 15,768
Essex 13,891
Suffolk 13,558

UK cycle commuting districts by percentage of population

District  Population  Cycle commuters  Proportion
Cambridgeshire 622,200 29,689 4.77%
Bristol 432,500 15,768 3.65%
Oxfordshire 654,800 23,101 3.53%
Norfolk 859,400 17,332 2.02%
Greater London 8,308,000 155,289 1.87%
Suffolk 730,100 13,558 1.86%
Hampshire 1,322,300 20,658 1.56%
Greater Manchester (Met County) 2,700,000 25,161 0.93%
Essex 1,729,200 13,891 0.80%
West Midlands (Met County) 2,783,475 19,029 0.68%

One possible weakness in this analysis is that it's hard to be certain exactly what Privilege means by 'Bristol' or 'Hampshire'. I've assumed the city/county population for the former and the county without the unitary metro authorities for the latter. I'm sure more stats-savvy readers will have something to say.

If you're wondering what an insurance company is doing finding this out, well, trying to sell home insurance to cyclists of course.

Dan Simson, head of Privilege Home Insurance said: "Cycling is a healthy, cost-effective and eco-friendly means of transport and it's encouraging to see how many people choose to cycle to work around the country." 

"It is, of course, very important for cyclists to stay safe whilst commuting and to secure their bicycles once they have arrived at the workplace.

"Having a good home insurance policy that provides cycle cover both at home and whilst out and about offers the best of both worlds to our two-wheeled commuters."

25 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Thing is...greater london is massive. Riding from the outskirts in is a far bigger effort than riding from the outskirts of the smaller cities in to the centre, so that needs to be taken into account.

Include just the central boroughs (zone 2) and you'll probably get a far higher proportion of londoners whio cycle.

I now live further out...and relatively few people cycle all the way in by comparison.

posted by StoopidUserName [61 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:08

28 Likes

Birmingham is supposed to be the second largest city in the UK. Why is that missed out?

Also, this survey could never be correct as a lot of people do not take out home insurance for various reasons yet still use a bike as there main source of transport.

posted by Binky [115 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:24

15 Likes

Its cos its flat innit, throw some hills in there and see them puff like they do going up box hill.

Leodis's picture

posted by Leodis [257 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:51

25 Likes

Two years ago if you told me that I'd be cycling 14 miles into London each day (28 mile round trip), I'd have laughed at you. But now I'm cycling in three days a week and soon it will be everyday (I used to work in Croydon and commuted everyday by bike, six mile round trip).

Why do I cycle into London? Because the train service is appalling from where I live and it's cheaper by far than using the train. £9.60 a day into London, five days' train fare = one month's gym fees (to make use of the shower when I get there). So after week one, I'm in profit on the bike, add in two more days and that pays for the general running cost of the bike, tyres, chains etc.

On my commute up CS7 I see a lot of fair weather riders, i.e. the sun brings out a lot more riders and the rain has an adverse effect on the numbers.

posted by 4ChordsNoNet [10 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:51

28 Likes

Binky wrote:
Birmingham is supposed to be the second largest city in the UK. Why is that missed out?

You'll notice that this is a list of districts, rather than cities. You'll also notice that the West Midlands, where Birmingham sits, is on this top 10 list.

posted by Nick T [846 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:51

33 Likes

Is there a link to the survey?

All sorts of questions - how was it carried out for start and what's the definition of a commuter?

According to TFL there are 580,000 daily journeys in London by bike so 155,289 commuters seems a very low number.

And while I appreciate the attempt to create some relative measures, percentage of journeys (preferably with a distance limit) is a better measure, not percentage of population.

Without that sort of stuff it's just putting the PR into Privilege.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [580 posts]
18th August 2014 - 13:51

24 Likes

StoopidUserName wrote:
Thing is...greater london is massive. Riding from the outskirts in is a far bigger effort than riding from the outskirts of the smaller cities in to the centre, so that needs to be taken into account.

Include just the central boroughs (zone 2) and you'll probably get a far higher proportion of londoners whio cycle.

I now live further out...and relatively few people cycle all the way in by comparison.

Size of greater London: 600 square miles. Size of Cambridgeshire: 1300 square miles.

I don't think Greater London is disadvantaged by these stats.

Cambridgeshire is hiding the fact that a third of Cambridge residents commute by bike, and a good proportion of the residents of nearby town and villages of South Cambs. But go further north into rural fenland and UKIP-voting territory, and it drops off almost entirely.

posted by HKCambridge [181 posts]
18th August 2014 - 14:47

30 Likes

@4ChordsNoNet
Snap - when I was buying my house, I initially wanted to be no more than 30 mins' ride from work, but the increase in house prices meant that we had to buy further out and I now cycle 27 miles to work and back every day. When I lived closer (14 mile round trip) I didn't do it every day, but I now can't remember when I last took the tube to work and kind of dread that day coming as I've got so used to the freedom of the bike. I've even been adding extra miles onto the commute recently while the weather's been good, and even if I push over 30 miles it's still faster than taking the Northern Line!

posted by timfearn [19 posts]
18th August 2014 - 14:49

29 Likes

4ChordsNoNet wrote:
£9.60 a day into London, five days' train fare = one month's gym fees (to make use of the shower when I get there). So after week one, I'm in profit on the bike, add in two more days and that pays for the general running cost of the bike, tyres, chains etc.

Hmm, there's probably a good business opportunity there for someone to provide secure bicycle parking in the city with showers.

posted by bikebot [815 posts]
18th August 2014 - 15:05

35 Likes

PLEASE NOTE: the data is simply lifted from the 2011 Census of Population "Table CT0015EW Method of travel to work" (http://is.gd/sgooyC)

posted by Duncann [98 posts]
18th August 2014 - 15:31

21 Likes

It's just Census data... http://is.gd/sgooyC

posted by Duncann [98 posts]
18th August 2014 - 15:32

19 Likes

London can be OK on a local level (within a borough) but as you get closer to the centre you cut across the various jurisdictions, which have differing priorities and politics, resulting in a mish-mash of routes.

You've got Hyde Park, etc. taking up a huge chunk and while there is some provision for cycling, the Royal Parks fight tooth and nail against adding any official bike routes - leaving the tourists free to ramble on their Boris bikes while regular commuters run the risk of tickets for straying off the few approved routes. Odd they can close large parts of the parks for concerts and the like but can't provide a strip a couple of metres wide here and there to make the bike routes join up more intelligently.

I detect a sort of class warfare aspect here - Westminster and K&C, for example, make very little accommodation for bicycles. And when they do, it's often puzzling (check out the "island" bike racks in the middle of Kensington High Street).

Ride your own ride

posted by CanAmSteve [178 posts]
18th August 2014 - 15:47

18 Likes

Shared use paths with pedestrians and bikes are never a good idea, particularly when the people in foot are, quite rightly, more interested in admiring the view. Throw in some dogs getting some exercise and it's a recipe for disaster. Keep the parks reserved for gentle contemplation, it's bad enough taking a casual stroll on a towpath with all the tinkling bells of cyclists taking a clever shortcut barging past every 30 seconds. If cycling around Hyde Park is really adding so much inconvenience to your journey then just depart earlier.

posted by Nick T [846 posts]
18th August 2014 - 17:46

25 Likes

"Shared use paths with pedestrians and bikes are never a good idea"

Ah - must inform the Rest of the World... ASAP Smile

I think I would agree that they are a bad idea when you have a certain type of cyclist on them. But I'd prefer to weed out the wannabe racers - they already have the streets, after all.

Ride your own ride

posted by CanAmSteve [178 posts]
18th August 2014 - 18:07

24 Likes

You'd want to segregate cyclists to build your utopia? Righto.

posted by Nick T [846 posts]
18th August 2014 - 18:31

18 Likes

Cycle around Hyde Park? On the road? Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner? You Sir, are a braver man than I...

...

posted by AlexStriplight [69 posts]
18th August 2014 - 21:14

23 Likes

Park Lane, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner aka The Only Roads in London.

Take a deep breath and get a hold of your senses, please.

posted by Nick T [846 posts]
18th August 2014 - 21:31

23 Likes

Circumnavigating Hyde Park would suggest a lengthy detour if you were to avoid the 5 lane Addison Lee dodgem track, no?

...

posted by AlexStriplight [69 posts]
18th August 2014 - 21:51

26 Likes

Nick T wrote:
Binky wrote:
Birmingham is supposed to be the second largest city in the UK. Why is that missed out?

You'll notice that this is a list of districts, rather than cities. You'll also notice that the West Midlands, where Birmingham sits, is on this top 10 list.

Thank you.

I had my 'Need to rant' on over drive At Wits End when i posted

posted by Binky [115 posts]
19th August 2014 - 0:04

14 Likes

AlexStriplight wrote:
Circumnavigating Hyde Park would suggest a lengthy detour if you were to avoid the 5 lane Addison Lee dodgem track, no?

Not when you have West Carriage Drive cutting right through the centre of the green space, dividing Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens. Have you ever been to Hyde Park?

posted by Nick T [846 posts]
19th August 2014 - 5:56

11 Likes

Thanks Duncann. So the release is just a rehash.

The census data gives the total number of journeys to work which is more relevant. Using that (Bicycle journeys/All journeys, excluding people who work mainly from home) a selction of the figures would be:

Greater Manchester 1.34%
Manchester 2.29%
Merseyside 1.17%
Liverpool 1.15%
York 7.91%
Kingston Upon Hull 4.84%
Derby 2.43%
Rutland 2.52%
West Midlands 1.02%
Birmingham 0.89%
Wolverhampton 1.26%
Cambridgeshire 7.0%
Cambridge 18.78%
Norfolk 3.0%
Norwich 5.7%
Inner London 4.52%
Hackney 9.34%
Islngton 6.3%
Outer London 1.45%
Richmond 4.72%
Oxfordshire 5.24%
Oxford 10.72%
Bristol 5.19%

Your top 12 (excluding Scilly) is:
Cambridge
Oxford
Hackney
York
Gosport
Islington
South Cambridgeshire
Lambeth
Norwich
Wandsworth
Hammersmith & Fulham
Bristol

So Cambridge still on top, no surprise, but I find it interesting that there are 5 London boroughs in the top 12.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [580 posts]
19th August 2014 - 6:56

12 Likes

CanAmSteve wrote:
"Shared use paths with pedestrians and bikes are never a good idea"

Ah - must inform the Rest of the World... ASAP Smile

I think I would agree that they are a bad idea when you have a certain type of cyclist on them. But I'd prefer to weed out the wannabe racers - they already have the streets, after all.

Oh come off it. Around the city I ride in ordinary clothes, on a hybrid, with a full pannier. I'm still substantially faster than a person on foot.

Why are my choices ride in heavy traffic, or crawl along on a shared-use path, giving way at side roads, dodging lamp posts, watching driveways and doors? This is why cycling is such a minority pastime in the UK.

Parks are one of the few places I find shared-use okay (but still not ideal), because visibility is usually good, they don't place objects in the path, and you can bail out onto the grass if there's not enough space. However it is still a source of conflict and complaint from pedestrians, and we should all be on the same side on sustainable transport.

posted by HKCambridge [181 posts]
19th August 2014 - 9:30

15 Likes

bikebot wrote:
4ChordsNoNet wrote:
£9.60 a day into London, five days' train fare = one month's gym fees (to make use of the shower when I get there). So after week one, I'm in profit on the bike, add in two more days and that pays for the general running cost of the bike, tyres, chains etc.

Hmm, there's probably a good business opportunity there for someone to provide secure bicycle parking in the city with showers.

This is exactly what I need, I'm keen to start commuting again into liverpool but new employer doesn't have shower. There's secure bike parking and lockers but not found any showers yet apart from in nearest gym.

posted by Ian Kelly [1 posts]
20th August 2014 - 6:39

6 Likes

Well, I live in Norfolk, work in Cambridgeshire & my 'commute' regularly takes in Lincolnshire too. How does that massage the figures??

Currently going slower than I'd like...

posted by stealth [219 posts]
20th August 2014 - 20:32

1 Like

Well I've lived and cycled (on and off) in London for nearly 30 years, so yes, I have heard of it. I suppose it all depends on where you want to get to and from (or how fast), doesn't it? It is, after all, a large park...

...

posted by AlexStriplight [69 posts]
20th August 2014 - 20:52

1 Like