Cycling is cool – but cyclists are miserable and lazy, says British public

Research highlights contradictory attitudes to cycling… but at least we're cool

by Martin Thomas   September 23, 2010  

Bike and car

Cycling has become cool, but people who cycle to work aren’t taken as seriously as their car-driving counterparts – that’s according to research commissioned by the Bristol Social Marketing Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE).

Professor Alan Tapp, who commissioned the research, said, “We wanted to find out if cycling is still the 'poor man's transport' populated by badly dressed social misfits muttering about gear ratios, or a fashionable activity of good looking people who rock up to the office with the latest carbon frame. We asked questions about how congestion, global warming and ever rising fuel prices might persuade us out of our cars and back onto two wheels.

“Our findings suggest that most people see Jeremy Clarkson-esque critics of cycling as missing the point. An impressive 42% of the British public think that 'cycling has become cool nowadays', and, good news for those forty-something men with mid-life crises, 38% agree that bike technology is much sexier nowadays. Perhaps surprisingly there was also encouragement for government initiatives, with 43% agreeing that 'there's a new push by the government towards getting people to cycle'.

“These pro cycling feelings might be a symptom of traffic jam stress as much as anything. A whopping 43% of us agreed that 'When I'm stuck in a traffic jam I sometimes wish I were cycling'. The success of the likes of Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish might be rubbing off on us as well: a surprising 18% of us admit that 'The success of British cyclists has encouraged me to think about cycling more myself'.”

But it’s not all good news. Only 12% of the respondents cycle once a week or more, and 28% still insist that ‘roads are for cars, not bikes’.

The research also explored whether us cyclists see ourselves as a breed apart – and how non-cyclists see us. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a bit of a discrepancy.

Cyclists see themselves as independent minded and free spirited, environmentally aware, adventurous, and even a bit rebellious. But although non-cyclists agree that we're fitness conscious and independent minded, we’re also perceived to be less happy than they are, lazy and less hard working. Professor Tapp said, “Maybe the perception is that if you are a serious career professional in the UK, you don't cycle – you drive a 5 series instead.”

25 user comments

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Hmmm, so I'm lazy and less hard working despite the fact that I work a 45 hour week, am on my feet all day and doing manual labour. I also cycle a 2o miles round commute in all weathers - (last years winter was mental!!!) as well as the weekly big run

I read about the increase in bicycle sales and yet I see no one else on the roads during the week bar me and the occasional club cyclist. It seems that whilst huge inroads have been made on cycle awareness the only time you see bicycles on the road is a sunny Sat/Sun afternoon and the roads continue to be as congested and dangerous as ever!

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posted by giff77 [1045 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 11:12

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I can only imagine that the 'lazy' stereotype comes from motorists who think that its only possible to cycle-commute a mile or so to work. Therefore we must be lazy, since we can't be bothered to look further afield for work. That's the only reason I can think of for such blatant and illogical prejudice.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 11:30

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is the perception not that they/we are lazy workers? that you cant take your job seriously and do a proper days work if you've just cycled to it? agree though its still illogical.

posted by eddie11 [78 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 12:23

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It might be perceived that people who choose to cycle instead of driving are not in a hurry to get to work and thus perceived as lazy for using his time in leisure activity on work days.

posted by Alankk [121 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 12:44

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What a load of bollocks, Who did Professor Alan Tapp get this insightful feedback from? He should hang out with the Marketing Cock end who came out with "MAMIL" maybe they could write a cycling manifesto together so us cyclists could workout our place in Society.

posted by Dog72 [108 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 13:13

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Lazy because only people who can't afford cars would possibly cycle, and we don't work hard enough to buy one? Or because it's a leisure activity, as Alankk says. The mind boggles.

posted by thesocialcyclist [1 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 13:14

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I would not consider a 20 mile commute as a leisure activity but a battle of wills and survival of the fitest!!! I prefer to spend several hours out on b and unclassified roads as my form of 'leisure' cycling!!! Oh I'm on my day off which is why I'm able to post comments and getting ready to hit the roads for a wee 'leisure' spin!!!

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posted by giff77 [1045 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 13:43

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40--45 km a day, four days a week... having to get in for before 09:00, even though I fall asleep at like half-three... yeah; I'm lazy and miserable.

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posted by Kevin Steinhardt [30 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 13:53

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To be fair, Prof. Tapp is reporting his findings - it's not his job to say that the people saying it are clots.

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

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posted by John_the_Monkey [418 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 14:33

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Dog72: the survey asked a representative sample of 3885 UK adults aged 18-64. I'd link to the detail but it's not been published yet.

I think the 'lazy' comment is more about the perception addressed by Prof Tapp in the quote that follows it - ie that senior management go-getter types don't cycle to work, therefore cyclists must be a basically indolent bunch. Dodgy logic, obviously.

Anyway, I've sent a link to this story to Professor Tapp - I'm sure he'll put me right if I've got that (or anything else) wrong.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 15:06

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Hi all I am the author of this study. Martin you are spot on - the whole 'lazy' thing is a red herring which in retrospect I heartily wish I hadnt put in the press release, as this was used by the right wing press (Sun, Express) to hi-jack the entire study.

The study was a robust piece of research looking at attitudes of the UK population to cycling and cyclists. The majority of it was really good news for us given how cycling has languished in this country compared to more positive cultures elsewhere. The UK public on balance think cyclists are more likely to be independent minded, a free spirit, environmentally conscious, confident, brave, fitter and healthier than non-cyclists. The 'lazy' thing was very odd - and I think reflects the view that if you a 'serious' career person you drive into work, presumably squeezing your fat backside out of your car and developing some attractive sweat marks on your expensive suit as the day wears on. But as long as you look the part, hey thats all that matters...

posted by Alan Tapp [1 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 15:26

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Thanks for getting in touch Prof Tapp and setting the record straight - as you say a fair chunk of your findings seem to be positive for cyclists and cycling, Do you have any plans to make it available online any time soon?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 15:43

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Yay for him. As he said, pity it was hi-jacked, but it's still good that it's been read widely, and the overall results seem useful and promising ...

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posted by timlennon [227 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 16:37

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Alan Tapp wrote:
cyclists are more likely to be independent minded, a free spirit, environmentally conscious, confident, brave, fitter and healthier than non-cyclists.

That's me, that is!

Wave

Also, when I arrive for work, even in the depths of winter, I'm warm, energised, smiling and ready for work. Meanwhile my colleagues are still a bit grumpy and need the kettle to help them start their day.

I started commuting 4 years ago thinking it would be summer-only way to avoid the queues and save money, but I didn't want to stop when the evenings drew in.

At the risk of stating the obvious, having a low wage and straightforward admin job doesn't make me stupid or lazy. I just don't have any desire for a 'management' role, long hours etc. Most of the people with what they term 'careers' appear trapped to me; some like their jobs but lots are doing the hamster wheel thing trying not to think about the possibility of getting off it. I'm glad I never climbed on.

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posted by Simon E [1941 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 17:03

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Simon - your post reminded me of this bit of Onion gold:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/temp-hides-fun-fulfilling-life-from-res...

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7312 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 17:19

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"presumably squeezing your fat backside out of your car and developing some attractive sweat marks on your expensive suit as the day wears on. But as long as you look the part, hey thats all that matters..."

No bias in the study then Smile

posted by kitkat [198 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 17:40

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It reminds me of the Jeremy clarkson rant at cyclists to 'get a real job so you can afford a car'. Though I'm not sure he'd shout that at Alan Sugar.

I thought the most important and worrying stat was the 28% who think roads are for cars only. That's way higher than I'd expected (& wanted to see)

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posted by TheHatter [810 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 17:58

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Simon E wrote:
Also, when I arrive for work, even in the depths of winter, I'm warm, energised, smiling and ready for work. Meanwhile my colleagues are still a bit grumpy and need the kettle to help them start their day.

Simon

Are you really saying that, after riding in, in "the depths of winter" you don't head for the kettle? If so, try it, you might like it. Must cyclists I know cannot pass a teapot at any time of year. Smile

John Ashurst

posted by johnashurst [1 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 18:08

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I don't think the study is biased it's just that a lot of people have a set of views/opinions/attitudes that on the face of it are contradictory, but harsh to blame the study for people having irrational attitudes - as the Prof said, in his opinion the "lazy" thing is a bit of a red herring, but of course it hooked us in. Maybe we should change that headline then. Hang on…

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 18:14

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johnashurst wrote:
Simon

Are you really saying that, after riding in, in "the depths of winter" you don't head for the kettle? If so, try it, you might like it. Must cyclists I know cannot pass a teapot at any time of year. Smile

No, I'm always too bloody hot, even when it's sub-zero outside! It's comical really - everyone else is moaning about the cold and having to scrape the windscreen while I am glowing even though I usually wear just a thin base layer or Ground Effect Submerino under my pertex windshirt.

The caffeine fix (organic fairtrade ground coffee) comes later, after my porridge.

There were only 3 days I didn't ride last winter, and two of those were because I was feeling unwell (but not ill enough to skive off work). The third was a wet November day when I needed to leave early to collect the kids. Each time I got to work feeling like it wasn't the right way to start the day.

Dave, I love that Onion piece, especially the last paragraph.

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posted by Simon E [1941 posts]
23rd September 2010 - 22:54

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Hi, I also worked on this research into cycling attitudes with Alan Tapp. The research was representative of GB adults and as Alan said overall there were some very encouraging trends in attitudes towards cycling becoming more positive, not least the 42% of the British public think cycling has become cool nowadays.

Perhaps those people who felt cyclists to be “less hard working” and “more lazy” than themselves were members of the population who felt the need to justify why they don’t cycle to themselves, or cycle more often. Some people might refer to cyclist as being lazy because they themselves don’t feel they have the time to cycle (rightly or wrongly) perhaps it’s a defence mechanism whereby excusing them in their own minds.

posted by sarah_cyclist [2 posts]
24th September 2010 - 12:19

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It is not the cyclist that are miserable, it's the drivers how have been sold the illusion of freedom, but then find the cyclist and not them, who have the freedom of the road...

posted by Kim [131 posts]
24th September 2010 - 18:25

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My colleagues have suggested I'm a bit of a nutter for commuting through London by bicycle. I don't think any of them have cosnidered me lazy though.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2172 posts]
25th September 2010 - 9:34

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I'm so lazy, that instead of driving to Guildford, I cycle. After-all it's only a 40-odd mile round trip.

When I did the 2010 London Skyride, instead of taking the train, I cycled there and back, around 52 miles, including the ride around the course.

Please note: I'm not casting aspersions on Prof. Tapp's findings, just the views of the Daily Moron-reading public.

posted by Recumbenteer [144 posts]
25th September 2010 - 10:09

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It's interesting how the 'lazy' aspect has also hijacked this site as well as the Daily Moron. Here, though, it's probably because it's the most, let's say, surprising, and most insulting. Whereas for gutter press readers it's probably a case of 'Aha, I always knew cyclists were lazy scruffy losers. Now I'm proved right'. No, I think there really are people who are that thick.

I wonder if the absurd 'lazy' perception is due, in part at least, to the type of young 'scruffy' type of bike user who looks like he's just got out of bed at 12 o clock and saunters through red lights? Maybe he attracts more annoyed attention from Daily Smug and Daily Moron readers than than all other cyclists put together. This is because such people are more interested in being angry at others, and therefore right about everything themselves, than in anything like fairness or accuracy.

I agree the most worrying finding is not the angry thing, but the high percentage of people who think that the roads are for cars, and not for bikes. Why do they think this? It's just as barmy as the 'lazy' rubbish.

Jeremy Clarkson has a primitive ape brain with some kind of amazing device which allows him to speak English, a device manufactured by a car industry research lab. It's astonishing what the boffins can do these days.

posted by bikeylikey [163 posts]
26th September 2010 - 8:06

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