Plymouth ranked Britain's most cycle friendly city... Cambridge comes 60th

Methodology of Virgin Money survey highlights 'cycle unfriendly' towns and cities, says CTC

by Simon_MacMichael   May 29, 2012  

Dog in bike basket (copyright Simon MacMichael)

Plymouth has topped a list of the UK’s most cycle-friendly towns and cities compiled by Virgin Money. The research places Cambridge, the British city with the highest level of cycling, in 60th place. National cyclists’ organisation CTC has questioned the methodology used, saying that the use of casualty and theft statistics without relating them to bike usage means that in effect, high numbers of cyclists in a given town or city makes it “cycle unfriendly” in this context.

In a press release that was widely reported in national and local media, the financial institution, which has published the research to coincide with its sponsorship of next month’s Virgin Money Cyclone has revealed some details of its how it reached its conclusions.

Virgin Money customers will no doubt hope that the company's investment strategies show a greater level of sophistication than the methodology used to put the research together.

According to the company, “researchers rated towns and cities on a range of criteria including bike thefts; accidents; serious injuries and deaths for cyclists; the availability of cycle routes and the availability of specialist bicycle repair centres.”

Results were weighted to reflect population, but apparently no account was taken of bike ownership or levels of cycling in the towns and cities concerned, which would be particularly relevant in assessing theft or casualty statistics, for example.

Nor does it seem that anyone thought to ask the people who might be best placed to give an opinion on how cycle friendly or otherwise a particular place may be – cyclists themselves.

Missing from the list are several places in England that previously benefit from money made available under the Cycling Towns and Cities initiative – a number do make it, but only Bristol in third spot and Darlington in 14th place make it into the top 20.

Virgin Money says that Plymouth secured the top spot because it “scored well for low number of thefts, as well as a low number of accidents and cyclists killed or seriously injured while it ranked in the middle for the number of specialist cycle shops and 15th for cycle routes around the city.”

Cambridge, on the other hand – where it was recently revealed that bicycles now account for a quarter of all traffic – was “hampered by high incidence of cycle theft, serious injuries and a mid-ranking for bike shops and for cycle routes.”

The facts that the high number of bicycles in Cambridge have made it a magnet for bike thieves in recent years, or that higher levels of cycling tend to reduce the rate of death or serious injury when measured by distance traveled, although not necessarily bringing about a drop in absolute terms, do not seem to have been a factor in calculating its place on the ranking.

The same goes for any of the other towns and cities featured on the list. As Chris Peck of national cyclists’ organisation CTC says, “you shouldn't measure cycle safety by numbers of injuries. If you do that you will simply find that the places where cycle use is very high have more people being injured and more bikes being stolen.

He adds: “To a certain extent the numbers of bike shops and perhaps cycle route network are useful (though even they need careful definition - vehicle restricted city centres are far more valuable than miles of muddy rural cycle path). However, it is clear from the results that the casualty figures are a big part of the weighting.”

York also appears low down on the list, occupying 41st place, while Hull and Oxford, both cities with levels of cycling that are well above average, don’t even figure; among those that do make the top ten are St Helens, in fourth place, and Dudley, which came seventh, “yet both these towns have some of lowest cycling commuting levels in Britain,” says CTC.

Commenting on the results of the research, Graeme Tones of Virgin Money said: “Cycling continues to increase in popularity and is a major contributor to improving general health and easing traffic congestion. Government and local councils are doing their best to help more of us to get on our bikes through tax incentives, cycle parks and cycle paths.

“Every town and city in the top 60 can be pleased. Reducing the level of accidents and serious injuries requires responsibility from cyclists, care from drivers and the desire from towns and cities to make it easy and safe for people to get on their bikes”.

Virgin Money Cyclone organiser Peter Harrison added: “Everyone will have their own idea of what makes a town or city cycle friendly and the Virgin Money Cyclone research is an attempt to find which towns and cities are more cycle friendly than others and what the issues are. For those taking part in this year’s Virgin Money Cyclone I urge them to have a great time but equally importantly to be safe.

If you live or cycle in one of the towns or cities that feature on the list – or one that doesn’t – we’d be very interested to hear how your experience compares to its ranking.

Virgin Money's list of Britain's most 'cycle-friendly' towns and cities

1 Plymouth
2 Norwich
3 Bristol
4 St Helens
5 Huddersfield
5 Glasgow
7 Dudley
8 Ipswich
8 Cardiff
10 Walsall
11 Solihull
12 Lincoln
13 Bath
14 Darlington
15 Durham
16 Kingston-upon-Thames
16 Reading
16 Blackburn
16 Barnsley
20 Middlesbrough
21 Newcastle-upon-Tyne
21 Stoke-upon-Trent
21 Luton
24 Telford
25 Edinburgh
26 Sunderland
27 Southampton
27 Wolverhampton
27 Bradford
30 Blackpool
30 Belfast
32 Portsmouth
33 Southend
34 Salford
34 Sheffield
34 Coventry
37 Brighton
38 Liverpool
38 Swindon
38 Leeds
41 York
42 Warrington
43 Poole
44 Wigan
45 Bournemouth
46 Leicester
46 Bedford
48 Birmingham
49 Manchester
50 City of London
51 Bolton
52 Nottingham
52 Hartlepool
54 Derby
55 Doncaster
56 Greater London
57 Swansea
58 Gloucester
59 Peterborough
60 Cambridge

31 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

"Virgin Money Cyclone researchers rated towns and cities on a range of criteria including bike thefts; accidents; serious injuries and deaths for cyclists; the availability of cycle routes and the availability of specialist bicycle repair centres.

The project allocated points for towns and cities based on their ranking, which were weighted to reflect the population in order to produce the top 60 cities and towns."

So if a town has a cycle path but no one has bike so non are stolen and there's no accidents then it would come out on top! Confused

posted by spen [120 posts]
29th May 2012 - 10:13

1 Like

Really flawed methodology at play here. St Helens, which I know fairly well from family connections, is *not* a cycle-friendly town, yet it gets fourth place on this chart.

Given this ignorance of very basic statistical principles, it doesn't fill you with great confidence about Virgin Money's general numeracy or intelligence. I certainly won't be trusting them with my investment portfolio.

(N.B. I don't actually have and investment portfolio, but even so.)

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1132 posts]
29th May 2012 - 10:31

1 Like

Surprised by Cambridge's mid-ranking for number of bike shops as well. Were they just looking at branches of Halfords or something? It would seem likely that the place with the most cycle journeys also has the most demand for cycle shops, and I've never felt short of choice for a place to get gear or repairs.

posted by HKCambridge [210 posts]
29th May 2012 - 10:35

1 Like

As someone whom goes to uni in Plymouth and rides there almost every day, I'm guessing that the list is actually in reverse order and they just haven't told anyone.

posted by folgesvenn [2 posts]
29th May 2012 - 10:38

1 Like

Lancaster, one of the former Cycling Demonstration Cities, not even rated?

Richthornton's picture

posted by Richthornton [102 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:01

1 Like

What a joke - in Kingston upon Hull we have 12% of commutes by cycle, 135 20mph zones and countless off road tracks and cycle lanes and yet we do not even get a mention.

Simon Mason, Kingston upon Hull

posted by swldxer [34 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:05

1 Like

Well, it's a joke, but the high number of bike thefts in Cambridge isn't. My family have had 4 stolen in the last couple of years and now keep all of them indoors, even though it's a nuisnace with a narrow hallway and having to move them in and out all the time. Never had to do this before in about 35 years of living here.

A lot of other aspects of cycling in Cambridge could be improved as well. Can't compare to other cities as I've only lived in London in England.

posted by Alan Tullett [1580 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:13

1 Like

Maybe it's actually quite acurate, London is 56th!

posted by georgee [158 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:23

1 Like

F***wits Crying

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [320 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:30


Sorry? Glasgow is the UK's fifth most 'cycle-friendly' city???


Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [582 posts]
29th May 2012 - 11:42


I saw that as well. Glasgow: the land of the wheel breaking pothole, that makes London seem like bliss...

posted by Darkerside [65 posts]
29th May 2012 - 12:42

1 Like

From the IAM school of public relations.

I think they are following rule number 1 - "There is no such thing as bad publicity"

I think in future we need to careful about whether simply to ignore crap like this - don't give them the saisfaction.

posted by Paul M [342 posts]
29th May 2012 - 13:14

1 Like

Why am I not surprised to read again that apparently Scotland only has two towns or cities. Does this mean that anywhere else in Scotland is worse? Devil Devil Devil

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [9355 posts]
29th May 2012 - 14:55

1 Like

Gkam84 wrote:
Why am I not surprised to read again that apparently Scotland only has two towns or cities. Does this mean that anywhere else in Scotland is worse? Devil Devil Devil

You surely can't be suggesting that the wee pretendy teuchter cities up north should be counted?

*runs for cover*

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [582 posts]
29th May 2012 - 19:04

1 Like

Plymouth? Bike friendly? That's the funniest thing I've read today.

posted by Bagpuss [104 posts]
29th May 2012 - 20:10

1 Like

Amazed that Birmingham isn't bottom. What an utterly appalling city for cyclists.

posted by barongreenback [21 posts]
29th May 2012 - 20:59

1 Like

mad_scot_rider wrote:

You surely can't be suggesting that the wee pretendy teuchter cities up north should be counted?

*runs for cover*

Yes, not only the cities, but also the towns Wink

I laughed when I saw some of the names on the list but not places up here which have half decent cycling infrastructure along with few accidents and low cycle crime. But I always forget that the UK stops half way between Glasgow and Perth/ Edinburgh and Dundee Wink

I'm not a fan of Dundee, but they have got a great cycling infrastructure thats being improved all the time, along with Caird Park Velodrome, maybe their crime rates are to high come to think of it Devil Devil

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [9355 posts]
30th May 2012 - 1:50

1 Like

In fairness to Plymouth there are fairly decent cycle routes and shared bus lanes that get you most of the way to the town centre.
Not many cyclists seem to commute though.

Bianchi on the road.
NMD in the water.

posted by rowes [61 posts]
30th May 2012 - 7:07

1 Like

Well there's bugger all in Huddersfield so God only knows how they arrived at that one. Wonder if we can get access to the data so we can go and find the facilities they are referencing, they're too well hidden for me to spot!

posted by Chrisc [146 posts]
30th May 2012 - 9:56

1 Like

I nearly spat my breakfast out when I saw Huddersfield in 5th place, hilarious. The local authority's idea of cycle facilities is narrow faded paintwork 'cycle lanes' that no cyclist in their right mind would go near, combined with spending tens of thousands of pounds flattening lovely, entertaining rural singletrack bridleways into six-foot wide gravel motorways. Laughable.

mintimperial's picture

posted by mintimperial [18 posts]
30th May 2012 - 10:18


As a regular commuter and cycling campaigner in Plymouth, I was very bemused to read this article. Plymouth is the most UN-friendly cycling city I have come across (and I cycled for 7 years in London, much nicer in my opinion). It is (very) slowly improving but has a long way to go to get anywhere close to cities like Cambridge, Exeter, Bristol, even London etc.

This report is a fabulous example of how one should never trust statistics without looking at how they have been compiled. Virgin Money (who should really know better, I also won't be trusting them with my portfolio if this is their level of numeracy) have taken the most simplistic of measures e.g. number of cycle thefts, deaths and serious injuries per 1000 of the GENERAL POPULATION, without taking into account the number of cyclists in the city. Of course a city like Plymouth is going to do well when so few people cycle. Thefts, injuries etc are bound to be lower per 1000 of the general population. In fact, using their methodology in the extreme, the most cycle friendly town would be one where no one cycled as there would be no accidents involving cyclists, no deaths and no thefts. The figures would look far different (and be more representative) if cycling participation levels had been taken into account.

What amazes me is that all the news channels and newspapers, including Plymouth Herald, the Independent, Sky News, Yahoo etc have just re-gurgitated this dross without looking critically at the report and thinking about whether the statistics have been compiled in a reliable and valid way. All these journalists should be ashamed of themselves, what happened to critical thinking? NEVER BELIEVE STATISTICS without looking at where they have come from!”

The problem with this sort of report is that it will be used by councils and decision makers in towns and cities like Plymouth to say "see things aren't so bad. Our work for cyclists is done, our city has done well" when in reality, Plymouth is really scary to cycle in which makes our work as cycling campaigners much harder to try and get the lot of cyclists in our city improved

posted by Nednoodle [1 posts]
30th May 2012 - 12:04



This is ridiculous and now the council will latch on to it and not invest anymore. I cycle a lot around Plymouth and also in Exeter. I'd rather ride in Exeter anytime. Plymouth seems to specialise in cycle lanes that run out at the most needed times or take the most circuitous route.

However,as Plymouth has a smaller population, and hence quieter roads, it may be percieved as safer. The ignorance remains though. My wife is regularly sworn at by people who insist she should use the cycle lane (often at the point where there isn't one).

posted by thehairs1970 [33 posts]
30th May 2012 - 19:46

1 Like

News just in. Virgin Money have declared Venice the most car friendly city in Europe. Wink

posted by Tony [104 posts]
30th May 2012 - 20:04


Obvious isn't it? It's the same person that did the surveys for the IAMs Smile Big Grin


posted by tommy2p [86 posts]
30th May 2012 - 23:17

1 Like

It's laughable- Swindon is 38th & its only me and about five other cyclists who dare commute here - the cycle lanes are invariably those utterly useless 'shared with pedestrians' type - often mysteriously running out and go nowhere at the most dangerous junctions - very good local bike shops though... Smile

Cosmicned's picture

posted by Cosmicned [26 posts]
31st May 2012 - 7:01

1 Like

The methodology which places Dudley and St Helens among Britain's top 10 cycling towns is based on the same flaw which led road safety Minister Mike Penning to claim recently that cycle safety is far better in Britain than the Netherlands, as we have fewer cyclist casualties per head of population.

When CTC wrote to Ministers arguing that this was statistical nonsense (and contrary to how they had agreed to measure cycle safety following our Safety in Numbers campaign), we explained how you could similarly show that towns like Cambridge (with high cycle use, a lot of cyclist casualties for its population size, but a very low casualty rate per cyclist) are far worse for cycling than those with very few cyclists, few cyclist casualties but dreadful cyclist casualty rates. Places like Dudley and St Helens!

posted by Roger Geffen [50 posts]
31st May 2012 - 8:03


You're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong Virgin Money.

Bike theft is an indicator that (1) there are lots of bikes to steal and (2) that there is a buoyant market for stolen bikes - which itself indicates a growing or helathy cycling population. I'm not at all saying that bike theft is a 'good thing' or that theft makes a town or city 'cycling friendly', but please Mr Tones, use your loaf.

And we don't hyphenate Kingston upon Thames either.

Jon, Kingston upon Thames

posted by Jon Fray [15 posts]
31st May 2012 - 14:54

1 Like

and have you SEEN the hills in Plymouth?

posted by Jon Fray [15 posts]
31st May 2012 - 14:55

1 Like

I find Glasgow to be the most dangerous place to cycle in, how did it reach number 5 or is its danger level ?

posted by brandobiker [22 posts]
31st May 2012 - 23:01


haha im in the same situation and massively agree! Do you by chance still go to uni in Plymouth? im currently writing a dissertation questioning the fact that 'Plymouth is the UK's No.1 cycling city' as it clearly is not :L
A large part of my research involves collecting QUALITATIVE data using resources such as video footage and gps technology, and maybe even talking to actual cyclists in Plymouth! rather than basing it purely on statistics and figures as virgin have done.
Anyone willing to have a cam strapped to their head and cycle around Plym would be helping out hugely!

posted by robyoude [1 posts]
16th September 2013 - 11:52

1 Like