British Cycling has hailed new research showing an increase of 200,000 people riding bikes regularly in the year to October 2012 compared to the previous 12 months. A closer look at the figures, contained in Sport England’s annual Active People Survey, shows that while there has been a clear upward trend over the past five years, the data are subject to some big variations from year to year. Only athletics, including running, outstrips cycling’s growth in recent years, but swimming has seen a big drop in participants.
Commenting on the figures, British Cycling Chief Executive Ian Drake said: Drake said: “With almost two million people cycling once a week following a summer of unprecedented cycling success, this is our legacy in action.
“British Cycling has set new standards in elite sport and, with these latest figures from Sport England, we can celebrate gold medal results in grassroots participation.
“These figures are reward for the hard work done over the last four years by British Cycling, Sport England, our principal partner Sky and our local government partners.
“After Beijing, British Cycling set out to inspire a new audience to get involved in cycling at all levels. We have programmes for all ages and abilities – from families who want to cycle for fun, to young people aspiring to be the next Bradley Wiggins or Laura Trott.
“The great results we’ve seen today are also critically down to the dedication of all our members, regions, volunteers, coaches, clubs and leaders - without whom our sport wouldn’t function.”
Since the Active People Survey was first conducted in 2005/06, the number of people taking part in cycling at least once a week has risen from 1.6348 million to 1.9620 million – an increase of 20 per cent over the past five years, equivalent to annual growth of a little under 4 per cent.
Growth in the size of the population in England over the past few years means that as a proportion of all adults, the increase in percentage terms in people cycling regularly is somewhat less – up from 4.02 per cent in 2005/06 to 4.55 per cent in 2011/12.
According to British Cycling, initiatives such as Sky Ride are behind the growth and are leading more people to cycle regularly and to go on to tougher challenges – over the past four years, it says, the number of organised competitive events sanctioned by British Cycling has risen 29 per cent, and the number of non-competitive ones by 145 per cent.
It also says that in the 12 months to this October, the success of British female cyclists and the development of the Breeze women-only rides have resulted in 65,000 more women taking to two wheels. The figures also show that 15,000 more people who have long-term disabilities are now participating in cycling regularly compared to the previous year.
Those extra 200,000 cyclists actually mask the fact that last year, there had been a drop of over 100,000 on the 2009/10 figures. There’s definitely growth taking place, but at perhaps a less spectacular rate than British Cycling is claiming.
Still, only athletics, which has edged ahead from cycling in the past couple of years in terms of the number of people participating at least once a week at medium intensity, has managed to attract more new followers – around 2 million people take part in either each week, but there are 679,900 more people getting involved in athletics than there were in 2005/06, compared to 327,200 for cycling.
And like cycling, of course, athletics encompasses everything from competition to simply getting to work, whether by running or by bike – unlike any of the other activities, they’re easier to fit round a busy lifestyle too.
No other activities come close to matching those rises in participation numbers during the period, although in percentage terms, some have experienced spectacular growth - netball, table tennis, badminton and mountaineering, for example.
The big loser is swimming, which has seen more around a third of a million people – equivalent to a little over 10 per cent of the number of regular participants – disappear since 2005/06.
Many will have chosen to run or cycle to get their exercise, but it’s worth noting that the big drop came in 2009/10, the year the coalition government scrapped free sessions for children (not included in the survey) and pensioners (who are).