Levels of cycling falling in Australia, according to national survey

Decline in bike riding seen midway through period when aim was to double participation

by Simon_MacMichael   October 20, 2013  

Peloton passes kangaroo sign (photo - Santos Tour Down Under:Regallo)

A survey in Australia has discovered that there has been a “small but statistically significant” decrease in levels of cycling in the country during the past two years.  Some 37.4% of Australians rode a bike during the past year, compared to 39.6% in 2011.

The Australian Cycling Participation 2013 report, which can be downloaded for free here (registration required) comes in the middle of a five-year period when the country’s National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016 aimed to double participation in cycling.

The decline was particularly marked decline among children aged 2 to 9. Some 44.4 per cent of 2 to 9-year-olds rode a bicycle in the week prior to being surveyed, down from 49.1 per cent in 2011.

While that remains the age group with the highest levels of bicycle usage among the overall population, such a big decline among a group that represents the adult cyclists of tomorrow does not bode well for the future.

Regular cycling is also in decline. The percentage of people of all ages riding weekly has fallen from 17.8 per cent in 2011 to 16.6 per cent in 2013.

The survey, conducted every two years, is commissioned by the Australian Bicycle Council and published by Austroads, the association of Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities to help monitor progress towards the achieving the goals set out in the National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016.

Members of some 10,052 households comprising a total of 25,471 individuals were interviewed by telephone during March and April this year, a period when Australia passes from late summer into autumn.

Cycling participation levels were found to be highest in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. In each of those states, around one in four of the population ride a bike weekly, and a nearly half get in the saddle at least once a year.

South Australia, where the state tourist agency heavily promotes the country’s highest profile race, the Santos Tour Down Under, showed the lowest levels of participation, with around one in three residents cycling once a year or more.  

However, Christian Haag, Bicycle South Australia’s CEO, raised doubts over the accuracy of some of the survey’s findings, telling Guardian Australia: “We’d certainly query the results given the day-to-day indicators we see in South Australia. Bike counts are seeing a rise while event participation is plateauing.

“The decrease in children cycling is mirrored by falling sales in kids’ bikes, which does set alarm bells ringing. We need to be working much harder on education programs, which help children with bicycles but also help them become better drivers later in life. We also need other things to fall in place, such as 40km speed limits.

“Overall, I’d say the message is to invest more money in cycling infrastructure and do so smartly. But cycling is now an established norm in society. It has moved well beyond being a fad.”

While Australia’s nationwide compulsory helmet laws are often singled out as being a deterrent to cycling, Bicycle Network Victoria spokesman Garry Brennan told the Guardian that it was the perception of danger on the roads that discouraged people from getting on a bike.

Noting that while cycling was experiencing a boom in inner city areas in contrast with what was happening in the suburbs and countryside, he said: "With the rapid population growth in the state, we have to convert new riders faster than population is growing,” he said.

"Research shows that most people would love to ride more, particularly to improve their health. But there are not enough safe facilities and they are scared to ride in traffic. Governments that are prepared to invest in cycling will find a very grateful community."

Olympic champion Anna Meares urged for a change in attitudes towards cycling, including mutual respect between road users, to help arrest the decline, telling News.com.au: "It's like we need a change of culture, if you go to Europe the attitude towards cycling is 180 degrees different."

"Cycling can have a really powerful social impact on your confidence and self-esteem, if you can just get over the first hurdle and I've got to encourage more women to get involved by not being body conscious.

"A lot of people typecast cyclists but there is so much more to it, there's the commuter and recreational cyclist, not everyone needs to be put in the mould of a professional.

"It's just a matter of jumping on a bike and riding to even the corner store instead of taking the car.

"Then there are more in-depth issues like sharing the road and everyone being respectful."

According to Austroads, key findings of the report include:

• 16.6% of the Australian population had ridden in the previous week and 37.4% had ridden at least once in the previous year.

• 9.5% of the Australian adult population, aged 18 and over, had ridden in the previous week and 28.0% had ridden at least once in the previous year.

• Young children have the highest levels of cycling participation: 44.4% of 2 to 9 year old children had ridden in the previous week, decreasing to 32.2% of 10 to 17 year olds.

• 5.1% of Australian residents had ridden for transport purposes over the previous week compared with 14.1% for recreation or exercise.

• Males are more likely to participate in cycling than females: 20.9% of males and 12.4% of females had ridden in the previous week.

• Among those who had ridden in the past week the average number of days having ridden was 2.9 days.

• The average Australian household has 1.47 bicycles in working order and 55.2% of households have at least one bicycle in working order.

25 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Two words

Helmet Law

#getspopcornready

posted by Arthur Scrimshaw [57 posts]
20th October 2013 - 17:54

19 Likes

Might as well get an obligatory rant about compulsory helmet laws in early.
Helmets indicate cycling is a potential dangerous activity instead of a potentially fun and liberating one.
As much as kids love doing dangerous stuff they love doing fun, liberating and impulsive stuff even more.
As kids we would go out from dusk til dawn, dicking about on bikes, doing all sorts of crazy stuff.
No one died.

posted by Some Fella [888 posts]
20th October 2013 - 18:08

25 Likes

I ride a bike everyday, my kids ride their bikes everyday, if we had to wear helmets we wouldn't ride so much.

posted by IanW1968 [225 posts]
20th October 2013 - 19:34

36 Likes

I read that Mike Hall, when he broke the "round the world" cycling record, cited Australia as the most dangerous place to cycle on his entire trip.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
20th October 2013 - 20:57

13 Likes

IanW1968 wrote:
I ride a bike everyday, my kids ride their bikes everyday, if we had to wear helmets we wouldn't ride so much.

I'm not particularly bothered either way, but to suggest you and your kids wouldn't ride your bikes as often if you had to wear helmet sounds pretty ridiculous. Why exactly is this? I genuinely don't understand why wearing a helmet would cause you so much hassle??

posted by Gman59c [80 posts]
20th October 2013 - 21:19

16 Likes

Gman - and I don't understand why it's so difficult to understand or why anyone would reply to anyone else's post without making their own point.

Still..thanks for that insight into your mind, really helpful.

If you want to dress up like a goon to pop down the shops fill yer boots son but I will just hop on a bike and ride...and do a lot.

posted by IanW1968 [225 posts]
20th October 2013 - 21:39

17 Likes

Quote:
small but significantly significant

I love it when statisticians get asked for a soundbite, bless their multicoloured socks. Anyways, big Applause for Anna Meares. She's a class act as a competitor, and from her comments, sounds like a class act generally.

Predictably, the helmet issue popped up it's ugly head early doors. But that's only part of the problem - both in Oz and Blighty alike. Build an infrastructure - physical, legal, and perceptual - designed with bikes in mind, and they will come.

In some civilised countries, roads are designed for cars and bikes, there's strict liability, and the monarchy rides bikes. And they understand jokes about not throwing bikes in the air.

In poor old Blighty, we get a confused, dangerous muddle of road design marred by a tick box mentality of "let's do something nice for the funny people on bicycles", a legal system that all but legalises the killing of anyone with the temerity to ride a bike, and, er Boris Johnson. Let's be grateful for small mercies, eh? Sounds like it's not much better in Oz either.

I'm painting with a very broad brush here, but to paraphrase again, build an infrastructure for bikes and they will come.

posted by Argos74 [327 posts]
20th October 2013 - 23:18

14 Likes

Gman59c wrote:
IanW1968 wrote:
I ride a bike everyday, my kids ride their bikes everyday, if we had to wear helmets we wouldn't ride so much.

I'm not particularly bothered either way, but to suggest you and your kids wouldn't ride your bikes as often if you had to wear helmet sounds pretty ridiculous. Why exactly is this? I genuinely don't understand why wearing a helmet would cause you so much hassle??

Vanity.

posted by RPK [47 posts]
21st October 2013 - 0:18

8 Likes

I have a background in consumer research, so I've been thinking about this issue this evening, and why we get that decline among children. It took a while, but the penny finally dropped.

State governments in Australia adopted mandatory helmet laws between 1990 and 1992 - so more than 20 years ago - and there was immediately a well-documented steep fall in bicycle usage.

People who were aged under 10 back then are now of an age where many will now be parents to young children themselves, and I am guessing that in many cases, those who were lost to cycling as children won't be encouraging their own kids to ride bikes.

The decline of almost 5 percentage points doesn't mirror the decline in cycling after the laws were passed, but I think there's an explanation for that, too.

In most developed countries, people are leaving it later to start families. And since someone aged 9 in 1992 will only have turned 30 this year, I'd expect future surveys over the next decade or so to show further falls in cycling among children, as more of that earlier generation become parents.

No doubt it's not the only reason, but I think it's probably a significant factor.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9021 posts]
21st October 2013 - 0:49

28 Likes

Odd. At least Darwin is very friendly. I am working at Darwin and come from Mexico. While things are not perfect, this is a really good place for cycling. Many people go around on bikes.

But then, this is a mostly flat place, with hot but bearable temperatures all year long and relatively short distances. So moving on a bike here is easy peasy. The cycle paths help a lot.

For those not familiar, helmets are mandatory under 14 (IIRC) and if you ride on an actual road. If you ride cycle paths and are over 14, you don't need a helmet. At least in the Northern Territory.

Besides, speaking about myself, I have never understood the helmet argument. It's not a big deal. As for my kid... I use it everytime I ride a bike, he can't think about riding without one. It's natural to him to wear a helmet.

posted by warpo [8 posts]
21st October 2013 - 3:33

11 Likes

A helmet is another thing to carry that doesn't fit in any but the biggest bags, or that gets nastily soggy if you lock it to your bike, thanks to the police pushing to remove shelters from parking. Too much pain for a debatable small gain in protection against falling off the bike. They're not designed to do much if a car hits you, remember. Not a surprise that cycling is falling in the most famous country for helmet- forcing.

posted by a.jumper [771 posts]
21st October 2013 - 8:41

17 Likes

"While Australia’s nationwide compulsory helmet laws are often singled out as being a deterrent to cycling, Bicycle Network Victoria spokesman Garry Brennan told the Guardian that it was the perception of danger on the roads that discouraged people from getting on a bike."

Gee Garry, you don't suppose there could be a connection do you ? Crazy thought, but I'm just throwing it out there...

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [625 posts]
21st October 2013 - 10:10

12 Likes

Out of curiosity, out of the above posters who is Australian? I know that the helmet law is a touchy issue on this British website but being a 32 year old Australian who has lived and cycled in many cities I never come across this helmet hatred. And those that don't cycle that I talk to never bring up the helmet issue as their reason not to. Fear of cars, lack of confidence, poor changing facilities at work, general car culture all pop up but I never hear 'I would if I didn't have to wear a helmet.' The law has been in place for so long that now that it is just a norm.
In reply to Simon_MacMichael's post I would say that a bigger reason would be the places where the new parents are living. The building of new suburbs in Australia over the past twenty years has done nothing at all to promote cycling. There are generally tight streets, no real cycling infrastructure, and, apart from if you've got a friend nearby, no reason to cycle anywhere. It is only over the past five to ten years that cities have been actively promoting cycling as an alternative to cars and also improving the infrastructure.
Melbourne, where I live, is making an effort to improve it's cycling infrastructure and it appears to be paying off in regard to the numbers.

posted by footsore tramp [6 posts]
21st October 2013 - 12:47

11 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:

State governments in Australia adopted mandatory helmet laws between 1990 and 1992 - so more than 20 years ago - and there was immediately a well-documented steep fall in bicycle usage.

It's a pity for your theory that there never was a "steep fall in bicycle usage" when the helmet laws were introduced. Perhaps you should actually read the study?

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
21st October 2013 - 12:54

5 Likes

Hi Footsore

I'm also from Melbourne - and the biggest issue I have on my ride to work is the numbers of other cyclists. So thank God for the helmet laws, because, hey, imagine how crowded the bike paths would be if we didn't have that discouraging hundreds of thousands of cyclists every day. And imagine what Around the Bay would be like - instead of 15,000 cyclists on Sunday there would have been, well, millions. It would have been a total disaster.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:03

5 Likes

footsore tramp wrote:
And those that don't cycle that I talk to never bring up the helmet issue as their reason not to. Fear of cars, lack of confidence, poor changing facilities at work, general car culture all pop up but I never hear 'I would if I didn't have to wear a helmet.' The law has been in place for so long that now that it is just a norm.

Yes, I agree that the "cycle = dangerous activity requiring hard hats" concept is a norm now and it's becoming hard for people in Australia to see the underlying reasons for that misconception.

I am not Australian, but I have ridden in a nearby country with a mandatory helmet law as well as England. The countryside was easy because roads were much quieter, but the cities were largely impossible to ride on-road without far too many incidents and there were not sufficient bike tracks. I have a theory that once too many riders have helmets, it dehumanises them in the eyes of drivers and that's what we've already seen down under and what we're increasingly seeing in England. In London, there are now a lot of people on Boris bikes, few of them wear helmets and riding is much easier apart from a few famous blackspots due to bad road layouts - I currently feel that helmets influence driver behaviour enough that we don't want all riders to wear them all the time.

posted by a.jumper [771 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:18

9 Likes

Either cyclists are being discouraged by the laws or they aren't Sakura. Stop trolling.

posted by nuclear coffee [191 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:18

6 Likes

Dear Road.CC

If you read the Austroads report you linked to you would have seen this warning in the covering article about differences between the survey in 2011 and the current one:

"These changes, while improving accuracy and consistency with other surveys, mean that comparison between years should be treated with caution."

Why doesn't your story above mention that?

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
21st October 2013 - 13:18

10 Likes

Even more medal opportunities in the future for the England squads in the Olympics!!

We're all entitled to a reasonable opinion!

posted by Guyz2010 [297 posts]
21st October 2013 - 14:02

6 Likes

Surprised to see Christian Haag "only" calling for 40 km/h speed limits. Why not dare to aim low? Realism about the prevailing political conditions will only take you so far. Sometimes you have throw reason out the window and go for big visions instead. 30 would make much more sense on a good 70% or so of urban roads. Once you get 30 limits in place in more or less all residential areas (except the "Children Playing" streets where lower limits apply!) you can then start explaining to people that it actually means that you have to content yourself with chugging along at 10 or 15 km/h when you don't have enough space to overtake vulnerable child cyclists or elderly cyclists safely.

Most trips by car will only involve a few traffic-calmed streets with low speed limits at the very beginning and end of journeys,so traffic calming wouldn't make much of a difference to overall journey times. Some journeys would even be shorter, since modal shift to walking and cycling would relieve congestion. Others would take fractionally longer, but the overall effects would be worth it: more neighbourly encounters, livable cities, more relaxed walking/cycling/driving, lower healthcare costs, fewer elderly people losing their mobility and becoming dependent on others decades too early because they daren't venture out into traffic, increased economic productivity, and a collection of other economic, social and environmental benefits.

posted by bambergbike [88 posts]
21st October 2013 - 20:27

5 Likes

I returned to Australia last year after many years living in Europe and Asia:

1. Cycling is seen as a sport first and almost exclusively by Australians. There is no concept amongst the wider population of cycling as an alternative transport option.

2. Australian parents are obsessive about their children. These parents hardly let their children use public transport because of safety concerns . . .how then do you expect them to allow kids to ride a bike on a public road? It's crazy, but can be explained by the fact that 35% of Australian children go to private schools and are therefore a real cash investment for families.

3. Aussie roads are poor for road cycling due to
rough surfaces.

4. Drivers in Australia are super aggressive. I spent two years in Singapore and thought that was bad until I returned to Australia. The car culture is very strong and somewhat arrogant. If you're not in a car you're considered some type of plague carrying hippy . . . never mind the fact that your bike is worth more than 40% of cars on the road.

Cannondale Supersix Evo US Champ Edition - Campy Super Record
Cannondale Supersix Evo Team Liquigas - Campy Super Record rebuild
Pinarello Dogma 60.1 - Campy Super Record
BMC SLR02 - Shimano 105

posted by mike_ibcyclist [43 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 4:56

5 Likes

"Cycling is seen as a sport first and almost exclusively by Australians. There is no concept amongst the wider population of cycling as an alternative transport option."

Think this is true - we moved to Melbourne a year or so a go - I cycle to school with my 11yr old daughter but out of a school of 600+ I'd say only 30 or so bikes and similar number of scooters
In Victoria at least children 12 and under can cycle on the pavement (and any adult with them) which has its own dangers - especially cars reversing out or pulling out fast from gateways with no visibility. At junctions here drivers are supposed to give way to pedestrians when turning into a side road - most drivers opt for a kid on a bike is a cyclist so don't give way.
Nearby secondary school I see very few cyclists and those I do see ride illegally on the pavement - except immediately outside schools many of the urban roads have 60km/h speed limits (speed limit is read as the essential minimum speed). On road cycle lanes are narrow and usually filled with parked cars - Drivers maintain lane (as is the law) so won't give a cyclist space if the line markings don't allow it.
Some good off road shared tracks but only if goes where you want to and high speed commuters and dog walkers are in conflict - a new route to local sports centre and school thru a local park with crossing lights got cancelled after objections by park users - similar on a "missing link" bridge - think the argument used was "why should people from outside the area cycle through our green space"

As to Mike Hall's comment I think I get it - seen plenty of dumb driving in the UK and some aggressive, but some of the aggression here is way up the scale - 15,000 cyclists riding the Bay in a Day - 4 lane highway, a cycle lane and an 8 cylinder Toyota Patrol maintains his inside lane at 80km/hr- hand continuous on horn - other lane empty, too angry with cyclists to swop lanes - pretty typical of what you get if a driver hates cyclists and thinks you should be on a dirt shoulder not on their road

antigee's picture

posted by antigee [210 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 8:28

7 Likes

Gman59c wrote:
IanW1968 wrote:
I ride a bike everyday, my kids ride their bikes everyday, if we had to wear helmets we wouldn't ride so much.

I'm not particularly bothered either way, but to suggest you and your kids wouldn't ride your bikes as often if you had to wear helmet sounds pretty ridiculous. Why exactly is this? I genuinely don't understand why wearing a helmet would cause you so much hassle??

For me its a symbolic thing. A compulsory helmet law would be an official symbol of the shifting of blame and responsibility for the danger created by motoring off of those responsible for it and onto the potential victims. We have plenty of that already (eg kerbside cattle fencing for pedestrians), and its deeply offensive.

Its analogous to tacking sexual harassment of women by men in the street by making it compulsory for women to 'dress modestly'. I usually wear a helmet when cycling but if it became compulsory I'd give up cycling.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [885 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 18:26

4 Likes

I've never worn a helmet for cycling and don't understand why any recreational or commuting cyclist ever would. The wind in your hair is half the point of doing it.

I'd already been cycling for 20+ years before Halfords started selling these new-fangled 'cycling helmets', presumably to newbies who had been told by the salesperson that cycling was a really dangerous activity.

I find it bizarre that Australia made helmets compulsory for their citizens when at the time most pro riders in Europe didn't wear them. It was a full decade later before that became mandatory.

I assume most road riders wear helmets today because they want to look like pro's and adherence to The Rules, written by some Californian pussies.

posted by Joeinpoole [369 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 21:41

2 Likes

mike_ibcyclist wrote:

2. Australian parents are obsessive about their children. These parents hardly let their children use public transport because of safety concerns . . .how then do you expect them to allow kids to ride a bike on a public road?

It's crazy, but can be explained by the fact that 35% of Australian children go to private schools and are therefore a real cash investment for families.

.

So, if I'm following your argument correctly, Aussies who send their kids to state schools would be happy for them to be killed in traffic because they have less money invested in them?

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
23rd October 2013 - 13:04

1 Like