Growth in cycling driven by sportives and participation events

Over two million adults ride a bike at least once a week, according to the latest figures from Sport England’s Active People survey - and that doesn’t include bike rides undertaken solely for transport.

The survey shows that 137,000 more people rode a bike once a week in the period October 2012 to October 2013 than in the period April 2012 - April 2013. 

That makes cycling the third most popular sport in the UK after swimming and athletics, and the second most popular among people aged 26 and over.

Those extra 137,000 cyclists are the biggest increase in participation of all the sports surveyed, an increase three times larger than the rise for the equivalent periods to 2012.

Who are these new cyclists? British Cycling’s Chief Executive, Ian Drake, said: “Most of the increased demand for cycling has come from people doing recreational cycling, road cycling, and mountain biking.”

The Active People survey includes sport, recreational and fitness cycling, but specifically excludes rides undertaken solely as transport, so your Strava segments between the lights don't count.

Throwing off its former image as a fuddy-duddy racing governing body obsessed with rules about logos on jerseys, British Cycling has run numerous programmes in recent years aimed at increasing participation in all kinds of cycling.

The organisation sees the increase in cycling as the pay-off from that effort.

Ian Drake said: “We’re thrilled with today’s results. The fact that we’ve grown regular cycling numbers three times more this summer than during the summer of London 2012 shows that our legacy of increased participation is really kicking in.”

Drake credited help from British Cycling members, Sky, Sport England and local authorities as making the participation programmes possible.

He said: “The support ... has been amazing and we are confident that these newly-converted cyclists will have the dedication to stick with their bikes during the winter months.

“The continued high profile of cycling across Britain – thanks to the successes of the Great Britain Cycling Team and our network of local, accessible cycling opportunities for sport, fun and fitness – are inspiring thousands of people and we remain ambitious to grow cycling even further over the next three years.” 

It might be that this increase is down to other factors such as the better weather this summer compared to last. But the long-term trend also seems to be very positive.

The first Active People survey, for the period October 2005 to October 2006 found 1,634,800 UK adults had ridden a bike at least once a week. That figure in the latest survey is 2,003,000, an increase of 22.5%. Before we get too pleased with ourselves though, cycling can probably learn something from athletics, which has rocketed 49% from 1,353,800 to 2,016,400 in the same period.

British Cycling details the increased participation over the last six months as coming from:

17 Sky Rides attracting over 100,000 people
1,800 local guided rides
A 20% growth in competitive events
A 29% growth in sportives
47,000 more young people engaged in the Go-Ride Clubs network
Membership of British Cycling over 85,000 for the first time
Partnerships with over 60 local authorities

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.