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London's Boris Bikes are good for users' health, according to new study; men and over-45s benefit most

Researchers also say pre-launch fears of higher casualty rates among inexperienced riders using the scheme were unfounded

London's 10,000 blue 'Boris Bikes' are having a positive effect on the health of the people who use them to get around the capital, according to a new study. Positive health benefits were found to be more pronounced among men and the over-45s than for women or younger people. Researchers also noted that fears when the scheme went live in 2010 that casualty rates would rise due to inexperienced riders taking to hire bikes had proved unfounded.

The study was published in the BMJ and was written by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and UCL.

They analysed data from each of the 7.6 million trips made on a Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme bike by more than 578,000 users from April 2011 to March 2012, as well as surveys of users of the scheme and separate data related to issues such as Central London air pollution, road traffic incidents and physical activity.

Among the issues that researchers assessed when carrying out the study was which mode of transport people would use if the scheme did not exist, while for casualty figures, a comparison was made between reported incidents involving scheme users, and those for all cyclists in Central London.

Senior author Dr Anna Goodman from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.“When the cycle hire scheme was introduced, there were widespread concerns that increasing the number of inexperienced cyclists in central London would lead to higher injury rates.

“Our findings are reassuring, as we found no evidence of this. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the scheme has benefited the health of Londoners and that cycle hire users are certainly not at higher risk than other cyclists.”

However, the study did find that when comparing the scheme against all casualties in Central London, the benefits were less and disappeared altogether for women, attributed to the higher death rates of female cyclists in the capital following collisions with lorries.

The only Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme user to have died while riding one of the bikes, French student Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, was crushed by a lorry close to Aldgate Underground station in July last year.

The study's authors said that making conditions safer for cyclists and attracting a greater number of older people to use the scheme would make it even more beneficial to health.

Lead author Dr James Woodcock of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) commented: “If cycling in central London was as safe as in cities in the Netherlands, the health benefits from initiatives like the cycle hire scheme would be far more substantial.

“The Netherlands manages to achieve high levels of cycling with low risks, not by focusing on helmets and hi-vis, but by providing high quality infrastructure that physically protects cyclists from busy, fast moving traffic.”

You can find the full study here.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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