Academics crunch numbers from more than 11 million trips on French city's Velov' ...

Analysis of data from the Velo'v cycle hire scheme has revealed the intriguing fact that cyclists in the city ride faster on wednesdays than any other during the week

So why do Lyonais cyclists go faster on Wednesdays? The researchers’ explanation for that is that Wednesday is a day when women in France are more likely to stay at home and look after their children, meaning there is a greater proportion of men out and about on the hire bikes and they presumably ride faster. We can hear the audible 'pfft!" from the female citizenry of Lyon from here.

Fast wednesdays is just one of the findings to have come out of an analysis of data from the city’s Vélo’v cycle hire scheme, launched in 2005, which provided the model for the hugely successful Vélb’ initiative in Paris.

Vélo’v provides around 4,000 hire bikes at almost 350 docking stations around the city, making it not much smaller than London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, despite Lyon having a population of just under 500,000, compared to the British capital’s 7.5 million.

Now, a research team led by Pablo Jensen at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon has conducted a detailed analysis of 11.6 million journeys undertaken using the city’s hire bikes between May 2005 and December 2007, according to a report on MIT Technology Review’s Physics arXiv blog.

The full research paper, called Characterizing The Speed And Paths Of Shared Bicycles In Lyon, is published in the December 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment (subscription required).

Its key findings should help local transport planners refine the scheme, since it will enable them to accurately predict usage levels and patterns, something that will also be possible with similar schemes elsewhere, and plan availability of bikes and the provision of other cycling infrastructure accordingly.

Researchers found that the average journey covered 2.49km and took 14.7, giving an average speed 10 km/h, in line with the average speed of a car in European cities. Average speed rose to 15 km/h, however, during rush hour, making Vélo’v a much quicker way of getting around, even before taking account of the difficulties of finding a place to park a car.

Those quicker speeds during peak times reflected commuting cyclists dashing to work, while at weekends, the average speed fell to 10 km/h as the balance of users swung towards leisure cyclists.

Jensen and his colleagues also found that journeys made by bicycles were shorter in distance than those made between the same two points by car, and concluded that, with Lyon not having any dedicated bike paths, this meant that cyclists were riding in bus lanes and on the pavement, as well as going the wrong way up one-way streets, to get to their destination.

Another explanation, but one that does not seem to have been addressed, is that it’s far easier to navigate a city centre on bike than in a car, which may themselves be excluded from certain streets and with drivers often using main roads for much of the journey which may not necessarily plot a straight line from A to B.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.