Bike Week Survey Part 1: Nearly half of British households that own bikes don't use them

Scots most likely to use bike regularly if they have one, while even in London half of homes have a bike

More than half of British homes contain one bike or more however almost half (43 per cent) of those that own a bike don't use it at all according to the results of a new survey released to coincide with last week’s Team Green Britain Bike Week.

The survey of 2,000 people was carried out by polling organisation ICM for Bike week sponsor EDF Energy and while that headline statistic probably won't be a surprise to many cyclists, there are some interesting statistics in the report.

In this first of a two-part overview of the statistics, we’ll run the rule over bike ownership by city and region as well as why people cycle in the first place. The second part will look at issues such as where we keep our bikes, knowledge of safety and maintenance, and who rides what kind of bike.

While cycling, whether for recreation, transport or sport, is usually seen as a male dominated preserve – a fact confirmed by street counts and campaigns to attract more women in to cycle sport – bike ownership itself is almost evenly split between the sexes.

The survey doesn't say though whether it included children's bikes in the count, which would tend to even up the figures, but given the levels of ownership cited, we suspect it does.

Of those households that own a bike this survey reckons that 56 per cent use them regularly, or claim to (the definition of regularly being at least once every two weeks).

Data are broken down by closest city to the respondent household, although we should point out that outside the biggest cities, we are dealing with very small bases here – 49 households in the case of Plymouth, for example – so the data may not reflect the true picture.

When it comes to bike ownership some interesting regional variations are revealed as to the numbers and types of bikes owned. According to the survey, London and Cardiff have the lowest rates of bike ownership, although even so, half of households - 49 per cent of households – in each of those cities own at least one.

Plymouth appears to be the city with the highest level of bike ownership, at 65 per cent of households surveyed saying that they have one or more machines, followed by Newcastle and Manchester have the highest level of bike ownership at 62 per cent each. Bristol was next at 61 per cent.

Interestingly, some of the lowest levels of owning a bike are found in the three capital cities of London, Cardiff and Edinburgh – the first two at 49 per cent, the Scottish capital at 48 per cent. That’s possibly a reflection of an extensive public transport network in London’s case, not to mention the potential difficulties of finding somewhere secure to keep your bike if you live in a small flat, say.

Owning a bike is one thing, but actually riding it is another matter entirely. We’ve shown below the list of cities ranked by bike ownership (at least one bike in the household) as well as the percentage of bike-owning households there that actually use them regularly – defined as once a fortnight or more often.

On that analysis, it’s bike-owners in Glasgow and Hull who are most likely to get out and ride them, at 71 per cent each, but it’s in Southampton that bikes are most likely to be left neglected in the garage or garden shed – 52 per cent of bike-owning respondents there don’t ride as often as once a fortnight.

On average, 54 per cent of British households have a bike – but in 40 per cent of those households, the bikes never get ridden.

% with 1+ bikes                  % use 1+ bike regularly 
      65           Plymouth               39
      62           Manchester             55
      62           Newcastle              55
      61           Bristol                57
      60           Birmingham             52
      56           Oxford                 64
      56           Norwich                66
      56           Nottingham             62
      53           Hull                   71
      53           Southampton            54
      52           Leeds                  66
      52           Liverpool              54
      51           Milton Keynes          50
      50           London                 58
      50           Sheffield              57
      50           Brighton               60
      49           Glasgow                71
      49           Cardiff                68
      48           Edinburgh              62 

Regionally, Scots are more likely to ride a bike regularly if thy have one, while bike owners in the north East, West Midlands and South East are least likely to do so. Londoners are less likely than those elsewhere to have at least one bike in the household, but if they do, there’s a higher than average chance it will be used regularly.

% with 1+ bikes                  % use 1+ bike regularly

       61          West Midlands           52
       59          North West              54
       58          East Midlands           54
       57          North East              52
       56          South East              52
       56          South West              47
       55          Eastern                 56
       54          Yorks & Humber          62
       51          Scotland                66
       49          Wales                   63
       48          London                  61

Nationally, 19 per cent of bike owners commute to work but that masks a big gender divide with 25 per cent of men saying they ride their bikes to work while only 10 per cent of women said they did.

Unsurprisingly London had the biggest proportion of commuters at 29per cent, with Wales not far behind on 27 per cent, the South East on 25 per cent and the South West on 21 per cent. Wales topped for exercise/sports with 72 per cent, followed by the North East on 71 per cent.

When looked at by city, though Cardiff came top for commuting on 36 per cent, with Leeds and Plymouth tying for 2nd on 32 per cent and Glasgow third on 31 per cent - interestingly only 3 per cent of Edinburgh cyclists said they rode their bikes to work which surely must have been a mistake.

There big on carrying out errands such as popping to the shops are most likely to be found in Hull, with 68 per cent of cyclists there doing so, followed by Milton Keynes on 58 per cent, Bristol on 53 per cent and Southampton on 50 per cent.

Interestingly safety is not cited as the main reason for not cycling - no, 41 per cent of respondents simply said it didn't fit with their lifestyle, while 28 per cent said they were put off by feeling unsafe on the roads - in Norwich, Nottingham, Plymouth and Cardiff safety is cited as a bigger factor though.

Why do we do it? It's good exercise - 81 per cent, it's cheap 52 per cent, and just behind that it's fun, with 49 per cent giving that as their reason for cycling.

Simon has been news editor at 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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