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‘The male, white, cycling enthusiast niche has reached its natural limit’: Cycling must address lack of diversity, says Bicycle Association

Launching its Diversity in Cycling project, the Association has urged the bike industry to change if it wants to grow and reach new customers

Cycling must address its lack of diversity and break out from its “predominantly male, white, and often ‘cycling enthusiast’ niche”, if it wants to fully capitalise on active travel polices and investment, the Bicycle Association has warned.

To mark International Women’s Day, the Association, which represents the UK cycling industry, has today launched Diversity in Cycling, a project aimed at tackling the “diversity problem” which currently exists in the bike industry and cycling in general.

By aiming to unite and align the cycling industry behind a shared commitment to create a more equitable, inclusive sector which recruits more diversely and reaches out to new audiences, the Bicycle Association (BA) hopes the project will enable the industry to both better reflect society and to “exploit the potential that now exists for growth”.

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According to the BA’s report, published today, men currently occupy the vast majority of roles within the UK cycling industry. Men also make twice as many cycling trips as women, with 73 percent of women who live in cities never riding a bike (an issue highlighted in the recent Women’s Freedom Ride through London, organised by the London Cycling Campaign).

The report found that women hold just eight percent of cycle workshop roles, 19 percent of customer-facing roles, and 40 percent of the industry’s administrative roles – though only a small handful of those have progressed to senior leadership positions.

Over 90 percent of women face barriers to both entering and progressing within the sports industry, citing issues as discrimination, harassment, a lack of role models, difficulty finding a work-life balance, and a lack of training and targeted recruitment among the key “blockers” to progress.

Though no official data for the cycling industry exists at the moment, the report also noted that, anecdotally, Black, Asian, or people from ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the sector, as are individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds or with disabilities. There is also a lack of LGBTQ+ people joining or leading the UK bike industry, the report says.

That anecdotal evidence is backed up by the low participation levels in cycling for these groups. Only 14 percent of members of ethnic minority groups, 12 percent of people with disabilities, and 19 percent of LGBTQ+ people cycle regularly.

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By encouraging and enabling these groups to cycle, and making the sector more reflective of society as a while, the Bicycle Association believes that the cycling industry can “unlock additional growth” and withstand the challenges currently facing the sector.

The BA’s Annual Market Data Report for 2022, published last month, reported that bike sales in the UK dropped to their lowest level in two decades last year – falling by 22 percent down to 1.8 million units and 27 per cent below pre-Covid levels.

The report's author John Worthington said he expects the year ahead to be “turbulent” and “challenging” – a claim borne out by the struggles facing several cycling companies already in 2023, such as the women’s clothing brand VeloVixen.

However, it’s by growing these previously underrepresented audiences, the Bicycle Association argues, that the industry can move beyond its current post-boom stagnation.

Chiswick High Road 02 copyright Simon MacMichael

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“There’s no doubt that cycling is beginning to be recognised by government as a crucial mode of transport, strategically important to deliver UK climate and public health goals, and a valuable tool for creating better places to live, work, and play,” says the BA’s executive director Steve Garidis.

“This brings with it welcome policy priority and increasing levels of public investment, to make cycling easier and safer, in turn attracting a wider audience for the kind of everyday cycling that might be undertaken by everybody, for leisure, exercise, health, social, travel to shops, work, or school.

“We can assume that as these policies and investments are delivered, cycling will grow. The potential is very significant.

“But to achieve this growth, cycling must also break out from its predominantly male, white, and often ‘cycling enthusiast’ niche. This group has arguably reached its natural limit.

“Certainly, UK bike sales over the last few decades have stayed at roughly the same size. Cycling has a diversity problem and to exploit the significant potential that now exists for growth, it must become much more diverse than it is today.”

He continued: “Here, the cycling industry has a role to play. Just as cycling has a lack of diversity, so too does the cycling industry. There are many reasons but the biggest may well be that it’s an industry full of cycling enthusiasts. Often a strength, but which here also means that an industry workforce of over 60,000 has roughly the same diversity as its enthusiast consumer base.

“Our workforce is the ‘frontline’ of cycling, the consumer face. We sell cycling to would-be cyclists on a daily basis. As an industry, one of the most important things we can do therefore is to take action so we better reflect our target market.

“Success will not only mean more people enjoying the fun and benefits of cycling, but will also mean growth in cycling sales, expansion and creation of cycling businesses, and more people in cycling jobs.”

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To tackle this lack of diversity in the cycling sector and cycling overall, the BA has urged all bike businesses to sign a Diversity Pledge committing them to creating a “diverse, equitable, inclusive workplace culture”.

Brompton, Giant, Trek, Specialized, Raleigh, Schwalbe, and Halfords are among the companies that have already signed the pledge, while cycling bodies such as British Cycling, Sustrans, Cycling UK, and the Bikeability Trust have also backed the project’s aim.

The BA has also invited everyone working in the industry to take a perception survey (a collaboration between the Association, Cycling Industries Europe, and WORK180) into the experiences, wants, and needs of people around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 “The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK is ‘stronger than ever’, according to new research by McKinsey,” says the Bicycle Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead, Sally Middlemiss.

“Diverse businesses are more profitable, they recruit the best talent, make better decisions, have more motivated employees, and have a superior understanding of customers’ needs.

“Initially, the Diversity in Cycling project will focus on collecting data and insights from both employers and underrepresented groups in our industry, to benchmark, measure progress, and capture case studies and role models.

“The project then aims to provide targeted support to employers, sharing best practice from within and outside cycling to help them implement their strategic commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, while building an inclusive professional network for women and other marginalised groups.”

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Cycling UK’s chief executive Sarah Mitchell added: “In the UK, all segments of society are under-represented in cycling, but there is still a perception that cycling is predominantly an activity done for exercise by white men.

“That’s not a criticism of those who are riding, nor their reasons for doing so, but when cycling is dominated by one segment of society there is a risk that others may not feel that riding a bike is something they can and should be able to do.

“We need to question why that is and what can be done to correct this imbalance. The benefits of more people cycling will be a healthier, happier population with additional environmental and economic benefits. This is good news for all of us.

“The UK’s lack of significant change in the diversity in cycling is one of the barriers which holds us back from becoming a cycling nation. It is encouraging to see the cycle industry now looking at its responsibility to help make this change happen, as charities and NGOs cannot do it alone.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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