Decline in outdoor cycling and rise in indoor cycling makes for 'uneasy reading', says British Cycling

Potholes and close passes amongst the deterrents blamed for decrease in participation

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sport England's Active Lives survey, which shows a decline in outdoor cycling and spike in indoor sessions, makes for "uneasy reading" according to British Cycling Policy Manager Nick Chamberlin.

The survey, based on data gathered between November 2017 and November 2018, showed an overall increase in activity levels, particularly amongst women, the elderly and disabled people.

Activities on the rise include walking for leisure and travel, adventure sports like climbing, fitness classes, and weightlifting, particularly among women.

However, cycling for travel was down by 98,000 to 3.1 million, whilst cycling for leisure and sport has seen a drop of 257,000 people to 6.1 million.

The survey did report a "spike" in indoor cycling sessions, an observation that comes not long after the  inaugural British Cycling Zwift eRacing Championships where the national governing body rewarded victors with national champions jerseys for success in indoor racing.

Chamberlin commented that whilst existing programmes are flourishing, road conditions make it difficult to encourage new riders to get on a bike: “The decline in levels of cycling - for both leisure, sport and travel - in Sport England’s latest Active Lives survey make for uneasy reading.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to encourage those who don’t currently cycle to get on a bike...While cycling remains statistically safe, traffic speed, close passing or potholes can often make riding a bike in Britain intimidating and unpleasant, especially for those who are trying it for the first time."

Chamberlain's comments echo the findings of a CyclingUK YouGov poll, which showed fear of sharing the road with lorries and close passes were the biggest deterrents, with poor road conditions ranking third.

“While efforts are now being made to improve roads for people on bikes at city level... national government in Westminster needs to redouble its efforts and investment to achieve significant and sustained change nationally," Chamerlain said.

He added that British Cycling is working as part of the Walking and Cycling Alliance to make the case with the Department for Transport to "rebalance transport spend in favour of cycling," commenting "[I] hope that today’s figures will further strengthen the case as we head into the next Government Spending Review period."

Chamberlain also said that off-road routes were becoming a major focus, with the 'Places to Ride' fund - supported by Sport England - being used to create traffic-free facilities across the country in coming years.

Viewing the rise in indoor cycling as a positive step towards increasing participation, he added: "We hope that last month’s inaugural British Cycling Zwift eRacing Championships can help to further grow the profile of this discipline and encourage even more people to take part in the coming years.”

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.