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With its winding countryside paths, clifftop panoramas, and sweeping coastal vistas, the UK isn’t short of cycling routes. The UK government is also planning to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure, with an eye on a greener future. Cycling is certainly popular.
But exactly how many bicycles are there in the UK, and how does this compare with the rest of the world?
Is Cycling “Big” in the UK?
The UK is in the middle of a cycling boom. Recreational and weekend cycling is up by 60% over the last two years. This is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, investment in infrastructure shows a strong government commitment to making cycling even bigger.
Sales of bicycles increased dramatically during the Covid-19 lockdown, and councils across the country have begun bolstering their support for cyclists. In England alone, the length of cycling trips rose by 26% between 2019 and 2020, proof that more people than ever are opting for two wheels over four.
As government campaigns across the UK stress the importance of cycling for both physical and mental health, the number of cyclists is only going to increase.
The UK does lag quite significantly behind other countries, though. In the Netherlands, a staggering 84% of the population own a bicycle! Similarly, in Germany, 76% of all households own at least one bike.
Nonetheless, the UK is rapidly evolving into a cycling nation. A new Active Travel Fund promises £2 billion for cycling infrastructure over the next five years, and there will even be a subsidised fund to help people buy e-bikes.
This will build on the success of other government initiatives like Cyclescheme and Cycle2Work. The UK might not be the biggest cycling country in the world but it’s taking significant and tangible steps in that direction.
What Percentage of the UK Are Cyclists?
20% of the population in England (around 10.7 million people) cycled more than once per week in 2020. In Wales that was around 4% (although this was taken from a reduced sample size) and in Scotland more than a third of the population cycle.
It’s difficult to draw firm comparisons between regions, as the studies were conducted differently across the devolved nations. They also used different sample sizes. What is clear, though, is that the percentage of cyclists in the UK is growing year on year.
Leisure cycling increased by around 60% over the last two years, with more people than ever taking to the cycle paths at weekends.
47% more people cycled in Scotland from March 2020 to March 2021. The pandemic obviously played its part. A desire to avoid crowded public transport made cycling seem like a desirable alternative and people were generally eager to spend more time outdoors after lengthy lockdowns.
In total, cycling rose to a peak of around 200% from pre-pandemic levels.
The challenge for the UK government will be sustaining this growth and also ensuring that weekday, none leisure cycling keeps up. Far fewer people cycle on weekdays, which suggests that the UK (currently) lacks the infrastructure to support widespread cycling as part of the daily commute.
How Many Bicycles Are Sold in UK Each Year?
Bike sales hit an all time high of 3.3 million units in 2020. That represented an increase of 22% from 2019. It’s further evidence of how the pandemic encouraged more people to take up cycling. The sale of e-bikes (while not as strong as in other countries) also helped to boost sales.
The average British household spends £1 every week on cycling. Although it might not seem like much, that brings total annual household spending on cycling to £1.4 billion per year. In 2019 alone, people in the UK spent £33.22 million on cycling (including bikes, equipment and repairs).
UK bicycle sales are rising and are projected to keep doing so. They compare well with other European countries. Sales in Italy reached 1.7 million in 2019 and have continued strongly since. Sales of e-bikes rose by 44% (from 2011), perhaps offering a glimpse of what the future of cycling might look like.
Famously cyclist-friendly Netherlands sees nearly a million bicycle sales every year. 2019 saw peak sales for Germany with 1.26 million units sold. 470,000 bicycles were sold in Belgium in the same year. More than half of those (51%) were e-bikes.
This represents a wider trend across Europe as more people opt for electric bikes.
How Many Bicycles Are There in the UK?
There are around 20 million bicycles in the UK. China leads the way globally with a staggering 450 million, followed by the USA with 100 million, and Japan with around 72 million. In total, there are thought to be over 1 billion bicycles in the world.
Car ownership is still slightly ahead with around 1.5 billion in the world, but bicycles are rapidly catching up. There are 62 million bicycles in Germany and 40 million in Brazil. France is tied with the UK on 20 million; some of the best ownership figures in Europe.
The UK is already well placed on the global leader board and with large-scale investment underway the future looks even brighter.
More people will be tempted to buy bicycles as new cycle routes open up, changes in the highway code make cycling safer and subsidies encourage people to make their first purchase.
E-bikes will also play their part. 1 in 20 people in the UK currently own one. Trends suggest that by 2030 around 30 million will be sold per year. This will dramatically increase the number of bicycles on the road and bring new people into the world of cycling.
What Percentage of People in the UK Own a Bike?
42% of people in the UK either own or have access to a bicycle. Ownership is highest amongst the younger sectors of society, whereas only 24% of people over 60 own one.
38% of 30-39 year olds own or have access, as do 49% of all 40-49 year olds. From there, the numbers fall away for older individuals. As a comparison, 84% of Dutch people own a bicycle. The population of the Netherlands is 17 million and there are 22.5 million bicycles, meaning that there are more bikes than people!
The Netherland’s success in this area can partly be attributed to a massive €345 million investment back in 2018 that effectively paid people to cycle. Although the UK government isn’t going that far, its investments will almost certainly lead to an uptick in bike ownership across the country.