Cycling and health

Cycling offers significant health benefits from the increased aerobic fitness. Given the rise in health problems associated with physical inactivity and obesity, cycling could play a major role in improving the nations health.


Health benefits of regular physical exercise

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon and breast cancer
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Helps control weight
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • Helps older adults become stronger and
  • promotes psychological well being

However in cost-benefit analysis of transport, health issues are often ignored. Unfortunately, concerns over the safety of cycling deter many from one of the most accessible forms of exercise. The tragedy is that as people lead increasingly stationary lives this causes hidden problems such as rising levels of diabetes and heart disease.

The rise in motor transport and decline in cycling / walking


The post war period saw a sustained fall in pedestrian and cycle transport. In the post war period, transport policy was driven by the attempt to accommodate the growth of motor transport. However, combined with a decline in manual labour, this era saw a sharp fall in physical exercise and a resultant increase in health problems.

Rather belatedly, transport policy has begun to acknowledge wider issues such as health, quality of life in determining transport policy.
For example, in 1998 the Integrated Transport White Paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone made the acknowledgement that

“The way we travel is making us a less healthy nation.”

Cycling and Health Statistics


Perceptions about the dangers of cycling deter many from cycling. But, in perspective, mortality rates from cycling are much lower than the ‘silent killers’ , such as heart disease.

UK Deaths in 2003

  • All Cyclists – 113
  • All road users – 3,471
  • Cancer due to inactivity – 28,016
  • CHD / Stroke due to inactivity – 57,322

Source: McPherson, Klim. (2002). Coronary heart disease: estimating the impact of changes in risk factors; Klim McPherson, Annie Britton and Louise Causer. – London

Despite cycling often being perceived as a ‘dangerous’ exercise. Society is arguably ignoring the hidden dangers of sedentary lifestyles.

Net health benefits of cycling

There have been various studies which show the net health benefits of cycling.

One of the largest was the Copenhagen Center for Prospective Population Studies It involved 13,375 women and 17,265 men aged 20-93 from a population of 90,000 living in central Copenhagen. Of this group 14,976 cycled regularly.

  • The study found that even including risk factors from cycling (injury), those who did not cycle experienced a 39% higher mortality rate than those who did. (Study)

Copenhagen has a low accident rate  helped by good cycling infrastructure. But, the size of the study shows the great potential for health gains from a city which encourages cycling.

Risk factor of mortality depending on levels of fitness

Source: Risk death

Another study suggesting an inverse relationship between mortality rates and levels of fitness.

Read moreCycling and health

Exceeding the speed limit

Recently, I was researching an article – Cycling Facts – one interesting thing I came across is how in the 1920s American pedestrians were successfully demonised for crossing the road. A strong road lobby decided it would be good to shame pedestrians who wanted nothing more than to cross the road (and therefore inconvenience motorists). A law was passed making jaywalking illegal (In the US pedestrians can only cross a road at a marked crossing – if you cross the road where you feel like it, you could end up with a fine of $200). But, this law was also  accompanied with a sophisticated campaign to make pedestrians seem outdated and ‘dangerous’. – Successfully taking blame away from the real cause of the surge in road accidents – speeding motorists.

According to the BBC

Clowns were commonly used in parades or pageants to portray jaywalkers as a throwback to rural, ignorant, pre-motor age ways.

Another ruse was to provide local newspapers with a free service. Reporters would submit a few facts about local traffic accidents to Detroit, and the auto industry’s safety committee would send back a full report on the situation in their city.

“The newspaper coverage quite suddenly changes, so that in 1923 they’re all blaming the drivers, and by late 1924 they’re all blaming jaywalking,” Norton says.

Breakdown of all trips made in the US

  • Driving: 83%
  • Walking: 10.4%
  • Other (includes cycling): 4.2%
  • Public transport: 1.9%

Source: National Household Travel Survey, 2009

Speeding drivers



Speeding drivers kill every year. In the UK, there are 2,500 deaths on the road. These are not caused by cyclists or pedestrians, but almost entirely by cars, lorries and buses.

Yet, speeding has no real social stigma. There is no outrage from British newspapers at the preventable accidents caused by speeding drivers. In fact, the only outrage you are likely to get is the fact that speeding cameras ‘caught you’ i.e. breaking the law.

Read moreExceeding the speed limit

The real cost of cheap motoring



Other the past two decades, the real cost of motoring has fallen. Despite increases in petrol tax, motoring is getting cheaper – whilst other forms of transport, bus and train have been increasing faster than inflation. With the political popularity of freezing petrol tax, we are likely to see motoring continue to be relatively cheaper. But, although cheaper motoring seems attractive, the drawback is that it will contribute to a marked rise in congestion and very different costs to motorists and society.

Even a study by the RAC also shows that the real cost of motoring has fallen. – Even though you frequently hear about hard pressed motorists.

Cost of travel since 1988.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 09.00.56

Spot the hard pressed motorist.


The RAC state:

  • 28% cheaper to buy and run a car, excluding fuel costs, in 2008 than 1988. (RAC)
  • However, motorists do pay £45bn in fuel duty, VAT, new car tax and the road fund licence.

Read moreThe real cost of cheap motoring

Cycling rates 2012/13

Cycling UK

According to the Department of Transport, The prevalence of cycling in England (at least once a month) reduced from 15.3% to 14.7% in the year to October 2013.

This decline in reported cycling rates is disappointing given cycling’s relatively high profile in the past couple of years. The fall in cycle rates could be attributed to several factors.

  • High profile accidents reported in media


Cycling casualties per bn km cycled have been increasing since 2008

  • Little change in cycling provision
  • End of recession and relatively lower petrol prices.


Most popular boroughs for cycling

Oxford is the second most popular borough for cycling, despite having no co-ordinated cycling infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 08.21.01


Jeremy Clarkson tries cycling

Whenever I hear Jeremy Clarkson make an irritating comment about cyclists (like why are they in middle of lane?) My instinctive reaction is to think –  why don’t you try cycle through London? It might give a very different perspective.

To be fair to the great controverst (1) yesterday, finally saw Jeremy Clarkson get on a bicycle, (dressed up in suitably ridiculously looking yellow spandex with labels still showing). Top Gear is a mildly, tongue in check comedy – relying on the ‘cheeky chappy’ humour of three ageing men. It was never going to be a balanced investigation into the world of sustainable transport in London. It was never going to be a sympathetic look at the difficulties cyclists face – you can always get a few more laughs by talking about putting toothpaste (chamois cream) in your nether regions than you can talking about the optimal space to give people on a bike. But, overall, I thought it was good, even if some parts were rather cringeworthy.

Some of the public service videos they made, warning of the dangers of cycling where wickedly funny. The video with martin Luther King, Gandhi and John Lennon getting assassinated with the end motto ‘righteousness is no guarantee of safety’ appealed to a black sense of humour, though I felt suitably guilty for laughing at the same time.

Clarkson didn’t like being squeezed by buses

Amidst all the usual generalisations of cyclists and cringe worthy characterisations, it was still kind of cathartic to see Jeremy Clarkson cycling squeezed precariously between two big buses and having great difficulty turning right. This is the real reality of cycling in London.

On a serious point, if you’re having difficulty turning right – trying taking a more central position in the lane. You can’t always ride in the gutter and rely on your bright yellow jacket to get in the best position.

He might not have admitted it in the video, but a few hours cycling around London, must have given some insight into the difficulties faced by cyclists. And it’s something I wish other people would do (especially those newspaper columnists from the Daily Mail et al.)  The best way to promote better road manners is to have greater empathy and concern for the well being of other road users. If you see cyclists as an alien species who only annoy people by going through red lights, you won’t be inclined to give them space or time. But, when you’ve struggled to turn right yourself, you might just have a little more patience with a cyclist moving away from the gutter trying to turn right.

Clarkson made a claim he was given plenty of room by all taxis, vans and cars (which I don’t believe for a moment). But, you know with Clarkson there would have to be a new group to blame. Yes, buses are hard.

(1) (I think I might have just made up this word, but it means – he who enjoys being controversial)


The cost of congestion in the UK


Congestion in Oxford encourages people to take an alternative. Cycling into the centre is significantly quicker at rush hour. Will the forecast increase in congestion lead to a rise in cycling rates in the UK?


No one likes sitting in a traffic jam, cycle lanes help avoid the worst of the congestion.


Traffic congestion costs include:

  • time lost
  • increased vehicle operating costs (brakes, fuel costs)
  • Stress of sitting in traffic jams
  • There are both internal costs (to driver) plus external costs to other road users and society.

The CBI estimate that traffic congestion costs the UK economy £20 billion a year. (link) Other estimates of the costs of congestion widely significantly, but you don’t need to be an economist to realise traffic jams going nowhere are an inefficient use of resources.

The big concern is that congestion is expected to increase over the next 20 years, due to rising population and increased use of cars.

Road use and time lost due to congestion

CBI – UK Road congestion

In 2010, an estimated 19 seconds per mile were lost due to congestion.

By 2035, this is estimated to rise to 32 seconds per mile. This is a 68% increase in congestion from today’s levels.

Solutions to congestion

1. Build more roads. This has been the primary objective of government transport policy from the 1960s to 2000s. The number of roads has increased. But, the limitations of this approach include:

Read moreThe cost of congestion in the UK

10 things that annoy the cyclist

A random selection of 10 things that can make life difficult for cycling on the roads.

1. Mobile phone user

You better not be using a mobile phone when you get to end of road

Last Saturday, I was feeling in a good mood, so pulled over to let a van drive on a narrow road passed many parked cars. He was driving on wrong side of road, but, sometimes it’s good to give way. After waiting for him to pass down the wrong side of the road, I looked into the van to see if he might acknowledge my action. I’m not desperate for thanks, but a brief wave is a nice gesture. Alas, the driver was completely oblivious of my presence on the road, being more interested in his mobile phone call. It’s probably a good job I did wait on the pavement as he had no concentration on the road.

2. The slam dunk



Another thing that annoy me is when a car overtakes you and then turns left (or slams on the brakes going down hill) You have to be pretty alert for things like that. Bicycle brakes are not always as powerful as advanced car brakes.

3. The cycle path to nowhere

This cycle path could easily be continued straight on. Instead you’re force onto a road with cars coming off a dual carriageway roundabout at over 30mph. cycle-paths-to-nowhere


Integrated transport is a buzzword rarely applied to British cycle paths.

4. Give us room


When big vehicles get too close breathing down your back, tailgating is the technical term. Give us space to brake

5. Passing too close



This happens everyday, all the time. It’s worse when the vehicle is fast moving and large. What happens if the cyclist needs to swerve to avoid a pothole?

Read more10 things that annoy the cyclist

Cyclists in the First world war – and don’t forget your helmet

I was looking through some photos from World War One. There were quite a few showing soldiers using bicycles. The British army even had a specific bicycle corps.

And I thought Oxford roads were bad at the moment..

Soldiers were given bicycles to help faster troop movement, but it looks this roads was too muddy to cycle on.


These cyclists don’t even seem to be wearing a cycle helmet. Talks about socially irresponsibility! I don’t see many hi viz jersey amongst the platoon either. I don’t know how they managed to avoid being run over by tanks!

And don’t get me on to their position in the middle of the road.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but it was too depressing to say anything serious about this cycling ad, which got banned for being socially irresponsible.


Funny or not, around 50% of Premiership sides are sponsored by gambling companies.

Read moreCyclists in the First world war – and don’t forget your helmet

Cycling on pavements – problems and solutions

I have been reliably informed that if there is any discussion of cycling on internet, it is inevitable that, some poster (or several) will bring the conversation around to the stock comment – that cyclists use the pavement and are a real nuisance. It can be about any topic related to transport, such as improving road safety, the dangers of using mobile phones. But, the fact that some cyclists use the pavement is used ad nauseam – as a sweeping statement to tarnish all cyclists and negate any sensible discussion. I’m sure that somewhere in the Bacchanalian depths of the Daily Mail comment section there is the logic that since some teenagers cycle aggressively on the pavement we should ban all cycling on the road.

I have no idea why the guy on a foldup is using the pavement. There’s hardly any traffic on this road.

The law on pavement cycling

Firstly, it is against the law to cycle on the pavement, unless it is a shared footpath

It is illegal to cycle on the pavement, unless there is a sign indicating a shared use cycle path. Cycling on footways (a pavement by side of a carriageway) is prohibited by Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835, amended by Section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1888.(Highway Code)

This includes children. Children are not allowed to cycle on the pavement. Though the police are generally advised to use their discretion and not prosecute in this instance.

Why do people cycle on the pavement?

  1. Safety. Many roads and junctions are dangerous to cycle on. Cycling on the pavement can be a way to make a journey safer for the cyclist and avoid dangerous roads / junctions.
  2. Ignorance of the law. A study by researchers at Lancaster University found many people (especially children) were not aware that cycling on the pavement is illegal.
  3. Laziness / impatience. Sometimes you see people cycling on the pavement because they want to get their quicker and are too impatient to wait at a light or they see the pavement as a short-cut. This motive may be mixed in with the first motive about safety. Also, you get the impression with some road users that they just don’t care if they inconvenience other people.

Problem of cycling on the pavement

  1. Cycling on the pavement is one of the most frequently raised local issues to the police. Many people really dislike having the pavement space threatened by fast moving cyclists. Even if there is no accident, old people can feel uncomfortable when a bicycle passes by at close speed.
  2. Accidents. Accidents can happen when fast moving cyclists collide with pedestrians. In rare cases it can be fatal or lead to serious injury. Very roughly, on average one pedestrian is killed by a cyclist per year.
  3. It creates ill feeling towards other cyclists. When a drunk driver kills a pedestrian because he is speeding and loses control, we don’t go around hating other drivers. But, it does happen with cycling on pavements and it is a problem because it exacerbates tension between different road users and makes non-cyclists less sympathetic to any cyclists.

Sense of Perspective

In terms of fatalities and serious injuries, it seems that the threat posed by cyclists is exaggerated. Pedestrian and motorists are quick to complain about nuisance cyclists, but it is motor vehicles which are responsible for the vast majority of serious accidents. In 2011, there were 480 pedestrian fatalities. (cycle stats) These were not caused by cyclists on the pavement. It’s not just cyclists which invade pedestrian areas, but also parked cars and cars which lose control.

Read moreCycling on pavements – problems and solutions