Claire Sharpe, Marketing Manager at Love to Ride

You’ve probably heard the term ‘active travel’, but may not know exactly what it means. Active travel is making journeys via physically active means, such as walking or cycling – so being active whilst getting from A to B. The term usually refers to short journeys such as heading to the shops, taking the kids to school, and commuting to work. It could also be a combination of walking or cycling to catch a commuter bus or train.

60% of all journeys in the UK are taken by car

In the UK, of all journeys that are 1-2 miles, 60% are taken by car.* 2 miles can take just 12 minutes to cover by bike at a leisurely pace. Encouraging people to replace these journeys is a real opportunity to weave active travel into their lives and enjoy all the benefits that it brings. From improved physical health and fitness levels, to a better night’s sleep and increased productivity, to better mental health – active travel is a powerful way to promote routine physical activity.

The health and sustainability impacts are clear

There are many benefits of travelling actively, not just for the individual, but also for the economy and communities. It improves health, reduces congestion, improves air quality, increases levels of physical activity, saves money, and makes our communities better places to live. The ripples from COVID-19, and with COP26 in Glasgow later this year, the health and sustainability impacts that can be achieved by encouraging more people to embrace active travel are front and centre.

How often were people cycling during lockdown?

Everyone has seen the headlines about the cycling boom and bike shops selling out of even next year’s stock. The pandemic had an impact far beyond the supply chain; it has changed people’s attitudes to how they travel. In May 2020, Love to Ride surveyed 10,000 people registered on our platform to find out how often they were cycling and how often they were intending to ride post-lockdown. We also wanted to discover attitudes towards public transport from those who used public transport to get to work prior to COVID-19.

We found that new and occasional riders were riding more often. Almost half of the people who were new to riding, and those who normally ride less than once a week (occasional riders), noted they were riding more often in May 2020 compared to the same time last year. This is likely due to quieter roads, which we know from our regular surveys are a major barrier to new riders. 49% of regular riders (those who ride 2 days a week or more) were riding less often than that time last year. This was likely because many were bike commuters and were working from home.

Over half of people said they would now travel to work by bike

3 in 5 people who were new to riding, or ride occasionally, said they intended to ride more often in the coming weeks and months. Interestingly, half of public transport users said they were less likely to use public transport to get to work 6 months after the lockdown ended. Of these people, 57% said they would travel to work by bike instead.

Overwhelmingly we learned that during lockdown, more people were cycling than ever before and they wanted to do it more often. COVID-19 impacted the conditions on the roads, and less traffic helped empower more people to embrace methods of active travel.

Lockdown: one year on

Fast forward almost one year since that survey and we’re getting ready to reconnect with the original survey participants to see how their cycling journeys have progressed. We’ve already learned a lot and have been buoyed by Government funding changing to encourage more active travel. At Love to Ride we have big hopes for the next few years and hope that we can emerge from lockdowns with new habits, better infrastructure, and more funding to get more people on bikes!

It’s been promising to see that since the pandemic hit, 60% of all new riders and 52% of occasional riders who have registered on Love to Ride are women. That’s a big jump from anything we have seen in the past and we’re committed to making sure this is the rule, not the exception. Through highly targeted communications we can address riders’ specific barriers and give them the knowledge and guidance they need to have the biggest possible impact on changes in behaviour.

Empowering people to feel safe cycling

We have also been building a brand-new app that will allow riders to share data on how comfortable or safe they feel cycling in their community. Data is at the core of everything we do, and this is no exception. The new app will allow local authorities for example, to implement new or tweak existing infrastructure based on real-time data. It would be fantastic to see the temporary road closures and pavement widening that has been happening across the country become more permanent fixtures, for example.

As life starts to take on some resemblance of normality, it seems like COVID-19 may have given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to address the spaces we live in and how we move through them. We’re oiling the chain to make sure the opportunity is one where more people get to ride their bikes safely and comfortably for pleasure and to get from A to B.

Find out more and register here: lovetoride.net

*Research undertaken by the Cycling Marketing Board