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Lockdown sees cycling gender gap narrow, government statistics reveal

Men still made twice as many trips by bike as women last year – but it was three times as many in 2019

The government-imposed lockdown to try and contain the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the gender gap in cycling in England narrowing, according to statistics published today by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The report, Walking and Cycling Statistics, England: 2020, brings together existing data from a number of different official sources, adjusted to reflect the calendar year, thereby providing a snapshot of changes over the 12-month period.

It also reveals that people in England made 20 cycling trips – journeys where cycling is the main mode of transport in terms of distance – during the year, a 26 per cent increase on 2019.

The average number of miles cycled by person showed even stronger growth, up from 54 miles per person in 2019 to 88 miles per person last year, an increase  of 62 per cent, according to data from The National Travel Attitudes Survey highlighted in the report.

With walking and cycling being two permitted forms of outdoor exercise during lockdown, as well as many people working from home and continuing to do so even once restrictions were eased, for the first time leisure moved ahead of utility trips to account for the highest number of cycling stages – that is, where travel by bike forms part of a journey also involving other modes.

In all cases cited above, and in the figures for men and women below, those are average figures for the population as a whole, so the number of trips and total distance travelled among people who actually cycle will be significantly higher.

In last year’s report, covering 2019, men made three times as many trips as women – 24 vs 8 – and cycled nearly four times further during the year, at 86 miles vs 23 miles.

Last year saw a significant narrowing of the gap on both measures. During 2020, men made on average 28 trips, just over twice as many as the 13 carried out by women, while aggregate distance ridden by men was 127 miles compared to 50 for women, 2.5 times higher.

By age, men aged 17-20 and 40-49 made the most trips, at 40 and 39 respectively, while among women the greatest number of trips were carried out by those aged 40-49, at 21.

Cycling trips by gender and age 2020.PNG

Factors that would encourage people to cycle more were mainly related to safety and infrastructure.

Chief among those were off-road and segregated cycle paths (highlighted by 55 per cent of respondents), safer roads (53 per cent) and well-maintained road surfaces for cycling (49 per cent).

The same survey also revealed that men, at 74 per cent, feel more confident riding a bike than women do, at 43 per cent.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said: “These latest figures give the lie to the argument that people won’t cycle in England.

“If people feel the conditions are safe enough – as many felt they were during lockdown – we will see more cycling and not just of the same largely male demographic.

“It’s incredibly encouraging seeing the number of women cycling has shot up from a quarter of all cycling trips in 2019 to nearly a third in 2020.

“The overall close to 50 per cent increase in the number of people cycling at least once per week also shows we’re seeing people new to cycling start to ride too – the challenge is to grow these levels  and narrow the gender split going forward.

“As the government heads to COP26, and makes preparations for the spending review in October, a clear statement of intent would be to make sure cycling and walking are properly funded.

“It shouldn’t take a pandemic to produce an increase in cycling, but it’s an opportunity to build on the government would be mad to ignore.”

Citing preliminary figures of reported road casualties in Great Britain in 2020, today's report also noted that there had been an 11 per cent increase in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) in the past decade.

The increase between 2019 and 2020, when there were 4,210 and 4,340 KSIs, respectively, stood at 3 per cent – much lower than the year-on-year growth in cycling. 

As we reported in June, the preliminary figures also show a 40 per cent increase in the number of cyclists killed during the year, with 140 riders losing their lives.

The DfT claimed at the time that the increase was primarily due to the greater aggregate distance being cycled, but the charity Cycling UK said it believed poor driving was to blame.

> Number of cyclists killed on British roads up 40 per cent in 2020

Detailed figures of reported road casualties are due to be published next Thursday 30 September.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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