Walk into a block of flats and it's not unusual to see a bunch of bikes crammed together in the hallway. Some of them may be used every day. Lots of them stay put seemingly for ever (just squeeze the tyres to know which is which). But who rides them? A new survey of more than 2,000 people, carried by ICM for EDF Energy to celebrate Team Green Britain Bike Week, reveals the habits of a nation.
The welcome news, given the social, health and environmental benefits of cycling, is that most households have one bike or more. Only 44 per cent of those questioned live in a place that is completely bike-free, 20 per cent have one cycle, 18 per cent have two, 9 per cent manage three bikes, while 5 per cent have four. Another 2 per cent are passionate enough to be households with five bikes or more.
Just pity the day they can't find the pump. Bike ownership is near-evenly split between the sexes and around a quarter of those aged 18-45 have one bicycle in the household. Above 45 the percentage drops – uniformly – to 17 per cent. Of Scottish households, 48 per cent have one bike, while the Midlands only manage a bike in the house in 41 per cent of cases.
Drill down deeper and there are more regional discrepancies. The lowest percentages of households with one bike are in Southampton and Cardiff (15 per cent) while the dreaming spires of Oxford have the most one-bike households (34 per cent) followed by Milton Keynes (30 per cent) – presumably with people on cycling trips to see the concrete cows. London falls just under the national average at 19 per cent.
When those homes with one bike or more are asked about usage, the need to get Britain back in the saddle becomes apparent: 40 per cent say that no bikes in their household are used regularly, ie once a fortnight or more, with the no-use rating rising to 52 per cent in Plymouth.
Team Green Britain Bike Week, in conjunction with EDF Energy, Britain's largest producer of low carbon electricity, and the first Sustainability Partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, encourages people to get out of their cars and on to two wheels, so, citizens of Plymouth, we're looking at you.
As Ed Clancy, champion cyclist and London 2012 hopeful, says: "Cycling isn't just a convenient way of getting around – it's cheap, great for your health and fitness and also means that you're helping reduce carbon emissions. I'd encourage anyone to haul out their old bike – even if you think it's probably seen better days, it's easier than you think to get it roadworthy again and learn how to keep in good shape yourself. Team Green Britain's Biggest Bike Fix is here to help you get moving on two wheels again and give you confidence in maintaining your bike; there are events all over the country so get the bike out of the garage and come down!"
Mind you, while 43 per cent of respondents who own a bike don't use it at all, only 11 per cent ride for 11 hours or more a month. The bike is used for commuting to work or college by 19 per cent of bike owners, while twice as many say that short errands like going to a local shop or post box are part of their month's cycling. One in five uses the bike for weekend cycling trips but just over half say it is used for exercise or sports.
Those cyclists who get on their bikes for two hours or less each month have various reasons for not cycling more. Most (41 per cent) say cycling just doesn't fit their everyday lifestyle but, intriguingly, 28 per cent say they don't feel safe cycling on the roads, rising to 44 per cent in Plymouth. See the box for tips on getting your cycle confidence back. Another 10 per cent say they "just don't like cycling" which kind of makes you wonder why they have a bike...
All bikes have one thing in common – they help you get fit. Mountain bikes are the kind of steed favoured by the largest group – 45 per cent, although this breaks down into 53 per cent of male cyclists but only 36 per cent of females. That'll be the mud factor, then. Oxford isn't fond of mountain bikes (12 per cent), perhaps because they just don't look right parked in the university quadrangle, while in Sheffield they can't get enough of them (84 per cent, for crying out loud).
Folding bikes like Bromptons are chosen by just 2 per cent of riders, though with some regional divergence. London is twice as likely as the national average to ride fold-ups, perhaps because folding bikes are popular in higher-crime areas as they're less likely to be stolen because you can take them indoors with you. Hull and Glasgow matched this 4 per cent fondness for folders, only just topped (5 per cent) by Brighton, Bristol and Plymouth.
BMX bikes form 5 per cent of the total, but are popular in Edinburgh and Newcastle (11 per cent) and are most ridden in Southampton (12 per cent).
Half of all bikes are kept in garages, though this drops to 37 per cent in London, and to just 28 per cent in Glasgow. Bikes are kept indoors in the house or flat in 14 per cent of households, rising to 19 per cent in London and a whopping 37 per cent in Glasgow. One in five households stores the bike in the back garden, though Londoners do this the most (29 per cent).
Last but not least, do Britons think people generally look more or less attractive when riding a bike? Most (62 per cent) say it makes no difference, but 9 per cent say people look more attractive when riding. So if getting fit and reducing your carbon footprint aren't good enough reasons to get in the saddle during Team Green Britain Bike Week and beyond, perhaps this factor will get us pedalling.
How to feel confident in the saddle
Feel protected That means wearing a helmet, however silly it looks. And you must wear it in the right position – forehead covered, not jauntily on the back of the skull where it's next to useless if you're thrown forward. The straps need to be tight, too.
Find a friend... to cycle with you on your maiden voyage. They'll give you moral support and remind you that it's easier than you think. Remember, it's meant to be fun. Start on a flat route and plan it before you set off for extra peace of mind.
Get an instructor If you're new or seriously lapsed, a lesson can quickly restore confidence. There are plenty of cycle courses for adults and some local authorities even pay the fees for residents.
Concentrate This means: no earphones, you need to hear what's going on. Remember that lorries have blind spots – if you can't see their mirror, you're invisible. Don't overtake on the inside. Treat parked cars with caution: drivers often don't look before swinging the door open.
Ring that bell Pedestrians often rely on their ears when they stride into the road, and since your bike is silent, they won't hear you. Get a bell and use it.
Have some respect You know how intimidating it is when you're on foot waiting to cross the road and a cyclist powers through a red light? Remember that every time you're tempted to do the same. Besides, you can be fined for this if caught.