Wheels of fortune: how cycling became a £3bn-a-year industry

Cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the British economy, but that figure will rise only if safety concerns can be addressed, a report from the London School of Economics has found.

The study is the first to quantify the sector's contribution as a whole to the economy and it takes into account: sales of bicycles and accessories; jobs in bike sales, distribution and infrastructure maintenance; and lower rates of workplace absenteeism among cyclists.

It found that each of the UK's 13million cyclists generated an annual "gross cycling product" of £230, and that, on average, regular cyclists took one fewer sick day a year than non-cyclists, saving the economy £128m each year.

The report, which was published by the broadcaster Sky and by British Cycling, estimated a 20 per cent increase in cycling levels by 2015 would save Britain's economy £207m in traffic congestion, £107m in the reduction of premature deaths, £71m in pollution levels, and £52m in NHS costs. Savings made by reducing absenteeism could reach £2bn over the next decade.

Cycling has undergone a resurgence in recent years, with an estimated 1.3m new cyclists taking to the roads in 2010, half of them cycling regularly. Bike sales rose by 28 per cent to 3.7million last year and the cycling economy now directly employs 23,000 people, accounting for more than £500m in wages and £100m in tax.

Dr Alexander Grous, the report's author, said the recent renaissance constituted "a true step-change in the UK's cycling scene", bringing genuine social and economic benefits.

The report cited the doubling in size of the national cycle network, the rise of dedicated cycle lanes, health and environmental concerns, British successes in competitive cycling, and an increase in organised mass bike rides as factors driving the cycling boom. Martin Gibbs, policy and legal affairs director for British Cycling, said safety concerns – highlighted by the alleged hit-and-run that seriously injured double Paralympian cycling champion Simon Richardson last Wednesday, remained a barrier to cycling regularly for many.

"There have been too many incidents like that recently," he said. "If the Government is looking to get people to ride their bikes more, then there's a responsibility to make sure the roads are as safe as they can be."

Feedback from British Cycling's members was that work was most urgently needed on road layout, and on fostering a road culture of mutual respect between motorists and cyclists. "After all, cyclists are often also motorists, and vice versa," Mr Gibbs added.