Australian cyclist numbers
1985/86 - 2017
Unreported by any Australian media, the 2017 National Cycling Participation Survey results published by Austroads and the Australian Bicycle Council suggest that Australian cycling is in free-fall and has been since 2011 when the National Cycling Participation strategy was launched with the aim of doubling Australian participation by 2016.
From 2011 to 2017, the data show almost 640,000 fewer Australians aged 2+ riding a bike at least once per week and about 1.4 million fewer having cycled in the year prior to survey.
As noted by the Australian Bicycle Network: "The latest results from the Cycling Participation Survey are shattering. While bike riding across the world grows, Australia’s participation languishes and falls away – we should be embarrassed."
Below are key results from the 2017 National Cycling Participation Survey.
- In 2011, 48.3% of 0 to 9 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 40.7% in 2017.
- In 2011, 33.6% of 10 to 17 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 33.1% in 2017.
- In 2011, 12.8% of 18 to 29 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 11.5% of 18 to 29 year olds in 2017.
- In 2011, 14.0% of 30 to 49 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 10.7% of 30 to 49 year olds in 2017.
- In 2011, 6.7% of 50+ year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 5.6% of 50+ year olds in 2017
NCP 2017 provides a comparison of the average number of hours cycled per week in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, as charted below, and the 20.9% reduction in cycling duration from 2011 to 2017 supports the evidence that the average number of daily bike trips has fallen substantially.
The 2017 National Cycling Participation Survey states: "The person-level data are weighted at the gender and age level (2 – 9, 10 – 24, 25 – 49, 50+) to the ABS census 2011 population. The household-level data are weighted to ABS census 2011 household size (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6+ usual residents). The number of persons cycling is estimated by expanding the 2011 weights to the estimated resident population for 30 June 2016 provided by the ABS." All calculations below are based on the estimated resident population for 30 June 2016 provided by the ABS.
The tables below show NCP estimated state and national weekly, monthly and yearly cycling percentages, with cyclist reduction estimates based on the 2016 population aged 2+ in each state.
The table below calculates that the 1,645,900 bicycle trips per day by Australians aged 9+ in 1985/86 was 32.0% more than the 1,119,638 who cycled on any given day in 2017, despite a national population increase during that time of 56.6%.
1985/86 daily cycling estimates are sourced from Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86.
It should be noted that the 1985/86 and 2011 NCP surveys averaged the number of trips cycled over the previous week by respondents, whereas the NCP 2013, 2015 and 2017 surveys averaged the number of days cycled over the previous week. The NCP surveys define bicycle as a method of transport including riding in your backyard. In 2011, respondents were asked their best estimate of the total number of bike trips they had made in the prior week, whereas since 2013 they have been asked on how many days did they ride a bicycle in the prior week. This redefinition may contribute to the significant national fall from 5.4 trips per week in 2011 to 3.11 days per week in 2017, and may bias the comparison.
In 2012, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published a web page written by academics wishing to discredit the published analysis of 1985/86 and NCP 2011 surveyed daily cyclist numbers. To support their argument, they linked to a Google Spreadsheets analysis they had created which they claimed as evidence there had been an 8% per capita increase in 9+ cycling participation from 1985/86 to 2011. Their Excel spreadsheet rework of the World Transport Policy and Practice paper is here. Their reworked spreadsheet including the 2017 instead of 2011 NCP survey results is here, showing the same results as the table above and again suggesting that per capita daily cycling participation in 2017 is well below the 1985/86 daily bicycle trips before Australia's enforcement of mandatory helmet laws.
Ausplay 2016 shows Australia's most popular club sports were soccer (1,086,986), golf (685,732) and Australian Rules football (635,627). The 636,719 reduction in weekly cycling from 2011 to 2017 is the equivalent of all Aussie Rules teams no longer playing. Australia is rated as the second fattest nation in the world and the equivalent disappearance of the third most popular club sport in the country has worrying pubic health implications.
Also, many of the 636,719 discouraged cyclists will instead drive a car for transport, increasing traffic congestion and accident risk for all other road users including car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
The 2017 National Cycling Participation Survey authors state: "While there has undoubtedly been modest investment over the past six-years that has provided real benefits to bicycle riders, these investments do not appear to have been sufficient to achieve the widespread increase in cycling that would be required to meet the target."
Academics, politicians and media consistently blame a lack of cycle path infrastructure for Australia's abysmal cycling participation levels. This is despite almost half a billion dollars being invested in cycle path infrastructure from 2011 to 2017, with $121.8 million spent nationally on cycling networks across Australia in 2016. As an example, Melbourne had 1,900km of cycle trails in 2014.
The 2017 NCP survey results prove that increased cycling infrastructure hasn't encouraged more cycling in Australia.
The cause of the decline is bicycle helmet legislation that has discouraged cycling since 1990-92. Baby boomers who grew up learning and loving helmet-free cycling are, 25 years later, starting to retire their bicycles but aren't being replaced by discouraged younger generations.
The 2017 NCP survey authors state: "Moreover, it is likely that the gradual ageing of the Australian population has contributed to the participation trend, and this demographic shift is likely to exacerbate the challenge of increasing cycling participation in future as the population continues to age. The strong correlation between age and cycling participation means that over time we would expect cycling participation to decline without significant policy intervention or natural cultural shifts.
The policy intervention and cultural shift required is repeal of mandatory helmet laws that punish people who ride bicycles.