Australian cyclist numbers
1985/86 - 2021
COVID-19 lockdowns caused a significant increase in bike riding across most of Australia, according to the National Cycling Participation 2021 survey, but cyclist numbers remain lower than they were 10 years earlier.
The 2021 National Cycling Participation Survey results published by Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand show there were almost 50,000 fewer people riding bikes in 2021 compared to 2011, despite 13.8% population growth.
The 2021 survey results also suggest 18.6% fewer Australians aged 9yo+ were cycling each day than in 1985/86, despite 62.3% population growth.
The cycling reduction since 1985/86 has mostly been among children and young adults, a trend apparent since Australia's bicycle helmet laws were introduced in 1990-92, with growth in the 40yo+ demographic due to predominantly baby boomers continuing the cycling enthusiasm they learned as children when they were not discouraged by helmet laws and the resultant implication that riding a bike is dangerous.
In 2019 the NCP authors forecast a continued decline in Australian cycling participation due to this ageing demographic becoming too frail to continue riding and not being replaced by younger generations.
In 2021 and despite COVID-19 lockdowns leaving many Australians confined to their homes and bored, participation remained below 2011 levels and this suggests the forecast decline will resume once national vaccination allow a return to the working week routine.
This reduction has and will continue to have a profound impact on issues such as public health, obesity and traffic congestion across Australia.
The 2021 results show the population proportion cycling was greater than 2011 in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, but was lower in all other jurisdictions.
Weekly cycling participation dropped from 26.3% to 21.7% between 2011 and 2021 in the Northern Territory, where adults are permitted to cycle without helmets on bicycle paths. However, the Northern Territory has the second highest population proportion cycling weekly in Australia, and the highest proportion of cyclists riding at least once a month or once a year.
- In 2011, 48.3% of 0 to 9 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 43.6% in 2021.
- In 2011, 33.6% of 10 to 17 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 37.1% in 2021.
- In 2011, 12.8% of 18 to 29 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 8.4% of 18 to 29 year olds in 2021.
- In 2011, 14.0% of 30 to 49 year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 15.0% of 30 to 49 year olds in 2021.
- In 2011, 6.7% of 50+ year olds cycled in the previous week, compared to 8.4% of 50+ year olds in 2021
The 2021 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 of Population and Housing 2016 population for capital city and regional areas. The household-level data are weighted to ABS census 2016 household size (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6+ usual residents). The number of persons cycling is estimated by expanding the 2016 weights to estimated resident population for 30 June 2019 provided by the ABS"
All calculations below are based on the estimated resident population for 30 June 2019 provided by the ABS.
The 2021 survey was conducted between March and June. Australian Bureau of Meteorology data show that in March, April, May and June 2021, average national mean temperatures were 0.3C above the long-term normal and average national rainfall was 8.5% below the long-term normal.
The tables below show NCP estimated state and national weekly, monthly and yearly cycling percentages, with cyclist reduction estimates based on the survey year percentages applied to the June 2019 population aged 2+ in each state.
The table below calculates that the 1,340,179 bicycle trips per day by Australians aged 9+ in 2021 was 18.6% less than the 1,645,900 who cycled on any given day in pre-helmet 1985/86, despite a national population increase during that time of 62.3%.
1985/86 daily cycling estimates are sourced from Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86. The estimated number of times cyclists ride per week (e.g. 2.8, 3.2) are derived from the NCP 2021 survey reports from each state (source).
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, 2017, 2019 and 2021 surveys averaged the number of days cycled over the previous week. The NCP surveys define bicycles 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 2.95 days per week in 2021, and may bias the comparison.
The table below shows the breakdown of different age demographics used to calculate total weekly and daily cycling participation in each state and territory, and nationally, in 2021.
Click here for a comparison of daily cycling participation with hospital admission injuries and population growth since 1985/86.
Revised spreadsheet shows 56% decline in daily cycling since 1985/86
The first comparison of 1985/86 and 2011 daily cycling participation in Australia (peer reviewed and published here) was publicly criticised by Australian academics (see ABC web story) who created a Google spreadsheet (see here) which they claimed was proof that the per capita cycling trip rate increased by 8% after adjusting for the overall ageing of the population between the 1985/86 survey and the 2011 survey.
In a 2020 paper, the academics have revised their estimate to an increase of 11.0% in daily cycling participation from 1985/86 to 2011.
The Google spreadsheet created by the academics in 2012 has been updated by the owner of this website (and co-author of the original published paper comparing 1985/86 and 2011 daily cycling participation) so that it now calculates the results of the 2021 NCP survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics population estimates for 2019 as used in the survey, and with 2021 rather than 2011 trips per week frequency. All other spreadsheet formulas created by the academics are unchanged.
The updated spreadsheet (download here - 54kb) shows that the crude cycling trip rate per person per day has reduced by about 56% from 1985/86 to 2021.