The role of bicycle sharing systems in normalising the image of cycling

An observational study of London cyclists

Bicycle sharing systems are increasingly popular around the world and have the potential to increase the visibility of people cycling in everyday clothing. This may in turn help normalise the image of cycling, and reduce perceptions that cycling is ‘risky’ or ‘only for sporty people’. This paper sought to compare the use of specialist cycling clothing between users of the London bicycle sharing system (LBSS) and cyclists using personal bicycles. To do this, we observed 3594 people on bicycles at 35 randomly-selected locations across central and inner London. The 592 LBSS users were much less likely to wear helmets (16% vs. 64% among personal-bicycle cyclists), high-visibility clothes (11% vs. 35%) and sports clothes (2% vs. 25%). In total, 79% of LBSS users wore none of these types of specialist cycling clothing, as compared to only 30% of personal-bicycle cyclists. This was true of male and female LBSS cyclists alike (all p>0.25 for interaction). We conclude that bicycle sharing systems may not only encourage cycling directly, by providing bicycles to rent, but also indirectly, by increasing the number and diversity of cycling ‘role models’ visible.

Highlights

Many potential cyclists are put off as they perceive cycling as too risky or sporty; This may be reinforced if existing cyclists are seen to wear safety or sports clothes;Bicycle sharing systems (BSS) may encourage cycling in everyday clothing; London BSS users are less likely to wear helmets, high-viz or sports clothes. BSS have the potential to normalise the image of cycling, and so promote cycling.