Cycling: Why Don’t Brits Cycles as Much as Other Nations?

cycling to work uk
In the Netherlands, over 40% of people use a bike as their MAIN mode of transport. In the UK, that figure drops to just 2%. So why is that?


Cycling has a whole host of benefits. Aside from being incredibly good for us (a typical person could burn 300 to 600 calories in a one hour commuting ride), it’s also a very cost effective mode of transport.

But in the UK, just 2% of people make a bike their primary mode of transport. At the other end of the scale, this figure is:

  • 41% in the Netherlands
  • 21% in Sweden
  • 15% in Germany

Now, the Netherland is quite the outlier with a significantly higher proportion of people using a bike as their main mode of transport than anywhere else in Europe.

But just why is the figure so low in the UK when there are clear health, fitness and cost benefits?

Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Poor Cycling Infrastructure

In a recent cycling survey, 12.5% of people who don’t cycle to work said they would if there was better cycling infrastructure.

And it’s a fair point. In the Netherlands, there is 35,000km of cycle path. By comparison, there’s 140,000km of road. So this is HUGE. The UK is around 6 times bigger than the Netherlands, but but has around 20,000km of designated bike lanes and routes.

Many of our bike lanes are not separate from the main carriageways on roads. And, ultimately, cycling on the roads in parts of the UK can feel pretty dangerous.

Distance from Work

The same Barriers Direct survey found that more than 15% of people said they’d consider commuting by bike if they lived closer to work.

Interestingly, the average commute in the UK is under 10 miles while, in the Netherlands, it’s slightly higher at 13 miles.

Cycling Storage Provision at Work

There are bike parks all over the place in the Netherlands. If you’ve ever visited a Dutch city you’ll have seen it for yourself. 

It’s not quite the same in the UK, is it? And does anyone really want to ride their expensive bike to work and not have it stored securely?

11% in that survey said better storage options at work would encourage them to cycle to work. 8% also said use of showers at work would encourage them.

The Weather Factor?

Could the weather be an off putting factor for cycling in the UK? As we write this piece, the North of England and Scotland is being battered by Storm Pia, which seems to be about the 90,000th storm of the season (possibly an exaggeration). The Netherlands isn’t exactly known for its amazing weather either though. Amsterdam is, on average, wetter than London, but drier than Manchester.

Built for Cycling

I think what it really comes down is that the Netherlands is built for cycling. It’s remarkable really! 

It’s not the same here in the UK. Work is being done to increase cycling lane provision but it’s a slow process.

Perhaps over time we’ll see more people using pedal power as a main means of travel. But I’m not hugely optimistic that any country is going to catch up with the Netherlands!



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