The growth of cycling in the UK

Chris Froome became the first British rider to win three Tour de France races just weeks before the fourth anniversary of Bradley Wiggins becoming the most decorated British Olympian of all time at the London 2012 Olympics. Now a nation heavily-laden with cycling trophies and medals, has this success had any effect on the British public – whether participating or following the sport….or are we a nation generally averse to sitting in the saddle?

Let’s start with...

...the year before the 2012 Olympics – interest in cycling was steadily growing. Our Sportscope study shows around 2.7 million consumers followed* the sport at the beginning of 2011 peaking at just over 4 million by the end of it. Mid 2012 saw the biggest increase with interest spiking up to 6.6 million – evidently, hype around the Olympics and Britain’s success with the sport helped drive this engagement. Up until 2014 figures stayed fairly consistent with a few drops where there is no activity and short term peaks when someone wins, i.e. Froome winning the Tour de France in 2013 caused a short peak after a big drop off a year after the Olympics.

When looking more specifically at England, a similar upwards trend can be seen in participation of the sport. According to Sport England’s Active People Survey, while there was a decline in people cycling once a week in the years running up to 2012 (between October 2009-October 2010 there were 1.9 million people in England participating in cycling once a week**, but the year after in 2011, there was a drop to 1.8 million), there was a growth of participation in 2012 with participation reaching 2 million. This jump of 200,000 participants is the biggest difference in the last 10 years of the Active People Survey. Cycling’s success at London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins winning Tour de France obviously had a major effect on both the participation and following of cycling in England in 2012.

Sustainability of success

Have the effects of success on cycling worn off? The answer is yes and no. On one hand, there was a slight year-on-year decrease in cycling participation after 2014 from 2.1 million to 2 million as of March 2016. On the other hand, this figure is still higher than before the London 2012 Olympics so the feats of Team GB and Team Sky have been enough to show a growth in cycling from 5 years ago to now.

Following of cycling has been a bit more inconsistent. Our Sportscope data shows that at the end of 2014, 12.6% of the UK population described themselves as followers of cycling. In May 2015, this had dropped to 11.1%. However, after a short steady increase over the months to follow, there was a quick spike in September 2015 to 14.5%. This growth was just after Chris Froome of Team Sky won Tour de France 2015. Since then however, the number of people who are followers of cycling have declined again and were at 12.1% as of February 2016.

Cycling interest and participation seems heavily dependent on the success of GB athletes, with figures showing short peaks and quick growth around the time of successful sporting events. The future of cycling, it seems, is on the shoulders of the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome & co. With the Rio Olympics now taking place, are we about to see another increase in cyclists in England?

*Following depicts those who mentioned cycling as a sport that they followed in the Sportscope study.

**Active People Survey defines once a week participation as at least 1 x 30 minute session per week or 4-7 times a month. 

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Andy Brember

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