The highs and lows of cycling


Did you know around half of NSW residents have access to at least one working bicycle? The chances are it stays in the garage most of the time. While only 1 in 8 people ride a bike in a typical week, less than a third have ridden it in the past year.

Results come from the Austroads/Australian Bicycle Council survey on national participation in cycling. While it suggests 3.74 million Australians are out riding their bikes in a typical week, there is a general downward trend. Just over a third ride now, compared to 40% participation in 2011.


In Sydney, the rate of bike riding is much lower than the national average. In fact, most of the decline from 2015 to 2017 relates to a drop-off in Sydney. Even children 10 to 17 are less likely to cycle in Sydney than in regional NSW or elsewhere in Australia. Cycling in regional NSW is probably higher than average.

While more teenage boys have taken up bike riding, adults over 30 are becoming less likely to ride. There is a strong link between aging and cycling participation, which suggests Australians could be cycling less in the future.

Who rides and why

In NSW, males are more likely than females to have taken their bike out in the past week. The highest rate of cycle riding was among children under 10. Of all riders who cycled in NSW in the past month:

• 88% cycled for recreation
• 19% used a bike for transport.

Riders used bikes for commuting, shopping or to visit friends but few rode to reach public transport.

Cycling is most popular in WA and NT while ACT may even have experienced a resurgence. On the other hand, there are 6-year declines in WA, NSW, Vic, SA, and Tas with no change in Qld or NT.

What does it mean for cycling?

The National Cycling Strategy 2011-16 aimed to double in 5 years the number of Australians who ride bicycles. This was optimistic, considering there were already 40% riding bikes in 2011. An aging population and declines in most states make this target even more unlikely.

It may take a corporate bike-sharing program like Ford GoBike in San Francisco, to push bike riding further into the mainstream. Already Motivate’s Citibike scheme in New York has provided 10,000 bicycles for 12 million trips in 2016.

In Sydney and other cities, such a change would probably take a big shift in attitudes to bicycles, a practical increase in cycle riding infrastructure and more focus on safety.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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