How many Americans bicycle? The most definitive result yet

How many Americans bicycle?  For years we have been saying that about 1/3 of Americans--and 1/3 of Missourians--bicycle in any given year.  A rigorous new study by People for Bikes validates that number and gives a number of fascinating insights into why people bicycle--and also why Americans don't bicycle more.

The study indicates that 103.7 million Americans--and 2.2 million Missourians--bicycle each year. 

The amount of Americans who bicycle (34%) is roughly comparable with the amount who run or jog (40%) or use public transportation (40%). 

In the Midwest, bicycling is more popular than both running and public transportation--36% participate in bicycling vs 34% running and 34% public transportation.

People for Bikes summarized the research:

How many Americans bicycle?  For years we have been saying that about 1/3 of Americans--and 1/3 of Missourians--bicycle in any given year.  A rigorous new study by People for Bikes validates that number and gives a number of fascinating insights into why people bicycle--and also why Americans don't bicycle more.

The study indicates that 103.7 million Americans--and 2.2 million Missourians--bicycle each year. 

The amount of Americans who bicycle (34%) is roughly comparable with the amount who run or jog (40%) or use public transportation (40%). 

In the Midwest, bicycling is more popular than both running and public transportation--36% participate in bicycling vs 34% running and 34% public transportation.

People for Bikes summarized the research:

  • Thirty-four percent of Americans ages 3+ rode a bicycle at least one day in the past year.
  • Of those who rode a bicycle, 30% rode five days or fewer.
  • Those who rode for transportation are much more likely to have done so to get to and from social, recreation, or leisure activities (70%) than to have commuted to and from work or school (46%).
  • Forty-eight percent of adults in the U.S. don’t have access to an operational bicycle at home.
  • Fifty-four percent of adults in the U.S. perceive bicycling as a convenient way to get from one place to another and 53% would like to ride more often. However, 52% worry about being hit by a car and 46% say they would be more likely to ride a bicycle if motor vehicles and bicycles were physically separated.

A Velonews interview with Tim Blumenthal, People for Bikes president, highlights some of the main findings:

Previous studies had pegged U.S. bicycling participation much lower. The 2014 National Sporting Goods Association data indicated a bicycling participation rate of only 12 percent.

“We’re happy and excited about the methodology, because frankly we’ve always been frustrated with existing traditional bicycle participation reports,” said Tim Blumenthal, PeopleForBikes’ president. “They would either focus on recreational riding, or some, like the U.S. census, exclusively on transportation riding, and this one is comprehensive. . . .

“A lot of Americans ride bikes, but unfortunately from our point of view, most or many only ride occasionally,” Blumenthal said. “Thirty percent rode five days or less, and a pretty big number rode only once in the last year.

“There’s tons of potential. If we can address the concerns of those millions of people, a lot more people are going to ride bikes, and that’s going to be good for the business, good for safety, and good for the country.”

The report summarizes the biggest issues keeping Americans from bicycling, and what steps we can take to address those issues (p. 17):

Concern about motor vehicle traffic is a key barrier that infrastructure improvements can address.

  • Infrastructure improvements will have the biggest impact on underserved populations such as young adults, females, and non-whites

Availability of an operational bicycle is also a key barrier suggesting opportunity for bike-share programs, bike libraries, etc.

  • Programs that increase access will have the biggest impact on older adults, women, adults with low income, and Blacks

The study broke down how often people bicycle (p. 21):

  • 30% - bicycle 1-5 days/year
  • 24% - 6-24 days/year
  • 32% - 2X/month to 2X/week
  • 14% - 2X/week or more

It also broke down the reasons people bicycle (p. 22):

  • 57% - bicycle for recreation only
  • 8% - transportation only
  • 36% - both recreation and transportation

Participation in bicycling by region--people in the Midwest are slightly more likely to bicycle than the national average:

Missourians of all ages and income levels regularly bicycle, walk, run, and use
Missourians of all ages and income levels regularly bicycle, walk, run, and use trails

  • 34% - Percentage of the population 3 yrs and older who bicycle, national average
  • 36% - Midwest
  • 37% - West
  • 34% - South
  • 30% - Northeast

Running/jogging is slightly less popular in the Midwest than running/jogging is in other regions: 

  • 40% - Percentage of the population 3 yrs and older who run/jog, National average
  • 34% - Midwest
  • 36% - Northeast
  • 43% - South
  • 44% - West

The research confirms some commonly held ideas about bicycling, but refutes others.  For example:

  • Most likely to bicycle are the lowest income group and highest income group (both at 39%); middle income groups are slightly less likely to bicycle (25%-34%) (p. 50)
     
  • Men participate in bicycling and running somewhat more than women (bicycling: 39% men vs 30% women; running: 44% vs 36%) (p. 41)
     
  • Women are more concerned than men about being hit by an automobile and less satisfied with bicycle infrastructure (p. 48)
     
  • Black, Hispanic, and 'other' ethnicities all have higher bicycling and running participation rates than white Americans (p. 50)
     
  • Hispanics have the highest participation rate in both bicycling (43%) and running (59%); both are noticeably higher than the population at large (p. 50)
     
  • Poor infrastructure and lack of places people feel safe bicycling is a particular challenge among people of color (p. 57)

These findings suggests a number of ways that we must move forward to make bicycling safer and more inviting to people of all ages, genders, and ethnic groups.  We need to create more safe places to bicycle, more places that have separation between traffic and bicycles, and generally a more inviting environment for bicycling.  These factors also appear to be more important for people who know bicycle relatively rarely--so they are the changes we need to make if we are to encourage people who now bicycle rarely to bicycle more often.

It is often thought and said that people of color bicycle less often.  But this study shows, very definitively, that this is not true at all!  Perhaps people of color are under-represented in advocacy and leadership?  Perhaps they are less likely to join organized clubs or groups? Perhaps they bicycle for different reasons?  Perhaps they have different needs?  The report gives some hints towards answers to some of these questions, but more research needs to be done and more effort needs to be spent ensuring that the needs of every American who bicycles and walks regularly--or would like to--are fully met.

 

Major goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri include improving safety for all road users, building a world-class bicycle and pedestrian transportation system in Missouri, and encouraging more Missourians to enjoy bicycling and walking more often. Research like this People for Bikes study helps inform our priorities and advocacy work by helping us understand who is bicycling, walking, and running, why they are participating in these activities, and what the major impediments to more bicycling,  walking, and running are.  We use this information to better inform our elected leaders and transportation decision makers.

Your ongoing membership and generous support help turn our Vision into reality!

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