Two wheels good: why cyclists generate £2.9bn for the UK economy

A survey says cycling is contributing thousands of pounds to the economy. Time to don your helmet in the name of patriotic duty?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 22 Aug 2011
It’s funny, how a downturn affects behaviour. This time five years ago, the nation’s upper echelons wouldn’t have been seen dead being transported by anything other than a ginormous Chelsea tractor, preferably with blacked-out windows, preferably with the remains of a woodland creature still stuck to the bull bars. These days, though, the glitterati are somewhat humbler: David Cameron, as we all know, loves nothing more than to stare in astonishment as the hoodie he’s just been hugging makes off down Portobello road clutching his shiny new Pashley Princess. And don’t even get us started on Boris’ passion for wobbling about on two wheels.

So it hardly threw us from our saddles when a survey suggested cycling has become quite the thing. But the sheer scale of its popularity is practically puncture-inducing: according to figures from Sky (which, as you all know, sponsors London's mass SkyRide) and the London School of Economics, almost a quarter of the UK population are now cyclists, with 208m cycle journeys being made in 2010 by 13m cyclists. And what’s more, it’s having quite an effect on the economy: in 2010, cycling and cycling accessories generated £2.9bn. Worth a ting on the old bell…

But it’s not just the nation’s finances cycling is stepping up a gear: individuals who cycle are much healthier (well, duh), taking one less sick day a year, thus saving £128m. Apparently, over a 10-year period, the benefits of cycling (including reduced congestion and reduced pollution) could save the economy £1.6bn in costs. If the number of cyclists rises by 20% over the next four years, it could save the NHS £52m (although presumably that’s not taking into account the number of grazed knees they have to see to when people take a fall…).

Of course, this is all well and good – but if you live in, for example, the Yorkshire Dales, jumping on a bike to get to work is going to be more exhausting, and require a lot more maintenance, than a quick pedal down Oxford Street. But Sky insists there is £516m in untapped economic potential. And cycling is a very British business: bike producers like Brompton and Pashley rank among the UK’s finest manufacturers.

What’s not to like? Perhaps it’s time to start encouraging your workers to turn out in their finest Lycra…

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