Australian cyclist numbers
1985/86 - 2015
Government surveys suggest 24.5% fewer daily bicycle trips in 2015 than in 1985/86 by Australians aged 9+, despite 49.7% population growth in the 30 years since the pre-helmet law survey was conducted.
In 2015 and since a national strategy to double cycling participation was launched in 2011, the data show almost a million fewer Australians of all ages riding a bike at least once per year.
This analysis presents official records of cyclist numbers in Australia in 1985/86, 2011 and 2015. Data sources are Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86, the 2011 National Cycling Participation survey and the 2015 National Cycling Participation survey which expands the 2011 Census baseline by weighting it to the estimated resident population of 30 June 2014 for its estimates of numbers of persons cycling.
The 2015 National Cycling Participation survey was conducted in March and April 2015, the most popular months of the year for cycling, and is the official data source for the Federal Government's National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016.
The National Cycling Strategy aims to double Australian cycling participation from 2011 to 2016, requiring growth of about 15% per annum. The National Cycling Strategy Implementation Report 2015, published by the Australian Bicycle Council and Austroads in September 2016, confirms the failure of the strategy with a reduction rather than increase in Australian cycling from 2011 to 2015 despite improved bicycle infrastructure and promotional campaigns, including references to helmet laws being an obstacle to cycling participation and safety (see opinion).
Note: The comparison below is based on Australia's 2014 population and the National Cycling Participation survey cycling proportions can alternatively be compared here for a comparison between Australia's 1985/86 and 2015 populations.
The NCP surveyed a smaller number of household respondents in 2015 than in 2011 and, as demonstrated in the chart below, there is a consistent bias toward NSW in the national averages. The NSW sample sizes were much larger than other states as data from a separate survey instrument was used for metropolitan Sydney in 2015, and in Queensland additional sampling was undertaken in metropolitan Brisbane.
In 2015 a significantly larger number of people were interviewed in NSW and particularly Sydney than in all other states combined, and it is relevant that governments spent $115.3 million on NSW cycling infrastructure from 2011/11 to 2013/14, including $3,940,000 in the Sydney region during 2013/14 (source).
The proportion of the NSW population cycling weekly increased 1.9% from 2011 to 2015 (monthly decreased 0.5% and yearly decreased 1.7%) and the NSW population increased 4.2% from 7,218,529 in 2011 to 7,518,472 in 2014. The population of Greater Sydney increased 5.0% from 4,610,000 in 2011 to 4,840,600 in 2014. The population of inner Sydney, or the City of Sydney, increased 8.2% from 183,281 in 2011 to 198,331 in 2014 (source).
Eight of the 10 most densely populated neighbourhoods in Australia are in inner-Sydney. The population density of NSW at June 2014 was 9.4 people per square kilometre. In Greater Sydney, the population density was 390 people per sq km. The population density within the city is 7,421 per square km (at June 2014).
The 2015 National Cycling Participation survey has re-weighted to population the participation percentage findings from its 2011 and 2013 reports, so data below may not seem the same as in the 2011 and 2013 analyses or NCP reports.
The 2015 National Cycling Participation Survey found ...
The 2011 survey found that 18.2% of the Australian population had cycled in the previous week (confidence interval 17.0%-18.6%), 16.5% in 2013 (confidence interval 15.8%-17.2%) and 17.4% in 2015 (confidence interval 16.6%-18.4%). If considered an accurate population percentage, the 0.8% decline from 2011 to 2015 represents 187,926 of the Australian population of 23,490,700 in June 2014.
- In 2011, 49.1% of 0 to 9 year olds cycled in the previous week (confidence interval 46.0%-52.3%), compared to 49.0% in 2015 (CI unavailable).
- In 2011, 33.6% of 10 to 17 year olds cycled in the previous week (confidence interval 31.0%-36.3%), compared to 37% in 2015 (CI unavailable).
- In 2011, 13.4% of 18 to 39 year olds cycled in the previous week (confidence interval 12.1%-14.9%), compared to 12% of 18 to 49 year olds in 2015 (CI unavailable).
- In 2011, 8.5% of 40+ year olds cycled in the previous week (confidence interval 7.5%-9.3%), compared to 5% of 50+ year olds in 2015 (CI unavailable). Age brackets differ because of different methodology in the 2011 and 2015 NCP reports.
In 2011, 22.1% of males (confidence interval 21.0%-23.2%) and 13.5% of females (confidence interval 12.6%-14.5%) had cycled in the previous week. By 2015, this had dropped to 22% of males (CI unavailble) and 13% of females (confidence interval 11.6%-13.2%). In 2011, 44.9% of Australian households did not have a bicycle and by 2015 this had increased to 45.7%.
NCP 2015 provides a comparison of the average number of hours cycled per week in 2011, 2013 and 2015, as charted below, and these declines in cycling duration support the evidence that the average number of daily bike trips has fallen substantially.
The average number of minutes cycled over the past week by those who had ridden (NCP 2011 Figure 4.2 / NCP 2015 state reports Table A.1) suggests there has been a substantial decline (-19.1%) in the number of times (or length of time) that Australians cycled between 2011 and 2015.
Average Australian retail petrol prices have been: 2011 - $1.41; 2012 - $1.44; 2013 - $1.48; 2014 - $1.49 = historic record high.
Different states had different rates of participation increase or decrease between 2011 and 2015, listed below with the percentage and actual increase or decrease in numbers of people who had cycled at least once in the previous week:
The states cumulatively had a net reduction of 187,248 fewer cyclists from 2011 to 2015, a more accurate total than the 187,926 derived from the national participation drop from 18.2% to 17.4%. When the proportion of different ages in each state is taken into account, the national weekly participation decrease was -70,248 from 2011 to 2015 (see spreadsheet (Excel 540kb).
These figures suggest an increase in Australian weekly cycling participation since 2013 but still a significant decline since 2011.
Listed below are the state/national percentages and actual increase or decrease in numbers of people who had cycled at least once in the previous month:
When the proportion of different ages in each state is taken into account, the national monthly participation decrease was -550,906 from 2011 to 2015 (see spreadsheet (Excel 540kb).
Listed below are the state/national percentages and actual increase or decrease in numbers of people who had cycled at least once in the previous year:
These figures suggest that 950,257 fewer Australians cycled at any time in the year to April 2015 than in the year to April 2011. When the proportion of different ages in each state is taken into account, the national yearly participation decrease was -826,232 from 2011 to 2015 (see spreadsheet (Excel 540kb).
Daily bicycle trips
The 2011 and 2015 NCP survey results provide age and state breakdowns that can be used to estimate daily bicycle trips and number of days ridden, enabling a rough comparison between each other and with the daily bike trip calculations of the pre-law CR69 Day-to-Day Travel in Australia 1985/86 survey.
NCP 2011 provides estimates of the average number of bicycle trips per week in each state and NCP 2015 provides estimates of the average number of days cycled in the past week (2015 - Table A.1; 2011 - page 23). The reports warn that the estimates should be used with a high level of caution due to the memory recall of survey respondents, and trips per week may be a different and broader parameter than days per week.
The NCP survey series has a set definition of a bicycle trip ... "in travel diaries a change of purpose designates a change of trip. So a bicycle trip from work to home, where the cyclist stops at the supermarket on the way home, is classified as two cycling trips. A bicycle trip where there is no change of purpose, such as riding from home around the block, is considered as two trips (where the farthest point is used to divide the trip)". (Source: NCP 2011 p2)
"Trips: Cycling around in the backyard, on the street, on a velodrome or in a park counts as one trip per session.". (Source: NCP 2011 p8)
The NCP 2011 survey (p55) asked respondents: "What is your best estimate of the total number of bike trips you made over the past 7 days - 1 or 2 trips, 3 to 5 trips, 5 to 10 trips, more than 10 trips or don't know?"
The NCP 2015 survey (p13) asked respondents: "In the last 7 days, on how many days did you ride a bicycle?"
The NCP 2013 survey reported a national average 2.9 days were ridden per week by those who cycled in the past week (as extracted lower on this page). This compares with the 2011 national average of 5.4 trips per week.
It isn't known if there is a significant difference between trips per week and days per week. In NCP 2011 (Table 4.6), 39.8% of all survey respondents had two or less bike trips per week and 60.5% had four or less bike trips per week, while 11% had more than 10 trips over the past week.
The comparison of daily cycling numbers between 2011 and 2015 should be regarded as a rough estimate based on available survey data.
The table below presents state numbers of weekly and daily all-age bicycle trips in 2011 and average days cycled per week in 2015, as well as a comparison of 1985/86, 2011 and 2015 daily bike trip numbers and percentages among cyclists aged 9+.
The 2015 National Cycling Participation report states ...
So Australian cyclist numbers remain well below pre-law levels and are expected to worsen. This is acknowledgement that baby boomers who grew up enjoying bikes without helmets are getting too old to pedal anymore and the following generations, who have been discouraged by helmet laws for 25 years, are less likely to cycle in their adult years.
The comparison table below shows the proportional decline in child vs adult daily cycling between 1985/86-2015 and 2011-2015, which demonstrates why the NCP authors believe the demographic shift will result in a continued decline in Australian cycling participation.
Click here for a comparison of daily cycling participation with hospital admission injuries and population growth since 1985/86.
Click here for the Austroads Review of Australia's National Road Safety Strategy, published in February 2015, showing the ratio of overall and life-threatening injury to Australian cyclists has soared since 2001 and is by far the worst among all road users.
Below is an age breakdown of the national participation survey results:
2013 National Cycling Participation (Summary extract)
ABS demographic statistics for June 2014 show there were 4,014,504 people across Australia aged 18 to 29. The 2015 National Cycling Participation survey shows an average 13.5% of people aged 18 to 29 cycled in the previous week. This is 454,471 Australians aged 18 to 29 who rode with varying frequency among different states over the previous week, totalling 210,652 daily bike trips in 2015.
ABS demographic statistics for June 2014 show there were 6,480,575 people across Australia aged 30 to 49. The 2015 National Cycling Participation survey shows an average 13.9% of people aged 18 to 29 cycled in the previous week. This is 811,193 Australians aged 30 to 49 who rode with varying frequency among different states over the previous week, totalling 380,868 daily bike trips in 2015.
ABS demographic statistics for June 2014 show there were 7,706,610 people across Australia aged 50+. The 2015 National Cycling Participation survey shows an average 6.1% of people aged 50+ cycled in the previous week. This is 408,546 Australians aged 50+ who rode with varying frequency among different states over the previous week, totalling 193,695 daily bike trips in 2015.
Together, this is 1,242,455 daily bike trips among Australians aged 9+ in 2015. This compares with 1,645,900 bike rides per day by people across Australia aged 9+ in 1985/86, according to the CR69 survey conducted over 12 months including winter when cyclist numbers are far lower than in March and April when the 2015 survey was conducted.
This makes a total 1,242,455 daily bike trips aged 9+ in 2015 compared to 1,645,900 daily bike rides aged 9+ in 1985/86, a 24.5% decrease.
There is a 74.2% difference between 9+ population and cycling growth from 1985/86 to 2015, based on 1986 and June 2014 ABS data.
Note: A spreadsheet collating all states, age group participation proportions and average frequency of cycling per week can be downloaded here (Excel 540kb).
Note: Australian Bureau of Statistics data published in February 2015 show Australians aged 15+ who cycled at least once in the previous year dropped 15.7% from 1,366,100 in 2011/12 to 1,151,900 in 2013/14 (males down 11.2%, females down 22.8%), and the 15yo+ population percentage cycling in the past year fell from 6.3% in 2005/06 to 6.2% in 2013/14.
Note: Roy Morgan research published in May 2015 shows the number of Australians who cycled increased from 13% in 2005 (2.1 million) to 19% in 2015 (3.7 million).
The Roy Morgan participation estimate of 19% is well below the National Cycling Participation 2015 survey finding of 36.3% of Australians cycling yearly, as referenced above. Roy Morgan’s 3.7 million cycling compares to an NCP 2015 estimate of approximately 8.5 million people of all ages who cycled during the year. NCP 2015 results show a decline since 2011 and Australia’s total population increased 17.9% from 2005 to 2015.
The research by Roy Morgan, which claims its survey estimates are among the most accurate in the world, confirms the NCP 2015 finding that the increase is mostly in the 35+ age group, with male baby boomers aged 50+ in particular contributing to the increase. However, cycling by 14-17yo males dropped from 33% of the population in 2005 to 23% in 2015.
Roy Morgan notes: "Twenty-three percent of Western Australians aged 14+ ride their bike either regularly or occasionally, the highest cycling participation rate in the country." WA’s population aged 14+ was 1,880,487 in 2015, of which 23% is 432,512 who cycled.
This can be compared to WA cycling estimates within Bicycle Use and Attitudes to the Helmet Wearing Law published in 1994 by Heathcote and Maisey (WA helmet law enforced July 1992):
These WA survey estimates suggest 720,000 cyclists aged 5+ in 1993 and 432,512 cyclists aged 14+ in 2015, a reduction of 287,488.
There were 261,413 West Australians aged 5 to 13 in 2015 and if all of them cycled it wouldn't make up the shortfall of 287,488. NCP data show national cycling 0-9yo at 49% in 2015. WA’s population aged over four years increased 38.1% from 1,551,203 in 1993 to 2,141,900 in 2015.
The extracts below from Estimated Cost of Bicycle Related Trauma in Victoria and Estimates for Australia, published by VicRoads in 1992, suggest that there were 1,632,000 cyclists in Victoria aged 14 and over in October 1989.
The VicRoads data is confirmed and expanded in the extract below from the Victorian Bicycling Strategy published by VicRoads in 1990, which shows a total of 2,215,000 Victorians of all ages cycling in October 1989.
Victoria's 1989 pre-law cycling participation of 2,215,000 can be compared with National Cycling Participation data (p16) showing an estimated 2,098,500 Victorians cycled at least once during the year in 2015.
The Roy Morgan research group estimated 20% of Victorians aged 14+ cycled in 2015, which was 984,093 people. This compares to the 1,632,000 aged 14+ in 1989 estimated above by VicRoads. Victoria's population increased 37.45% from 4,320,164 in 1989 to 5,938,119 in 2015.
From all sources including the National Cycling Participation survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Roy Morgan research group, the evidence is overwhelming that cycling participation has crashed since helmet law enforcement.
The conclusions drawn on this page are supported by data below showing Australian adult cycling participation (18yo+ and 15yo+) between November 1993, just over a year after the final mandatory helmet law was enforced in Australia, and 2013/14 - according to the Population Survey Monitor and Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation surveys published by the ABS. This includes a 1.3% population proportion downturn in Australian yearly cycling from 2011/12 to 2013/14 which supports the NCP survey finding of a 3.9% decline in yearly cycling from 2011 to 2015.
In May 2017, Austroads and the Australian Bicycle Council published the National Cycling Strategy 2011-16 Implementation Report, which focuses on Trends in serious injury due to road vehicle traffic crashes, Australia 2001 to 2010 published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in conjunction with Flinders University.
The Austroads report confirmed a decline in Australian bicycle sales in 2015 and 2016, as well as a 12% reduction in bicycle imports in 2016, and interpreted the 2001-2010 injury trends contained within the AIHW/Flinders University study:
Rates of life-threatening cases involving pedal cycle riders rose significantly over this period, with average increases of 7.5% p.a.
Rates also rose for males and females injured as pedal cycle riders, in age groups 25–44 years and 45–64 years, as well as for males aged 65 years and over. The largest average annual increase in rates for males and females was recorded for those aged 45–64 years, with average annual increases of 14.1% for males and 15.7% for females.
The overall rise for males aged 45–64 years is accounted for by the rise in injuries sustained as a motorcyclist or pedal cyclist. In 2001, 31% of all high-threat-to-life road injuries sustained by males aged 45–64 years occurred while they were riding motorcycles or pedal cycles. This proportion rose to over 58% in 2010.
Overall, and for all of the age groups presented, rates of life-threatening traffic injury sustained as a pedal cycle rider were much higher for males than for females.
The pattern of rates by age group changed markedly during the period covered by the report. In 2001, the highest rates were for the two youngest age groups (5–14 and 15–24), for both males and females. By 2010, the highest rate for males was at ages 45–64 years, and for females the highest rates were at ages 25–44 and 45–64 years.
Males aged 45–64 years and 65 years and over recorded the steepest increases in rates over the 10-year period, with average annual increases of 14.1% (95% CI: 12.2%, 15.9%) and 12.0% (95% CI: 9.1%, 15.2%), respectively. Males aged 25–44 years showed a smaller rate of increase while rates for males aged 5–14 years and 15–24 years did not change to a significant extent.
The table below is extracted from the AIHW/Flinders University study, showing how cyclists have fared by comparison with other road users in Australia.