Following a spike during the COVID pandemic, bike riding in Australia has largely resumed regular programming according to a new survey from Cycling and Walking Australia New Zealand.
The National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey and its predecessor, the Australian Cycling Participation Survey, have been conducted biennially since 2011 and collect data on walking and riding habits through phone interviews with a representative sample of the population.
The 2023 survey indicates that 36.7% Australians rode a bike in the previous year. This is close to the 2011-23 average of 37.2%, but a decline from the 2021 figure of 40.1%.
The uptick observed at the height of the pandemic came at a time when there were fewer motor vehicles on the road and many Australians turned to bike riding as a means of exercise and a way to get around. A record 1.75 million bikes were sold in the 2020-21 financial year.
Setting aside the anomalous 2021 results, the 2023 figure is an increase on the 35% in 2019 and 34.2% in 2017, hinting at an upward trend across the nation.
While the broad brushstrokes of the recent nationwide decline hint at a failure to capitalise on the mode-shift potential of the pandemic, councils and state governments took bold steps on bike infrastructure that will bear fruit for many years to come.
In response to COVID, Transport for NSW embarked on rapid roll-out of pop-up bike infrastructure across the state, while the City of Sydney continued its delivery of shared paths and separated bike lanes in the CBD.
The portion of the New South Wales population that rode in the past year has risen steadily since 2017, growing from less than 30% to 38% in 2023. The number that rode in the past week hit the highest levels since the survey started in 2011, at 24.4%. Meanwhile, record numbers of riders are pedalling through key counting sites across the Sydney CBD.
In Victoria, where the City of Melbourne is rapidly rolling out 44km of protected bike lanes and the State Government pursues its active travel target of 25% of all trips, 39% of the population rode a bike in the past year. Aside from 2021, this is the highest figure reported since the 43% recorded in 2011. Read more about the Victorian results here.
Elsewhere, declines in bike riding participation were observed in the nation-leading states of ACT (39% down from 48% in 2011), the Northern Territory (40% down from 52%) and Western Australia (36% down from 45%).
The most cited reason for not riding a bike in the past year was that participants did not have one, which accounted for 45% of responses. Twenty-one per cent of respondents said it was too dangerous.
In keeping with previous years, most bike trips were for recreation or exercise rather than transport, 81% compared to 34.5%.
The full 2023 National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey can be accessed here.