This article looks into barriers to cycling. It is based on analysis drawn from the excellent book Promoting Walking and Cycling by Pooley, et al. You can find an image of the cover below.


Based on their time spend researching the barriers to cycling and how they can be overcome, they identify 5 main themes that act as barriers to greater levels of cycling in the UK.

1.  Problems associated with urban infrastructure

Cycling like any activity requires space for it to flourish. For too long and in too many places it was simply assumed that cyclists could use the exact same infrastructure that was built for cars with no alterations and modifications. Where this is the case it is hard for cycling to break through as a mainstream form of transportation as it is perceived to be highly dangerous by large segments of the population. The authors single out junctions in particular as one of the road areas most in need of modification to accommodate cyclists. But which is often not completed.


2. Issues of safety and risk  

This follows on from the lack of designated space for cyclists to use. It is simply the case that to many fast, busy roads come across as being inappropriate for cycling. It also encompasses people who may feel at risk cycling alone at night and those who worry about a potential theft of a bike at their home, work or other parking location.

3.  Constraints imposed by families and lifestyles

Another major barrier that arose was the difficulty of getting multi-person, multi-age households to make all or some of their journeys by bike. These include problems of storing and maintaining a fleet of road worthy bikes for all of the family. Including all of the equipment necessary to cycle safety in all 4 seasons

4. The impact of weather and topography

Another barrier that arose frequently was that of concerns over wet weather and hills. Wet weather means that modifications to the bicycle such as mudguards and cycling specific wet weather gear is needed. Whereas hills present an obstacle in that they are physically exhausting to climb if they are very large and they also may not be able to be climbed on bikes with few gears, meaning that a more sophisticated bicycle with more gears is required. The authors did make clear that the impact of topography and hills registered as a barrier far more infrequently than some of the barriers that have already been mentioned.

5. The influence of culture and image

Cycling is not yet a major mode of transportation in the UK, although there are positive moves in this direction. Its marginal status means that a vibrant culture of cycling for transport has not developed in many areas in the UK. I will quote from the authors below:

With cycling we have entered a self-reinforcing and downward spiral, in which barriers to cycling ensure it remains unusual, and its unusual status deters and/ or sabotages efforts to make it more normal and mainstream.”

It is sad that for many people in many places in the UK, cycling does not even register as a form of transportation to be used on a daily basis. There is an argument to be made that this could be a rational decision, made on thee basis of the lack of infrastructure available.

What you need to know

This article looked into barriers to cycling. It is based on analysis drawn from the excellent book Promoting Walking and Cycling by Pooley, et al. What should be clear is that there are a range of barriers preventing cycling from being taken up as a form of transportation by people in the UK. These range from purely technical to sociological phenomena. It therefore stands to reason that in integrated approach is required that seeks to come at the problem from many angles is required.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think the main barriers to cycling are?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby



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