Cities with more cyclists are happier, according to research

Group of cyclists racing through a city centre

New research from Merlin Cycles shows that English cities with higher rates of cycling are happier overall.

If cycling really is making us happier — especially city-dwellers — then getting more people to cycle in the UK could bring a host of mental and emotional benefits.

We analyse why cycling could be making us happier — and what the government is doing about it.

The correlation between cycling and happiness

How we measured it

Merlin Cycles analysed data from the latest happiness and well-being report Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the most recent report from the Department of Transport (DoT) to see whether there was a correlation between the number of cycling journeys made in England’s various regions and how happy those regions were.

To measure an area’s happiness, the ONS asked members of the public to answer the following question: “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?” Respondents would answer 0 for ‘not at all happy’ and 10 for ‘completely happy’.

Spotting the trend

What we found was great news for cyclists: regions with higher rates of cycling tend to be happier.

The South East, East and South West of England have the highest rates of cycling, according to the DoT report.

They are also the three highest-scoring regions for happiness according to the ONS report.

You can see the trend displayed in the graph below:

Why is cycling making people happier?

There are a few factors which the happiest cities have in common which relate to cycling:

What does it mean for cycling in the UK?

The need for better cycling infrastructure in the UK is evident for pretty much anyone who’s taken their bike for a spin on the way to work or down to their nearest town. It’s a country built for cars, and despite improvements over the last few years, it still has a way to go.

Thankfully, the government has taken note. Today, there are a number of different initiatives in place that promise to transform cycling in the UK for the better.

1. London investing in new cycling infrastructure

In London, Sadiq Khan has launched a Cycling Action Plan for the city. The plan is designed to double the number of cycling journeys made in London over the next six years by investing heavily into new infrastructure, maintenance of existing cycling lanes, and getting more schools and parents involved in cycling schemes.

It’ll also see the launch of the world’s first Cycling Infrastructure Database, “a comprehensive digital record of all cycling facilities on the streets of the capital, which will lead to a step-change in the accuracy and quality of cycling data in London.”

2. Manchester plans a £28 million cycling network

Last year, a £28 million cycling network plan for Manchester was unveiled to the public. The proposed network of 15 new cycling and walking routes for Greater Manchester is part of a plan from Chris Boardman — former cycling gold-medallist — to get more people on their bikes.

The planned new routes will include segregated Dutch-style cycling lanes, which will be separated from motor traffic. These lanes will span over six miles.

3. The Department of Transport pledges £23 million to transform UK cycling

It was announced at the end of March this year that the UK’s Department of Transport has pledged £23 million to help rejuvenate cycling across the UK.

The funding includes support for outreach projects aiming to get thousands of more children walking or cycling to school. Cycling Minister Jesse Norman has announced “21 million of the funding will go directly towards improving important on and off-road stretches of the 16,000-mile National Cycle Network.

A brighter future for English cycling

“It’s encouraging to see that when it comes to cycling, the government is putting its money where its mouth is,” says Rick Robson from Merlin Cycles. “The investment we’re seeing around the country — particularly that in Manchester — is indicative of a shift in attitude towards cycling, there is, however, still a long way to go.

“Cycling is no longer being seen as a third-rate option. Instead, more and more people are seeing how the associated physical, financial and psychological benefits of the two-wheeled commute are helping transform productivity and well-being.”

“The continued support of cycling through the funding of new infrastructure could help propel the UK towards similar economic and emotional prosperity as we see in more bike-friendly countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, both of which rank in the top 6 of the 2023 World Happiness Report.”