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:
- People are healthier overall — Residents in England’s happiest cities have a longer lifespan than average. Their life expectancy is higher than the national average, coming in at 80 for men (national average: 79.2) and 83.5 for women (national average: 82.9). Regular cycling is known to improve life span by keeping people fitter, and cyclists are less likely to suffer a fatal injury on the road than motorists.
- Less traffic — With the exception of Westminster, the top cities for cycling experienced less congestion than the rest of the country. The mean delay experienced in these cities was 37.2 seconds per vehicle per mile, which is nearly 30% better than the national average of 47.3. Research shows that traffic is a leading cause of stress and unhappiness in commuters, while experts say that cycling in cities reduces congestion on the roads, particularly in rush hour.
- More disposable income — According to the regional gross disposable household income report from the ONS, residents in the happiest cities tend to have a higher level of disposable income than cities with fewer cyclists. Their household average for the ten happiest cities came in at £22,081.80 per year, whereas the UK average is just £19,432.00, a difference of nearly £3,000. Naturally, more disposable income means less financial stress and we calculated that commuters who cycle to work could save at least £1,500 a year.
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.”