When was the last time you rode a bike regularly? When you first moved out of your childhood home and couldn’t afford a car? Or at university? Or secondary school? Or even earlier than that?
Now ask yourself whether you enjoyed cycling and why you stopped? For most people, the answers are likely to be yes and… not entirely sure. Most of us don’t make a conscious decision to give up cycling, it just sort of happens.
British Cycling and HSBC UK are on a mission to change that and have set a target of getting two million more people pedalling by 2020. To help them do this, they ran three different pieces of research called the Bike Shed Studies to find out more about lapsed cyclists and how they might be inspired to get back in the saddle. Coach spoke to behavioural scientist Dan Berry, who designed and led the studies, to find out more about how people can be motivated to return to cycling. Tl;dr – remind people cycling is FUN!
What are lapsed cyclists?
In data that British Cycling collected I think it found over 50% of the population are people who have cycled but don’t, for one reason or another. Life gets in the way, we change our daily habits or how we exercise, and then suddenly there’s 20-something million people who are lapsed cyclists.
How do we get as many people as we can back on their bikes by 2020? It’s by particularly targeting those people who have just fallen out of the habit of cycling. It’s fundamentally a problem of behaviour change. People have dropped out of cycling without deliberately intending to – that’s a behavioural challenge so we provided behavioural science to generate solutions.
What were those solutions?
There were three parts. The first one was support from friends and family really made all the difference as a way to get people sustaining their cycling again. Not just getting back on the bike once but, once they’re back on the bike, actually carrying on cycling.
Some of that is just from cycling together. Also, it could be if you’re out of the habit of cycling and you don’t quite feel like it, a little nudge from a partner or your kids is enough to get you to go ahead and do it.
Another study found that virtual reality could help people start riding again – how did that work?
It helped people visualise themselves as cyclists again.We’ve found learning through an experience on the VR headset is really effective compared with other ways people learn which are more passive, where they’re just receiving information. These were all lapsed cyclists but this VR experience, which only lasted a couple of minutes, increased cycling by 39% more than in people who didn’t have that brief VR experience.
You can obviously get the experience by getting on your bike, but this is a nice way to do it indoors and quickly. We can potentially reach a lot of people. It’s also really fun, which is a great way to get people interested.
That leads into the third study, which showed that reminding people cycling is fun is a good strategy…
The fun of cycling had so much more impact in getting people cycling again than some of the traditional messages we might talk about, like the health benefits. Of course cycling does have massive health benefits and environmental benefits, as well as benefits for your pocket – you can save money if you commute by bike – but it is the fun and nostalgia messages that were most effective in getting people cycling again.
These were actually the biggest studies, involving around 70,000 people. We saw that talking about the fun and nostalgia of cycling encouraged 15% more people to attend the HSBC UK city rides.
So what is the first thing a lapsed rider should do to get back into cycling?
I’d encourage that person to find a buddy who’s also interested in cycling again or just someone who’s going to give them a nudge to help them follow through with their own goals. So if your friend has a goal to cycle more, encourage them to make a cycling plan. Like “I will cycle to work every Monday morning” or “I will go out cycling with my kids on a Sunday”. Then get a friend or a family member to help you stick to that plan.
And if you have no social support, is your advice to try and put yourself in a situation where it’s like you’re cycling again, even if it’s not outside?
That’s right. It will remind you of when you have been on a bike before. These are people who would have had fun cycling when they were younger and it just brings that back, helps them visualise the fun they used to have cycling.
What we’d love to do in the coming years is expand the virtual reality experience. Giving people that experience without actually having to get back on their bike will be really effective.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.