Micheline Maynard, Contributor
8/27/2013 @ 11:50AM
People who prefer to get behind the wheel of a car for every trip often wonder what motivates someone to cycle everywhere. Now, researchers at McGill University in Montreal have come up with some answers.
Their new study divides cyclists into four types: dedicated cyclists, path-using cyclists, fairweather utilitarians, and leisure cyclists.
The Montreal researchers — associate professor Ahmed El-Geneidy, research fellow Michael Grimsrud and graduate research assistant Gabriel Damant-Sirois — believe the findings will help guide urban planners, transportation engineers and policy makers as they remake cities to respond to new transit demands.
“Cycling as a means of transportation has increased in many European and American cities,” the researchers write. “From what was seen by many as a recreational or physical activity, cycling also has become a mode to commute in urban areas.”
Montreal, like a growing number of U.S. cities, is embracing a broad view of transportation that includes Bixi bike sharing and bike paths, a subway system, along with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. This week, the San Francisco area will kick off Bay Area Bike Share, which spans the region from Oakland to San Jose, and promises to be one of the most ambitious systems in North America.
Canada’s second largest city is its highest in terms of biking, walking and public transit use, according to the researchers. Montreal also ranks first in North America among bike-friendly cities, and 11th in the world, according to the Copenhagenize index.
The study included 2,000 cyclists, who participated in an online, bilingual survey. The researchers divided up the respondents this way.
Path-using cyclists (36 percent) are motivated by the fun of riding, its convenience, and the identity that cycling gives them. They’d rather use a continuous route, rather than dodge cars. They were actively encouraged by their parents to ride for fitness and to get places.
Dedicated cyclists (24 percent) are motivated by speed, predictability and flexibility that bike trips offer. These cyclists are the least likely to be deterred by the weather. They aren’t as interested in bike paths, and actually enjoy riding in traffic. The researchers say these cyclists consider riding to be an important part of their identity.
Fairweather utilitarians (23 percent) are just that. They like to ride in good weather, and they’ll take another form of transportation in rain or snow. These are also bike path users, and they don’t necessarily see themselves as cyclists.
Leisure cyclists (17 percent) ride because it is fun, and not as much for commuting. They prefer bike paths, don’t like to deal with traffic, and want to feel safe, especially when riding with family members.
The study found that cycling demographics are changing rapidly. In a 2008 Montreal study, conducted before Bixi and the growth of bike paths, 65 percent were men and 35 percent women. But in 2013, the study included 60 percent men and 40 percent women.
The age of cyclists also is dropping. The average age of the 2013 cyclists was 37.3 years old, compared with 42 years old in a 2008 study. But the study also showed cyclists’ income skews high. In 2008, 13 percent of cyclists had a household income of $100,000 or more. In the 2013, one-quarter of the respondents’ household income was above $100,000.
Based on the results, the researchers said a one-size-fits-all approach might not be the right way to encourage more cycling. Emphasizing health benefits, for instance, works best with first-time and returning cyclists, but doesn’t affect the most committed cyclists who ride for different reasons.
Likewise, dedicated cyclists aren’t as interested in bike paths, although other groups see them as important. “Building a network adapted to the cyclist population, and emphasizing its convenience, flexibility and speed would be an effective strategy to increase cycling frequency,” the McGill researchers said.