What is so good about Cycling?

St Mary's Bike Rack

To celebrate the opening of the new bike rack at St Mary’s Derby, Paul Jackson considers the merits of cycling.

The UK government is encouraging us all to consider taking up cycling for our health, to reduce traffic congestion, to reduce air pollution and for recreation. Cycling is already very popular in some countries. In Holland, 43% of the population cycles every day, 28% ‘a few times a week’, 16% ‘a few times a month or less often’ and a mere 13% never [1]. Here in the UK we have a long way to go to catch up with only 4% of people saying that they cycle every day.

Health and Safety

One reason given for rejecting cycling is the fear of an having accident. Car drivers feel cocooned in cars fitted with seat belts and air bags. When examining cycle fatalities, a different perspective is to consider the main causes of death in the UK [2].

The five big killers – heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease – account for more than 150 000 deaths a year among under-75s in England alone, and the Department of Health estimates 30 000 of these are entirely avoidable (see for example [3]).

Against the dangers of cycling can be put the health benefits of getting decent aerobic exercise. Travelling everywhere in a car may protect you from accidents, but if you become unhealthy you are at risk from the ‘silent killers’ of heart disease and so on.

Obesity and lack of exercise contribute to up to a third of cancers of the colon, breast, kidney, and digestive tract, says a new report from the World Health Organization [4]. The study was prompted by concerns that obesity and its attendant health risks constitute a growing global epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that obesity causes 300 000 deaths in the United States annually, a number exceeded only by deaths related to tobacco.

Muscle Wasting (sarcopenia)

Cycling can help slow down and even reverse age related muscle wasting in the legs.

Sarcopenia, also known as muscle loss, is a common condition that affects 10% of adults who are over 50 years old. While it can decrease life expectancy and quality of life, there are actions you can take to prevent and even reverse the condition.

Disuse of muscle is one of the strongest triggers of Sarcopenia, leading to faster muscle loss and increasing weakness.

Just two to three weeks of decreased walking and other regular activity can be enough to cause a significant decrease in muscle mass and strength.

Traffic Congestion

The average speed on UK roads has been in decline since March 2012 and was half a per cent slower than it was the quarter before, with the rise in traffic being linked to a growing economy. According to traffic data firm Inrix, UK drivers spent an average of 31 hours in rush-hour congestion in 2017. Average car speed on English A roads at peak weekday mornings is 23.6 mph (38 km/h). Road cyclists ride at average speeds between 10 and 14 mph on the road (16 and 22.5 km/h).

Go Electric

For anyone lacking fitness, or for longer journeys, an electric bike is well worth considering. The average maximum allowed speed for an eBike is 20 mph (32 km/h), with a range of 10-60 miles (15-100 km). eBikes with longer and longer ranges are becoming available and one claims a staggering range of 300 miles (482 km) on a single charge. eBikes are powered by batteries that can be recharged from any standard household outlet.

The cost of running an eBike is highly dependent on the way an eBike is ridden. On a full charge, an eBike with a 300 Wh battery will take you 25-80 km on a single charge, depending on how rigorously you use the pedal assist [5]. For many cyclists, that’s a whole week of commuting.

An eBike with a 300 Wh battery will take about 2.5 hours to charge; whereas a 625 Wh battery needs about 5 hours. In the UK, as of October 2022, electricity is capped at £0.34 per kWh, equating to a cost of between £0.10-£0.22 per charge.


[1] Attitudes of Europeans Towards Urban Mobility, European Commission, December 2013. (Special Eurobarometer 406)

[2] Leading Causes of Death in the UK, Office for National Statistics, March 2020, https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/leadingcausesofdeathuk

[3] Avoidable mortality in Great Britain: 2020, Office for National Statistics, March 2022, https://www.ons.gov.uk, link here

[4] BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7292.945 (Published 21 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:945

[5] Guide to e-cycle batteries, Cycling UK, May 2022, https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/guide-e-cycle-batteries

St Mary's Bike Rack Detail
Photo Credit: Alicja Pyszka-Franceschini
St Mary's Bike Rack View
Photo Credit: Alicja Pyszka-Franceschini
St Mary's Bike Rack
St Mary’s Bike Rack Opened on 5 March 2023. Photo Credit: Alicja Pyszka-Franceschini