What is Cycling?

Cycling describes not only riding bicycles for recreation, but also the professional sport.

Cycling is thought to have a number of benefits both to the individual, in economic and health terms, and to society generally, particularly as an environmentally friendly means of transport.



Cycling is generally believed to have begun in the early 1800s, with the development of the earliest bikes. Early bikes were commonly made from wood, had three wheels and lacked brakes and rubber tyres.

The 'Penny Farthing' – also known as the 'high' or 'ordinary' bicycle – was invented in 1871 by James Starley. It succeeded earlier models known as the 'Hobbyhorse', and the 'Velocipede' or 'Boneshaker'.

The bicycle of the modern age, sometimes referred to as the 'safety bicycle', was first produced in 1892. Since this time the bike has evolved enormously, with the concept of cycling as a sport and the demands of various terrains as the principal catalysts for change.

Perhaps the most renowned cycling event is the 'Tour De France' – an annual event dating back to 1903, involving cyclists from around the world, traversing France, through a variety of terrains and culminating at L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 


Successive Governments have tried to encourage cycling as a healthy alternative to motor transport. Cycle lanes have been constructed, lockers provided and measures have been introduced to reduce theft, such as serial number stamping schemes.

Nonetheless, Britain, and London in particular, does not have the cycling culture that prevails in other European countries and cities.

The British weather, safety concerns and security fears are all thought to discourage people from cycling. Environmental groups say that the movement of facilities and services out of city and town centres is also to blame.

Cycling campaigners have long called for cycle routes to be extended where possible, and better integration of cycling and public transport to enable longer distance sustainable transport and travel.

Recent developments

In February 2012, Transport Minister Norman Baker announced a £15 million growth package for cycling and walking projects across the country. The projects funded by the package will be delivered by the Cycle Rail Working Group and by Sustrans, the charity responsible for co-ordinating the National Cycle Network across the UK, which is now over 13,500 miles long.

Sustrans will receive £8 million to create routes along the lines of its successful Connect2 programme, which enables millions of people to make local every day journeys by foot or by bike.

The Cycle Rail Working Group will receive £7 million to improve integration between cycle and rail at stations across the country, including improved cycle facilities at stations.

In March 2012, the Department for Transport announced that 38 new and improved cycle routes had been agreed and that over 7,500 new cycle spaces were to be provided at railway stations. At Cambridge station, a ‘cycle hub’ would be created with storage for up to 3,000 bikes. Commuters would also be able to hire bikes, purchase new cycles and check bicycles into the ‘bike doctor’ for a full MOT.


Over 7,500 new cycle spaces at railway stations and 38 new and improved routes have been agreed, as part of a £30 million package of developments to connect communities, reduce carbon emissions, get people active and make cycling safer and more convenient.

The funding complements £7 million that Network Rail is investing to improve cycle facilities across the country. This is going towards updating and creating new facilities at stations up and down the network, and includes £1.5 million for cycle hubs at Liverpool Lime Street, Sheffield, London Victoria and London Waterloo.

Including match funding from local authorities, train operators and private investors, the projects will collectively deliver over £37 million worth of improvements.

The Department’s contribution of £15 million, announced last month, is in addition to the £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

DfT – March 2012


“Train companies and the rail industry as a whole recognise the important role cycling plays in our growing railway and the Cycle Rail Working Group has been working hard on how we can improve cycle-rail provision further.
“This money is a real boost to the group’s work and is good news for passengers. It will allow the industry to extend and develop cycling facilities across the country, offering more people a low-cost and environmentally friendly way to get to and from the station.”

Michael Roberts, ATOC chief executive, speaking on behalf of the Cycle Rail Working Group – 2012

"Already two out of five local journeys in the UK are made by foot, bike and public transport. If we made the changes necessary to enable more people to choose smarter travel choices, we'd have clearer roads, cleaner air, and better places and spaces to move through and live in."

Sustrans – 2012