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SECTION II
BICYCLES AND BICYCLE USERS

This section of the report describes what is known about the size and composition of the U.S. population of bicycles and bicycle users. This information provides a general picture of the size and characteristics of the bicycling population who may require bicycle-safety education.

BICYCLES IN THE UNITED STATES

ANNUAL BICYCLE SALES

An important indicator of the changing trends in bicycling is the number of bicycles sold in the United States each year. Figure 1 shows the number of bicycles sold in the U.S. each year from 1955 through 1977. The annual sales figures shown in Figure 1 include both domestic and foreign-made bicycles. During the years between 1955 and 1970, annual sales increased from slightly under three million to about seven million bicycles per year. The average increase in annual sales during this period was about 200,000 bicycles, but sales did not increase every year. In the three years following 1970, annual sales increased from about seven million to over 15 million bicycles per year. More than 43 million bicycles were sold from 1972 through 1974.


Figure 1

Annual bicycle sales from 1955 through 1977
(Bicycle Manufacturers Association, 1978).

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fig1sm.gif (4391 bytes)


The decrease in bicycle sales in 1975 was even more dramatic than the sales increases in 1971 and 1972. The Bicycle Manufacturers' Association reports that the sales decrease of over six million bicycles in a single year was due to the combined forces of the economic recession, the easing of the fuel shortage, and a temporary saturation of the market (Morse, 1977). Sales increased slightly in 1976 and 1977, and the Bicycle Manufacturers Association anticipates an increase to nearly 10 million in 1978. Although annual bicycle sales have decreased considerably from their peak of over 15 million per year, the "bike boom" cannot be considered at an end with annual sales approaching ten million.

As was stated in Section I, the increase in bicycle usage was due in large part to the increased popularity of the lightweight bicycle. As is shown in Figure 2, the growing popularity of the lightweight bicycle is clearly reflected by the increasing number of lightweight bicycles being sold in the United States. It can be seen that lightweight bicycles accounted for only 12% of the annual sales in 1969. By 1974, nearly three-fourths of all the bicycles sold in the United States were lightweight models. The absolute number and relative proportion of lightweight bicycles sold decreased in 1975, 1976, and 1977; but even so, annual sales exceeded four million in 1975 and 1976 and exceeded five million in 1977.

The decrease in the number of lightweight bicycles being sold is due primarily to a temporary saturation of the market during the period from 1972 to 1974. Also, because there is no widespread shortage of gasoline, there is less pressure on adults to use bicycles rather than motor vehicles. The advent of gasoline shortage or gasoline rationing would almost certainly result in a large and rapid increase in the sale of lightweight bicycles.


Figure 2

Annual sales of lightweight and other model bicycles
from 1969 through 1977.

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fig2sm.gif (11204 bytes)


Another interesting trend in bicycle sales is the increasing popularity of the motocross model bicycle. The motocross bicycle -- styled after the motocross motorcycle -- is a ruggedly-constructed bicycle built for jumping and dirt riding by juveniles. Representatives of the Bicycle Manufacturers' Association report that the motocross bicycle, introduced on the market less than three years ago, is selling at an annual rate exceeding 700,000 (Morse, 1977). It will be interesting to see if a bicycle ideally suited to stunting and rough use will have a significant impact on accidents among the juvenile user population.

BICYCLES IN USE

Bicycles in use in the United States has been estimated by both the National Safety Council (1976) and the Bicycle Manufacturers Association (Morse, 1977). The National Safety Council assumes an average bicycle life of ten years, so estimates the bikes in use for a given year by summing the ten-year total domestic production plus imports less exports. Although the Bicycle Manufacturers Association uses a similar estimation procedure ("estimated bike life by a unit sales figure"), their estimates of bikes in use is between five and ten million less than the National Safety Council's estimates.

Figure 3 shows the National Safety Council's estimates from 1935 through 1975 and the Bicycle Manufacturers' Association's estimates from 1960 through 1975. Although the agencies differ in their estimates of the absolute number of bicycles in use, they agree that bicycles are being sold at a rate that far exceeds the annual loss due to damage and deterioration. The National Safety Council's estimates show a steady increase from 3.5 million in 1935 to 28.2 million in 1960. Thereafter, the number of bicycles in use increased at an accelerated rate. By 1975, the number of bicycles in use had increased to between 83 million (BMA) and 95 million (NSC).

Judging from the present trends, it is altogether possible that 115 million bicycles may be in use by 1980. The number could be even larger if there is a significant increase in oil prices or if gasoline rationing should become a reality.


Figure 3

Estimated number of bicycles in use in the United States (1935-1975).

Larger scan

fig3sm.gif (5432 bytes)


CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BICYCLE-USER POPULATION

Bicycles in use and annual sales estimates reflect trends, but do not provide a precise estimate of the number and types of persons who ride bicycles. A comprehensive nationwide survey to assess the size and composition of the user population has not been conducted. However, several limited surveys have been located that provide some insight into the characteristics of the bicycle-user population.

SIZE OF BICYCLE-USER POPULATION

The size of the bicycle-user population depends on how one defines a bicycle user. Although there is no commonly accepted definition of a bicycle user, most of the recent survey studies have defined the user population as consisting of all persons who have ridden a bicycle at least once during the 12-month period preceding the date of the interview. A total of five studies have been located that estimated the proportion of the total population that rides a bicycle at least once a year. Table 1 shows the sampling areas where the surveys were conducted and the estimated percentage of the total population that qualifies as a bicycle user.

It can be seen in Table 1 that the percentage estimates vary from a low of 26% for Washington, D. C., to a high of 49% for Santa Clara County. The areas with a temperate climate show the largest proportion of bicycle riders (Santa Clara County, California, and Santa Barbara, California). Areas with a more severe climate show a smaller proportion of bicyclists, but the difference is not as great as might be expected. The small percentage of persons who ride bicycles in Washington, D. C., reflects the combined effects of a relatively severe climate and a non-optimal physical environment in which to ride.

Based upon these data, it seems reasonable to estimate that about 40% of the U.S. population -- about 90 million persons -- ride a bicycle at least once a year. The estimate of 90 million users corresponds closely to estimates of the number of bicycles in use.


TABLE 1

SURVEY ESTIMATES OF THE PERCENTAGE OF THE TOTAL
POPULATION WHO RIDE A BICYCLE AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR

SAMPLING AREA PERCENTAGE
OF TOTAL
POPULATION
SANTA CLARA COUNTY
(Diridon Research Corporation; 1973)
48.0%
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
(Malsin & Silberstein, 1973)
46.8%
STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA
(Barton-Aschman Associates, 1975)
40.0%
STATE OF TENNESSEE
(Barton-Aschman Associates, 1974b)
36.0%
WASHINGTON, D. C.
(Barton-Aschman Associates, 1974a)
26.0%

AGE DISTRIBUTION OF BICYCLE-USER POPULATION

Table 2 shows estimates of the age distribution of the bicycling population in three areas: Washington, D. C., the State of Tennessee, and the State of Pennsylvania. The sources of these data are shown by the references at the bottom of Table 2. It can be seen that the age distributions are nearly the same for Tennessee and Pennsylvania bicyclists. For both states, about one-half of the bicyclists are 15 years of age or younger and about one-fourth are between six and 11 years of age. The bicyclists in Washington, D. C., are somewhat older than those in Tennessee and Pennsylvania. For instance, 57% of the Washington, D. C., bicyclists are older than 19 years of age, whereas only about 40% of the Tennessee and Pennsylvania bicyclists are older than 19 years.


TABLE 2

AGE DISTRIBUTION OF THE BICYCLE-USER POPULATION

  SAMPLING AREA
AGE WASHING-
TON, D.C.1
TENNES-
SEE2
PENNSYL-
VANIA3
< 6 3% 6% 7%
6-11 16% 26% 24%
12-15 13% 17% 19%
16-19 11% 11% 11%
20-23 14% 17% 7%
24-29 19% -- 8%
30-44 16% 16% 16%
45-59 6% 6% 7%
> 60 2% 1% 1%
  1. Barton-Aschman Associates (1974a)
  2. Barton-Aschman Associates (1974b)
  3. Barton-Aschman Associates (1975)

Although juveniles account for only about one-half of the bicycling population, numerous studies show that a very large proportion of all juveniles are bicyclists. Most of the survey studies that have been reviewed indicate that between 80% and 95% of persons between six and 15 years of age are bicyclists (Chlapecka, Schupack, Planck, Kluska, & Dreissen, 1975; Diridon Research Corporation, 1973; Barton-Aschman Associates, 1974a, 1974b, 1975; Malsin & Silberstein, 1973; Vilardo & Anderson, 1969).

SEX DISTRIBUTION OF BICYCLE-USER POPULATION

Because males are more frequently involved in bicycle accidents than females, it is generally assumed that males account for a larger proportion of the bicycle-user population than females. However, no recent evidence has been found to support this assumption. Recent studies by Barton-Aschman Associates (1974b, 1975) show that the bicycling populations in the states of Pennsylvania and Tennessee are composed of about equal numbers of males and females. Moreover, for nearly all age groups, about the same proportion of females ride bicycles as males. The only appreciable difference is that a smaller proportion of females than males ride bicycles after the age of 45 years.

BICYCLE-USAGE PATTERNS

FREQUENCY OF BICYCLE USAGE

For a given geographical area, the frequency with which bicyclists use their bicycles is a function of many factors, such as: ambient temperature, amount of precipitation, average wind velocity, hours of daylight, number and steepness of hills, amenability of the roadway system to bicycle travel, and so on. Since there are few geographical areas that are the same with respect to all the factors that may influence the frequency of bicycling, it is difficult to estimate the absolute frequency of bicycling in one area from data collected in another. For this reason, the reader should exercise caution when attempting to generalize the findings reported below.

Table 3 summarizes the results of two survey studies that were designed to assess frequency of bicycle usage in Tennessee and Pennsylvania as a function of the bicyclist's age. The Tennessee study also tabulated bicycling frequency as a function of bicyclists' sex. The Tennessee study assessed frequency of bicycle usage during a 30-day period in the spring (April-May); the Pennsylvania study assessed the frequency of usage during the month of July and the month of October. The values shown are average calendar days bicycled per bicyclist during the 30-day sampling period.


TABLE 3

MEAN CALENDAR DAYS BICYCLED PER BICYCLIST,
SHOWN BY BICYCLIST'S AGE, SEX, SAMPLING AREA, AND MONTH

  TENNESSEE1,
30-DAY PERIOD
APRIL-MAY, 1974
PENNSYL-
VANIA2
AGE MALE FEMALE AVERAGE JULY, 1975 OCTOBER,
1974
< 6 17.7 12.2 14.9 22.3 17.3
6-11 19.9 19.5 19.8 21.8 14.4
12-15 19.0 13.8 16.4 19.1 12.7
16-19 10.1 9.3 9.7 13.9 7.3
20-23 6.7 5.7 6.2 7.9 3.3
24-29 6.7 5.7 6.2 9.5 4.3
30-44 4.3 6.2 5.3 8.1 3.0
45-59 6.6 2.8 4.7 7.7 4.2
> 60 10.6 3.4 7.0 5.3 3.0
TOTAL 13.2 10.9 12.1 14.8 8.9
  1. Barton-Aschman Associates (1974b)
  2. Barton-Aschman Associates (1975)

NOTE: Averages are based on persons who bicycled during the 12-month period preceding the interview.


Although the total number of bicycling days shown in Table 3 cannot be considered representative for all areas in the United States, the data show patterns of usage that are probably common to most areas. For example, it is believed that the observations listed below would be equally valid for most areas in this country.
  • The frequency of bicycle usage is greatest among juveniles under the age of 16. The frequency of bicycle usage is consistently greater in the summer than either the spring or fall. Bicyclists between 16 and 19 years of age ride about half as often as younger bicyclists and about twice as often as older bicyclists.

  • The frequency of bicycle usage tends to remain relatively constant after the age of 19.

  • On the average, males ride more often than females (although this is not true for the 30 to 44 years-of-age group, and the difference is insignificant for several other age groups).

  • Persons who ride bicycles at all tend to do so relatively often each month.

PURPOSE OF BICYCLING TRIPS

The data presented in Table 4 summarize the purposes for which bicyclists ride; the values represent the proportion of bicycle days for which a bicyclist rode for a given purpose. A bicycle-trip day is defined here as a bicyclist riding for a single purpose on a single day.


TABLE 4

PROPORTION OF ALL BICYCLE-TRIP DAYS
AS A FUNCTION OF TRIP PURPOSE AND SAMPLING AREA

  SAMPLING AREA
TRIP PURPOSE WASHING-
TON, D.C.1
TENNES-
SEE2
PENNSYL-
VANIA3
TO WORK 8.5 1.3 3
TO SCHOOL 4.9 2.9 3
PERSONAL BUSINESS 12.9 4.7 9
TO RECREATIONAL ACTIVITY 18.7 10.8 14
TO VISIT FRIENDS 14.8 17.2 21
RECREATIONAL (OVER TWO HOURS) 9.0 7.2 6
RECREATIONAL (UNDER TWO HOURS) 31.4 35.3 44
  1. Barton-Aschman Associates (1974a)
  2. Barton-Aschman Associates (1974b)
  3. Barton-Aschman Associates (1975)

Although percentage values differ somewhat as a function of sampling area, the data reflect the same general trends in all three areas. The majority of trips are purely recreational as opposed to functional, and recreational riding within the neighborhood (under two hours) accounts for the largest proportion of trips -- varying from about 31% in Washington, D. C., to over 55% in the State of Tennessee. Longer recreational trips (over two hours) account for a much smaller, but nevertheless significant, number of trips (between six percent and nine percent).

Riding a bicycle to a specific recreational activity or to visit friends are the most frequently occurring types of functional trips. The next most frequently occurring functional trip purpose is to conduct personal business. Commuting to work and commuting to school account for a relatively small proportion of all bicycle-trip days, although commuting trips are clearly more prevalent among residents of a metropolitan area (Washington, D. C.) than among the residents of a state as a whole (State of Tennessee and State of Pennsylvania).

Other survey studies have been conducted that have attempted to determine the purposes for which bicyclists ride. The findings of these studies are generally the same as those shown in Table 4, but cannot be compared directly because the trip-purpose categories are not the same. Other information about the purpose for which bicyclists ride can be found in reports by Chlapecka et al. (1975), Malsin and Silberstein (1973), Diridon Research Corporation (1973), Kansas State University (1973), Bivens and Associates (1973), Walsh and Watt (1974), among others..


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Contents copyright 1978,
AAA Safety and Educational Foundation
Republished with permission
Internet edition prepared by John S. Allen