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The primary objective of this .research was to investigate the habits of the adult bicycle rider (16 or over), who uses his bicycle on a regular basis, in order to identify characteristics of the bicyclist and his trips.

To accomplish this, in March of 1975, a mailback questionnaire was sent to all 8,405 members of the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.), an organization composed of many avid bicyclists throughout the country. Questions relating to both personal information (age, sex, city size, auto availability) and bicycling experience, such as cycling experience, riding activity in 1974, and accident involvement, were included on the form.

An identical questionnaire was .sent to about 900 members of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), a bicycling organization in Washington, D.C. This was done in order to study any differences existing between the two samples.


Analysis of the L.A.W. sample (38.9 percent return) showed that:

  • The average L.A.W. respondent rode 2,332 miles in 1974 during a period of 8.9 months. Almost 10 percent of the respondents pedaled over 5,000 miles in 1974. More than one-third traveled less than 1,000 miles.
  • Almost all respondents (96.8 percent) rode a bicycle with 5 or more gears and had available an average of 1.6 cars for their use. This is an average typical of many suburban metropolitan locations.
  • Most respondents (61 percent) reported that they used lights on their bicycles, and almost one-third use a rear view mirror and a helmet.
  • Over half (51.7 percent) stated that they had been riding a bicycle regularly for less than 5 years. This coincides with the nationwide increase in the number of bicycles sold since the bicycle boom began in the early 70's.
  • Over 60 percent of the respondents said they plan to ride "more" or "much more" in 1975 compared to 1974.
  • The vast majority (93.3 percent) of the riding took place on regular streets. Less than one-fourth of the sampled individuals reported ever using a special bicycle facility, either a bike lane or separatepath, for their riding. This riding amounted to less than 7 percent of the total miles traveled.
  • The work or school commute trip was the trip most commonly made, but the recreation or touring trip accounted for over half of the miles ridden by all respondents due to the longer distances traveled on the latter trip type.
  • The average round trip length for all trips was 13.5 miles, ranging from an average of 4.5 miles for utility trips to 22.2 miles for each recreation and touring trip.
  • Accident involvement showed that 21.4 percent of all respondents experienced a serious fall or injury in 1974. Of these, 27.8 percent required professional medical treatment. A rate of 113 accidents per million bicycle miles of travel was calculated from the data. Serious accidents (only) showed a rate of 31.4 per million bicycle miles, or an injury requiring medical treatment once every 14 years for a L.A.W. member.
  • The most common accident reported, representing 25 percent, was that of the rider falling without actually colliding with any object. After that, in descending order, were collisions with a moving motor vehicle, another bicycle, and a dog or other animal.
  • As expected, the most serious accidents involved moving motor vehicles, while collisions with dogs, or caused by dogs, also were frequently noted in this category.
  • The majority of accidents happened during recreation or touring trips and occurred on minor streets.
  • Only 18 percent of all accidents (64 percent of those requiring medical treatment) were reported to police and a written report filed.
  • Nationally, respondents stated that they would usually ride a bicycle when the temperature was above 29.6 degrees. This average varied from 15 degrees to almost 40 degrees for different states. About two-thirds of those surveyed stated that they at least occasionally rode a bicycle at night, while 75 percent, at times, ride in the rain.
  • A little over half of the respondents reported "always" obeying the laws while 47.3 percent "usually" do. A frequent comment by the respondents on this question discussed the common practice of "sliding" by STOP signs if no traffic was present.

The analysis of the variables that affected the number of miles ridden or the accident involvement of the respondents in this study indicate that:

  • The average male rode almost 40 percent more miles in 1974 than the average female.
  • The average respondent in the oldest age group (66-82) rode about 900 miles more in 1974 than the average respondent in any other age group.
  • The miles rode seemed to increase with years of experience but decreased for those respondents reported having a large number of cars available for use.
  • Females had an accident rate almost 60 percent higher than males. Interestingly, females show a 12 percent lower usage of helmets and a 3 percent lower use of mirrors, both safety-related items.
  • Older groups appear to have the lowest overall accident rate, while the youngest group appears to have the highest.
  • As cycling experience increased, accident involvement decreased dramatically.
  • The safest trips made appeared to be the work or school commute trip while the utility trip showed the highest accident rate.
  • Surprisingly, bicycle facilities where no motor vehicles are allowed showed the highest accident rate of any variable examined. On-street facilities, such as bicycle lanes or routes, showed a very low accident rate. The rates for both major and minor streets fell in between.
  • Persons wearing helmets and using mirrors showed an accident rate at least 10 percent lower than those who reported that they did not use them.
  • Respondents who "always" obeyed the law had an accident rate 38 percent lower than those who "usually" obey vehicle laws.
  • Bicyclists who ride in the rain and at night may be exercising more caution because these individuals had lower rates than others who never ride in those conditions.

The serious injury accident rates established for the regular cyclists were compared to motor vehicle injury accident rates.. Bicyclists in this study showed a rate about twice that of an average motorist. Relatively speak ing, a L.A.W. bicyclist would be involved in an injury-producing crash once every 14 years while for a motorist this would be once every 28 years.

Data obtained from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) showed differences when compared to the national sample. However, only 70 responses of the 101 received were usable. Therefore, some analyses could not be performed on the data due to the insufficient sample size, especially when stratification was attempted.

The aggregate data representing 70 bicyclists in a local area showed: The average WABA respondent rode 1,536 miles in 1974 in a period of 9.3 months, almost 35 percent less miles than the national sample.

  • The WABA respondents were on the average 5 years younger than the L.A.W. sample, which might account for some of the difference in miles ridden. However, WABA members showed a much lower number of automobiles available than L.A.W. respondents, 1.1 to 1.6. Previous analysis of the national data showed that bicycle travel increased if less autos were reported available, but this relationship does not appear to be the case in comparing the two groups surveyed.
  • Only 33 percent of WABA respondents have bicycled for over 5 years. Almost half of the L.A.W. sample was in this category. Analysis of this variable also showed that bicycle riding appears to increase with experience. Consequently, this difference in experience between the samples might also help to explain the difference in miles traveled.
  • WABA members are more oriented toward using the bicycle as a purposeful means of transportation;
  • 82 percent of all trips reported were for work, school, or utility purposes. This compares to only 51 percent of the same trips made by the national respondents.
  • The average round trip length for a work or school trip was 8.1 miles for both WABA and L.A.W. respondents.
  • The percentage of WABA respondents who experienced an accident in 1974 was very similar to the national sample. However, the Washington bicyclists showed a rate per million bicycle miles traveled almost 50 percent higher than L.A.W. members, 167 versus 113.


Bicyclists are making themselves seen and heard throughout the country. They are using bicycles for everyday trips to school and work, and for quiet weekend rides in a park. Planners and engineers are having a trying time keeping up with the demand for more and better bicycle facilities. This report provides information to those individuals and others concerned with the bicycle mode of transportation. The now known characteristics of a regular bicyclist and his trips will hopefully assist persons who are planning and designing for the bicycle's return to the streets and highways.

To further the study of bicycling habits, both of the regular user and the "Sunday cyclist", the following recommendations are made:

  1. Local bicycling organizations in different parts of the country should be sampled in order to compare riding characteristics with the national data presented in this report.
  2. Questions similar to those asked in this study should be directed at other segments of the bicycling population, such as the casual weekend rider, the people who strictly use bicycles as a means of exercise, and senior citizens who may use three-wheeled bicycles.
  3. Since certain states did not have a large number of respondents to this study, bicyclists in these states should be investigated further to determine if differences do exist between those states and others.

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