It is important that new or occasional cyclists are given the opportunity to try out cycling in a safe, supportive and fun environment. Examples include mass community rides where the road is otherwise closed to traffic or a bike-to-work day with a breakfast. These large-scale initiatives provide a compelling, public reminder of cycling and reinforce evolving social norms. For participants, the initial ‘ask’ is small and achievable, giving them a chance to experience success. They learn about their own abilities (‘I didn’t think I could bike that far!’) and discover the local cycling community. They may also make connections with neighbours or colleagues who cycle regularly. Organizers of these events can subsequently ask participants for a larger commitment, for example cycling to work for an entire month. Making a pledge to achieve a larger goal can generate excitement and catalyze action, particularly when done publicly.
A wide variety of programming can help people new to cycling sustain their behaviour, including organized community rides, cycling mentorship, community bike hubs, “do it yourself” bike repair, promotional packages, and small incentives. These programs can be tailored to attract specific groups who are currently underrepresented in cycling. In particular, there is a significant opportunity to grow cycling among girls and women. In Canada, 46% of men reported cycling in the past year, compared to only 34% of women. Women were less likely to have cycled in urban centres and were more likely to cite excessive traffic as a barrier to cycling.
Initiatives should strive to emphasize a welcoming atmosphere. Positive social connections based around cycling are critical to adopting and sustaining the change in behaviour. They help people stay motivated and provide opportunities for knowledge sharing, modeling and social reinforcements. Meeting other people who cycle, particularly from your own social group, also helps normalize the behaviour and make it feel less niche.
- Take an inventory of group rides offered by community groups in your municipality and their target audiences to determine whether opportunities for new or occasional cyclists exist. Offer themed rides targeted to under-represented groups.
- Expand your cycling program offerings beyond education and training to include other socially-based encouragement activities, such as mentorship and community bike hubs.
- Organize the regular closing of a network of streets, particularly in areas where on-street and off-street infrastructure does not exist, to offer more opportunity for people to cycle. Invite politicians, key city staff, media, local celebrities and influencers to participate.
- Offer follow-up programming after a bike to work day event, promoting cycling for trips other than to work and asking for longer-term commitments to cycling.
- Offer a cycling loan and mentorship program to targeted sections of the population who might not otherwise try cycling (i.e.. women, newcomer, low income).
- Ciclovías or Open Street events close streets to cars and open them to walking and cycling on a weekly or monthly basis. Started in Bogota, Colombia, this initiative has now spread across North America. The majority of participants are able to meet recommended health guidelines for physical activity while at the event, and significant increases in daily activity can stick for those who attend multiple events.
- A study of two cycling mentorship programs in Toronto and Brampton, Ontario, found that the program increased cycling. Participants were loaned a bicycle and matched with a local cycling mentor for three to four months. Together, the participants and their mentors explored their neighbourhoods and cities by bike through a mixture of small group rides and larger special events. At the close of the program, 74% of participants did their shopping trips by bike at least some days of the week and 45% commuted by bike, compared with only 25% and 10% before the program. Cycling increased in suburban as well as more central areas. How much participants were willing to spend on a bicycle and accessories also increased.
- In 2019, Vancouver’s Bike to Work Week included two ‘Bike to Shop Days,’ with prizes, discounts at shops, and guided rides around neighbourhoods, to farmers’ markets and to summer festivals.