General Bicycling Statistics

How many people ride bikes?

There is no clear and absolutely correct number, because bicycle usage varies widely — from children riding to school to people commuting to work to racers going for training rides. Collecting bicycle counts can be time-consuming and expensive, and — unlike as with auto traffic counts — there is no financial incentive for states and local governments to collect bike counts. Despite these limitations, though, there are a number of good estimates of overall bicycle use.

The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors was sponsored by the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics in order to gauge pedestrian and bicyclist trips, behaviors, and attitudes.

According to the survey, approximately 57 million people, 27.3 percent of the population age 16 or older, rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002. The survey breaks this down by gender, age, and race/ethnicity.

Additional bicycle travel data is provided in the 2009 National Household Travel Survey analysis conducted by the League of American Bicyclists and America Bikes.

Why are people bicycling?

The February 2003 Omnibus Survey conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) found that of the people riding bikes, the majority reported doing so for exercise/health (41 percent) and recreation (37 percent). Only 5 percent reported commuting to work by bicycle as the primary use of the bicycle during the previous 30 days.

The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors also reported on the purpose of respondent's bicycle trips. The survey found that recreational rides and riding for exercise and health reasons accounted for the largest percentage of trips.

2002 Purpose of Bicycle Trips

Reasons for Bicycling Percent
Recreation 26.0%
Exercise or health reasons 23.6%
To go home 14.2%
Personal errands 13.9%
To visit a friend or relative 10.1%
Commuting to school/work 5.0%
Bicycle ride 2.3%
Other 4.9%

Source: The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors.

Bicycling by age and gender

Because age helps dictate transportation mode choice, bicycling rates are significantly higher for younger age groups than older ones. The 5-15 year old age group has four times the percentage of bicycling trips as the 40-64 year old age group with 3.2 percent and 0.4 percent respectively (Pucher and Renne, 2003).

Percentage of Bicycling Trips by Age

Age Bicycle
5 to 15 3.2
16 to 24 0.6
25 to 39 0.6
40 to 64 0.4
65 & over 0.4
All 0.9

Source: Pucher and Renne. Socioeconomics of Urban Travel: Evidence from the 2001 NHTS. 2003.

Gender influences the modal split for bicycling more than for any other modal choice. While trips by bicycle make up 1.2 percent of total trips made by men, bicycling accounts for only 0.5 percent of trips made by women (Pucher and Renne, 2003).

Bicycling by region

Bicycling rates vary by region of the country, though less so than walking rates. The highest rates of bicycling occur in the Pacific States where 1.1 percent of trips are made by bicyclists. The East-South-Central States have the lowest bicycling rates in the country with only 0.4 percent of all trips made by bicycle (Pucher and Renne, 2003).

2001 Regional Variations in Modal Shares for Bicycling (percentage of trips)

Region Bicycle
New England 0.7
Middle Atlantic 0.8
East North Central 0.9
West North Central 0.7
South Atlantic 0.9
East South Central 0.4
West South Central 0.8
Mountain 0.8
Pacific 1.1

Source: Pucher and Renne. Socioeconomics of Urban Travel: Evidence from the 2001 NHTS. 2003.

What facilities do bicyclists use?

Although almost half of bicyclists ride on paved roads without special facilities, separate, off-road bicycling facilities still play a large role in bicyclist mobility. According to the National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, after paved roads, sidewalks and paths are the most common facilities used by bicyclists. Shoulders and bicycle lanes are commonly used on-road facilities.

Most Common Facilities Used by Bicyclists Percent
Paved roads (not on shoulder) 48.1
Sidewalks 13.6
Bicycle paths/Walking paths/Trails 13.1
Shoulders of paved roads 12.8
Bicycle lanes on roads 5.2
Unpaved roads 5.2
Other 2.1

Source: The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors.

How far do people generally bicycle?

According to the 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, the average length of a bicycling trip taken on a typical day during the summer was 3.9 miles. Trip length was dependent upon the purpose: trips whose purpose was for exercise or recreation were longer (5.6 miles) than trips that were for other purposes (2.2 miles).

Source: The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, Highlights Report.

Citation: Pucher, J. and Renne, J. (2003). Socioeconomics of Urban Travel: Evidence from the 2001 NHTS. Transportation Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3, Summer 2003 (49–77).