HSBC UK and British Cycling find small and simple ‘nudges’ can help people get back on their bikes

HSBC UK and British Cycling find small and simple ‘nudges’ can help people get back on their bikes

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Simple and small ‘nudges’ can have a lasting impact on the UK’s cycling habits, a series of behavioural studies released today by HSBC UK and British Cycling has found.

Most people learned to ride a bike as a child when it was a fun activity to take part in with friends or family. Yet as we grew older, many of us have forgotten or lost the freedom that came with getting on a bike. In fact, over fifty per cent of UK adults have been identified as ‘lapsed riders’ – those who know how to ride a bike but have stopped.

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To help get more people on a bike, HSBC UK and British Cycling developed a series of studies to identify new and tangible ways to inspire action. Devised with behavioural science experts at Columbia University in New York, the Bike Shed studies are based on real-world testing to look at how best to encourage, motivate and dispel the fears associated with getting on a bike.

The launch of the Bike Shed studies mark the end of the first year of HSBC UK and British Cycling’s eight-year partnership, aimed at embedding cycling within communities up and down the country. The partnership’s ambition is to inspire two million cyclists by 2020.

The studies found that small behavioural nudges can motivate people to cycle again. The research reveals that:

Support from friends or family can have a big impact on keeping to cycling goals: People who were prompted to make a plan and set cycling goals with the support from friends or family went on to do 20 per cent more cycling during the following four weeks, compared to people who were not prompted to make a plan with the social support.

Breaking down mental barriers by helping people to visualise themselves as a cyclist can make a lasting change to people’s behaviours: In the study providing people with a virtual reality headset showing them realistic vistas of being out and about on a bike were 39 per cent more likely to get on a bike again afterwards, compared to those who viewed a control video.

When you remind people of the fun they can have cycling, people get back on their bikes: In registration emails sent out to HSBC UK City Ride attendees, messages appealing to a sense of fun or the nostalgia of rediscovering your cyclist were most effective in motivating people to sign up. The average improvement rate was found to be around 15 per cent compared with alternative reasons to attend.

The results from the Bike Shed studies pave the way to help understand cycling behaviours and get as many people as possible on their bikes. More people cycling will result in a variety of benefits, including improvements to health and to the environment.

Luke Harper, Head of British Cycling Partnership at HSBC UK said: “The goal we have set with British Cycling to get two million people back on their bike is deliberately ambitious. We know that changing people’s behaviours is tough – especially when it comes to changing long standing habits. The Bike Shed studies launched today are the first of our partnership and they have shown that even the smallest of changes can make a lasting difference to people’s behaviour.

“There’s a cyclist in all of us, it just needs teasing out – primarily through fun, friends and family. This the first step we’re making with British Cycling to inspire people to get back on their bikes to create a greener, fitter and healthier country, and will shape our thinking on how we encourage people to get back on their bikes.”

Julie Harrington, CEO at British Cycling said: “We are all creatures of habit, and this is no different when it comes to riding a bike. Most of us are aware of the many health or environmental benefits that riding a bike brings, but still do not cycle regularly, perhaps because we have concerns about safety or lack confidence when riding on the road. Our partnership with HSBC UK is all about understanding those barriers, breaking them down and getting people back on a bike.”

Hale Forster, Behavioural Scientist, Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia University, New York said: “The Bike Shed studies applied behavioural science insights to real life scenarios to generate evidence on what motivates people to cycle. The results from the first year have been promising so far and the findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that small nudges can help us to achieve our own goals. Because they are simple, these behavioural nudges can be applied at a wide scale fairly easily and quickly.”

The findings from the studies within the Bike Shed studies will continue to be confirmed and verified through repeated testing over the course of the partnership.

As well as the Bike Shed studies, the partnership also saw over 100,000 riders enjoy a day of traffic-free city centre cycling at HSBC UK City Rides across 14 locations in the country, support for cycling groups and programme such as the HSBC UK Ride Social, the UK’s largest social cycling community, HSBC UK Guided Rides and HSBC UK Breeze rides, aimed at inspiring women to cycle for fun and fitness.

For more information and to read the full Bike Shed studies please visit