Cycling facts and fiction

Cycling is a convenient and healthy way to get from A to B. We would all be better off if more people cycle, more often.

Benefits for you:

  • Feel good: better physical and mental health
  • Save money: lower transport and health costs
  • Less stress: no parking worries, predictable travel time, arrive at your destination feeling energised

Benefits for others:

  • cleaner air
  • less traffic congestion
  • more free parking spaces
  • quieter and more attractive streets
  • lower road building and maintenance costs
  • less fuel to import
  • streets with good cycling and walking facilities have higher property prices and retail sales
  • reduces the costs of climate change

With two thirds of urban trips shorter than 6 km (a distance that is easily bikeable in 20 minutes), cycling has huge potential to improve living standards for New Zealanders.

Facts and Fiction

But there are some common misperceptions about cycling. Let's look at these:

Fiction: Not many people bike these days.
Fact: About 30% of people in New Zealand ride bikes.

The Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey showed in 2013 31% of New Zealanders aged over 15 biked. Female 26%, male 36%.

In 2019-2022 period, 37% of Kiwi's cycled, with 33% female, 41% male breakdown.

Around half of NZ households have a bike in working order.
73 million cycling trips are made per year.
67 percent
of those 5-12 years old, 53 percent of those 13-17 years old and 30 percent of those 18 years and over have cycled at some stage in the last year.
19 percent of people reported cycling in the last month.
About 48,000 people ride to work (about 2.2% of commuters) according to the 2018 Census. Commuting by bike is increasing in many cities including Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

SPARC figures show cycling is in the top five most popular leisure activities.

Fiction: Cyclists don't pay for the roads.
Facts: People cycling pay their share.

Roads are partly paid for by ratepayers (through Local Authority rates allocated to roading) and partly by taxpayers (through general and fuel taxes allocated to roading). All adult cyclists that own or rent property contribute to rates and all that have an income or make purchases with GST pay tax. Most adults who cycle are also car owners and so pay for their land transport use as a motorist.

It's important to recognise that a large proportion of road funding goes towards fixing the wear-and-tear that motor vehicles cause to roads. As a lightweight vehicle, the contribution of cycles to this damage is negligible.

Cyclists also contribute to the ACC scheme for any injuries they suffer while cycling, both via ACC levies as employees and through general taxation (e.g. GST) for non-earner levies.

Note: local authority and national budgets for cycling are typically <1% of the total roading and transport budget. 

Fiction: Biking is dangerous.

Facts: Cycling is relatively safe and responsible.
  • About 1 in 1,000 cyclists are in injury crashes every year, compared with about 3 in 1,000 car drivers - and the cost of car crashes is among the top injury-related health costs in NZ

  • Since 2000 about 750 people cycling were injured and 10 killed on average on the road every year, only 5% of the total - low given the numbers of people cycling

  • Cyclists are more often seriously injured than car users - school-aged cyclists are at highest risk, while regular cyclists have more crashes per hour travelled than car users

  • Only 40% of on-road cycling crashes are caused directly by the cyclist - the lowest rate of any mode

  • ACC figures suggest cycling is far safer (has a lower number of injuries among people doing it) than rugby, cricket, basketball, soccer, netball and tennis.

  • Cycling is not risk free by any means but there are plenty of common sense rules you can follow to help keep safe while biking.

  • Being a couch potato is a much bigger risk to your health. More than a third of New Zealanders don’t get enough exercise and physical inactivity contributes to 12 percent of all deaths (about 2,600 each year). A number of studies have shown that cycling is more likely to extend your life than shorten it.

Fiction: Cyclists run red lights and break the rules.
Facts: Cyclist traffic offences total less than 1% of all traffic offences per year.

It's not ok to break the rules, whether you are cycling or driving. See our campaign Stop at Red.

Fiction: Cycling is not an important part of the transport system.
Facts: Cycling is important because it provides both transport and leisure benefits.

The direct benefits include improved physical and mental health with reduced health costs, pollution and traffic congestion. Local and national transport authorities are increasingly prioritising cycling because it is pivotal to reducing carbon emissions and ensuring sustainable transport for a vibrant, healthy community.

If only three people in every 100 took up cycling instead of driving, New Zealand would save more than $1 billion per year.

Fiction: Cyclists ride two abreast and hold up traffic.
Facts: Riding two abreast is legal.

Unless passing other vehicles. And cyclists need to show courtesy to other road users, by not impeding the flow of traffic. This means riding in single file on busy roads.

Fiction: Cycling is strenuous and hard work.
Facts: Cycling is only as strenuous as you want it to be and most people ride because they find it a pleasure.

It’s actually a fun way of getting around that brings a sense of personal freedom and accomplishment. Fitness levels increase rapidly after just a short period of regular riding, making hills and headwinds less of a hassle than most people fear. Modern bikes with gears also make cycling a lot easier.

Cycling is also great for kids because it gives them independence and mobility, which are vital for their fitness and intellectual development.

Fiction: Cycling’s not practical and it’s quicker by car.
Facts: For short trips, going by car is only marginally quicker, if at all.

Most car journeys involve just one person with no luggage and are for less than 6km. In fact a staggering one third of vehicle trips are for less than 2km. Those are ideal distances for cycling. By the time you’ve sat in traffic, driven around the block looking for a park, and walked to your destination you could probably have got where you were going by bike – and parking your cycle is free and easy.

Fiction: Motorists and cyclists don’t get on.
Facts: Not true. The two groups are also not mutually exclusive.

Most adults who cycle also drive, and a third of motorists also cycle. This means there’s a good level of understanding between the groups with each willing to share the road and treat the other with respect. Road raging drivers and cyclists are the small exception to the rule that get all the attention.

Fiction: Cycling means lycra, leg-shaving and looking awful.
Facts: You don't need special clothing or prepration to cycle.

Many cyclists don’t bother with lycra, leg-shaving, or fluoro colours.  Just a few weeks of regular cycling and you can improve your fitness and feel fantastic. Check out Frocks on Bikes for the non-lycra look.

Fiction: Cyclists should be licensed and bikes should be inspected for WOFs.
Fact: Licensing and inspection of all bicycles would be impractical and increase bureaucracy.

Should every five-year-old who rides a bike in a park be licensed? Bicycles are already required to meet basic safety standards, such as having lights, brakes, and reflectors. Inspecting bikes would not make much of a difference to crash data as mechanical problems are rarely the cause of crashes.

Fiction: New Zealand streets are too narrow to accommodate cyclists.
Fact: Amsterdam doesn't have wide streets but does have an enormous cycling population.

Cities all over the world have found ways to accommodate both modes of travel. Not all streets require cycle lanes, however main streets often have plenty of room. Removing on-street parking can create space for bike lanes.

Fiction: Removing car parks to install cycle lanes hurts businesses.
Fact: Recent studies have shown spikes in sales when cycle lanes are integrated into commercial areas.

The NYC Department of Transportation looked how a protected bike lane installed on 9th Street affected local businesses and found that retail sales went up 49 percent in that area, but only 3 percent in the rest of the borough. Read a story about it and download the DOT's report here.

Portland researchers discovered that drivers to businesses near cycle lanes physically purchased more during a given trip, but cyclists shopped more often and bought more overall. That study can be seen here.

Fiction: Cycling is slow.
Fact: Travel by car in city centres often averages less than 20 km/h. A person biking without breaking a sweat is moving at 15-20 km/h.

Riding a bike has a more predictable travel time than driving, which is more susceptible to traffic gridlock and road delays, often easily bypassed on a bicycle.

Sources: Ministry of Transport, Injury Prevention Research Unit and Ministry of Justice traffic offence data.
More on health benefits
More on saving money
More on cycling for transport and help the environment

UK info on cycling and the economy


2018 Census
Ministry of Transport,

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