Enhancing Utilitarian Cycling: A Case Study
Journal article, 2016
An increase in utilitarian cycling could have many benefits for society as well as the individual. Today, cycling is however used for only a small share of everyday trips. Several studies have identified factors that facilitate or hinder an increase in everyday cycling (e.g. built environment; weather; attitudes) but one factor missing from this list is the bicycle per se and its effect on the willingness to cycle. The paper presents the results of an interview study with participants (Ps) of a field trial where they promised to replace three days worth of car journeys with bicycling. Main questions posed were: how did the Ps in the field trial experience trying to shift their transport behaviours? and what role did the bicycle designs play in the attempt to shift travel behaviour? An assumption behind the project was that the present development of bicycles and accessories was an interesting entry point to increase utilitarian bicycling with potential to replace car use to a higher degree for a wider target group than ordinary bicycles. Ps were therefore guided regarding the choice of bicycle, i.e. they had to specify their needs in relation to bicycle design based on which trips they intended to use the bicycle for, and other everyday factors that could influence how and for what they would use a bicycle.
The results show that cycling became the normal mode of transport for the Ps after a short period of acclimatisation and a longer period of regular cycling; they claimed that to have established a new habit. The Ps painted a very positive image of cycling as a mean of transport: as convenient, flexible, energizing, relaxing and fun. With regards to physical health, the Ps reported improvements in terms of loosing weight and lowering blood pressure. The Ps had also discovered new uses for the bicycle, aside from the intended commuting. The personalized choices of bicycle had helped the Ps overcome some initial barriers to increased utilitarian cycling, such as lacking sufficient fitness, uncomfortable, long distances, being tired, too much effort, difficulties with trip chaining, shopping and picking up children with the help of their bicycles, but other barriers remained including bad weather, being too busy, lack of time, lack of daylight, inconvenience, too dangerous and too much traffic.
The study shows that it is possible to establish new habits, given certain preconditions. A bicycle that fits the individual's needs can increase the adoption of utilitarian cycling, but potential users need to be made aware of their existence and special characteristics. However, bicycle designs cannot remove all perceived obstacles. The design and interplay between different parts of the transport system sets the boundaries for the actions that are available and hence for any behavioural shift.