Empowering Communities to Cycle Through Behavior Change

This guest blog piece was kindly written for us by James Scott, Director of Behaviour change & Development at Cycling UK.

The landscape of our lives is shifting. Covid-19 is having a profound effect on all aspects of life, not least in the way we travel. The uptake in walking and cycling is noticeable, and local authorities are being encouraged  to implement measures for temporary cycling infrastructure to help with social distancing and enable active travel around towns and cities. This is, of course, in response to a global health pandemic, but what happens when lockdown is lifted? And how do we facilitate this newfound love of cycling? In behavioral terms, how do we enable it to become a habit and the norm?

In 2017, The DFT published its first statutory Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), a plan to make walking and cycling the natural choice for all shorter journeys or as part of a longer journey by 2040. CWIS also aims to double cycling figures by 2025, from 2% of all journeys to 4%. To achieve this, we unquestionably need the physical space of segregated cycle paths, but also communities to actively choose cycling and engage with these spaces.

But how do you enable communities to form a new behaviour? Especially one they may perceive to be dangerous or for which they don’t have the skills? This is where behavioural science and, specifically behaviour change, are useful tools.

Behaviour change helps us to dissect what lies beneath a behaviour and, in a sense, reverse engineer the issue, looking at the aspects that underpin it, such as attitudes, social norms and motivation. At Cycling UK our mission is to increase cycling participation, using a simple three-stage method to encourage people onto bikes: the Fix, Learn and Ride model

We use the Fix, Learn and Ride model within our DFT funded Big Bike Revival (BBR) programme, which aims to increase the number of people cycling and the number of short trips made by bike. The model is devised from two in-depth behaviour change theories, the COM-B model and the Self-determination Theory.

The COM-B model  consists of three elements: Capability, Opportunity and Motivation. The model states that the occurrence of any particular behaviour requires a change in at least one of the three elements.

  • Capability is the psychological and physical ability to perform a behaviour,. In the case of BBR, the Learn section, where participants of the programme need to have the capability to ride a bike. We not only address their physical skill of riding, but also look at their attitudes towards cycling and perceptions of fear associated with it.
  • Opportunity looks to address all factors that are external to an individual. This may be the environment (potentially socio-economic or physical), tools to conduct the behaviour or cultural background. This is where we use Fix, from our model. A big aspect of BBR is fixing people’s bikes, as we know 42% of people own a bike, but don’t necessarily use it. Allowing more working bikes to be used within a community also helps create a social norm, and social norms are crucial for encouraging behaviour.
  • Motivation, this includes goal setting, plans and the automatic processes that involve emotion and habit. For the BBR programme, we use Ride from our model. Once participants have had their bikes fixed and then learn the skills to confront their barriers, we set up community cycle clubs, which allows likeminded people to ride together and motivate each other.

Self-determination Theory (SDT) splits into three basic human needs, Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness. Within BBR, we focus on relatedness, which takes into consideration the importance humans place on being connected to others and a sense of belonging. Our community cycle clubs allow participants to connect with other people and create the important association of connecting with others. This has been proven to be a major motivator.

The action of going for a bike ride is simple enough but creating a pro-cycling culture is a little harder. At Cycling UK, we have proven that following the simple Fix, Learn and Ride model, which is underpinned by clear behavioural science, has been extremely effective. Typically, year on year the Big Bike Revival programme sees 46% of participants becoming regular cyclists, a 40% reduction in car trips and over 50,000 participants taking part, and to date we have set up over 500 cycle community clubs across England and Scotland. To find out more about the Cycling UK’s work please visit www.cyclinguk.org

James Scott is the Director of Behaviour change & Development at Cycling UK.

James has an extensive and high-level background in behaviour change and coaching. He often combines his experience in these two areas to design and implement transformational projects that bring about positive change in community, education and sporting environments.


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