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The Sociology of Cycling: What Are the Effects of Riding on Humans?

By Tereza Antonova

A lot has been said about the positives cycling has on individual lives and society as a whole. But are those just assumptions or are they backed by science? Let’s find out.

Human genetics

Some scientists argue that cycling significantly contributed to the transformation of human DNA in some areas. While it may sound a bit peculiar, the reasoning is quite convincing. At the end of the 19th century, the invention of a bicycle allowed isolated communities to travel to other territories they were not able to reach before. People did not have to marry their relatives anymore as, suddenly, there were other options on the table. Prospective young ladies and gentleman could hop on their bike and ride to find their life partner.

© Neil McAllister / Alamy / Profimedia

Inclusion of the elderly

Many seniors express concerns that as they grow older, they become more and more socially excluded. Here’s what cycling can do for them: studies show that especially in cities with well-established cycling infrastructure, it plays a major role in the social inclusion of the elderly. As a means of transportation, the bicycle helps them regularly engage in physical activity. But equally important is the impact cycling has on mental health – it helps seniors feel a part of a community. They don’t necessarily have to enter a cycling club. What is crucial is the mere fact they spend time outside their homes with other people, no matter if it’s because they want to meet a friend or simply go for a ride.


Cycling proved to bring various positive effects on the economy. First of all, it mobilizes the transportation disadvantaged. These could be people living at the locations that are, for various reasons, hard to move throughout by foot or by car. Bicycle helps low-income people living in peripheral areas expand their options and commute to a better-paid job. Further, it increases the accessibility of services, healthcare and other life-sustaining facilities. But it also boosts the economy in general: cyclists are likely to get off the saddle for a little break and engage in shopping. The numbers have shown that urban cyclists tend to make more stops throughout their ride and due to the higher frequency of their purchases, they spend more than motorists.

© Jochen Tack / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

Racial diversity

One might assume that the growing number of bicycle users in society includes cyclists of all races. In other words, we may tend to think that the more cyclists, the higher racial diversity on the streets. In a way, that is true; cycling does contribute to racial diversification on the roads, simply because people of all kinds of racial backgrounds hop on a bicycle.

When studying the U.S. cycling rates between 2001 and 2009, scientists found out they rose most quickly for African Americans, Asian American and Hispanics. However, the cycling community is not automatically inclusive. While in Copenhagen, for instance, racial diversity in the cycling community is somewhat natural, in other countries and territories, it is certainly not to be taken for granted. There are studies arguing that in London, for example, cycling is still a matter of affluent white people.

The usage of bicycle benefits its users in various ways. It brings about positive health effects and increases the accessibility of goods, job opportunities and public services. When looking for measures to support the under-represented racial minorities and improve their life standard, governments and authorities can find a great partner in cycling. However, they have to begin with implementing policies encouraging these groups to start using bicycles.