The richer people become the further they cycle, according to official figures overturning conventional wisdom that the bicycle is largely a poor man’s mode of transport.
The richest fifth of the population cycle on average 2½ times as far in a year as the poorest fifth.
The Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey indicates that the poorest fifth, despite being five times less likely to have access to a car, are very unlikely to consider cycling as a solution to their transport needs.
The London Cycling Campaign said that people on higher incomes tended to be better educated about the health benefits of cycling and more concerned with maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Studies have shown that regular cyclists typically enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to someone 10 years younger, and those cycling regularly beyond their mid-thirties add two years to their life expectancy.
A spokesman for the campaign said: “People on lower incomes may be more concerned with the need to earn money than worrying about what constitutes healthy living or about the issue of climate change and how cycling is the greenest option.”
He said that poorer people might also be concerned that being seen on a bicycle would encourage others to view them as socially inferior. Richer people might be more confident about their social position.
People living on council estates, especially those in high-rise blocks, were also less likely to have a secure place to park their bikes.
The Cyclists Touring Club recently received a £4.5 million lottery grant to promote cycling among disadvantaged groups.
Cycling groups believe that a lack of education and negative stereotyping of cyclists are the main reasons why poorer people appear unwilling to hop on bikes.
They also blame the absence of role models for disadvantaged groups. There are dozens of well-known white middle-class men who are regular cyclists, including the Conservative politicians Boris Johnson and David Cameron and the broadcasters Jeremy Paxman and Jon Snow.
But footballers and pop stars are rarely photographed on bikes and when they are it is usually while riding in parks rather than commuting on streets.
Roger Geffen, the club’s policy manager, said that the growing popularity of cycling among white middle-class men was in danger of creating a new stereotype that would deter other sections of society from switching to two wheels.
“If we are to appeal to disadvantaged groups, we need to get away from the Norman Tebbit approach of telling people to get on their bikes. Nothing is more likely than that to put them off.
“We need to counter the powerful status symbol of the sports car by finding iconic figures to demonstrate that the bicycle can be cool. A few positive role models could have a transformative effect.”
Mr Geffen expressed disappointment at the controversy recently over the role played by Konnie Huq, the Blue Peter presenter, in promoting a mass cycling event due to take place in central London on Sunday on major roads closed to motorised traffic. She was forced to withdraw from the event after the Conservatives complained about her appearing on the same platform as Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London.
Mr Geffen said: “Konnie Huq is the perfect role model for young people who might not otherwise think that cycling is for them.”
Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England, the Government-funded body that promotes cycling, said that bicycle sales in Britain had risen from 2.8 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2006. The number of cyclists has risen by 83 per cent in London since 2000 but there has been little change most other parts of the country.
He added that the most successful bicycle companies in recent years had been those selling expensive brands costing more than £400, such as Specialised, Trek, Giant and Cannondale.
Mr Darnton, a former chief executive of Raleigh, said: “These brands have helped to turn the bicycle into a lustworthy object to own but those on lower incomes are less able to afford them.”
The London Cyclist magazine interviews a well-known cyclist in each issue.
Here are some of the answers:
Boris Johnson, Conservative MP
Why do you cycle and talk on your mobile at the same time?
Just as I will never vote to ban hunting, so I will never vote to abolish the freeborn Englishman’s time-hallowed and immemorial custom, dating back as far as 1990 or so, of cycling while talking on a mobile.
Lord Hoffmann, Law Lord
Do you always obey the Highway Code?
Up to a point, Lord Copper. Sometimes I lose patience at lights when there is obviously nothing in sight.
Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols
Why do you ride a bike?
John Ritblat, former chairman of British Land
What was your best cycle moment?
Mini skirts and hot pants.
Why do the majority of bike riders assume that everone is telepathic, and can therefore read their minds before they suddenly turning left or right without indicating? Why do they think it's their God given right to be able to drive through a red light? If people want to use a bike they should have to pass a driving test, carry insurance AND be subjected to the same rules of the road as car drivers, including not using mobile phones or i-pods. Sorry trendies - you use the same road as me so you should be subject to the same laws.
~Linda Johnson, London, England
Ask any parent about cycling and they will say that the roads are too dangerous. That is why there are not enough cyclists in this country. Having lived in both Germany and The Netherlands, cycling in this country is seen to bring you a lot closer to God, right up to the Pearly Gates.
The perception and the reality is the car rules in this country and car drivers do not look out enough for the two wheeled road users. Ask a driver and over 70% will say the cyclist doesn't pay road tax I do therefore I am more important.
Class and wealth has very little to do with cycling. Fear of death has more