Try cycling on Ride to Work Day … it might change your life

Tucking your pants into your socks mightn’t be trendy, but cycling to work has a range of benefits. AAP/Joe Castro

In July, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the most prestigious race in professional cycling: Le Tour de France. But what effect has Cadel’s victory had back home in Australia?

Are more Australians cycling than ever before? Are our cities becoming more cycling-friendly? And why does any of this really matter?

In the first part of our Cycling in Australia series, Dr Chris Rissel of the University of Sydney looks at national Ride to Work Day. Can one day of collective action really make a difference?

CYCLING IN AUSTRALIA: Tomorrow is national Ride to Work Day. I used to be sceptical of one-off “event” days for changing behaviour, but it is surprising how a single positive experience can change people’s minds.

Every year thousands of workplace volunteers encourage their colleagues to try cycling to work (or part of the way), offering breakfast or other benefits as an incentive.

Last year, more than 105,000 people participated in Ride to Work Day across Australia. More importantly, 43% of those who registered as new riders were still riding to work five months later.

Try before you buy

Public events can be powerful triggers for change, because people actually try the new behaviour: if they have a positive experience, they’ll want to repeat it.

The Sydney Spring Cycle is a case in point.

A study of participants in the large community event found that beginners and novice riders:

  • prepared beforehand with practice rides and built up their strength and confidence
  • felt a sense of achievement when they completed the event, and
  • continued to ride afterwards.

This is particularly likely to occur if there are others in a social network that support and encourage the new behaviour. Workplaces can do this well.

New behaviours are easier to adopt when a group is involved. AAP/Julian Smith