In 2010, London launched a cycle hire scheme, which lets residents and visitors rent bicycles to get around the city. Currently there are more than 8,000 bikes and 550 docking stations. However, concerns over rider safety and pollution intake have grown among Londoners. A recent study looked at whether the risks outweigh the health and fitness benefits from increased physical activity.
Reported in the British Medical Journal (2014; 348, g425), the study included data from 578,607 users of the cycle hire scheme—78% of whom were younger than 45. The main focus was to understand “change in lifelong disability adjusted life years based on one year’s impact on incidence of disease and injury, modeled through medium term changes in physical activity, road traffic injuries, and exposure to air pollution.”
Throughout the intervention year, participants logged 7.4 million cycle hire trips. Researchers observed a “trend towards fewer fatalities and injuries than expected on cycle hire bicycles.” They also noticed a positive impact on physical activity levels and subsequent reductions in sedentary activity-related diseases. However, the authors added that these benefits were not uniform among all users.
“London’s bicycle sharing system has positive health impacts overall, but these benefits are clearer for men than for women and for older users than for younger users,” they explained. “The potential benefits of cycling may not currently apply to all groups in all settings.”