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Research into motorcycle commuting – UPDATE

Thanks for your input and here’s an update…

In August of last year some of you may remember taking part in an online survey about motorcycle commuting. If you did then many thanks for helping me out and contributing to my research. BMF article here. If you didn’t then don’t worry, hopefully this article sharing some of the outcomes of that research will still be of interest.

Many research projects have looked into the benefits of travelling by motorcycle. Some look at the environmental benefits of this mode of transport in comparison to the car, whilst others focus on benefits associated with mental health and wellbeing. One of the most frequently quoted studies is from 2011 and is commonly referred to as the Leuven Report. The findings of this report suggest that a 10% shift in transport mode from cars to motorcycles would result in a 40% reduction in congestion for all road users as well as a reduction in emissions. A study by ING Insurance in Australia found that motorcyclists were 27% happier than other motorists, whilst philosophy professor Meshi Ori argues that some people have a moral obligation to switch from cars to motorcycles as their main mode of transport!

With all the benefits on offer, the question is why don’t more people ride motorcycles? What is stopping them, what are the barriers to their wider use? In early 2022 the National Motorcycle Council published “Motorcycling and the future of transport policy”. In this document they called for the barriers to a wider uptake of motorcycles to be “identified, examined and removed.” This call for action came at a timely moment for me. I was part way through my MSc and looking at ideas for a research project. I knew that I wanted it to be something related to motorcycles and this seemed like a good opportunity. I decided that to maximise the benefits on offer, particularly the environmental ones, the focus for the switch from cars to motorcycles would need to be on commuting, or business use, as opposed to purely leisure activity. I surmised that a good place to focus my research would be on those who already held a motorcycle licence of some sort. How many commuted already? What was stopping the others from doing so? Were there physical barriers, social or cultural issues? Could advances in technology provide solutions, or were other societal changes needed? Who was best placed to effect the changes needed?

To increase the validity of the study I chose to use a mixed methods approach. That is to collect both qualitative as well as quantitative data. Twenty-one motorcyclists from around the country, of varying ages and riding experience were kind enough to volunteer their time to take part in semi-structured interviews. The aim of these interviews was to gather their views on what they thought were the main barriers to a wider use of motorcycles for commuting and what they believed could be some of the solutions. After transcribing and analysing the interview outputs I produced a twenty-question survey based around the main points that arose during discussions. The survey questionnaire was circulated via several social media channels, including the BMF, with the aim of reaching as wide a population as possible. The survey received 1396 respondents, marking it as a significant study in this field.

So, what did the results say? Here are some of the highlights. No surprises, the weather remains a dominant influence in the UK, with 67% of respondents viewing getting cold and wet as a reason more people don’t use motorcycles for commuting purposes. Fifty percent also believed that increased danger due to bad weather was also a factor. A lack of security when parking or leaving a motorcycle unattended was also seen as a significant barrier, with 64% concerned about a lack of secure parking facilities and worried about theft.

Despite the strong concerns expressed about the weather, only 10% of respondents had this as their top priority when considering improvements to motorcycle design. Eighty-one percent stated improvements to security as their number one priority, clearly reflecting a fear of theft as a major concern. Increased carrying capacity, more comfort and better weather protection were the top nice-to-have items. With more power and an extra wheel for stability being the least favoured design improvements.

The overwhelming majority thought that training was more important than the introduction of more advanced safety systems; 86% of respondents believed that a higher level of skill was the key to improving safety. There was an elevated level of focus on safety and awareness with 81% agreeing, or strongly agreeing that other road users lacked awareness or respect for motorcyclists. Ninety-eight percent believed that a greater level of awareness of motorcycles should be built into the training required to drive a car and 96% believed that there should be more awareness campaigns around the benefits of motorcycles as a mode of transport for commuting.

From the results of the study, it is clear that the motorcycling community overwhelmingly understood the environmental benefits of a modal shift to motorcycles with 98% seeing a reduction in wear to roads, 97% a substantial reduction in congestion, and 92% a lower carbon footprint. Overall, 92% believe that motorcycles are less harmful to the environment than petrol or diesel cars. However, despite this, 92% of respondents thought that the government did not view motorcycling as a legitimate form of transport.

The research has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. I have also just returned from America where I presented my research at the Journal’s 10th annual conference. Watch out for more to come on that and further research projects in the future.

Motorcycling is under threat in the UK like never before. Please join me in promoting the safe and responsible use of motorcycles, not just for pleasure, but also for commuting and work purposes.

For more insights and updates on my research follow 2Wheelstocommute on Facebook, but above all, keep riding motorcycles and keep telling people how great they are!

Also remember that the BMF need you to support them please consider joining if you’re not already a member – join here

Written by Alex Parsons-Hulse

Alex is a member of the BMF Council and Area Representative for Yorkshire & the North East (Region 2)

Top image courtesy of Alex Parsons-Hulse