If you’re reading this blog then the phrase “interesting demographic data” probably doesn’t sound like an oxymoron to you. That’s a good thing because you’ll find a heap of it in a new analytical report out on bicycling. Among other things, we get a clearer view of the race and income components of US bicycling.

Here’s a look at bike trips broken out by racial and ethnic categories:

who bikes 1.2

Two big things stand out here for me: 1) white people remain somewhat over-represented; but 2) bicycling appears to be trending toward racial parity. As of 2009, roughly 21 percent of all bike trips in the US were made by people of color, and it looks as though US cyclists may soon look pretty darn similar to the nation as a whole.

Now, here’s a look at bike trips broken out by income categories.

  • If you divide up Americans by income into four equally-sized categories (“quartiles” in the business”), this is how they represent among bike trips:
    who bikes 2
    Surprised? Contrary to popular convention, the biggest share of bicyclists isn’t yuppies, it’s low income people. In fact, the lowest-earning quarter of Americans make nearly one-third of all bike trips. Among that group, I would expect to find at least some fraction of working poor, students, the unemployed, and retired people of modest means. No doubt there are almost as many reasons to bike as there are cyclists, but it’s clear that bikes are a favored choice among those on a budget.

    The big takeaway for me, however, is looking beyond low-income riders. Bicycling is remarkably evenly distributed among the remaining three quartiles. With the exception of the over- represented bottom quartile, bike trips don’t appear to be the province of any one income class more than any other.


    Wonky update, 4/6/11—Commenter RK, below, asserts that in the first chart I’ve used Census demographic data that are inconsistent with those used in the study’s treatment of bicycle trip demographics. The study itself does not make clear which demographic data set are being used, and after reviewing the primary source materials used by the study, I’m still not clear which are appropriate.

    Nevertheless, in an effort to provide a fuller perspective on the demographics, I’ve created a new version of the first chart that uses the Census data RK believes are accurate. In this case, “hispanic” is treated as a racial category that is mutually exclusive of other categories, rather than as an ethnic characteristic that crosses racial categories. The result is that the share of “white” is reduced, like so:

    who bikes 1.4

    Slicing the numbers this way, we see a more pronounced over-representation of white bike trips. Other racial categories remain unchanged, as does the trend toward racial parity in bike trips.


    Notes: I created these charts using the data from Table 3 on page 5 of “Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies in Large North American Cities,” published by the University Transportation Research Center, authored by John Pucher at Rutgers and Ralph Bueler at Virginia Tech. In the first chart, “share of population” figures are provided by me and are the percentage reported by the American Community Survey’s 2005-2009 averages, and do not include multiracial figures. The second chart, “bike trips by income” refers to 2009.

    N/B – I corrected a small error in the first chart that I discovered after it was re-posted by Andrew Sullivan. The correct share of white people is 75, not 76.