Identifying the barriers to a wider uptake of motorcycles as a primary mode of transport for commuting in the UK

Alex Parsons-Hulse


A growing body of research indicates numerous benefits could be achieved from a modal shift in personalised transport from cars to motorcycles, or other forms of powered two-wheelers (PTWs). Benefits include a potential 40% reduction in congestion for all road users coupled with a 6% reduction in the emission cost of pollutants (Yperman, 2011). In most vehicle “use case scenarios” a reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions is predicted by a wider use of PTWs (McGeachie & Thompson, 2021). In addition, some evidence suggests there may be health benefits, both physically and mentally, associated with riding a PTW (Vaughn, et al., 2021) and (ING, 2020). Whilst the benefits of PTW use have at least been partially explored, little current research exists around how this modal shift could be achieved. Both physical and cultural barriers prevent the realisation of the benefits available. In a recently published document, the National Motorcyclists Council (NMC) stated that “to be effective in promoting modal shift to motorcycles these barriers must be identified, examined and removed” (NMC, 2022, p. 12).

△ Motorcycle commuters in London. [Fig.1]


Motorcycling in the UK represents a minority transport group. According to government statistics there were 1.43M licenced PTW users in the UK up to Quarter 3 of 2021 (DVLA/DfT: Department for Transport Statistics, January 2022). Of these 86% were male and 14% female, with an age range from 16-years-old to more than 70-years-old (Department for Transport Statistics, September 2021). The UK government published its Motorcycling Strategy in 2005 with the stated principal aim to “mainstream motorcycling” (DfT, 2005). Since then, several documents have been published in support of the benefits attributed to a wider use of PTWs. The NMC describe 2022 as “a pivotal year for motorcycling” (NMC, 2022, p. 5) claiming that integrated transport remains a dream, that reliance on personal transport will remain and that PTWs are key as a more sustainable transport mode than the car in many situations where walking or cycling can’t meet range and mobility requirements. The Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) have also recently published their own document “The Journey to a Brighter Destination” in which they provided their view on the economic, environmental, and societal benefits of PTWs (MCIA, 2022b). Despite all this positive positioning, there has been no clear research defining the barriers to a modal shift that could inform policy planning in this area.


The aim of this study is to identify the nature of physical, social, and cultural barriers preventing a wider use of motorcycles and other forms of PTWs as a primary mode of transport for commuting in the UK by current licence holders. In addition, it seeks to understand if advances in technology could help provide solutions to the barriers identified and gain a perspective on what organisations could do to manage the changes needed to promote and support a wider use of PTWs as a mode of transport for commuting by their employees.

The main objectives of the research are as follows:

  • to identify and prioritise the physical barriers to a wider uptake of motorcycles and other forms of PTWs as a primary mode of transport for commuting,
  • to identify and prioritise the social and cultural barriers to a wider uptake of motorcycles and other forms of PTWs as a primary mode of transport for commuting,
  • to understand if technological advancement could provide solutions to the barriers identified and thus provide directional guidance for research and development,
  • to assess the wider view of PTWs as a more environmentally friendly mode of transport compared to cars, and
  • to provide guidance on the organisational, technological, social, and cultural changes that employers, local authorities, motorcycling groups, and other organisations would need to make to promote a wider use of PTWs as an acceptable mode of transport for commuting in the UK.

To affect any form of change, it is first necessary to understand what needs changing and why. Once the need for change is identified and fully understood, the nature of the barriers preventing it can be established. Prioritization of the identified barriers determines those areas considered most important and requiring of the most immediate action. The first two objectives of this research are to identify the major barriers to the wider use of PTWs and establish a level of prioritisation.

Barriers to the wider use of PTWs are likely to be either physical or cultural in nature. With the passage of time, given sufficient focus on areas of concern, technological advancements could overcome the physical barriers. However, cultural barriers require change in fields outside of pure engineering including organisational and perceptual changes in both institutions and individuals.

Of course, there are barriers that may require the application of both engineering solutions and culture shifts as seen in the poor sales of BMW’s C1 enclosed scooter (DeAmicis, 2015). The implementation of a purely technological solution to a perceived problem cannot be considered to be widely effective if cultural, or social barriers prevent universal acceptance.

Research suggests there are environmental benefits to a greater modal shift from cars to motorcycles. The aim of the fourth objective of this study to gain an overview of the level of understanding of these environmental benefits within the study population. This will provide a level of feedback on the effectiveness of change-promoting messaging.

The final objective of this study attempts to provide guidance on navigating the complexities of UK motorcycling culture. Willcoxson & Millett (2000) suggest that cultures are based in history and develop as a cultural group forms a belief system and norms of behaviour that they perceive to be effective in understanding and interacting with the wider world. McDonald-Walker (2007) provides an in-depth historical overview of the social and political background that underpins motorcycling culture in the UK today, detailing how Riders Rights Organisations (RROs) established themselves within the motorcycling community in response to social prejudice.

The largest of these RROs are the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF) and the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG). Both organisations are well established with written constitutions and governing councils, as well as charitable and commercial arms. The inherent conflict between RROs and governmental departments is cultural at heart and requires carefully managed cooperation to effect meaningful change and facilitate a modal shift. Employers and other organisations may be ignorant of the cultural complexities concerning motorcycling, and a level of awareness and guidance may be useful in implementing change.


Environmental Impact

In its Motorcycling Strategy (DfT, 2005, p. 7) the UK Government recognises that “Motorcycles offer a number of benefits for riders”. These benefits are seen in terms of providing greater mobility through independent transport and giving wider access to employment opportunities. There is mention of “quicker travel for riders in congested traffic conditions” and, most notably in the current climate, an admission that “Motorcycles also compare favourably to other classes of vehicles on most environmental parameters” (DfT, 2005, p. 7). This is in line with the findings of the Transport and Mobility Leuven report (Yperman, 2011) which indicated that a 10% modal shift from cars to motorcycles could reduce congestion by 63% and provide a reduction in emission-based pollution of 6%. Although these figures are restricted to the case study area modelled within the report, Yperman (2011) predicts that the results could be extrapolated to provide an indicative figure for the entirety of primary road network. He is less confident on predictions for the secondary road network, citing the need for further research in this area. The case study was based in Belgium and although it may be possible to draw direct comparisons to UK traffic, differing road design standards between countries could distort the outcome. It is unlikely that such differences would entirely negate the benefits and may in fact have the opposite effect. This would require further research on the UK road network which is beyond the scope of this study. From an environmental impact perspective, it should be noted that the Yperman (2011) scenario model is based on a 4-stroke motorcycle of less than, or equal to 250cc displacement designed to meet the Euro Class 3 emission standard (European Council, 2002) as this was the legislation in place at the time of the study. Since then, more stringent regulations have come into force in the form of the current Euro Class 5 emission standard (European Council, 2013). There is a requirement for a more up-to-date study to increase the validity of the concept. This should consider the effects of the more recent legislation and the impact of this on the types and numbers of vehicles on the road.

Technology has also moved on with increasing numbers of alternatively fuelled Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) taking to the roads (DfT, 2021b). More recent research by the Zemo Partnership (McGeachie & Thompson, 2021) has focused on lifecycle analysis (LCA) of L-Category vehicles including motorcycles, looking at greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the manufacture and disposal of the vehicles in addition to their in-use emissions. This research indicates that in the majority of scenarios specified, L-Category vehicles present lower lifetime GHG emissions per kilometre travelled than their equivalent car or van when used for the same task (McGeachie & Thompson, 2021). The effectiveness of LCA studies is limited by the boundaries that need to be in place to determine what is included in the study and what is not. Thousands of individual parts make up a vehicle, each with their own lifecycle that adds to the overall lifecycle of the final product. The study acknowledges this limitation and clearly sets out the assumptions made in setting suitable boundaries. McGeachie and Thompson (2021, p. 7) cite (SETAC, 1991) guidance as a “formal definition” of a LCA and clearly state that comparisons with other LCA studies cannot be made unless the same boundaries are used.

Moral Considerations

In what could be considered a controversial paper, Meshi Ori argues that it is immoral to drive a motor car when a motorcycle could be used instead and believes that “most people should switch from cars to motorcycles as their primary means of transportation” (Ori, 2014, p. 345). In forming his argument Ori relies heavily on the work of Douglas Husak and his theories around “crash incompatibility” (Husak, 2004, p. 355). Part of Husak’s argument centres around moral objections to the use of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for standard road driving, whereby the risk to the occupant in a two-vehicle collision is much less than that posed to the occupant of the vehicle struck by the SUV. In a similar vein, Monfort and Mueller (2020) report on the increased injury risk to pedestrians from SUV use compared to standard motor cars. Ori takes the moral discussion a step further by arguing that, in a journey of a single occupant, motorcycles are morally preferable to automobiles (2014, p. 347). In response, Hansson (2014) argues that Ori’s proposal will not result in the improvement sought and that there is a requirement for vehicles with more protection, not less. Once the moral question of whether a journey is actually required has been considered, then perhaps it is a case of determining the “right vehicle for the right journey”, as advocated by the MCIA (2022b, p. 26).

Benefits to Health and Wellbeing

Aside from the more obvious benefits to the environment of reduced congestion and lower pollution levels, the MCIA dedicate the first chapter of their Journey to a Brighter Destination document (MCIA, 2022b) to the potential health benefits that motorcycling can offer both mentally and physically to riders. Partnering with the newly formed charity Mental Health Motorbike, they cite studies that proport to link motorcycle riding with health benefits. There is confusion in the referencing within the MCIA document and some biased and exaggerated claims. While the document appears to refer to two separate studies related to brain activity and stress, in reality the references relate to a single study by Vaughn et al. (2021). The claims made in (MCIA, 2022b, pp. 6-7) that motorcyclists are “more fulfilled”, or that “riding has a very positive outcome on mental health” are not supported by Vaughn et al. (2021, p. 4) whose study was related to “selective attention and sensory monitoring”. The data collected by Vaughn et al. (2021, pp. 4-6) was found to be “consistent with the self-reported stress reduction that accompanies the riding experience”, with hormonal data collected supporting “a comparison of motorcycling with light exercise”. It should be noted that the sample size of forty-two used in the study is small.

Within the MCIA (2022b) document, reference is made to a study conducted by the Australian division of ING. The only reference to this study was found on the website of ING where it is referred to as “The ING Highway Happiness survey” (ING, 2020). The survey was conducted by YouGov in Australia with a sample size of 1006 and found, amongst other things, that motorcyclists were “27% happier than the average motorist” (ING, 2020). No data was provided to support the claims, and nothing could be found through YouGov, however there is no reason to believe that the survey was unreliable.

From the literature reviewed to date it would seem that many pro-motorcycling organisations hold a powerful desire to demonstrate a link between motorcycling and health benefits. The studies used to support his apparent link are few in number, with small sample sizes based in locations outside of the UK. Further research in this area is required if the desired link is to be proven and found to be widely applicable.

Barriers to Modal Shift

The NMC (2022, p. 12) recognise that there are barriers to a modal shift to motorcycling, citing “theft, parking and safety” as the key issues. This is broadly in line with issues raised in the Governments Motorcycling Strategy (DfT, 2005). Although the government document does mention engineering and accepts that “good machine design can reduce injuries” (DfT, 2005, p. 20) this is solely viewed in the context of safety improvements around the basics of brakes, tyres, and lights. It does not credit engineering with the ability to find solutions to other barriers. The NMC acknowledge that aside from the three main issues identified, other barriers exist, and “these barriers must be identified, examined and removed” if success in promoting a modal shift is to be achieved (NMC, 2022, p. 12).

Research by Cadavid and Salazar-Serna (2021, p. 1) notes that although “the motorcycle market has experienced and upward trend”, a lack of literature has meant that “it has been challenging for researchers and policymakers to develop evidence-based strategies to promote or control the growth of this market”. Research led by WSP on behalf of the DfT (DfT, 2004, p. 19) concluded that “the most effective means of encouraging a switch from car to motorcycle usage is through increasing the number of motorcycle owners”. They also note from survey responses that motorcyclists “are strongly influenced by weather conditions.” This barrier to wider use is not mentioned by (NMC, 2022) or (DfT, 2005), however it is a reasonable suggestion that requires further investigation. Technologies in weather protective clothing have improved since 2004 and this barrier may have lessened. As the Norwegian saying goes: “det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær (there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing)” (Gundersen, 2020). Recent research by Delhaye and Vandael Schreurs (2022, p. 14) conducted in Belgium is suggestive that riders there “tend to avoid unfavourable riding conditions”, including “bad weather”. However, 11.9% of the research population reported that they rode their motorcycle all year round which necessitates riding in all conditions (Delhaye & Vandael Schreurs, 2022, p. 35). It would be interesting to compare this to data obtained from UK riders, particularly given the UK national obsession with the weather and the plethora of motorcycle orientated websites offering “hints and tips” on winter riding. Further investigation as part of this current research project would seem appropriate to determine to what extent it is a physical barrier as opposed to a psychological one.

Research by Delhaye and Vandael Schreurs (2022) is aimed at gaining a wider understanding of PTW use and motivations and identifies eight specific rider profiles. Whilst the results are indicative of certain barriers to the wider use of PTWs, such as weather and seasonal conditions, safety concerns and technological changes, the research does not set out to implicitly determine these as barriers or seek to understand ways to minimise or remove them. In the case of most PTW users, cars remains “the main mode of transport” (Delhaye & Vandael Schreurs, 2022, p. 14) with only 7.5% of riders identifying with the “Day-to-Day rider” profile (p. 15).

Research by Steg (2003, p. 34) found that people had strong functional, psychological, and cultural links to private cars and that they are seen as status symbols, offering a sense of freedom and independence. Although this piece of research was aimed at gaining a better understanding of why people prefer the use of private cars to public transport it does suggest that increasing “the functional, psychological and cultural values” of “other alternative modes of transport” would be the most effective approach to encourage a shift in primary transport mode (Steg, 2003, p. 34). A sense of freedom is at the core of motorcycling, with McDonald-Walker (2007) viewing it as a “central issue” both “socially and politically”. In their research Humphrey and Andersson-Hudson (2022) asked specific questions around the importance of freedom and what it meant in the context of motorcycling. It would seem that this notion of freedom is more about the right to choose to ride a motorcycle when it suits, whilst also retaining the right to drive a car when it is an easier option. With cars in the UK heading towards a more controlled self-driving future, will motorcycles come to represent that last bastion of freedom on the road?

Organisational Change

In its Motorcycling Strategy, the UK government was clear that it can’t “deliver the agenda for mainstreaming motorcycling alone”, indicating that others including “local authorities, the police, the motorcycling community and others” would need to be involved (DfT, 2005). The actions listed in the strategy are related to safety and compliance issues with nothing specifically aimed at encouraging wider modal shift. It is perhaps fair to have a focus on safety as the wider public perception of motorcycling is that it is a dangerous activity (Musselwhite, et al., 2011). However, a perception of state interference, image problems and marginalisation were exactly the issues that saw the original formation of Riders Rights Organisations (RROs) (Humphrey & Andersson-Hudson, 2022).

Aside from campaigns and organisations based around improving the safety of motorcycling, there have been few campaigns focused solely on the promotion of a modal shift to motorcycling as a form of transport for commuting, and little written about the subject. The first “Ride to Work Day” campaign was launched in the US in 1992 (Ride to Work, 2022) and this has since inspired a Ride to Work Day campaign in the UK promoted by MAG (MAG, 2022). As part of the campaign in 2021, MAG produced an “Employer’s Guide to supporting motorcycles and scooters as a travel choice” (MAG, 2020) indicating that the attitude of companies and employers towards their employees’ choice of transport mode could be seen as a barrier to modal shift. At the time of writing, no results from this campaign were available to support its effectiveness, and there is a requirement for further research in this area.

Despite the governments call for local authorities to help deliver its “agenda for mainstreaming motorcycling” (DfT, 2005), evidence suggests this call has not been answered. In 2020 Oxfordshire County Council were forced to apologise after their Local Transport and Connectivity Plan claimed that “statistical evidence suggests motorcyclists are a danger to themselves” (BBC, 2020). There is clearly a need for organisations, including local authorities to undergo culture and organisational change to better align with the governments aims, understand, and implement measures to encourage modal shift to motorcycles and other forms of PTWs.

The UK government claim to an “agenda for mainstreaming motorcycling” (DfT, 2005) appears somewhat hollow when compared to its more widely publicised support for cycling through its cycle to work scheme (DfT, 2019). This scheme uses salary sacrifice as a form of incentive for employees to fund the hire of a bicycle from their employer, which they can then use to commute to work. The scheme guidance is clear that for it to be effective employers must be encouraged to provide “suitable facilities” including secure parking, changing, and showering areas and lockers for equipment (DfT, 2019, p. 6). Similar, or even identical facilities could be an incentive for motorcyclists.

It is clear that, whilst the government can offer incentives and legislate to force change, the real driver for sustainable, welcomed change must come through other organisations by way of the development and implantation of cultural and behavioural change. In the world of organisational change, change management is often undertaken following a process set out in a model. Three of the most common models used are those of Kotter (2007), Lewin (MindTools, n.d. a) and the Prosci ADKAR model (Prosci, n.d.). Although all three model differ in their approach and the number of stages they go through, they all agree on the starting point for change in the necessity to establish a need for change. Kotter (2007, p. 1) goes further with the need to “establish a sense of urgency” for the change. It is the Kotter model that, although aimed at the corporate world, most closely mirrors the trajectory of RROs such as MAG and the BMF, as well as the NMC and the MCIA in their quest for transformational change.

Literature Gap Identified

One of the conclusions of Wigan (2002, p. 45) was that further research was needed into “Modal choice—factors that determine the selection of motorcycles for travel”. Since then, there have been several studies that looked at what motivated people to their chosen mode of transport for commuting and what factors prevented a wider use of other modes. Most studies – such as Van et al. (2014) and Nordfjaern et al. (2014) – tend to consider barriers to a modal shift from cars to public transport, whilst others are more concerned with looking at a shift to “active transport modes” (Delso, et al., 2018). “Walking and cycling can only meet a limited range of mobility needs” (NMC, 2022, p. 5) and with new motorcycle registrations for 2022 trending year-to-date up 32.4% (MCIA, 2022a) there is a need to understand the barriers preventing the realisation of the benefits of a wider modal shift to motorcycles. “These barriers must be identified, examined and removed” (NMC, 2022, p. 12).

With reference to organisational change and specifically the Kotter Model (2007, p. 1) the first three stages have arguably been achieved by the NMC and the MCIA. They have formed a coalition of groups with shared commitments and created an overriding vision. In the case of the NMC, their Motorcycling and the Future of Transport Policy document (NMC, 2022) and for the MCIA, their Journey to a Brighter Destination report (MCIA, 2022b). The fourth stage of communicating the vision is in progress, but the next stage remains the biggest challenge: “remove or alter systems or structures undermining the vision” (Kotter, 2007). People can view systems and structures as barriers to change. To remove barriers, one must first establish the nature of those barriers. Little up-to-date literature defines the barriers to a modal shift to motorcycling for commuting in the UK or explores ways to overcome them.

Brown (2020a) urges organisations to support their staff who want to ride to work by conducting surveys to better understand the barriers so that employers can look to overcome these. Brown (2020a) also suggests that some of these barriers are likely to be physical and others, as he puts it, could “be more subtle”, indicating more cultural issues of discrimination and reputation. However, Brown (2020a) is an article from a website and thus there is a requirement for further academic research to substantial and quantify the claims made.


The research took the form of an explanatory study and sought to go further than a descriptive exercise of merely identifying barriers to modal shift by examining why the barriers exist and what, in the opinion of the study participants, could be done to overcome them. To achieve this objective, a mixed methods approach was selected. Due to the time constraints of the research, the study was cross-sectional in nature and thus limited to a simple mixed-method strategy (Saunders & Lewis, 2018). Data collection was sequential with development of the research instrument in mind (Halcomb, 2019). Qualitative data collection was initially through a series of semi-structured interviews. The results of which informed the construction of an online questionnaire. This questionnaire was then circulated to a much wider audience with the intention of collecting quantitative data.

Selection of Study Population

The population chosen for this research study was motorcycle licence holders in the UK. The Official Highway Code (DVLA, 2022, pp. 137-138) describes the fairly complex system of licensing motorcycle riders in the UK. The study population included A1, A2 and A category licence holders as well as all riders who had completed compulsory basic training (CBT) and were thus provisional motorcycle licence holders. The decision to include provisional licence holders was based on the common knowledge that due to the costs involved in obtaining a full motorcycle licence many riders choose to simply renew their CBT every two years and continue to ride on L-plates. This process is an entirely legal and the practice is widespread, particularly with city commuters and delivery riders. Provisional riders only have permission to ride motorcycles up to 125cc displacement and a power output not exceeding 11kW (DVLA, 2022, p. 137). Data from the MCIA (2022c) indicates that this is still the largest category of motorcycle in terms of new vehicles registered.

The reasoning behind the selection of this specific population was that they were more likely to have direct experience of commuting on a motorcycle or other form of PTW, or would be more able to relate to, or have more valid opinions of the subject compared to those who had never held a motorcycle licence of any kind. It was hoped that this closer connection with the concept would provide a more realistic identification and understanding of the barriers to modal shift together with a more experience-based view of potential mitigations. In this sense the study was somewhat ethnographic in nature as it sought “an understanding of another way of life”: commuting by motorcycle, “from the perspective of those pursuing that lifestyle”: motorcyclists (Saunders & Lewis, 2018, p. 124). Having overcome the barriers to riding a motorcycle, what barriers remained to using one to commute to work?

Sampling Method

The details of driving licence entitlements data is available in Table DRL0110 (Dft, 2022) published by DVLA. This data is insufficient to form a complete list of the motorcycle licence holding population in the UK and therefore a valid sampling frame could not be established for the purpose of probability sampling (Saunders & Lewis, 2018). Data collection for the study took place in two distinct activities: a series of semi-structured interviews and an online questionnaire, with both utilising different non-probability sampling techniques.

Semi-structured Interview Sampling Method
The approach to sampling for the series of semi-structured interviews was multi-faceted. Due to the small size of the sample and the need to collect qualitative data, purposeful sampling was the main method chosen. It was considered of primary importance that the participants had suitable and varying levels of experience of motorcycling. To determine this, they were asked to confirm the length of time that they had held a motorcycle licence and whether they had undertaken any post-test advanced training. Due to the number of “CBT only” riders as previously discussed; four riders who represented this group were chosen. Potential participants were asked about the types of riding they were involved in. This was categorised as leisure, commuting and business use with a particular emphasis on the regularity of any commuting that they undertook by motorcycle. A number of participants were chosen because of their close links to and understanding of the views of a wider motorcycling audience. These included a motorcycle journalist, CBT Instructor, RoSPA Tutor, political lobbyist (motorcycling) and a MAG Officer.

There was also an element of quota sampling undertaken. The author believed that it was important to represent the current gender balance in motorcycling as evidenced in the National Travel Survey Table NTS0610 (DfT, 2021a). Age was also a factor considered although the prioritisation of the other factors already discussed prevented the composition of the interview participants chosen matching the figures provided in Table NTS0610 (DfT, 2021a).

In considering the number of semi-structured interviews required, the study population was considered to be heterogeneous and a target of between 20 and 25 was set based on the advice of Saunders and Lewis (2018) and Hennink and Kaiser (2022). After conducting twenty-one interviews, no new information relevant to the research questions was being gathered and a point of saturation “data adequacy” had been reached (Morse, 1995).

Questionnaire Sampling Method

The questionnaire was developed from the outputs of the structured interviews and designed to collect quantitative data. Volunteer sampling was used where potential sample members were able to volunteer to complete the online questionnaire (Saunders & Lewis, 2018, p. 146). The questionnaire was created using Survey Monkey, and this allowed for the generation of a hyperlink which could be shared on the internet and in emails. The objective was the collection of as many responses as possible from the wider UK motorcycling community. The hyperlink together with details of the research were published on a number of Facebook user groups and forums. The BMF and MAG were also provided with the details and they in turn published them through their social media channels and newsletters. The online survey questionnaire comprised of twenty questions derived from the output of the semi-structured interviews. It was open for respondents from the 28th of July until the 21st of August 2022 and received a total of 1396 responses.

Design of the Semi-Structured Interviews

Nine topics for conversation were selected to make up the outline structure of the interviews. The first discussion topic focused on what participants viewed as physical barriers to a wider use of motorcycles for commuting including weather, security, financial, practicality and safety matters. This led naturally to the second topic which was concerned with obtaining participants’ views on potential technological improvements that could be made to motorcycles or related equipment to lessen the barriers that they had identified. The third topic turned to social and cultural issues that the participants viewed as barriers, including the perceived image of motorcyclists and motorcycling and its recognition as a mainstream form of transport. In response to the third topic, topic four focused on ways to overcome the social and cultural barriers discussed. Having discussed the barriers and mitigations, the aim of topic five was to understand the participants’ views on and understanding of the environmental impact of motorcycles and the extent to which they viewed their wider use as part of the solution to transport issues. Topic six was designed to gain information on any existing promotional methods that participants might be aware of, or have benefited from, relating to companies or other organisations that were encouraging a wider use of motorcycles for commuting. Discussion of topics seven and eight was based on the premise that there was a drive to promote motorcycling as a mainstream form of transport for commuting. Participants were asked their views on what employers; the government and other organisations could do to support such a drive. Finally, topic nine provided an opportunity for open conversation on any topics or points that the participant felt warranted inclusion in the overall discussion.

Design of the Survey Questionnaire

Data obtained from the series of semi-structured interviews informed the design of the questionnaire which consisted of twenty questions.

The first question related to how respondents used their motorcycles. This was the same as one of the questions asked of potential participants in the semi-structured interviews and used the same categorisation: leisure, commuting and business use with a particular emphasis on the regularity of any commuting undertaken by motorcycle. The purpose of the question again was to give an indication of how close the respondents were to the subject matter of motorcycle commuting.

Question two asked respondents to what extent they agreed with eleven statements relating to reasons why more people may not use motorcycles for commuting to work. Each statement was based on a physical barrier identified by the semi-structured interview participants and the purpose was to understand to what extent the wider survey population agreed with the interviewee’s viewpoint.

Question three asked how far is too far to commute on a motorcycle or scooter, with a range of distance options to choose from. This was intended to assess the commitment of the respondents to motorcycle commuting by encouraging them to think about what distance they would be prepared to travel.

Question four related to the possibility of making improvements to motorcycle or scooter design. A series of options were provided based upon what interview participants had discussed on the topic of technological improvements to motorcycle design. Respondents were asked to indicate which if any they considered a top priority, a nice to have, or not necessary. An option to specify an alternative suggestion was also provided to capture any innovative ideas.

Question five provided a simple choice between introducing more technologically advanced safety systems or focusing on better training for riders. This was a subject debated by a number of interviewees with strong views and as such it was thought necessary to gain a wider opinion on the matter.

Question six asked respondents to what extend they agreed with seven statements relating to how the general public view motorcycling in the UK. Construction of all the statements followed the suggestions made by interview participants. The way in which motorcycling is viewed was considered a major factor when looking at more social and cultural barriers to a wider use for commuting.

Question seven was related to question six in that it provided an opportunity for respondents to indicate to what extend they agreed with the potential solutions to the motorcycling image problems as put forward by the interview participants. Again, this was intended to assess the validity of the views expressed within the larger survey population.

Question eight focused on the environmental impact of motorcycles in comparison to cars with respondents asked to what extend they agreed with statements derived from the interviewee’s discussions around the topic. The aim was to understand how widespread understanding of this subject was.

Questions nine and eleven related directly to the idea of a drive to promote a wider use of motorcycles and scooters for commuting which was a major topic of the semi-structured interviews. Once again potential solutions that could be actioned by employers, the government and other organisations as derived from the interviewee’s opinions were put forward, with respondents asked to what extend they agreed with them.

Question ten asked whether employers should consider a more generic vehicle allowance as opposed to a car allowance when offering this type of benefit to employees. This was quite prominent in the interview discussions, with a number of participants indicating that this simple terminology could be a barrier in itself.

Question twelve asked who should take the lead in promoting a wider use of motorcycles and scooters for commuting and offered six options to choose from, motorcycle manufacturers, the government, employers, local councils, RROs and the press/media. An additional option allowed for the specification of an alternative answer. The purpose of this question was to understand where respondents thought the need for action should come from and to what extent this was a top down or bottom-up approach to cultural change.

Question thirteen asked if evidence revealed that motorcycles and scooters were better for the environment than cars, then did the government have a moral obligation to promote their wider use alongside cycling and walking. The morality aspect was introduced by interview participant 18 and reflects a similarity to the arguments put forward by Ori (2014) and the MCIA (2022b) in their separate thoughts around the selection of the right vehicle for the journey.

Questions fourteen and fifteen were related to respondents’ perception of the government’s current view of motorcycling. Did they think that the government saw it as a legitimate form of transport and did they believe enough research was being done to investigate the potential benefits of this form of transport. If we concur with Mayo (2019) that “culture always has to start from the top and trickle down”, it was felt important to gain a view from respondents as to the extent they believed the culture at the top was aligned to their own.

Questions sixteen to twenty were demographic in nature and designed to collect data on age, gender, number of years licence held, whether they had taken advanced training, and the geographical location of the respondent. Harmonized Grouping C was used for age ranges (Pepper-Grainger, 2020) and geographical location was recorded at NUTS 1 level (Eurostat, 2020).


Semi-Structured Interviews

The semi-structured interviews took place between the 21st of June and the 22nd of July 2022. Each interview participant was asked to provide basic data including their age, gender, licence details, riding habits, main occupation, and geographical location. The gender balance of the survey participants was in line with data from the National Travel Survey (NTS) (DfT, 2021a). There was a reasonable spread of ages within the participants although this was not fully in accordance with the NTS; the 50 to 59 age group was overrepresented at the expense of the younger age ranges (DfT, 2021a). The average number of years a licence was held was 24 and 43% of riders had completed some form of advanced training. 90% rode their motorcycles for leisure and 57% currently undertook some form of commuting. Only two participants were not currently riding at the time of the interviews, however, both had previously commuted by motorcycle. The geographical spread of the participants was not nationwide, with only six of the twelve UK regions represented. 62% of participants were from the Yorkshire and Humber Region.

In a thematic review of the barriers mentioned by the participants the “safety of other road users” scored the highest. This correlates with the two highest scoring fixes of “improvements in clothing design including airbags” and “safety systems improvements” which participants may have viewed as mitigations to the perceived risk. The barriers of “weather: getting wet/cold” and “security of parking” also scored highly. Interestingly the potential design improvements to motorcycles for weather protection did not score highly as a “fix.” This may be due to participants being unable to perceive a solution and instead focusing on improvements to clothing to keep the weather out. The need for improved security did score highly, with participants more focused on a need for better security features to be part of standard motorcycle design as opposed to lose equipment such as chains.

Just over half of participants believed that non-motorcyclists viewed motorcycling as dangerous, and that noise was also an issue. A third believed that negative parental attitude towards motorcycles was a factor in this. Participants felt that there was a need to raise awareness of motorcycling and to encourage more riders. They felt there was a need for improvement in the attitude of other road users and greater respect shown to riders. Six participants believed that motorcyclists themselves had a role to play in this.

Half of the participants believed that motorcycles were better in terms of fuel economy and had a positive impact on reducing congestion. Nine participants believed that motorcycles were in general better from an environmental perspective, with only one believing that they were worse.

None of the participants were aware of any employers who had made changes to actively promote the use of motorcycles for commuting. Three participants mentioned they were aware of local councils providing free parking for motorcycles and one participant was aware of the “Wheels to Work” schemes run by a number of local councils to provide scooter hire to people who are unable to get to work or college using public transport.

Several participants said that encouraging younger people into motorcycles was important and that action needed to come from outside the motorcycling community. They felt that the UK government should promote motorcycling.

Online Survey Questionnaire

The results for motorcycle usage indicated that 85% of participants took part in leisure trips, 70% were commuting by motorcycle to some extent and 11% used motorcycles for work activities.

Respondents were asked to what extent they agreed with statements about the physical barriers identified in the qualitative interviews. Many participants chose a neutral stance, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the interviewees. 50% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that bad weather was a barrier and 67% agreed or strongly agreed that getting cold or wet discouraged people. The highest level of positive agreement, 64%, concerned the lack of secure parking and the worry of theft. The highest level of disagreement was in the cost of buying and running a motorcycle, with 73% saying that this was not a barrier.

When asked how far was too far to commute on a motorcycle the overwhelming response was over thirty miles, or that no distance was too far. This may be reflective of the level of enjoyment that respondents got from riding their motorcycle particularly given the volume of leisure riding. It may be more of a fantasy that would fail to materialise in reality.

Despite the strong concerns expressed about the weather, when asked about potential improvements to motorcycle design, only 10% had improve weather protection as a top priority. 81% had improvements to security as a top priority, perhaps a reflection of the fear of theft expressed in responses to the earlier question. Of the suggested design improvements some were clearly not popular, with 71% of respondents saying that more power was not required and 95% indicating that there was no need for a third wheel for stability.

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.

Views were fairly evenly balanced when respondents considered statements about how the general public may view motorcycling. The biggest variance concerned the Hells Angel archetype, with 52% indicating that they either disagreed or strongly disagreed that this was the common view of motorcycling. This damaging stereotype may finally be dying out. Both statements containing the word “dangerous” received general levels of agreement, with 50% and 51% respectively.

Respondents expressed stronger opinions when asked how the image of motorcycling could be improved, with all three statements containing the concept of awareness receiving elevated levels of agreement and strong agreement. 98% believed that there was a need for more awareness of motorcycles to form part of the training needed to drive a car and 81% thought other road users needed to have more awareness and show more respect. Both these reactions appear linked to the concerns over safety expressed in earlier questions. 96% agreed or strongly agreed that there should be more awareness campaigns around the benefits of motorcycles for commuting purposes. Interestingly despite earlier indications that 48% thought the public perceived motorcycles to be too noisy, only 3% strongly agreed that they should be quieter. This is further indication perhaps that motorcyclists don’t feel seen or heard.

There were elevated levels of agreement with all the statements about the environmental benefits of motorcycles. Only when comparing them to electric cars were respondents less certain, with 64% agreeing or strongly agreeing and 27% neither agreeing nor disagreeing that motorcycles were better from an environmental perspective. It seems clear to motorcyclists generally that there are environmental benefits to their chosen mode of transport as an alternative to the car.

The results of the ranking exercise respondents performed relating to the support that employers could provide to motorcyclists to encourage them to commute to work show that the most important aspect that employers could supply would be secure parking. This appears to correlate with the theme of security concerns running through other questions.

△ Support Needed from Employers. [Fig.2]

Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of employers offering a vehicle allowance as opposed to a car allowance. This is indicative of respondents’ strong feelings about having a right to choose their transport mode and that the blanket use of the term ‘car allowance’ is a form of hidden discrimination.

Of the weighted average scores for what respondents thought the government could do to help promote the use of motorcycles for commuting, allowing motorcycles access to all bus lanes was the statement most highly rated. This may be in part due to the ongoing promotion of MAG’s campaign for universal bus lane access at the time of the survey (Brown, 2022).

△ Government Support Required. [Fig.3]

When respondents considered who should take the lead in promoting a wider use of motorcycles for commuting, 62% thought it should be the government, with only 1% believing that employers should take the lead.

Respondents overwhelmingly thought that if the evidence showed that motorcycles were, from an environmental perspective, better than cars then the government had a moral obligation to promote their use more widely. However, 92% of respondents thought that the government did not view motorcycling as a legitimate form of transport. 98% of respondents thought there was a need for the government to commission further research into the potential benefits of motorcycles as a form of transport for commuting.

The age demographic of the survey respondents indicates that the largest group were between 55 and 64 years of age. 87% of respondents were over the age of 45. Respondents were overwhelmingly male, with the figure of 90% being slightly above the 86% figure recorded in the NTS (DfT, 2021a). There was a level of correlation between the number of years respondents had held a motorcycle licence and the age demographic, suggesting that many older riders have held a licence since they were young. The geographical demographic of the respondents highlighted the achievement of a much wider spread than for the interviews, with representation from all twelve UK regions.



The results of the study show a clear hierarchy of barriers, particularly those relating to the physical aspects. The weather is the most dominant influence, with 67% viewing getting cold and wet as a reason more people do not use PTWs for commuting purposes. 50% believed that increased danger due to bad weather was a factor. A lack of security when parking or leaving a vehicle unattended was also viewed as a significant barrier, with 64% of respondents indicated that they agreed, or strongly agreed with this. Conversely, respondents did not see the cost of buying and running PTWs and the perceived difficulty in riding one compared to a car as great barriers.

Social and cultural barriers were harder to determine with more emphasis placed on how motorcycling and motorcyclists were viewed in general. No clear image of the typical motorcyclist emerged, perhaps indicative of the wide spectrum of those involved in the world of motorcycling. 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. 98% 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.

In terms of advances in engineering technology, the survey results indicate the need for a strong focus on improving security, with 81% of respondents listing this as a top priority. Increased carrying capacity, more comfort and better weather protection were the top nice-to-have items. There was a clear indication that there was no requirement for an extra wheel for stability Motorcycles were considered to be powerful enough already and there were no requirements for further speed.

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.

The results show that there is scope to provide guidance for organisations, enabling them to implement measures that would encourage a wider use of motorcycles for commuting. Interview participants and survey respondents were clear that at all levels from Government down through local councils to individual employers’ distinct provisions could be made for motorcyclists.


It is clear from the prominent level of response and engagement with this piece of research that motorcyclists in the UK are enthusiastic about their chosen mode of transport and have strong and specific views to express. As a minority group, there was a view that motorcycling had solutions to offer from an environmental and general wellbeing perspective but due to a lack of awareness these were not understood by the wider population. Respondents felt marginalised by the Government and other organisations who appeared to ignore the benefits and the possibility of “the right vehicle for the right journey approach” put forward by the MCIA (2022b, p. 26) in favour of a single strategy of cycling and walking as a solution to the environmental problems associated with personal transport modes. The following recommendations are made based on the research conducted and the results achieved.

For Government

  • In the short term, review existing research available on the benefits of commuting by motorcycle(MCIA, 2022b) with a longer-term view of committing to further research to establish a wider understanding.
  • Take a lead in the promotion of motorcycles and other forms of PTW accepting them as a distinct and alternative mode of transport(BSI, 2008) separate to the car and advocating their use alongside walking and cycling as part of a mixed mode solution to carbon reduction in transport.
  • Consider changes in the law to allow motorcycles access to bus lanes and advanced stop lines, further promoting their use by increasing safety and reducing journey times.
  • Review taxation with a view to further incentivising the use of motorcycles for commuting. Investigate the effectiveness of a motorcycle to work scheme similar to the existing cycle to work scheme(DfT, 2019).
  • Work to improve the general awareness of motorcycles by featuring them more widely within the current Think “Travel Like You Know Them” campaign(DfT, n.d.)

For Local Authorities (including Combined Authorities) and Councils

  • Consider the benefits of motorcycling as an alternative to the car(NMC, 2022). They provide a “convenient affordable and efficient form of transport in their use of fuel and of road space” (WYCA, 2017). Consider them as an alternative mode of transport (BSI, 2008) in the development of local travel plans and transport strategy.
  • Provide free and secure motorcycle parking, prioritising key locations that provide an interface with public transport such as railway and bus stations.

For Employers

  • Consider the development of workplace travel plans to include motorcycles as an alternate mode of transport to the car(BSI, 2008).
  • Survey existing employees to determine how many could or would use a motorcycle to commute following the guidance provided by MAG(Brown, 2020a). Introduce measures to overcome the barriers including secure parking and changing facilities.
  • Consider the merits of providing a vehicle allowance as opposed to a specific car allowance when offering this form of incentive to employees.

For Manufacturers

  • Make improvements to security an immediate top priority when developing new or updating existing motorcycle designs.
  • Consider the development and promotion of models aimed at commuting featuring increased luggage capacity, more comfort, including adjustable controls and seating for improved ergonomics, and better weather protection.
  • Play a part in the promotion of motorcycles as an alternative to the car for commuting purposes.

For Motorcyclists and Motorcycling Groups

  • Increase support and promotion of the international campaign “Ride to Work Day” (MAG, 2022).
  • Consider other activities linked to the promotion of motorcycles as an alternative mode of transport for commuting to work.

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Image Attributions
[Fig.1] Photograph by Alex Parsons-Hulse with image editing and treatment by Tim Fransen.

Alex Parsons-Hulse is a Chartered Engineer with an MSc in Engineering Management from the University of Hull, UK. He currently resides in Halifax, West Yorkshire with his wife Amanda and their BMW F800 GT motorcycle. Alex has been riding motorcycles on and off since the age of 18 and holds advanced riding awards from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF). In 2022 Alex was elected to the Council of the BMF and also as an Area Representative for Region 2, Yorkshire, and the Northeast of England. Alex is passionate about motorcycles and promoting their wider use in society both as a leisure activity and as a legitimate form of transport offering a more sustainable alternative to the car.

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One Comment

  1. Fascinating, but related strictly and almost entirely to circumstances and conditions relative to the UK. As a life-long motorcyclist of more than 60 years on PTW (with an equally long experience on bicycles, as well) in the United States, my observations over that period of time have clearly demonstrated that, however admirable the intent advanced here is, the conclusions are completely inapplicable to America…principally for reasons of rider safety. Two-wheeled vehicle riders are frightfully fragile and vulnerable, especially when they must contend with the sort of ‘big-is-better’ mentality of automobile drivers in the US. No matter how carefully hypothesised the thesis of this study, basic safety issues shall always trump broader aesthetic considerations, in my opinion. As a retired medical professional who has lost a number of friends to cycle/automobile accidents (and treated far more in the course of my career), I can hold no other viewpoint on the matter.

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