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A study into how place-exploration can be a strategy to help residents start cycling in London

MA 2022
cycling, community, mobility

Cyched! is a service and community that takes Curious Newcomers, Anxious Not-So-Safers, Cautious Need-A-Refreshers, Cool Cafe Hoppers and Casual Neighbourhood Riders on thoughtfully-designed, safe and scenic rides in London, helping them get comfortable and confident with cycling, all while cruising around the city. Our mission is simple—to create a diverse cycling culture in London by enabling more people to cycle.

We leverage on the intrigue of place-exploration as the pull factor to encourage new and existing residents to get on bikes, and the assurance of a positive first experience to enable them to gain familiarity of their environment, regain cycling confidence and overcome their psychological barrier of cycling in London.


Our mission has led us to a partnership with Peddle My Wheels, a business that runs the popular Try Before You Bike monthly bike subscription scheme across 25 boroughs, supporting thousands of Londoners looking for low commitment ways to start cycling, and allowing them to buy a bike when they are ready.


Cycling is awesome. Cycling is fun. Of course, it’s sustainable for the environment and healthy for our physical and mental wellbeing, but that usually isn’t the first reason why most people enjoy cycling. People enjoy it because there is this freedom to it.

When cycling we’re exposed to the everyday urban sensory experience, we get to interact directly with our environment unlike when we sit on trains, buses and in cars. We get to feel the breeze in our hair, sometimes a fly in our eye; we go further than we can walking, and have the control of navigating the city beyond what cars can do.

But, while we’ve seen a boom in cycling since the pandemic and seen cycling infrastructure improve over the years, only around 3% of all travels in London is done by bike, with the demographic make-up of cyclists predominantly middle-aged and male, which doesn’t quite reflect London’s amazing diversity.

Our final project sought to explore why people don’t cycle and how we might enable more people to cycle, so we can create a more diverse cycling culture in London.


Research Process

Using multiple research methods from service safaris, surveys and interviews, supported by evidence from desk research, we sought to uncover key questions such as:

  • What the cycling ecosystem looks like
  • What the cycling landscape is from various experts’ perspective
  • What the barriers are for people who want to start cycling in London
  • What the existing attitudes and behaviours are around cycling in London

Findings & Insights

London isn’t the easiest place to cycle, in fact, there are plenty of reasons why people don’t, according to Department for Transport and TfL. These include concerns over road safety such as fear of collision, the lack of off-road and segregated cycle paths, cycle theft and of course things we can’t control, like the weather.

Yet, whilst these are concerns most people talk about, our research has shown that there are other important factors that further deter people from making their first move to even start: psychological barriers reinforced by cognitive overload and the lack of a strong pull factor.

1. Even just Considering Starting to Cycle can be Overwhelming and Intimidating

Finding information to solve these problems can be difficult. Information found online is either irrelevant or throws one into the deep end of knowledge, leading to cognitive overload, creating a decision barrier that prevents one from moving to the next step, which is to simply get on the road.

Also, most existing mechanisms in place to encourage and facilitate more cycling in London expect cyclists or potential cyclists to already be comfortable with themselves, their environment and their cycling awareness and ability.

Cycling tools are great but can be perceived as too advanced for people looking to familiarise themselves with the road and find safe cycling routes without having to share roads with cars.

2. Media Portrayal of Cycling Reinforces one’s Perception of what Cycling in London is, Looks like, or Should be

Furthermore, the narratives and imagery used in the media reinforces one’s fear and psychological barriers to start cycling.

For example, studies have shown that by discussing danger, one starts to worry about one's safety, and by seeing images of men on road bikes, one begins to think that roads are meant for serious and fast cyclists.

3. The Lack of a strong Pull Factor to Move beyond Psychological Barriers

With cognitive overload and a negative perception of cycling, the lack of a strong pull factor makes it even harder for people to overcome perceived barriers of cycling.

Furthermore, when they have no immediate motivation or need to, they may be more easily put off by friction - no matter how small.

The narratives of active travel or sustainability as an incentive also don’t always appeal to people who see cycling as a leisurely activity or a mere means of transport.


We also found that 2 groups of people are particularly susceptible to these challenges: people who are new to the city and looking to cycle, and people who are looking to start cycling again.

Imagine: A new resident in London, being unfamiliar with the environment, unfamiliar with regulations and unfamiliar with cycling etiquettes, wanting to start cycling.

Imagine: A rusty cyclist who used to cycle in the past and is now wanting to start again, but now, being unsure where cycle lanes are, not knowing if the city's cycling etiquettes have changed, not feeling like they fit in to the scene anymore.


With data showing that there are 73% of people who don’t cycle in London who can ride a bicycle, and that London’s average net international migration is 95 thousand persons per year, we realised there was a gap we could bridge by removing or reducing the barriers, or make the pull factor strong enough to help them overcome the barriers.


With our understanding of psychological barriers reinforced by cognitive overload and the lack of a strong pull factor,

  • How can we enable people who can cycle and want to start cycling in London, yet, are too intimidated to start cycling?
  • How can we enable people who can cycle yet have no strong will to do so, to start cycling?
  • Is there a way we can get people cycling, without telling them to cycle?



Other findings from our research revealed that:

  1. All newcomers enter a period of heightened curiosity in the first few months of arriving in the city, and the curiosity declines with time until it stagnates. Could we leverage on this curiosity to create a pull factor?
  2. Secondly, people appreciate company when exploring unfamiliar places or trying new things: while most interviewees are comfortable travelling alone, all interviewees talked about how having someone to explore the city with, especially one who is also fresh to the city, instills a larger sense of adventure.

With these findings in mind, we defined a hypothesis:

  • Can place-exploration be the pull factor to encourage new residents to cycle, in turn enabling them to gain familiarity of the cycling environment, regain cycling confidence and overcome their psychological barrier of cycling in London?

Testing our Hypothesis

We broke down our hypothesis into parts, defining more specific hypotheses and questions we were curious to find out.

Firstly, we hypothesised that, instead of a safe and quiet route, new residents may prefer a more safe and scenic route.

We also theorised that new residents will gain confidence when they realise they are able to go through their first cycle journey with little difficulty.

Lastly, we speculated that in order to reduce fear, new residents have to be “tested” in simple ways that may provide them a morale boost when they overcome it.

Ultimately, we sought to find out if a positive first ride experience will encourage one to continue cycling, and what constitutes it.

With these two questions in mind, we designed our test, in the form of a ride with the following key components.

Routes. Our control was the route itself. Aligned with our hypotheses, we created 3 criteria for the route.

Firstly for the nature of the route to be scenic.

Secondly, to ensure the route consisted mainly of cycling lanes, which less familiar cyclists tend to perceive as safer and easier to cycle (although some of us know quiet roads can also be super easy to cycle).

Lastly, we wanted our route to start easy and get a little more challenging later, for example with the addition of traffic junctions and cycling in traffic alongside cars.

This led us to trial 3 routes for our test, centered around Westminster.

We also identified 2 main factors that might influence the experience:

  • First, guidance: does having someone they deem "more experienced" guiding the tour help them to feel more comfortable and make cycling easier? Or, could they do this on their own with the provision of some tools?
  • Then, the social factor: are their experience affected by whether they ride alone / in a group?

We were able to run our tests in the following 3 combinations with 3 groups and 1 individual, all but 1 of whom had not cycled in London before.

The first test was designed to be a group session led by “a guide” which is, one of us. The programme was planned such that we first gathered together for a briefing that included an introduction, an overview of the route of the day and also the sharing of some safety guidelines and cycling tips. The guide then leads the group through the route, and breaks are taken in between at planned spots, as well as at the choice of the participants.

The second test was designed to also be in a group, but this time, self-led, meaning that the participants had to decide amongst themselves who would take on the role of the leader of the pack. For this session, we provided guidance & tips to them in a form of visual cue cards, and provided them the route via Google Maps, along with phone mounts that they could use for navigation.

The third test was planned with the same set up as the previous, only that the participant was made to ride solo, with one of us as an observer.

Overall Feedback

In the 4 sessions we ran with different variables, we were surprised to find that, despite all participants initially having their own reservations about cycling in London, their mindsets towards cycling had improved in just a single ride, indicating that going on a pre-organised ride had made them feel more confident with cycling in London. All 9 of them would consider doing it again.

However, feedback from the self-led group session where tools were provided to them to journey out on their own was that the person leading the ride faced a higher level of stress because navigating the environment was an additional task to think about. It was the same for the solo rider who had to stop and re-navigate several times.

So, although we were initially keen to develop a mobile tool specifically catered for our target group, our post-group discussions led us to believe that it was less about the tools they were provided with in the form of detailed maps and illustrated tips that enabled them to feel more confident. Providing an app won’t solve the problem of our target group fearing the roads and getting on a bike. Instead, it was the design of the routes led by the presence of someone whom they trust and the personal interactions they had as a group that created feelings of safety and trust, leading them to feel more empowered and confident.

Simply put, what people really need is a friendly push, casual guidance and company, so they can regain the confidence to explore the world of cycling themselves.


Our test insights led us to create Cyched! a service and community that takes Curious Newcomers, Anxious Not-So-Safers, Cautious Need-A-Refreshers, Cool Cafe Hoppers and Casual Neighbourhood Riders on thoughtfully-designed safe and scenic rides in London, helping them get comfortable and confident with cycling, all while cruising around the city.

Cyched! is all about bringing back that exciting moment where Dad gave you that little push and then lifted his hands off you, this time, it’s the adult us that needs assurance, and Cyched! provides it to new and existing residents looking to get back into cycling, through thoughtfully-designed rides. Our mission is to create a diverse cycling culture in London by enabling more people to cycle.

Instead of emphasising on narratives like “Gear yourself up for cycling in London!”, we leverage on the intrigue of place-exploration as the pull factor to encourage new residents to get on bikes, and the assurance of a positive first experience to enable them to:

  • Gain familiarity of the cycling environment
  • Regain cycling confidence
  • Overcome their psychological barrier of cycling in London

In short - we use exploration as a means to get people cycling!

Target Group

Whilst our early research was inspired by experiences by new residents, we found that there is a large group of people who are beginning to pick up cycling again due to more available support and funding from the government, and many of whom also consider themselves fresh and unfamiliar.

So, we seek to bridge the gap not just for new residents, but for people who already know how to cycle and are curious about cycling in London and yet, have different concerns starting.

This includes people like Min, a newcomer from Beijing who wants to cycle but is intimidated by the roads.

And people like Jan, a local who has lived in London for 20 years and has recently been encouraged by his daughter to start cycling again. He has considered joining a cycling club but is intimidated by the commitment required.

Cyched! is also for people who are curious about exploring London and open and looking for interesting ways to do so and meet people, like Asma, who had just moved from LA to London for work and wants to explore her neighbourhood and make some friends in her community.

Service Journey

So how does it work?

  1. Participants register for our rides through our website, where they get to choose from 3 explorer levels and over a dozen neighbourhoods and themed rides
  2. On the day of their first ride, they meet the group and go through a short introduction to get to know each other, then they’re briefed on the route of the day, provided some cycling refresher tips and also some key things to note on the route itself, before going on the ride
  3. Bikes and helmets are provided as part of the package courtesy of a referral partnership with bike providers
  4. At the end of the session, the participants are encouraged to stay connected via the community platform, where they can choose their next rides and keep in touch with the Cyched! community

Detailed Components

Although simple at its core, Cyched! consists of multiple components informed by user research and testing.

1. Rides Designed to Appeal

Safe & Scenic Routes:

Firstly, our rides are designed to appeal to the group of people who are interested but concerned, and looking for a safe and positive entry into cycling in London, without all the noise. Whilst safe and quiet routes are common considerations for commuter cyclists, safe and scenic routes are key to building a positive first experience because in this instance, the bicycle simply becomes a tool for exploring London.

Led by Friendly, Trained People:

Where safety is concerned, people trust and feel more at ease being guided by someone they deem more experienced, so friendly, trained guides are designed to serve that purpose, but also more importantly to ensure the safety of our participants.

Group-Based Activity:

Doing things in a group where everyone comes with similar intentions makes experiencing uncomfortable things a little less scary. This acknowledgement of vulnerability also builds a safe base for people to interact and make friends.

Catering to Needs of the Less Committed:

We found that those who are new to London or looking to get back into cycling don’t immediately want to invest in a bicycle if they aren’t sure about it, and bike sharing platforms aren’t the most easy to on-board. We have plans to work with our partner Peddle My Wheels to provide bicycles and helmets that will come included as part of the ride, so our participants don’t have to fret about the unnecessary.

Rides Designed for Progressive (Re)Learning

Understanding how cognitively overwhelming it can be to relearn things, our rides are strategically designed to create the best learning opportunities without our participants realising it:

Relevant Information:

We understand that less is more, therefore instead of overwhelming our participants with all the cycling rules, we distill and share important safety guidance and cycling refreshers relevant to the route they will be going on, keeping it clear and concise.

Gradual Learning:

People receive a morale boost when they overcome small challenges they come across. We ensure the routes start easy with cycling lanes, and gradually expose participants to small, manageable challenges, adding in traffic junctions and parts where they cycle in traffic alongside cars.


Our rides also come with 3 levels that enable our participants to progress with each ride, starting with routes with 90% cycle lanes.

Service Designed to Foster Support & Belonging

A Community where People can Come Together:

Our target market consists of people from all over the world who have just moved to London, as well as those who have lived here but are curious to explore cycling again, gathering people from different cultures and walks of life to come together.

Knowledge Sharing & Cultural Exchange:

A space where interactions and cultural exchange can be stimulated, establishing an enriched sense of belonging, Cyched! provides the opportunity for people to continue to stay engaged, enabling not just discussions on cycling, but on cultural knowledge about living in London and places that might be of interest to certain groups of people. Imagine our very own Cyched! Michelin Guide!

Service Channels

Our rides are core to the service, but a key engagement channel will be our web-based community platform, where we integrate cycling map data to create and share rides based on explorer levels, and also, where people can continue to engage and exchange not just through discussions on cycling, but cultural knowledge about living in London.

Ultimately, Cyched! uses place exploration as a mechanism that guides our participants to get comfortable cycling and learn about the city in their own way, helping them establish new spatial and social connections, and for some, even build a home away from home.


Unlike bike tours which don’t focus on cycling etiquettes; cycle training which are for the more determined; cycle buddy services which can be a slow matching process; and cycling clubs which can be intimidating, we see ourselves targeting people at a different stage in their journey. Acting as a bridge to nudge users to cycle, we want to position ourselves as a service that’s more accessible and approachable to people, especially if they are still figuring out and exploring cycling. When they do, cycle trainings and social rides may be their next milestones!


Theory of Change

Ultimately, our theory of change is that by providing a positive first encounter to cycling in London, we help people gain confidence to continue cycling,

  • Bringing more diverse representation of cyclists, driving infrastructural and policy changes and enriching the cycling culture in London
  • Also, as cycling provides a balance between interaction and transportation, it’s an ideal means for place-learning, a process that contributes to a sense of establishment and sense of belonging, which is essential in enabling social integration, especially for mega-diverse cities like London

Industry Endorsement

With these potential outcomes in mind, we are proud to have our project being endorsed by industry stakeholders from Sustrans (UK’s cycling and walking charity and custodian of the National Cycle Network), Citymapper and TfL, who appreciate the gentle approach and fresh angle we bring to the cycling landscape, and see the potential in it complementing existing initiatives.

Post-Prototype Impact

Of the 9 people who participated in our prototyping session as new to cycling in London, 4 have since gone on more subsequent rides, some even taking their friends along. Two of them are considering getting bike subscriptions.

Next Steps

Our aim is to continue collaborating with Peddle My Wheels and TfL, taking the advice to pilot through meet-up platforms to refine our offering, establish a community, and build a strong case as we source for public grants.


We’d like to thank Alper Muduroglu (Peddle My Wheels) for his guidance, support and belief in Cyched!.

We’d also like to thank Hanna Kops (TfL), Caroline Dubarbier (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), Oli Gladstone (Sustrans), Pierre Bernuchon (Citymapper), Shiho Shuto (TfL), Becky Miller (PolicyLab), Vasant Chari (Connected Places Catapult), Grit Hartung (Connected Places Catapult) as well as our amazing cycle trainers Andrea and Peter, for their input and support.

Lastly, we’d like to thank our tutor Nicolas Rebolledo for his patience and guidance.

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